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Writing Historical Fiction, Nadia Wheatley

Video clip synopsis – Author and Historian Nadia Wheatley writes about historical events in her fiction because history is a great story.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 28sec
Tags - Australian History, historical representations, Interpretation, Learning Journey History, national identity, representations, see all tags


Writing Historical Fiction, Nadia Wheatley

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About the Video Clip


Talkback Classroom is a forum program run by the Education section of the National Museum of Australia. Each year panels of three secondary students, selected from schools Australia-wide, interview leading decision-makers on important current issues. The panels participate in a ‘learning journey’ (researching the issues and developing interview skills) to explore the issues and prepare for the forum.

This clip comes from a 2007 forum on the topic of “Australian history in the classroom”. The guest interviewed was The Hon. Julie Bishop MP, former Minister for Education, Science and Training. The interview panelists were NSW Year 12 students Sam Goldsmith from Masada College, Elliot Cameron from Fort Street High and Year 11 student Rosa Nolan from Sydney Girls’ High School. In preparation for the forum, students participated in a learning journey that involved interviewing Paul Kelly, editor-at-large of the Australian newspaper, Kimberley Webber, curator at the Powerhouse Museum, Nadia Wheatley, author and historian and Alistair Grierson, director of the film Kokoda.

Background Information


In the early days of the British colony in Australia, education was managed by church groups and private individuals. Between 1872 and 1895 Education Acts were passed which made “free, compulsory and secular” primary education a state responsibility. Currently all school education is administered by state and territory governments. All government and independent schools follow the learning outcomes set by the states or territories.

Whether schools should conform to a national framework or curriculum is presently the subject of national debate. National consistency in curriculum, testing and reporting, alongside performance pay for teachers and transparency of reporting procedures have been key features of this discussion. In specific reference to Australian history, the emphasis placed on this subject in the school curriculum has been much debated. The importance of teaching a national story, a defined body of historical knowledge and a clear set of historical skills has been identified by commentators, historians, academics and teachers as a priority in the construction of a national history curriculum.

Classroom Activities


Before you watch

  1. Australian and other historical writing is written from the point of view of the author or authors.
    1. Draw up a page into three columns. Working in pairs, discuss and list in two columns the ‘pros and cons’ (for and against points) of writing history from a particular point of view. Discuss and list in the third column possible points of view e.g. non-indigenous Australian male, indigenous Australian female or young Australian.
    2. Once each student pair has developed their lists, collate as a class all of the ‘pros and cons’ on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard. Add any ‘pros or cons’ not listed in the pairs discussions. Select on ‘pro’ and one ‘con’; discuss as a class the effect each might have on Australian historical writing.

While you watch

  1. Nadia Wheatley refers to two types of narrative in the clip. Listen carefully and write them down so that later you may try this activity:
    1. Get a dictionary definition of the word ‘narrative’ Using your life or the life of someone in your family, create a narrative text that describes the major events, dates, places and other people in the chosen life. Use images to help build the narrative e.g. drawings, maps or photographs
    2. Choose one of the narratives mentioned by Nadia Wheatley. Examine the main aspects of the chosen narrative e.g. points of view, possibly significant people, locations, time periods and particular dates. Consider the ‘pros and cons’ of the narrative. Write up your response individually then compare responses with other students in your class. Look for the similarities and differences in your responses – discuss them and look for reasons behind the variations.

After you watch

  1. Have three students in the class read ‘The House that was Eureka’ by Nadia Wheatley. Once they have read it, try this activity:
    1. Plan a mock TV ‘arts review’ – style program in which the book is discussed. The program will require the following elements:
      1. Four chairs set up in the classroom in a TV panel format i.e. three panelists’ chairs and a host chair.
      2. The students who’ve read the book will be the panelists. A program host will need to be selected.
      3. An opening segment in which the host introduces themselves, the program topic and the panelists.
      4. A series of questions from the host for the panelists. The questions should be both subjective (e.g. “What did you think of the book?”) and objective (e.g. “Who are the main characters? “Where is the novel set?”). Allow the panelists time to develop their answers and discuss the book amongst themselves as well as with the host.
      5. Questions from the audience for the panelists. The host is to be the moderator in the ‘Q & A’ session.
      6. A summary or ‘wrap-up’ from the host at the end of the program.
    2. Have the class participate in a ‘brainsurf’ before the staging of the mock program to come up with a name for the program (use real TV arts show names as inspiration).
    3. If possible, videotape the activity for watching later on. Other students may like to be involved as mock TV program production crew e.g. studio floor manager, sound recordist and so on. These roles would help to create a stronger TV production atmosphere in the activity. Some research into these roles could be carried out prior to the ‘program’ being staged.

Further Resources


National Museum of Australia’s Talkback Classroom website

Auslit, The Resource for Australian Literature (type Nadia Wheatley into search engine)