Area of Study


Swallow the Air

Over the school holidays you will be reading your prescribed text for your Area of Study: Belonging. While you are reading Swallow the Air, try completing the following activities.

Who belongs?

A sense of belonging is important to everyone. We all need to feel connected to other people. It’s part of our identity, who we are.

Make a list of the characters who are alienated from themselves and/or society. Write short quotes/examples that show the characters’ alienation (not-belonging). What do these characters have in common, if anything?

The lives of May’s mother and her Aunty have many parallels. May watches both women being subjected to extreme domestic violence. Whereas May’s mother becomes “paranoid and frightened” and eventually takes her own life; Aunty turns to alcohol and gambling.

Likewise, there are clear parallels between the characters of Billy and Johnny. Both Billy and Johnny share dreaming places with May; both get involved in a self-destructive lifestyle. May even tells Johnny “that he reminds me of my brother” and he in turn says “he is my brother, always.” While Johnny dies in a police chase, a sober Billy somehow makes it back to join May at Paradise Parade.

For discussion:
Why do you think the author chose to parallel these characters? Why does Johnny die but Billy does not? Why does May’s mother die while Aunty survives?

Consider the older Aboriginal characters in Swallow the air: Joyce, Issy and ‘Uncle’ at the mission. As elders, they teach May how important her past and culture is to her identity and self-esteem. These characters contrast to characters such as Percy Gibson. Although May and Percy are cousins, there is no sense of connection or family belonging. He tells her straight: “There is a big missing hole between this place and the place you’re looking for. It’s gone. It was taken away.”

Finally, chart the journey of May’s character. What qualities does she have as a character? How does the author Winch show us readers these qualities? What do you think May will do next?

Definitions of Belonging

How would you define 'belonging'?

- Belonging is the idea of being part of something where you are accepted.

- To be and feel included and accepted within a social, religious, political, cultural and economic group.

- Belonging is the term used when the individual becomes involved in something; it is the feeling of security where members may feel included, accepted, related, fit in, conformed and subscribed, which enhance their wellbeing with the feeling of home.

- Belonging is obtaining membership to a particular group or society that can bring feelings of inclusion and identity.

- Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion and identity to a member trying to fit into a certain group, place etc.

- Belonging is a term used to describe how an individual feels a sense of satisfaction and happiness. It unites many people together as one.

- When an individual is accepted through the relationships and connections made with other individuals, groups and family. This acceptance is dependent on context where, when and what.