book cover Black Snake
by Carole Wilkinson

Nonfiction | 144 pp | Years 58

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[ Overview | Author profile | Focus questions]


Black Snake presents the story of Ned Kelly's life and an introduction to the society in which he lived. Ned's story unfolds to describe his youth, skills with horses and the difficult life of his family and other small landholders in Victoria in the second half of the 1800s. Presented as a sequence of key events, Ned's move into lawlessness captures the events and the feelings of Ned as well as the significant people in his life. The final capture of Ned at Glenrowan, his imprisonment and trial complete the story of Ned Kelly as a person. A concluding section covers the events that occurred after Ned was hanged to suggest why this story is still of great interest today.

Black Snake uses an interesting variety of sources to describe Ned Kelly's life. These include the author's own factual retelling, extracts from documents written at the time, and the inclusion of personal stories based on the author's own interpretations as to how the people involved in the Kelly saga may have felt at the time. Presenting Ned's escapades from his first run-in with authority in the 1860s to his death by hanging in 1880, Carole Wilkinson provides the reader with multiple perspectives of the key players. Open-ended accounts from the different sides allow the reader to draw their own conclusions about the type of person Ned Kelly was, the forces that drove him to act the way he did and whether he met with justice at the end.

Author profile

Carole Wilkinson was born in England, immigrated to Australia as a teenager and now lives in inner-city Melbourne. After trying a number of jobs, she ended up as a laboratory technician working mainly with blood and brains. Fifteen years later, Carole started writing. She finds the process of researching her books fascinating, sometimes having to force herself to stop the research so that she can start writing, but is it this attention to detail that gives her stories a realistic quality. Carole has won several awards and published a number of books as well as writing scripts for both television and planetariums.

When you explore Carole Wilkinson's website ( you will notice that many of her books are historical in content. From the information provided, make a list of the times, places or major events that you think she has investigated to complete these books.

Focus questions

Before reading the book

  • Why do you think the author chose the words 'black snake' for the title of the book? What sort of person does it make you think Ned Kelly might be?
  • Use the KWL Chart to list what you already know about Ned Kelly in the first column.
  • Read the blurb on the back cover and consider the questions posed. From what you already know about Ned Kelly, do you think of him as a villain or a hero?
  • What sort of information will you need to add to your KWL Chart to help you decide if Ned Kelly is a villain or a hero? Note this in the second column of the chart.
  • What writing styles does the author use to present her version of the story of Ned Kelly? Browse through the book to make a list.
  • What parts of the book indiciate that this is an information book rather than a fictional account?

During and after reading the book

  • Add to your KWL Chart as you read. Record information that will help you decide whether Ned Kelly was a villain or a hero.
  • How do the sections written in italics add to your understanding of Ned Kelly as a person? Do you think that these sections are factual recounts or the author's interpretation of events? Explain why.
  • How do you think the way people dealt with Ned may have had a negative influence on his behaviour? Make a note of examples where you believe people have not acted with integrity.
  • What information and understandings did you gain from the photographs and images in the text? Consider the people, their ages and appearance, and the artifacts such as the photo of Ned as a boxer (p 29), the reward poster (p 90) or the armour (p 103).
  • How do the quotes from letters presented in the grey boxes (for example, p 7) add to your understanding of Ned's situation? Why do you think the author has chosen to present this information differently?

© Curriculum Corporation 2006