The Last Whale

story by Jane Jolly , illustrated by Anna Bron

Focus question: How do our own values and beliefs influence the way we interpret the experiences and feelings of characters?


Learning Intention:

I am learning to discuss the influence historical, social and cultural experiences have on a text so that I can better understand attitudes towards characters, actions and events.


Success Criteria:

  • I can identify the theme of a text.
  • I can describe the historical, social and cultural context of a text and how that can change the theme.
  • I can discuss how the context of a text effects attitudes towards characters, actions and events.


Essential knowledge:

For more information about messages in texts, view The School Magazine’s video on Theme.

For more information about lenses in which we view the world, view The School Magazine’s video on Perspective.

For more information on viewpoints, view The School Magazine’s video on Point of View.

For more information on context, view The School Magazine’s video on Context.

Examples of the Circle of Viewpoints activity can be found under Perspectives in the Digital Learning Sector.


Oral language and communication:

Prior to reading the text, write the words “It is wrong to kill whales” on the board and ask the students to raise their hands if they agree.

Write the words “It is wrong to kill fish” on the board and ask the students what the difference is between these two points.

Discuss as a class the morality of killing animals for food and products such as clothing (e.g. leather) and explain that whales were once killed for oil, and that this was generally considered acceptable. Give students a chance to discuss their personal opinions and thoughts on the topic.


Understanding text:

As a class, read through the text or listen to the audio recording if you have a digital subscription. Ensure students read the speech bubble that says:

This story is based loosely on a whale chaser captain in Albany, Western Australia, who gave up chasing whales, some time after 1977, to become a spokesman for the humpbacks, opposing whaling and defending their rights.

Ask students:

- What do you, as children in this time period in Australia, think of Torben? (Students might think he’s brave, moral just, a leader, compassionate)

- What do you think the theme (message) of this story is? (Students might suggest something like it’s wrong to kill animals to the point of extinction, or that making the right choice is often difficult)

- What do you think people in Torben’s social and historical context might have thought of him? (Students should recognise that Torben was probably met at first with disbelief and anger when he raised his concerns)

- How do you think the theme might be different if this story was written in Torben’s historical and social context? (Some students might argue that the theme doesn’t change, while some students might point out that Torben could be considered a coward back then, and the theme might fall along the lines of making wrong choices for personal feelings)

- What is a parallel circumstance in the modern day for Torben’s actions? (An example might be someone who works at a chicken farm refusing to take part anymore, or at an abattoir)

- How might people in modern society react to the activists in these situations? (With similar anger and disbelief, an unwillingness to change – either for money or ease of accessing these resources)


Creating text:

Invite students to brainstorm a range of perspectives of Torben’s situation. Examples include:

- Torben’s family

- Torben’s crew

- The whales

- Modern day readers of the text

- Modern day activists

- People who could’ve read this text in Torben’s time

- People in Torben’s time who needed oil

- Merchants in Torben’s time who supplied oil


Have students choose one perspective from their brainstorm and answer the three prompts below (ensure they write their answers to 2 and 3 from the viewpoint):

  1. I am thinking of Torben’s actions from the viewpoint of ___________.
  2. I think _________________ because _____________________. (At least 3 answers)
  3. A question or concern I have from this viewpoint is _________________________. (At least 3 answers)


An example answer:

  1. I am thinking of Torben’s actions from the viewpoint of Torben.

2a. I think I made the right decision because I listened to my instincts and moral compass.

  1. I think it’s wrong to kill species to extinction.
  2. I think the rest of the world needs to understand that killing whales is wrong.

3a. I hope I can still support my family financially now that I don’t have a job.

  1. I’m worried my crew won’t have an income without me.
  2. Will anyone listen when I tell them to stop killing whales?


Assessment for/as learning:

Students swap their answers with a partner who has used a different viewpoint and discuss their reasonings. Peers can make suggestions if they wish.