Poetic purpose

These documents accompany the teaching and learning program 'Poetic purpose'.


Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from English K–10 Syllabus (2022) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2023.

Video resources

This video resource is a recording of the assessment sample. The presentation aligns with the PowerPoint sample assessment podcast audio file and contains viewing and reflecting activities for students.

Watch 'Poetic purpose sample podcast' (9:43).

Poetic purpose sample podcast – audio and listening activity


Do you like numbers? Is infinity just a never-ending story? Why do math problems seem to multiply when you least expect them? … Coming to your headphones this March. A new podcast series - brought to you by… ‘Come on a Mathventure’. If you think maths is ‘punny’, this is not a podcast you should miss! Stream the first episode on March 23.

At ‘What makes poetry powerful?’ we're all about respecting everyone's backgrounds and stories. We have a special commitment to showing respect for the rich cultures and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and want to acknowledge the land that make our recording on. We want to advise our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners that the following podcast may contain discussion about people who have died.

[music jingle plays]


Hello and welcome back to our weekly podcast, Why is poetry powerful? In our podcast, we focus on how poetry prompts an audience to reflect, make connections and expand their understanding of others and the world. I’m your regular host, Taylor and in today’s episode, my colleague, Parker, an expert in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets, and I discuss the poetry of Jazz Money and Ali Cobby Eckermann. Hi Parker, what are you most looking forward to discussing in today’s episode?


Hi Taylor and thank you for having me.


It is normal to feel a bit nervous when you know you are going to be heard by the thousands of Stage 5 students across New South Wales! Why don’t you start by giving the audience a brief rundown of one of the poets you would like to discuss today, Jazz Money.


Okay, good idea. Well, Jazz Money is a poet and artist with Wiradjuri heritage and she currently lives on Gadigal country. She identifies as queer and much of her work explores love and First Nations history.


Her work sounds really interesting. Is there a particular poem that you like the most?


My favourite piece of work is her poem, ‘GUDYI’. This poem explores poetry as a method of ‘song’ for elements of country. She uses Wiradjuri language throughout, reinforcing to her audience the strong connection she is building with her heritage and country. It is incredibly powerful.


I would like to explore that more closely. You used the word “powerful”. Can you tell the listeners out there what makes this poem so powerful. Perhaps you can read to the audience the stanza in ‘GUDYI’ you found most powerful and explain why that is?


Sure. This is stanza 6 of ‘GUDYI’.

Song for the sun warm on our cheeks,

Mercy gift for life and destruction

who bends the will of a land dry and true.


In this stanza, Money doesn’t just use Wiradjuri language, she also makes us feel like we can feel the warm Australian sun on our cheeks. She uses the word ‘our’ and this inclusive language makes us feel like we are outside, enjoying the environment with her. She also shows how powerful the sun is and how it impacts the Australian land when she states ‘a land dry and true’. This is just one stanza from a poem of many in which Jazz Money emphasises her connection with the land and she encourages the audience to do the same.


Wow, firstly, it is amazing how the impact of poetry can change from just being read in your mind compared to being spoken aloud! Secondly, I can see what you mean about Jazz Money’s ability to use poetic techniques to create a powerful image in the reader’s mind. Is there another section of the poem you’d like to share with our audiences?


Sure. I also really like the stanza Jazz Money opens the poem with:

Song for the rivers caring the land whole,

carving the land together,

whose currents birth us old here.



It’s beautiful. It feels so calming to listen to.


Yes, I agree. She uses personification to suggest the river is a mother figure and this makes the audience think about the role rivers have in our country. The poem, in general, made me realise that I haven’t really been appreciating the beautiful environment we are surrounded by and that I should probably start reflecting on the importance of nature in our lives.


Wow, it is such a fascinating poem and, you’re right, it really does encourage to think about our own relationship with the environment. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on it today. Okay, now let’s hear a word from our friends and sponsors, the High School Haikus.


Hey guys! DJ RhymeFlow Maestro here from the High School Haikus Poetry Collective! We are a proud sponsor of this podcast and I’m here to remind you about our inaugural slam poetry competition taking place in August this year, the Rhyme Rumble. This one-day competition is a chance to show off your slammin’ skills and deliver your message in an epic manner. Entries shut at the end of June, so don’t miss out! Visit our website, linked in the show notes for more details.


Welcome back after that message from our sponsors at the High School Haikus Poetry Collective. Okay, before we run out of time, let’s get into discussing another Aboriginal poet who is pretty famous in the creative world, Ali Cobby Eckermann. Can you tell me a bit about her, Parker?


I sure can. Ali Cobby Eckermann is another contemporary Aboriginal poet known for her critique of the White Australia Policy and the Stolen Generations. She was born on Kaurna Land in South Australia before being taken from her mother and adopted by a white family. Ali Cobby Eckermann was the first Aboriginal woman to be awarded the Windam Campbell literary prize. I love her poem, ‘Circles and Squares’, which is a touching exploration of the difficulties faced when trying to fit into two worlds. Would you like me to read a stanza?


Yes, I’d love that. Maybe you could pick one for our audience that has allowed you to make connections with and reflect on your own world?


I really like these lines:

My heart is Round like a drum, ready to echo the music of my Family

But the Square within me still remains

The square hole stops me in my entirety

These lines allowed me to reflect on the deep emotional scars felt as a result of the Stolen Generation. Eckermann’s use of capitalisation highlights the significance of the two shapes, the circle, which is round, and the square. Round and Family are both capitalised and represent her culture. This is reinforced by the simile ‘my heart is round like a drum’. In contrast the square shape stops her in ‘my entirety’. This line tells us that she struggles to connect with her white history. It is filled with melancholy, but I find it incredibly powerful.


I see a connection between this poem and Jazz Money’s ‘GUDYI’ in that they both have a deep connection to song and the impact of colonisation. We have time for you to share your thoughts on just one more section of ‘Circles and Squares’ if you’d like?


GUDYI’s poem reflects the importance of the land and the natural environment, and this connection is also represented in Eckermann’s poem:

We slept in Circles on beaches around our fires.

We sat in the dirt, on Our land, that belongs to a big Round planet.

We watched the Moon grow to a magnificent yellow Circle.

Eckermann’s use of capitalisation is present again, this time reinforced by the repetition of the inclusive pronoun ‘we’. The capitalisation of ‘Our’ highlights their connection to the land. They do not live in houses, they sleep and sit on the land, looking at the magnificent moon. It is a lovely tranquil image that reflects the importance of being at one with the planet and Aboriginal culture.


By using language so creatively, both Ali Cobby Eckermann and Jazz Money really encourage their readers to consider the power poetry has to invite the audience into the composer’s world, particularly the natural world, as we have seen here in ‘GUDYI’ and ‘Circles and Squares. Well, we have come to the end of today’s episode. A big thank you to our listeners for joining us again for this week’s episode of our podcast, What makes poetry powerful? If you check out our show notes, we have links to the websites and spoken poetry recordings of the poets from today’s recording. Next week, we catch up with Parker again to discuss the poetry of First Nations poets John Hartley and Iris Clayton. As always, a big thank you to our patrons. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to produce the podcast. If you would like to sign up, please visit patreon.com/whatmakespoetrypowerful?

[closing jingle plays]


This podcast has been recorded on Awabakal Country. If any of the contents from today’s episode has caused you distress, please reach out to someone who can help keep you safe.

[end of transcript]

These resources support the delivery of 'The Black Rat' slideshows and include a reading of the poem and describe its context.

Watch 'Recording – phases 3–5 – The Black Rat' (2:34).

A reading of the poem, 'The Black Rat'


‘The Black Rat’ by Iris Clayton

Iris Clayton’s poem written in 1988, ‘The Black Rat’ has been reproduced and made available for copying and communication by the NSW Department of Education for its educational purposes. This has been made possible as permission has been granted by Narelle Urquhart (the daughter of Iris Clayton). This resource and the copy of the poem is licensed up until October 2024. We are very grateful for this support and collaboration.

[dramatic music]

‘The Black Rat’ by Iris Clayton

He lived in a tin hut with a hard dirt floor.
He had bags sewn together that was his door.
He was a Rat of Tobruk until forty five,
He was one of the few that came back alive.

Battered and scarred he fought for this land,
And on his return they all shook his hand.
The price of fighting for the freedom of man
Did not make any difference to this Blackman.

He returned to the outback, no mates did he find.
If he had a beer he was jailed and then fined.
He sold all his medals he once proudly wore:
They were of no use to him any more.

[plaintive piano music]

Confused and alone he wandered around,
Looking for work though none could be found.
The Anzac marches he badly neglected,

Would show to his comrades how he was rejected.

He fought for this land so he could be free.
Yet he could not vote after his desert melee.
And those years in the desert they really took their toll,
He went there quite young and he came home so old.

This once tall man came from a proud Black tribe,
Died all alone – no one at his side.

[End of transcript]

Watch 'Context – phases 3–5 – The Black Rat' (8:46).

Context for the poem 'The Black Rat' by Iris Clayton


'The Rats of Tobruk' refers to the Australian, British and Indian soldiers who defended the port city of Tobruk from German attack. They are called rats because an English traitor, Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) would broadcast by radio messages supporting the Germans and trying to warn the Australian soldiers that their efforts were for nothing and they would be crushed by the Africa Korps. These kinds of broadcasts were known as Propaganda.

Because the Australian soldiers were in 'dug in' trenches and bunkers, Lord Haw Haw said they were like 'Rats'. The Australians took that as a compliment and labelled themselves as the 'Rats of Tobruk'.

The poem ‘The Black Rat’ is about Cecil Clayton who is the father of the poet, Iris Clayton.

He served in the 2nd of the 13th Battalion in Tobruk, Libya. This was the place where he spent eight months being bombed and attacked by the Afrika Korps. There are some interesting facts about Cecil's experience during war. His battalion was the only group that was evacuated overland as their ship had been blown up. Cecil also fought and was injured during the major battles at El Alamein in 1942. Records show that Cecil was seriously injured at El Alamein. The biggest of these battles commenced on October the 23rd and Cecil was wounded in action on October the 29th. The wounds were to his left arm and chest.

Following his return to Australia, Cecil's life did not run smoothly. To share his experience, his daughter Iris wrote ‘The Black Rat’ to describe his life and what happened to him upon his return from war.

Tobruk, looking at the map, Tobruk is located in Libya in Northern Africa. It is a coastal town known for its deepwater harbour. It was considered perfect for troop and supply ships to anchor. The Germans needed this port to help them supply their advance toward Egypt. And so, the attack began. The Australian War memorial provides a summary of events:

'Between April and August 1941 around 14,000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by a German–Italian army commanded by General Erwin Rommel. The garrison, commanded by Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead, consisted of the 9th Division (20th, 24th, and 26th Brigades), the 18th Brigade of the 7th Division, along with four regiments of British artillery and some Indian troops.'

Cecil was stationed in Tobruk in early 1941 and later fought at El Alamein in 1942. If you look carefully at the map, it shows the 2 places in North Africa where they are located. Tobruk and El Alamein were two very important battles that occurred between British and German forces in 1941 to 1942. In both battles, the German advance was stopped and their plans were disrupted.

The Protagonists. On this slide, we are introduced to the two leaders who fought against each other at Tobruk. The Australian leader was Lt General Leslie Morshead. He fought in World War I and not long after World War II commenced, he was asked to command the Australian 9th Division that were eventually based in Tobruk.

On the right is the German leader, General Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, known as The Desert Fox, because of his skill in tactics and attack. He was also a World War I soldier and by World War II, he was considered one of the finest generals in the German army.

Let's take a closer look at the battlefield map of Tobruk. The Allies, Australians, Indians and some British, built a semi-circle of defences around the town. They had two key lines of defence. Can you see the black dotted line which was the first line of defence? Behind this was the red Line which was used as the support line. The Australians had built bunkers and trenches to protect themselves from attack. The problem for the German Afrika Korps was beyond the black Line. It was flat and largely provided no cover for their soldiers to attack. The Australians could easily see the enemy approaching.

The Rats of Tobruk dug slit trenches, laid barbed-wire, created anti-tank ditches that were hidden from the enemy and they re-used the artillery and cannon left behind by the Italians to fire back at the Afrika Korps.

All these defences were underestimated by the Afrika Korps, which led to their ill-fated ‘Easter Attack’. The German soldiers had experienced incredible success throughout Europe and so far, in North Africa. Their plans to take Egypt and secure the Suez Canal were largely moving forward with very little opposition. A new strategy by the Australians to let the tanks through their lines to then attack the soldiers behind, created confusion for the German soldiers who had no protection from the tanks. Isolated, the tanks were then attacked by artillery fire at close range. The attack was repelled.

Over the eight months, the attacking German soldiers experienced a relentless number of night patrol attacks by the Australians. The Australians had made the decision to ensure that while they were defending their position, they could not let the enemy settle in theirs. Many patrols and night attacks destroyed enemy equipment and created fear for the German soldiers. The Germans also tried to attack the defensive lines of the Australians.

Pictured in the centre of this slide, Jack Edmondson was a Corporal at Tobruk and won the Victoria Cross for his bravery. An account of his action is as follows:

'In April 1941, German infantry breached the defences at Tobruk, establishing machine-guns, mortars, and field-guns. A seven-man section, including Edmondson, charged the position. Although wounded in the neck and stomach, Edmondson continued to advance under heavy fire, killing one German with his bayonet. He later killed another two Germans, saving the life of his platoon commander, but he succumbed to his wounds soon after the German attack was defeated. His citation noted that Edmondson's actions during the operation "were outstanding for resolution, leadership and conspicuous bravery.”

By October 1941, the Rats had been relieved by British soldiers. They were shipped out for a well-deserved rest. They had repelled the Afrika Korps and delayed and disrupted their plans to attack Egypt. The Rats had destroyed much of the enemies' resources, tanks, weapons and soldiers. Sadly, in war, many make the supreme sacrifice and nearly 750 Australian soldiers made that sacrifice. Many soldiers were buried in Tobruk and their graves are looked after by the Australian Government to this day. Cecil Clayton and 2nd of the 13th Battalion escaped Tobruk overland to battle the Germans at El Alamein the following year.

[End of transcript]

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