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SS1010: Australian People: Indigeneity & Multiculturalism: Reading with a purpose

Reading with a purpose

When academics design assessment they always have an educational outcome in mind, the trick is to figure out what this is, then demonstrate that you have learned it. The good news is, they always tell you what that is, every time!! Our teachers really do want us to succeed.

In this assessment the lecturer wants you to learn about certain themes in Patricia Lees’ autobiography.

So, what are these themes we need to be looking for while we read?

The research question (in your subject outline) will tell you what the lecturer wants you to learn and write about.

Remember this is not a book review; the autobiography is just one piece of literature that you will refer to in your essay.

Research question

In A Question of Colour, Lees is sent to Palm Island because she is considered ‘too dark’ to succeed in mainstream society. What are the individual and social impacts of social exclusion like this on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

Notice that the question is NOT asking you to describe every instance that Lees felt excluded in her Autobiography, it is asking you:

What are the individual and social impacts of social exclusion … on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

So, let’s draw out some focus words from this question that will guide your reading and help you discover a theme in Lees' Autobiography that you might want to write about.

Focus words

At this point you don’t need to have all the answers, that is why you are going to do some reading, and if we read Lees’s autobiography with these keywords in mind you will find these themes I promise you.

Remember our teachers want us to succeed and they wrote the question to fit the book. But it also helps to think about synonyms and antonyms of the keywords within the question to identify key themes.

Social exclusion 


Skin colour

Social inclusion




Here are some themes that I found in A Question of Colour that might be worth considering:

  • The removal of key relationships—alienation from family—disrupted family bonds
  • Racism—exclusion based on difference—physical appearance—othering—stigma
  • Cultural exclusion—not being allowed to practice culture—assimilation
  • Structural exclusion and structural violence—laws, government legislation and social structures that exclude people—Institutionalisation
  • Invisibility—alienation— emotional neglect—child abuse 


Keep in mind, you are an academic reading with a purpose, so you need to devise a way of cataloguing the important passages in the book that you find. You don’t want to have to go back and read the whole thing again looking for that great example that you vaguely remembered reading.

I like to buy the book so that I can highlight passages and write my thoughts in the margins.

However there are a number of ways of doing this, what is important is that you record the sentences that matter, how they relate to your theme and what page they are on, if nothing else write down the important pages, you will thank me later.


What now?

Now it is time for you to read the book, yes, the whole book. Context is important, plus your marker has read the book and will be able to tell when you’re making stuff up. 

Then it is time to select the topic that you wish to discuss in your essay. 

Note: you will not have enough space to effectively write about all these themes, so it is a good idea to narrow your essay down to one or two of them and discuss them in detail.

So how do you choose which one? Well a good way, is to choose the topic that interests you the most.

You will have to do further research and that means more reading, and it is much easier to read about something that interests you. Also, it is worth considering the themes that caused you to feel a sense of injustice, anger, or sadness whilst reading the text. If it caused you to feel this way, then it is likely that others have felt strongly about the same issue and have written about it in journal articles.

We acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first inhabitants of the nation and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where our staff and students, live, learn and work.Acknowledgement of Country

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