Poetry

Judith Wright

These activities introduce students to the poem Bora Ring, as well as to the poem’s background and author. They also develop students’ understanding of how an author’s perspective can change and enhance the meaning of a text.

1. Read the poem with the students without giving any background, the context or the poet’s name and discuss as a class what they believe the poem is about.

  • What is the tone of the poem? Encourage students to find quotes from the poem to support their answers.
  • Discuss the repetition of words and vowel sounds and how this affects the tone of the poem.
  • Discuss what students know of Aboriginal history, culture and religion.
  • What happened to the traditional Aboriginal way of life at the beginning of European settlement?
  • Have they ever heard of bora rings and what do they think they might be?

2. Ask students whether they have read about bora rings and ask them to speculate about the author.

  • Is the author male or female?
  • Is the author Indigenous?
  • Why would the author choose to write about this subject matter?

3. Have the students read about Judith Wright and bora rings and then read through the poem again. Ask the students whether their understanding of the poem has changed now that they have learnt about Judith Wright and bora rings.

4. Ask the students to choose a period from the nineteenth or twentieth centuries to research. Then have them write a letter to a friend or family member from an Aboriginal person’s perspective and discuss in the letter how that person’s life has been affected by the arrival of Europeans.

Poem - Bora Ring

Activities—Poem analysis

These activities draw on the students’ knowledge of Judith Wright and of bora rings. They develop students’ understanding of a variety of language features, images and vocabulary, and how these influence the audience and affect meaning.

1. Stanza One

  • Who are the ‘dancers’ and why are they in the ‘earth’?
  • Explain why the ‘song is gone’, ‘the dance secret’ and ‘the ritual useless’?
  • Who is the ‘alien’ and why do you think the poet describes them in this way?
  • What happened historically to make the ‘tribal story lost in an alien tale’?

2. Stanza Two

Answer the following:

  • What is the grass marking?
  • Who are the trees mimicking and what words does Wright use to demonstrate this?
  • What does Wright’s use of nature symbolise in this verse?

Draw an image to represent what is being described in this verse.

3. Stanza Three

  • Who is Wright referring to when she writes ‘painted bodies’ and ‘nomad feet’ and how does this portray them in the poem?
  • What do you think ‘the spear splintered underground’ symbolises?
  • The line ‘a dream the world breathed sleeping and forgot’ is referring to religion and history. What is the ‘dream’, why is the world ‘sleeping’, and who ‘forgot’?

4. Stanza Four

  • Who do you think the ‘rider’ represents?
  • ‘Cain’ refers to a biblical story in which Cain kills his brother Abel. Why do you think Wright refers to Cain in this poem and who do you think Cain represents?
  • What do you think Wright means by ‘an unsaid word’?

5. Read the poem We Are Going by Kath Walker (later known as Oodgeroo Noonuccal), an Indigenous activist and Wright’s good friend. Then compare Wright’s and Noonuccal’s perspectives.

Activity—Poetry analysis essay

This activity introduces students to writing essays that analyse poetry, using the information they have already gathered through their earlier analysis of the poem. Encourage students to do further research on Judith Wright and Australian history to help support their essay.

How does the poem Bora Ring demonstrate Wright’s perspective on Indigenous Australians?

  • Use quotes from the poem to support your answer.
  • To help you formulate your argument, think about what this poem tells us about the poet Judith Wright and how she views Aboriginal people.
  • Write an introductory paragraph (around 4 or 5 sentences) that briefly introduces Wright, her views on Indigenous issues and how the poem Bora Rings reflects her perspective on these issues.
  • Write a paragraph on each of the verses, analysing what each verse is about. Use quotes from the poem to support your answer. Make sure that you relate the analysis to the overall question being asked.
  • Write a concluding paragraph that restates the main ideas of your argument.

Bora Rings

 

Bora rings are unique cultural sites. They are evidence of the ceremonial and religious life of Aboriginal people. Found mainly in south-eastern Australia, they are circular structures of stone or foot-hardened earth surrounded by raised embankments. They were generally constructed in pairs (although some sites have three), with a bigger circle of about 22 metres in diameter and a smaller one of about 14 metres. The rings are joined by a sacred walkway and, in the past, would have been surrounded by campsites for visiting groups attending the ceremony. Young boys went through an initiation ceremony (called a bora) on the rings, in which they were introduced to the traditional knowledge of the men. When the bora ceremonies involved many groups, they also were an opportunity for trade and other social activities. Major ceremonies often attracted hundreds or possibly thousands of people. 

Concluding activities

1. Have students research an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander sacred site. The sacred site could be a tree, a waterhole or another natural feature, or it could be rock art, a totem and so on. Students should describe its location, how it was used in the past, its significance to the local Indigenous population and the impact of European settlement on the site.

NOTE Warn students of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage that they may see names and images of, or reference to, deceased persons in their research.

2. After completing their research, ask students to write a blog post, wiki page or newspaper article about the sacred site.

3. Have students write a poem from their own perspective that reflects on how the sacred site was once used and how it has been affected by the passing of time.