Black Cockatoo

Exploring the 2019 CBCA Short List: Younger Readers

The content description links on this page have been updated in line with Version 9.0 of the Australian Curriculum. Use this guide to compare codes across versions.

Authors: Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler

Publisher: Magabala Books

Themes:  Indigenous culture, past and present, family, respect, freedom

Years: Australian Curriculum: English, Years 5 and 6; Health and Physical Education, Years 5 and 6; Humanities and Social Sciences (Geography), Year 5 and 6 (History), Year 5; Science, Years 5 and 6.

From the publisher’s synopsis: Black Cockatoo is a vignette that follows Mia, a young Aboriginal girl as she explores the fragile connections of family and culture. Mia is a 13-year-old girl from a remote community in the Kimberley. She is saddened by the loss of her brother as he distances himself from the family. She feels powerless to change the things she sees around her, until one day she rescues her totem animal, the dirran black cockatoo, and soon discovers her own inner strength. A wonderful small tale on the power of standing up for yourself, culture and ever-present family ties.

Unit writer: Helen Cozmescu

Field and context

Building field knowledge

  • Participate in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count or create your own roster to collect data on birds in the school yard. Consider appropriate ways to make the data readable to others. AC9S6U01
  • Divide students into groups, to explore one online site that provides information about the black cockatoo species. Students map out the reading pathway and critique the site according to the content and ease of access to information about the cockatoos’ needs, the threats they faced and measures put in place to prevent their extinction, by commenting on the website’s use of colour, framing, layout, headings and hyperlinks. Site 1; Site 2; Site 3; Site 4; Site 5. AC9E6LY01 
  • Listen to information about Aboriginal kinship.
  • Prepare a list of questions and invite an Aboriginal elder from the local area to speak to the students about the totems and customs of the local Indigenous people.

Exploring the context of the text

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Responding and exploring

Responding to the text

  • Use an Indigenous language map, to find Jaru Country. Use a geo tool to investigate the area and develop an understanding of the setting of Country, as described by Mia. Write a descriptive paragraph about the area and compare it with the descriptions provided in the text. AC9E6LE05 
  • Mia talks about living in two worlds. Discuss what she means by this and what evidence there is in the text of cultural conflict. AC9E5LY04

Exploring plot character and setting

  • Make an emotions and character trait chart for Mia and Jy. Use quotes from the text to support your thinking. AC9E6LY04 
  • Find examples of tension between characters, such as Grandfather and Jy; and Mia and Jy. Identify the factors that caused tension and share ideas about what each character would have to do to have them resolved. AC9E5LE03 
  • Draw a map of life events in Jy’s life. Consider if these could impact upon how he thinks, feels and behaves today. AC9E5LE01 
  • Discuss how Mia’s, Grandfather’s and Jy’s attitude and actions towards animals differ and compare these to your thinking. AC9E5LE03 
  • Find evidence of power relationships and categorise these under age, gender, status, or experience. Share your thoughts and feelings about this. AC9E5LE01
  • Mia feels closely liked to her home and Country, yet in the final chapter she dreams of flying away. Re-read this chapter and discuss how this dream relates to the ending of the story. AC9E6LY02 

Creating texts

  • The narrative can be described as contemporary realism, as it is set in today’s times, has realistic characters and situations, and presents emotional conflict for some of the characters. Create a narrative plan for a fictional short story set in a familiar time and place. AC9E5LY06 

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Examining text structure and organisation

  • The text is made up of eleven short chapters. Identify the main event that happens in each chapter and discuss its relationship to one of the key themes. AC9E6LE02 
  • A glossary is included, translating Aboriginal and Kriol words to English. Examine each of the words, in the context of the text, and decide if there were enough contextual clues to work out meaning. AC9E6LY04

Examining grammar

  • Choose a character and categorise their dialogue under the headings of commands, questions or statements. What do your results tell you about the character? AC9E4LY06 
  • Examine the final chapter, for the authors’ use of: prepositional phrasesShe knew he would not last long in the bush, outside the safety of his cage, but Mia knew it was right; adverbials of placeAt the end of town, she heard it; adverbials of mannerShe gently reached into the cage, carefully avoiding the strong beak and sharp claws; adverbials of timeThat afternoon Mia sat out by the big tree talking to the dirrarn in his cage. Find other examples, throughout the text. AC9E6LA06 

Examining visual and multimodal features

  • Each chapter has a full page illustration of some aspect of nature – cockatoo, snake or the bush. Discuss your personal response to the artwork and share how it makes you feel. Discuss the effect the use of black has on the viewer. Examine the illustration in the last chapter, and identify the aspect that makes this illustration feel different from the others. AC9E6LE04
  • Try to replicate the feeling the illustrator conveys, by drawing with dark, grey lead pencils and applying a lighter black paint wash over the top. AC9E6LE03

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Additional and related resources and links to other texts: Learn about National Sorry Day. Explore the authors’ website.  Read other stories with similar themes, such as My Girragundji.  View picture story books that hold a strong theme of Country: My CountryWelcome to Country and Kakadu Calling.  Read Our Birds, which denotes the special significance of birds to the Yolnu People. Also find a PETAA CBCA unit of work for Welcome to Country.

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