Classic Australian Literature Unit – Marcus Clarke’s ‘For The Term of His Natural Life’


Summary of Teaching Resource:

This unit examines the heroic quest as portrayed in the graphic novel of Marcus Clarke’s epic ‘For the term of his
natural life’. The visual literacy inherent in the graphic version is a good starting point for discussion of meta
themes such as man’s inhumanity to man, Australia’s convict past and existentialism. The unit references text from the novel to highlight meaning communicated in different language forms. Other textual forms such as film, documentary and archived maps and posters are also used for learning activities. Historic links which allow research into the setting and context of the novel and are provided to extend the student.

About the Text:

For the term of His Natural Life is a Tasmanian Gothic tale written by Marcus Clarke as a serial in the Australian Journal 1870-1872. It was published as a novel in 1874. It is a tale of a ‘good man’, Richard Devine alias Rufus Dawes who is wrongly accused and sentenced to death. Instead he is commuted to Van Dieman’s Land. The island colony had been settled by Europeans in 1803 and during a fifty year period approximately 55,000 men and 25,000 women
were shipped directly to Van Diemen’s Land. His journey takes him into the worst of humanity at penal colonies which include Sarah Island, Macquarie Harbour, Norfolk Island and Port Arthur. The events which transpire during the novel are based upon journals and actual events in isolation; in order to create tension, emphasise the social issues and dramatise the journey these events all occur during Dawes’ lifetime: storm, typhoid, mutiny, flogging, shipwreck, escape, cannibalism and labour camps.


  • Graphic Novel book notes
  • Historical notes and research topics
  • Learning activities
  • Assessment ideas
  • Comparative studies Graphic Novel, Film and Novel Text
  • Visual Literacy Focus
  • Language Features of text
  • Themes

Australian Curriculum Links:

Year 10 English:

  • Compare and evaluate a range of representations of individuals and groups in different historical, social and cultural contexts(ACELT1639)
  • Analyse and evaluate how people, cultures, places, events, objects and concepts are represented in texts, including media texts, through language, structural and/or visual choices (ACELY1749)
  • Reflect on, extend, endorse or refute others’ interpretations of and responses to literature(ACELT1640)
  • Analyse and explain how text structures,language features and visual features of texts and the context in which texts are experienced may influence audience response (ACELT1641)
  • Compare the purposes, text structures andlanguage features of traditional and contemporary texts in different media(ACELA1566)
  • Identify, explain and discuss how narrativeviewpoint, structure, characterisation and devices including analogy and satire shape different interpretations and responses to a text(ACELT1642)
  • Compare and evaluate how ‘voice’ as a literary device can be used in a range of different types of texts such as poetry to evoke particular emotional responses (ACELT1643)

Download the Resource Below:

Classic Australian Literature Study – For The Term Of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (PDF)





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