Can We Talk About How, Not Just What?

Teaching Australian, Indigenous, and World Literatures in Complex Classrooms


  • Victoria Kuttainen James Cook University
  • Desiree Jeffcoat James Cook University
  • Sarah Burke James Cook University
  • Jade Croft James Cook University
  • Karla de Stefani James Cook University
  • Tracey Hough James Cook University


The focus in the university literature classroom has typically been on the text, rather than on contexts of learning and teaching. Even debates raised by postcolonial literary studies motivated by the desire to build a more just and equitable society have tended to foreground the content of the reading list. Yet, in complex classrooms riven by the kinds of political differences that reflect increasing polarisation in Australia and elsewhere, careful consideration must be given to how students and teachers are positioned to engage with challenging texts, complex issues, and each other. In this essay, students and their lecturer offer a self-reflexive analysis of their experiences in a postcolonial literary studies classroom that shifted online during the COVID pandemic, in a regional university geographically situated along the fault lines of what Mary Louise Pratt identified in 1991 as a “contact zone.” In their reflections on their extraordinary learning journey together, they describe a class that focused as much on latent interpersonal dynamics between them as readers and co-learners as on the Australian and world literature texts they unpacked together.

Author Biographies

Desiree Jeffcoat, James Cook University

Desiree Jeffcoat is a JCU Bachelor of Arts Graduate with majors in English and Psychology and a current CSU Master of Information Studies student, who works in a Public Library in Western Australia. Desiree is grateful that knowledge imparted to her through these seemingly unrelated disciplines have complimented each other nicely, shaping her thoughts and experiences throughout academic, working, and personal life.

Sarah Burke, James Cook University

Sarah Burke, a Murri woman from North West QLD, holds a BA in English and History, and is currently a Master of Philosophy candidate with the Indigenous Education and Research Centre at James Cook University. A Foucauldian philosopher, her research focuses on subjectivities as they relate to land use, environmental protection, climate change, and Indigenous people’s rights to protect Country. In addition to writing a play for QPAC's First Nations Playwright program and hosting local Australian Noir story-telling events, she is also working on a Gothic novel.

Jade Croft, James Cook University

Jade Croft is an award-winning English graduate from James Cook University. She comes from a small rural town and after some trial, found her research interests firmly grounded in the humanities where her writing is shaped by aspects of her identity and lived experiences

Karla de Stefani, James Cook University

Karla Destefani is an English Literature, Design and Creative Arts graduate from James Cook University. Having completed her Bachelor of Arts in 2021, she channelled her hobby of roleplaying to complete a Class 1 Honours Thesis on ways Live-Action Role-Play could mitigate the experiences of climate anxiety and climate grief.

Tracey Hough, James Cook University

Tracey Hough is a Mithaka/Barkanji/Malygnapa/English woman on her mother’s side and Gangalidda/Chinese/English on her father’s side. Tracey is a director and chair of Mithaka Aboriginal Corporation, co-curator of ‘Kirrenderri Heart of the Channel Country’ touring exhibition in partnership with The University of Queensland Anthropology Museum. Tracey holds a BA in English and Indigenous Studies and is passionate about protecting Country and cultural heritage. Tracey works with Western Rivers Alliance as the coordinator for the Lake Eyre Basin Traditional Owner Alliance advocating for stronger protections for our rivers and floodplains of the Lake Eyre Basin. Tracey is also a storyteller who shared her Gothic piece at a local Australian Noir story-telling event.