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Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

4 — Petitioning people in power

In this sequence students look at the way written language has been used to talk about rights and how access to power can be limited to those who share a written tradition.

In 1967, one year after the Wave Hill Walkout began, leaders of the Gurindji people sent a petition to the Governor-General of Australia. Because the petitioners were not literate in English, author Frank Hardy and local welfare worker Bill Jeffrey penned the petition, which was signed with thumbprints by the Gurindji leaders. In this sequence, students will use the jigsaw reading comprehension strategy to make meaning from the petition. They will analyse the structure and language of the petition and make judgments about its overall effectiveness as a persuasive text. Using Australian government websites, students will learn about the rules that need to be followed to have a petition accepted by Parliament. They will then write petitions themselves.

Activity 1: Looking closely at the Gurindji petition

Using the Jigsaw strategy each group will read one paragraph of the petition, recording any unfamiliar words or phrases and pose questions about and arising from the text. They will use dictionaries to find the meanings of words. Students will take notes and, where necessary, use geographic, concept, and story maps to help them negotiate meaning.  Each group will summarise and explain their section of the petition to their home group and practise explaining the content of the set paragraphs. You may need to assist students to clarify unfamiliar words or expressions.ACELY1713

Individuals and organisations may seek to have petitions presented to the Parliament. A petition expresses a point of view, usually on matters of public policy, and contains a request for action or, in some cases, not to take action. The right to petition Parliament has been one of the rights of citizens since Federation. Each house of the Parliament has its own rules that documents must follow in order to be accepted as petitions.

Discuss the Gurindji petition and the way the petitioners built an argument to support their request, and how they attempted to persuade Lord Casey. For example, identify instances in the petition where the passive voice is used and discuss possible reasons for its use.  ACELA1518ACELY1801ACHASSI133

The group reading paragraph 4 could plot the tense of verbs in the paragraph, marking past, present and future tense and making a story map of the station showing the existing situation, what is happening at the time of writing and what will be done. Talk about the continuous tense to explain ongoing activity.  ACELA1523

Activity 2: Thinking about what makes a petition successful

Explain Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle, the concepts of logos, pathos and ethos and how they contribute to the effectiveness of a text. With the petition placed in the centre of the triangle, students individually or in small groups complete the Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle worksheet. Show the students how this can be used as a tool to evaluate texts. It can also be used to help them create effective texts themselves. In the Wikipedia entry for Mark Antony’s famous speech, referred to in Sequence 2, pathos is mentioned as contributing to the effectiveness of the speech.

Students will make judgments about the text. Have the petitioners written a successful persuasive text? Have they put forward a case and supported it with examples? Have they used logos, pathos and ethos effectively? After evaluating the text, students can read the response from Lord Casey (.pdf 12 kB).

Is there a difference between an effectively written persuasive text and its effectiveness in persuading the intended audience? What other issues might have come into play when the Gurindji petition was sent to Lord Casey? 
Students select one or two examples of completed Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle worksheets to add to the timeline in the class museum. 

Activity 3: Did the Gurindji petition follow the rules?

Students will read this brochure from the House of Representatives or locate information on the Australian Parliament’s website about the rules for presenting a petition to the Parliament and the formalities of the structure of the text. They will test the petition to Lord Casey against these rules. Were the rules the same in 1967? Are the rules the same for petitioning all bodies? Why was the petition sent to the Governor-General instead of to the Parliament? 

Read Lord Casey’s response to the petition (.pdf 25 kB) again and comment on the language used. For example, ‘I am directed’ at the beginning of the letter uses the passive voice to transfer responsibility for the contents of the letter away from the author, who is not Lord Casey but his secretary. Similarly, when referring to the sacred caves, the words ‘action can be taken’ transfer responsibility for this action away from the office of the Governor-General to an unknown person or group. The purpose of the petition was to persuade and it made use of logos, pathos and ethos (see Activity 2, above). The language in the response is more objective and refers to a series of legislations (logos) to justify the Governor-General’s decision. The status of the Governor-General and information about legislation are used in an attempt to add credibility to the author (ethos). The only use of pathos is in the veiled threat in the paragraph beginning ‘You should be careful’.

Activity 4: Writing a petition

In small groups, students spend a short amount of time, about three or four minutes for each, discussing the following questions:

Groups share their ideas with the class and talk about how they could convince the student representative council, principal, teacher or members of government by appealing to facts (logos), emotions (pathos) and fairness (ethos). Make word banks of verbs that express logos, pathos and ethos to assist students in their writing. Students then write letters or petitions using the ideas generated.  ACELY1714

Students assess each other’s work, editing for coherence, sequence and effective choice of vocabulary, including the use of modal verbs and verbs which convey logos, pathos and ethos.

A modal verb is a verb that expresses a degree of probability attached by a speaker to a statement (for example, ‘I might come home’) or a degree of obligation (for example, ‘You must give it to me’, ‘You are not permitted to smoke in here’).

Students should consider if the writing is a petition, if it meets criteria, and if it suits the intended audience.  ACELY1715

Students discuss the skills that they have used in this activity. What access to democratic processes do people have who are illiterate in the dominant language, are ignorant of the correct procedures or who lack confidence? How can citizens with power and skill assist those who lack these things? Think about the help that was provided to the Gurindji people.