Janine Kitson

Penguin Problems

by Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith
Walker Books, 2016

This light-hearted and fun book pokes fun at one penguin — Mortimer — who walks around his polar home lamenting his penguin problems. These grievances are expressed in short concise grumbles until Walrus suddenly appears. Wise old Walrus then launches into a lengthy discussion with Mortimer about just how lucky he is. Perhaps laughing at penguin problems might help us with our own human problems.


by Blythe Woolston
Walker Books, 2013

A powerful teenage dystopian novel about the ultimate neoliberal totalitarian state saturated with the propaganda of advertising and marketing gimmicks. In this dysfunctional and desolate world, one is either a consumer or the underclass who serves the consumer.

This disturbing but insightful dystopia begins when Zoe’s schooling is "terminated" because schools now cost too much. She must now enter the world of work at AllMART where one is obliged to always wear an immaculate ‘AllMART smile’.

Zoë finds herself alone and abandoned in a silent neighbourhood full of empty foreclosed houses waiting to be sold. Timmer befriends Zoë and warns her to protect herself from being consumed into the "AllMART family". He invites her to join his community living in a disused strip-mall-turned-refuge safe from the AllMART surveillance.

Drugs and addiction are essential to survive the boredom, drudgery of this marketing-saturated world. Zoë finally removes the mood controllers implanted in the back of her head and begins to see how everything is calculated, costed and accounted for. The scary question, after reading this novel, is just how close are we to living in this neoliberal AllMART world?

Green Bans, Red Union: The Saving of a City

by Meredith Burgmann and Verity Burgmann
NewSouth, 2017

This book is the story of NSW’s Green Bans and its highly progressive and democratic union — the NSW Builders Labourers’ Federation (BLF) led by Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens.

This book explores how the BLF used its industrial power to thwart ecologically and socially irresponsible projects from 1970 to 1975.

It is almost 20 years since this book was first published and it is timely it is republished when swathes of Sydney are now being demolished by such environmentally devastating projects as West-Connex as well as the high-rise tsunami destroying many suburbs of Sydney.

The Green Bans began when the BLF saved a patch of bush in the wealthy suburb of Hunters Hill. This success led to saving further suburbs and historic buildings from demolition including The Rocks, Centennial Park, Woolloomooloo, Victoria Street, Glebe and the Botanical Gardens.

Jack Mundey is fondly recognised as one of Australia’s most progressive and altruistic unionists who led the BLF. Not only did the BLF improve workers’ wages and conditions but also took on social, political and environmental issues. It embraced workingclass, women’s, Indigenous and gay rights. The BLF refused to use workers’ labour on unethical projects that would degrade a future world. It challenged corporations’ rights to build wherever and whatever for mere profit.

Reading this book is a reminder of just how amazing the Green Ban era was. It was an entirely Australian phenomenon that contributed to the international environment movement. The book acknowledges Federation, as one of the few unions to support the BLF when it was tragically deregistered.

An important book to consider the critical role unions can play in tackling today’s environmental crises.

All three books are available from Federation Library.

Janine Kitson is a Federation Life Member

Classroom Activities

Penguin Problems

K-6 English 
Stage 1, Objective D:  Expressing Themselves          
A student: responds to and composes a range of texts about familiar aspects of the world and their own experiences.

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. When was the last time you were in a bad mood?
  2. What advice would you give to someone in a bad mood?
  3. What can you learn about yourself when you are in a bad mood?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Art work:  Make a penguin puppet and perform a puppet story about Mortimer and his penguin problems.
  2. Rewrite another story about another animal’s ‘problems’.   
  3. Write a sequel to the book called ‘Penguin Happiness’.


7-10 English
Stage 5, Life Skills Outcome 15             
A student: responds to and composes texts that explore personal, social and world issues.

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. Does advertising influence you?
  2. How is this story similar/different to what is happening today?
  3. Is it a positive ending?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Research the life of Edward Bernays (1891-1995) and the history of advertising and the rise of shopping empires such as Walmart. Then debate:  Advertising is propaganda.
  2. Create an advertisement or TV News Story similar to one in MARTians.
  3. Choreograph a dance about life as an AllMart worker..

Green Bans Red Union

7-10 History
Topic 5b: The environment movement (1960s-present)       
The growth and influence of the environment movement within Australia and overseas, and development in ideas about the environment.

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. What do you know about Jack Mundy and the Green Bans?
  2. How has Sydney changed since the 1970s?
  3. Are Green Bans needed again today?

Suggestions for learning activities

  1. Write a time line of key events about the environment movement since the 1960s.
  2. Roleplay a BLF/ resident action group meeting that resolves to place a green ban on a place of environment or heritage or culture significance.
  3. Write a Newspaper article expressing opposition to the BLF’s Green Bans;  write a Letter to the Newspaper expressing support for the BLF’s Green Bans.