‘The Paddock’ by Lilith Norman and Robert Roennfeldt is an optimistic environmental picture book. Its lyrical text and atmospheric landscape paintings describe the life cycle of a piece of land called the paddock. It is uniquely Australian and follows its history from its beginnings as a lava field through to the arrival of the Aboriginal Peoples and then white settlers.
Each double page spread describes the paddock’s transformation over time as flora, fauna and humans inhabit and adapt to it to suit their needs. The illustrations move from dreamlike awe through the primitive innocence of nature to the metallic shine and hard edge of civilisation.
Like ‘Window’ by Jeannie Baker, its environmental message is that there is always a cost to development. However, ‘The Paddock’ goes further in illustrating the reassuring ability of the earth to survive, to renew and repair itself, in whatever form the future may bring. ‘Even if the soil should become sour and dead, the paddock will wait, as it has always waited, to live.’
‘The Paddock’ provides opportunities for students to explore the ways in which the same piece of land and its inhabitants change over time. The written and visual text cleverly represent an engaging timeline of change and renewal, inviting students to investigate concepts of continuity and change, and cause and effect to reinforce their understanding of history focus areas of the past in the present, and past and present family life. It also supports students’ understanding of the geography focus on features of place.
Critical engagement with the text raises an awareness of the abilities of the author and illustrator to convey environmental messages with a subtlety that compels the reader to analyse and draw conclusions for their own context.
Suggestions for using this text
Use ‘The Paddock’ as a shared reading text. The language bounces off the page and is an excellent example of using figurative language effectively to convey meaning. Students complete a text-to-self, other and world Y-chart to make connections to the text.
Make connections to other texts that show a sequence of time, such as ‘My Place’ by Sally Morgan and ‘Window’ by Jeannie Baker. The students compare and contrast the different books. Is there a common message running throughout all the books?
- Discuss how the illustrations and text work together to create a symbiosis that draws the reader in.
- Investigate how the illustrations reinforce the text. Do they go further than the text in conveying meaning?
- Compare the illustrations from the beginning of the book where the shape and form is soft and flowing, to the last few illustrations where the artist has used harsh and sharp lines and colouring.
- Identify methods the illustrator uses to convey the different meanings.
During a reading of ‘The Paddock’, the students identify human and natural features on each double page spread. Do they increase or decrease as the book progresses? Tallying their data and graphing their results gives a visual representation of the changes that occur. Discussions about the possible reasons for the changes, along with the amount and variety of animals, would follow.
Use ‘The Paddock’ as a springboard for a class debate on the question, Do the benefits of civilisation justify the effects of it on the environment?
Focus on historical concepts
- How has the land my school sits on changed over time?
- What types of families have used this land?
After reading ‘The Paddock’, students are paired up and given a double page of the text to think, see and wonder about. Using the information collected, the students draw and write about their double page to create a page of a class timeline of how the paddock has changed, both in use and inhabitants, over the course of the book. Each pair presents their part of the timeline to the rest of the class and adds it to the class timeline.
Using their knowledge of ‘The Paddock’s’ historical timeline, the students investigate the history of their own school grounds and the different families that have used the land. Accessing local area history sites, local councils, maps, photographs and oral histories, the students investigate the site of the school and the changing inhabitants of that land that has occurred up until now. They group their sources in primary and secondary and label accordingly. The students sort the information into the differing family groups that have used the land to create a timeline and then individually draw and write about the land and the families that used it at that time in history.
Here is a work sample of a historical timeline that students at Murray Farm Public School in Carlingford, NSW completed of their school site, based on their reading of ‘The Paddock’ and their historical research. Pages could be added to make the timeline longer.
History - A student:
- communicates an understanding of change and continuity in family life using appropriate historical terms HT1-1
- demonstrates skills of historical inquiry and communication HT1-4.
Students investigate how the present, past and future are signified by terms indicating time such as ‘a long time ago’, ‘then and now’, ‘now and then’, ‘old and new’, ‘tomorrow’, as well as by dates and changes that may have personal significance, such as birthdays, celebrations and seasons, for example (ACHHK029):
- define and use terms relating to time, sequencing objects or photographs from the past, eg, then and now, past and present, a long time ago.
- How do we care for our land?
Focus on geographical concepts
After viewing ‘The Paddock’, the students wonder how they can represent the paddock in a different way. For example, how Aboriginal people would show the land. A discussion of a bird’s eye view would ensue.
- Why use a bird’s eye view?
- What are the advantages/disadvantages of using this view?
- Would ‘The Paddock’ be better represented by being illustrated in a bird’s eye view?
Students, in pairs, take one double page and replicate the scene by using a bird’s eye view. They then compare their view to the original. A whole bird’s eye view of ‘The Paddock’ could then be completed by adding all the pages together.
Students complete a fence line walk of the school property, completing a bird’s eye sketch map of what they observe. They note human and natural features along the way and use symbols to create their map. They draw in the surrounding streets and residential buildings.
Guide students to use iPads or laptops to access sites such as Google earth/ maps, to locate their school grounds and match their sketch to what they find. They add more detail to their map based on their findings. They refine their symbols and add a key to their maps.
Using SIX maps and a whiteboard, show students how to locate their school grounds using the advanced search function and selecting Basemaps, then choose the 1943 imagery and compare the two images.
- How has the site of the school changed over those years?
- Why has it changed?
- Who is responsible for the changes?
- How has the environment been impacted by the changes that have occurred?
Using all prior knowledge and geographical information collected, the students project what the land will look like in the future.
- What actions can they take to care for their school grounds and make it sustainable for the future?
As a class, the students choose the most important way they think the land can be used sustainably. Present that information in a poster, PowerPoint or digital book like Book creator for the principal’s and executive team’s consideration.
Geogaphy - A student:
- describes features of places and the connections people have with places GE1-1
- identifies ways in which people interact with and care for places GE1-2
- communicates geographical information and uses geographical tools for inquiry GE1-3.
Students investigate features of places and how they can be cared for, for example (ACHGK005):
- description of the natural and human features of places
- consideration of how a place can be cared for. For example, a park, farm, beach, bushland.
Students create a bush tucker garden by planting a variety of edible native plantings into the school grounds that reflect the Aboriginal tribe that occupied their land. The students maintain the gardens and run bush tucker workshops with other students in the school.
If in the school site’s history the land was used for orchards, then the students could, as a long term project, plant a miniature orchard and use the produce to make small jars of preserves to hand out to people visiting the school.
Creating a bush tucker garden addresses the cross-curriculum priorities:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories
It emphasises the relationships people have with places and their interconnections with the environments in which they live, including identifying ways in which people interact and care for places (GE1-2).
References and further reading
Baker, J. (1991). Window. Australia: Walker Books.
Book creator. (2019). Red Jumper Ltd.
Geography K–10 Syllabus. © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2015.
History K–10 Syllabus. © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2012.
Morgan, S. (1987). My place. Western Australia: Fremantle Press.
Norman, L. & Roennfeldt, R. (2012). The paddock. (Walker Classic). Newtown, NSW: Walker Books.
SIX maps. State of New South Wales (Department of Finance, Services and Innovation) Spatial Services, 2018.
Sydney Olympic Park. Sydney Olympic Park Authority. © SOPA State of New South Wales.
How to cite this article – Sommer, P. (2019) SPaRK - The Paddock Stage 1. Scan, 38(5).