Culture

Students Are Abusing An Indigenous Writer After Her Poem Featured In The HSC English Exam

The writer didn't know her work was included in the exam.

Hundreds of Year 12 students in NSW are posting and sharing abusive memes targeting Australian writers after their work was featured in yesterday’s HSC English exam.

Most of the abuse on Twitter and Facebook was directed towards Ellen van Neerven, a 26-year-old Indigenous poet whose poem Mango was featured in the exam as a prompt to discuss the course’s theme of “discovery”.

The poem as it appeared in yesterday’s English exam.

After the exam was finished students began discussing the poem on a public HSC Facebook group. The discussion quickly led to the creation of memes attacking Mango and van Neerven. Some of the memes parodied the Black Lives Matter movement and others compared van Neerven to a monkey.

Some students also edited van Neerven’s Wikipedia page and shared the results:

The attacks on van Neerven soon migrated to Twitter where students began harassing her and asking for a detailed analysis of ‘Mango’.

Some students also private messaged her abuse and then bragged about it on the Facebook group.

When friends and supporters of van Neerven defended her on Twitter and asked for the harassment to stop, they became targets of abuse themselves.

Another Australian writer, James Bradley, also became the target of abuse after his book Wrack was included in the exam.

Junkee understands that a number of the posts on Facebook and Twitter were reported to the NSW Department of Education and the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA). When Junkee contacted (NESA) a spokesperson wasn’t aware of any complaints or the online abuse.

However Junkee has spoken to a number of prominent Australian writers who confirmed that this kind of abuse has occurred in previous years. Writers are not notified by NESA officials when their work is included in English exams.

“If we told them there would be issues of confidentiality,” the spokesperson said.

Evelyn Araluen, a poet and PhD candidate working with Indigenous literatures at the University of Sydney, and a friend of van Neerven’s, told Junkee that “Ultimately this whole saga demonstrates a real irresponsibility on behalf of students and the education department.”

“These kids felt entitled to demand Ellen’s attention and incite a response for their own humour,” she said. “They can argue about intent or claim we’re pulling the race card, but even without that context this shows profound disrespect for the whole community.”

In response to a news article covering the issue that was posted in the Facebook group, hundreds of students have defended their attacks on van Neerven with some referring to her as an “abo”. Dozens of students of are still encouraging each other to harass van Neerven and her supporters on Twitter.

Junkee has contacted the NSW Department of Education for comment.