2—Truth and rumour, heroic elephants and real heroes
Return to the picture book The Day of the Elephant. As with The Killing Sea, have students look for an author’s note in The Day of the Elephant, this time at the beginning. It mentions ‘reports and rumours of people being rescued by tamed elephants’, and ‘reports’ that ‘elephants of their own volition saved humans from the tsunami waves’ as a basis for the book.
The book ‘depicts one elephant, Mae Jabu, who collaborated with her mahout in saving children in southern Thailand.’ Have students read pages 17 to 22 of the book, to note that the mahout ordering the elephant to pick up the children is not mentioned or shown in images. This can be a point to discuss the editing of narratives or recounts to suit a story, rather than remaining completely faithful to facts. Consider other contexts where narratives from real life might be ‘edited’, such as reality television programs, even news reports.
In 2005 the website Snopes.com debunked the ‘miraculous stories’ that heroic elephants of their own volition saved human lives in the 2004 Asian tsunami. The site is considered reputable, and is referenced by large media organisations. On the digital whiteboard, share-read this article, explaining and defining terms where necessary. Discuss the differences between a rumour and a report. As a class, compile a list of attributes for each.
Heroes and Tilly Smith’s story
Eleven-year-old English girl Tilly Smith was reported to have saved 100 people on a beach in Thailand by warning them that a tsunami was coming because she’d just learnt about them at school. Do students think this is a true story or an urban myth?
Share-read Tilly Smith’s story in Surviving Tsunamis: Children’s true stories on pages 20–24. The last page has a map with the epicentre of the earthquake that generated tsunami waves, and the areas in the Indian Ocean affected. Note to students how prominent the western half of Australia is in the right-hand corner of the map: that these countries are Australia’s neighbours.
Show the video Lessons save lives: The story of Tilly Smith. Tilly Smith’s parents restricted media access to their young daughter, but allowed her to be interviewed to help raise awareness about the need for disaster preparation, including education. In the clip, Tilly modestly claims that her geography teacher (also interviewed at length) is the real hero. Significant Australian aid and development is spent in the important work of educating our Asia-Pacific neighbours about natural hazards and how ‘disasters’ can be managed and even prevented from taking human life.
What makes a hero?
Writer Joseph Campbell spent his life studying and comparing the mythology of the world’s cultures and thinking about their relevance to contemporary life. He was especially interested in the idea of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. He said, ‘A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself’. He described two types of heroic deeds:
‘One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message.’
Why is it that Tilly appears to be a hero despite her claims? Why does Tilly claim her geography teacher as the real hero? Taking into account the Campbell quote above, what sort of deed did Tilly do? Have students in pairs or small groups discuss and make notes about this, and then share their ideas with the class.
Hands Across the Water
Australian Peter Baines, who helped form the charity Hands Across the Water that helps Thai children orphaned by the 2004 Asian tsunami, was introduced to Thailand by his work as a police forensic investigator in the tsunami’s aftermath. His memoir Hands Across the Water includes one of the most important stories he tells as a public speaker on leadership, about an old man’s courage in the face of the tsunami. ‘Courage for me is when you are faced with a choice and you have to make a hard decision, knowing the outcome can change, or in some instances even cost, lives’ (page 161). Share-read Chapter 22, ‘The race of his life’.
In pairs or small groups, discuss the decision that the old man had to make: ‘He was faced with a decision that no one should have to make. If he had not made that decision, all three of them would have died. But he did have the courage to make that decision, and whilst that meant Tom died, it also meant that Aek survived.’ (page 164)
Have students write in their learning journals about the most courageous decision they (or someone among their family or friends) have made.
The Killing Sea
Students will now begin to independently read The Killing Sea. The novel chapters alternate between the point of view of Indonesian boy Ruslan and American girl Sarah. One aim of their reading will be to consider and make notes in their journal on how the disaster has affected and will affect the different parts of Ruslan’s life. The outcome will be to write one paragraph under each of the eight parts of his life affected. Work in Teaching and learning activity 3 in this module will help prepare students for this.
As a second objective, and using the Joseph Campbell quote above, students will note Sarah's deeds of physical courage, but above all the spiritual courage that she shows and what message it reveals to her that she brings back from her ‘hero’s journey’.
Students will ultimately write a persuasive text making close reference to the text of The Killing Sea to be presented as a talk: ‘The hero’s journey’.
Set aside in-class time throughout the unit for students to read The Killing Sea in class, and to participate in reading circle discussions with peers about how they are going with their reading and journaling, what they are enjoying and any difficulties they are having with comprehension or flagging interest.