“He is a storyteller, a poet, and has the unique ability to communicate with all Australians, across all age groups and gender. Collaborating with indigenous musicians, young performers, and artists of all genres, Kelly has created some of the most important songs of our times.”
I grew up with Paul Kelly. His music and distinctive voice just seems to have always been quietly bobbing along in the sea of our popular culture. The quality of his music has allowed it to last in what is, by definition, an ephemeral landscape. He is a poet.
Most Australians know Kelly and he has much to offer an international audience, on multiple levels. For the fan, or the uninitiated, I highly recommend the audiobook version of How to Make Gravy, which is memorably read by the singer. He has distinctive voice (in all senses of the word). The structure of the book – an A-Z set list of 100 of his songs – works to evoke the music as his storytelling, like his lyrics, is something special. There are some great human stories as he traverses our cultural, as well as his personal landscape as a performer. He is unashamedly literary in his interests and often talks about his reading. I was not surprised to hear that he read Marcel Proust and Herman Hesse so avidly in his youth.
Coincidentally, I was listening to this wonderful musical memoir when the documentary, Paul Kelly – Stories of Me, was released by Shark Island Productions. When I played some of his songs to my Year 10 English class late last year they knew them – without necessarily knowing Paul Kelly. Everyone, every single kid in the class, knew the anthem, ‘To Her Door’.
The class was interested, so I decided to show them the documentary and use the quality teaching resources that are freely available online for the film. You register here (NB check your email for the activation link). After that you can login to access the resources, gain a student code and view the ‘schools version’ of the film. Here is the Facebook page and Youtube channel. If you have not viewed the film I recommend you check out these teaching resources while previewing it these holidays. It wont seem like work spending some time with Paul Kelly and I think we should celebrate his work as widely as possible.
Australians need many more quality documentaries that explore our cultural landscape that are also engaging for teenagers. The Shark Island Institute should be commended for their philanthropic ventures, especially in supporting schools with teaching resources. I recommend you check out Good Pitch2 for more excellent feature-length documentary projects.
NB Seven new films will be screened at the Sydney Opera House on October 8, 2014.
What have been your experiences using the ‘Paul Kelly – Stories of Me’ at school (or do you intend to try it out in second semester)?
Thank you Darcy.
I also highly recommend the resource which works well with Years 10-12 and is flexible enough to include in a range of units, on documentary itself or on concepts you might be teaching through other texts such as biography, framing the subject, representation, intertextuality, the writing process and many more.
A few years ago in my early days of teaching I used Paul Kelly as the subject of a close study of an Australian poet. I was struggling to find someone who I thought would engage a group of lower streamed year nine students. We used his book of lyrics as the text and I selected those songs that worked well as poetry – not necessarily those that were great songs. The unit was a huge success and the teaching experience forms some of my fondest memories of my time as a beginning teacher. Paul Kelly is a master storyteller and wordsmith and the added bonus of being able to bring music into the English classroom was such a joy. It is exciting to think that there are now other great resources available that could be used to supplement a study of Paul Kelly. One student from that class who was in danger of leaving school after Year 10, eventually ended up studying Advanced English for his HSC and leaving school to become a journalist. I honestly think engaging with the work of Paul Kelly in Year 9 helped him change his perceptions of his future.
Do you think this unit would be suitable for Year 8 students?
I would not use with stage 4, Alison. Maybe excerpts to support another unit would work ok.