Free for educational use
Year of production - 1997
Duration - 1min 7sec
Tags - Australian History, biography, family life, Great Depression, poetry, satire, writers, see all tags
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About the Video Cliptop
Bruce Dawe Reads “Little Red Fox” is an excerpt from the program Bruce Dawe (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 6 (6×26 mins), produced in 2007.
Bruce Dawe, born in 1930 in Geelong Victoria, is known as 'The Poet of Suburbia’. His ability to express the drama and beauty of everyday life has made his work readily accessible to the general public. This encounter with highly regarded Australian poet Bruce Dawe allows us an insight into the motivation and methods of a very fine writer.
In this excerpt, Dawe reads his poem “Little Red Fox”. Again, the subject matter is everyday and familiar; we are given a portrait of how the writer remembers his father. A big issue of the poem – that the spirit of a wild thing is so easily broken – recurs throughout several of his later poems.
The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled. Australian Biography Series 6 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.
Through these activities, students will:
- gain knowledge about and appreciation for one of Australia’s foremost poets, Bruce Dawe
- enjoy and appreciate poetry as an art form
- consider the role of poetry as a means of exploring and commenting on the world
- study closely the use of vocabulary, poetic language, techniques and structure
- explore the connections between a poet’s biography and their writing
- further develop the ability to interpret metaphorical language and satire
- compare and contrast the representation of the same subject across a range of different texts
- further develop the ability to critically evaluate poetry.
These activities would be suitable as part of a:
- study of the works of a single poet, Bruce Dawe
- comparison of contemporary and classical poets and poetry
- study of texts exploring the themes such as representations of the family, relationships, gender, images of Australia and the human condition.
Teachers and students should consult the Queensland Education Curriculum references for further information.
One of the biggest selling and most highly regarded of Australian poets, Bruce Dawe lives and unconventionally conventional life. He grew up in a household where his father, a farm labourer was often unemployed and often absent from home. His rather eccentric mother longed for the kind of stability and success in life that circumstances always denied her.
Dawe drifted through his early years showing promise as a writer but finding little direction in his life. The variety of his many occupations – labourer, postman, university failure, air force officer father and teacher – has served to give Dawe extraordinary empathy with people from all backgrounds, which characterises his poetry and gives a voice to so called ordinary Australians.
With his family moving around a lot as a child, Dawe remembers having attended eight schools by the age of 16. During the Depression years, Dawe’s father, a farm labourer, was not at home much. His relationship with his father was not 'unfavourable’, though: “he was obviously a person from the bush and he knew various bush crafts, and I think he was favourably disposed to me. I don’t think he saw me as somebody that shouldn’t have happened. So I’ve got no kind of personal memory of conflict or any sort of oppression or unpleasantness at all, personally. I think I was a toddler, who flitted around the place and who was generally very well treated by all”. However, he admits that in recent years he has come “to recognise that I’ve been a bit harsh, through faulty memory, on my memories of him.”
- The focus in ‘Little Red Fox’ is on Dawe’s father. The subject matter is everyday and familiar; we are given a portrait of how the writer remembers his father. A big issue of the poem – that the spirit of a wild thing is so often easily broken – recurs in several of his later poems.
- This clip is taken from a much longer interview. That interview takes place in the lounge room of Dawe’s home. Why do you think that the location for the reading of ‘Little Red Fox’ takes place in the kitchen?
- How would you describe the reading that Dawe gives of this poem – melancholic, joyful, wistful, angry, nostalgic or something else? Try a different reading and discuss what difference it makes.
- Find some details that elicit the feeling that reality was too hard to bear, but there was always hope in what might be. Think back to aspects of Dawe’s own life revealed in the program where the future provided a reason to go on. Why is hope an important emotion for every human being?
- Before you saw this video and when you first read Dawe’s description of his father as ‘handsome’, did you imagine him as the photo shows him to be?
- How does the contrast of a tough man living alone ‘in a shed’ with one who ‘wept…broke down’ position you, the reader, in relation to Dawe’s father?
2. Now read Dawe’s poem the ‘Drifters’. The focus in this poem is on Dawe’s mother. According to Dawe the poem is ‘very much about her, and I realised later on just how much, when I grew up, how much it must have meant to her, because she loved to sort of grow things and how often it must have hurt her, and bewildered her as well, to find herself moving again.’
- What is the relevance of the title?
- The father is again addressed as ‘he’. Why? What effect does this have on the reader’s sympathies?
- The main female in the poem is referred to only as ‘her’ and ‘she’. Who is ‘she’? How does she feel about this move?
- Is this the family’s first move? How do you know?
- What is the significance of the contrast between the ‘blackberry-canes with their last shriveled fruit’ and ‘her hands bright with berries’?
- Who do you think Tom is? What is the effect of using his name in this final line?
- These poems offer a portrait of a mother and father from the perspective of their son. In this way, Dawe’s perspective is foregrounded and that of his father in particular is marginalized. Do some further research on Dawe’s life and discover what you can about his parents and the era in which Dawe grew up (including the Depression). Is there another story to tell? Imagine if his father were to write a poem (or a letter) in response to Dawe’s poems, what might he say?
- English Extension: Literature students may wish to debate the merits of an author-centred reading of these poems. Is it really valid or useful to read the poet’s biography in his work? What other reading approaches are evident in the questions pose above?
Go to Australian Biography Online – Bruce Dawe for full interview.