The christening

[Episode 6 | 1958 : Michaelis]

Michaelis's father and friends are celebrating the birth of the baby in a traditional Greek way. The boys next door, who had bullied Michaelis and called him a 'wog', apologise and pay him a penny to replace his lost ice-cream. Janice shows her affection for Michaelis.


The Australian curriculum: English

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The Australian Curriculum: English aims to ensure that students:

  • learn to listen to, read, view, speak, write, create and reflect on increasingly complex and sophisticated spoken, written and multimodal texts across a growing range of contexts with accuracy, fluency and purpose
  • appreciate, enjoy and use the English language in all its variations and develop a sense of its richness and power to evoke feelings, convey information, form ideas, facilitate interaction with others, entertain, persuade and argue
  • understand how Standard Australian English works in its spoken and written forms and in combination with non-linguistic forms of communication to create meaning
  • develop interest and skills in inquiring into the aesthetic aspects of texts, and develop an informed appreciation of literature.

English activities [3]

Activity 1: The 'wog'
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Subtheme(s): Art, music and literature; Character; Language and scripting
  • Discuss what Janice means when she tells Michaelis, 'I don't think you're a wog.' Do students think this is a compliment or an insult? Discuss the term 'wog' with the class, what it means and how people feel about it. Discuss reasons why this term and other derogatory names are sometimes given to people of other cultural backgrounds. Ask students what they think about this practice.
  • Discuss how Michaelis might respond to being called a 'wog'. In small groups, have students produce a poem describing Michaelis's feelings about this term and about Janice telling him she thinks he isn't a 'wog'. The form could be a cinquain, haiku or ballad; it could be rhyming or free form.
  • Read students some extracts from the book They're a Weird Mob by Nino Culotta. In the story, an Italian immigrant who has recently arrived in Australia tells what it is like trying to make sense of the Australian way of life. Explain to students that Nino Culotta is actually the pseudonym of the author John O'Grady. This novel and the subsequent film were very popular. The story outlines the problems Nino has as he struggles to understand the English spoken by the Australian working class of the 1950s and 1960s. View and discuss the three clips from the 1996 film found on the australianscreen website,

  • Ask students to design a poster that could be used to welcome immigrants to Australia. Alternatively, design and construct a booklet of advice for people who have recently arrived in Australia.


Activity 2: Fathers and sons
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Subtheme(s): Currency; Customs and traditions; Relationships
  • Ask students to describe the relationship between Michaelis and his father and discuss their responses. Ask them to use evidence from the clip to support their observations, for example, Baba kissing and hugging Michaelis, and the kind way he speaks to his son. Ask students to then examine the relationship between the McCormack boys and their father. Discuss these responses.
  • Screen the segment that shows the McCormack boys giving Michaelis the penny and watch carefully the portrayal of their father in this scene. He doesn't speak, but his body language conveys many emotions. Draw the students' attention to the way camera angles and shots are used to enhance the meaning of this scene. Discuss the reasons why the filmmaker has portrayed the McCormack family in this way. Use the following questions as prompts:
  1. How does this scene make the audience now feel about the relationship between Michaelis and his father?
  2. Why does the filmmaker want the audience to have sympathy for the McCormack boys?
  3. What does this scene add to the story?

  • Ask the students to reflect on the scene and complete these statements on the activity sheet.
  1. The filmmaker portrays the Greek family as ... because ...
  2. The filmmaker portrays the McCormack family as ... because ...


Activity 3: Traditions and beliefs
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Subtheme(s): Beliefs; Celebrations; Currency
  • At baby Sophia's christening, Michaelis's father asks him, 'Do you feel Greek now?' Ask the class what they think was meant by this question. Do students think Michaelis feels Greek now? Why or why not?
  • Have students list and discuss some of the Greek customs relating to the christening that are shown in the clip. Some suggestions could include throwing coins and Greek dancing.
  • Introduce the term 'christening' to the class and clarify what it means. Have students identify and discuss other cultural practices for welcoming a baby into the family, the community, or the world. Use examples such as a naming ceremony or first birthday party. Have students ask their families for information about any ceremonies that might have been held for them as babies and to share these with the class.
  • Discuss the importance of food in celebrations and have students write about a special occasion in their own family and what food they would enjoy at this occasion. Read the book Let's Eat! by Ana Zamorano, illustrated by Julie Vivas, to find out about the importance of sharing a meal together in a Spanish family.

  • Ask the students to design a special naming ceremony for someone or something important to them. This could be a pet, a person or a special toy. Students should include a speech, saying why this person or object is special and what they would wish for its future. Create a menu of food and drinks to celebrate the occasion.


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