English Extension 2 is a course for dreamers and visionaries. Students take on four units of English during their HSC year and develop an original substantial major work in one of the following forms: short fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, critical response, script – short film, television, drama, podcasts – drama, storytelling, speeches, performance poetry or multimedia.
As the year began, we asked our students whether they were prepared to create something new, something that didn’t already exist. How did they feel about taking the reader by the hand and leading them into the world of the text they create, giving the reader or the listener an encounter that would change them utterly? Were they prepared to do that?
With a startling sense of purpose, they said yes.
And so began our journey together towards the composition of 15 beautiful major works in English. These talented new writers, poets, playwrights, scriptwriters, essayists, podcasters and storytellers have much to say. Their voices are lyrical, compelling and deeply moving. They’ve been empowered by hard work and extensive independent research. In Extension 2 we’re also always on the shoulders of literary giants. Throughout the year we enjoyed reading and talking about Thoreau, Whitman, Borges, Shakespeare, Arendt, Ginsberg, Calvino, Beckett, Spinoza, Lowell and of course Plath and Hughes and so many more.
As you enter each world that has been created by our students, you’ll encounter people and places that will stay with you long after you leave. Some of the worlds are strange, some are uncomfortably familiar and some are mesmerising.
All are thought provoking, finely crafted and memorable. It has been a joy to teach in a collaborative partnership with Head of English Thom Marchbank, Assistant Head of English Susie Bolt and our Writer-in-Residence, Dr Felicity Plunkett. Together we set out to nurture the immense creativity and intellectual firepower of our remarkable students.
Jenny Williams and Patrice Marchbank, Director and Assistant Director of the Bibliothèque were also instrumental in supporting our students through their research path.
Sometimes it was more about getting out of our students’ way so that they could go further than even they thought they could go. At other times we were humbled and moved by their openness to our detailed and exacting feedback. It’s tough to have your work critiqued by the eagle eye of English teachers before you really want anybody to see it.
What has inspired us most has been the way these funny, clever, creative students have nurtured and encouraged each other in what became a treasured learning community that met in The Literarium each Tuesday at lunchtime and from 4pm till 5pm on Friday afternoons in the calm of our new Bibliothèque. And then of course, as the Delta strain took hold of Sydney, the class took their major works home where they gently, patiently and openly kept going. This was the very special holding environment in which 15 new works were forged and each represents the endless potential of students in their final year of school.
The historical photograph that graces the cover of our exhibition was the image we began with, the visual metaphor and the driving vision for our work. Like the artists of The Cabaret Voltaire, our students, with their sparkling intellects and their joyful spirits loved being in each other’s company, as their works took shape. Conversations about race, the human condition, loss and time, place and home, family, brotherhood, motherhood and fatherhood, masculinity, the replenishing power of nature and the land, belonging and not belonging, acts of reading and writing, and of course love, were the threads that wove our collective experience of the course. We had a lot of fun too.
And like those young artists who gathered together in Zurich in the heady days of 1916, our students knew that they would not pass this particular way again and so they all made the most of the experience and memories were made that I know will stay with them all, long after the HSC is over. I will miss our students and their works. I’m proud of them and I congratulate them. I thank them for being everything a teacher could possibly hope for, and finally, I commend these fine major works to you.