Centre for Continuing Education

HSC English Standard & Advanced Preparation Course - Common Module: 'Go Back to Where You Came From'

HSC English. The smart way to prepare for your HSC.

This new one-day HSC English preparation course focuses on Ivan O’Mahoney’s television documentary series Go Back to Where You Came From—Series 1, Episodes 1, 2 and 3 and The Response (2011) for the English Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences. It aims to deepen students' understanding of how the documentary represents individual and collective human experiences of racial persecution, displacement, dispossession, migration, and community.

The course begins an overview of context, purpose, structure, stylistic features, and visual, verbal and digital elements of the media form. Students will discuss how the documentary shapes—and manipulates—the world of its participants in its 2011 Australian context, amidst a rise in protests, unrest and deaths in immigration detention.

Following the overview, analysis and discussion focuses on how Go Back to Where You Came From represents human qualities of resilience, courage, empathy and humanity, and emotions of grief, fear, anger and remorse associated with, or arising from, these experiences. Exploration of the representation of the ‘journey’ of the six participants in the text’s ‘social experiment’ will highlight its insights into the anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations that arise from ignorance, xenophobia, moral complexity, and internal conflicts of heart and mind.

Guided close-analysis of key extracts will centre on the documentary’s ‘reverse-journey’ structure and its integration of documentary and ‘reality TV’ elements: strategic casting, hand-held cameras and fly-on-the-wall perspective, the use of a host and voice-over, editing and soundtrack.

The final focus will be on the social issues raised by the text. Students will evaluate how Go Back to Where You Came From positions the responder to see the wider world differently, challenging assumptions about refugees and asylum seekers, and igniting new ideas about race, immigration policy, humanity and human rights. As they reflect on the documentary’s narrative devices, students will consider the role of storytelling throughout time, and how the text expresses and reflects the particular lives and cultures of refugees who flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Burma, and of the ‘ordinary Australians’ who retrace their journeys.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • articulate their understanding of the ways in which the cultural context, structure, narrative and documentary style of Go Back to Where You Came From shapes meaning for different audiences
  • critically evaluate the aesthetic qualities – or flaws – of Go Back to Where You Came From in terms of its personal and political perspectives on ‘human experiences’ through consideration of the documentary form, selective editing, and visual and sound effects
  • recognise that key scenes in Go Back to Where You Came From function as a vehicle for illuminating the complexity of tensions around refugees and Australia’s refugee policy, and the construction of racial and ethnic identities in the world of the text and in the wider world
  • read and discuss the sample examination question with consideration of related texts.


  • Critical analysis of the language forms, features and structures of Go Back to Where You Came From: its hybrid genre (documentary, reality TV and its ‘social experiment’ format), its use of interviews, dialogue, local and international settings (Australia, Malaysia, Kenya, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Jordan, Iraq), archival news footage, the ‘reverse-journey’ sequence, and metacommentary (host, voiceover, the guest panel and live audience format of The Response).
  • Evaluation of the effects of these forms, features and structures on the film’s meanings and review of their appropriateness for its specific didactic, social and commercial purposes: to enlighten, inspire, comment on historical/political contexts, and entertain.
  • Evaluation of the diverse ways Go Back to Where you Came From represents—and parallels—the personal and public worlds of its six participants and other spokespersons, framing them within their Australian setting and in contrast to global centres of conflict and upheaval.
  • Review of the nuanced cultural assumptions and values in Go Back to Where You Came From related to race, ethnicity, immigration policy, social justice and human rights, and their effects on meaning.

Intended audience

HSC English Standard and English Advanced students studying Ivan O’Mahoney’s television documentary series Go Back to Where You Came From – Series 1, Episodes 1, 2 and 3 for the English Common Module: Texts and Human Experiences.

Delivery style

Delivered via a blended learning environment that integrates online activities and resources with supplementary materials in a course booklet.

Classes will be small and delivered using both lecture and workshop style. Group discussion will allow interactive exploration of the texts and informed personal student responses.

Analysis of a related contemporary text will be undertaken to broaden understanding of the literary representation of human experiences.

Note: Online activities will be differentiated for English Standard and Advanced students.


A course booklet is included. Please bring along your text to class.


NESA English Advanced Stage 6 Syllabus (2017)
EA 12-1, EA 12-3, EA 12-7, EA 12-8

Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide

While you progress through this journey and also the conclusion of your schooling life, we know you’ll have a lot on your mind – exams, future study, careers – but remember, while keeping focused on these bigger goals and aspirations, it’s also important not to forget your own health and well-being.

For tips on staying motivated and keeping focused, dealing with anxiety, keeping healthy, relaxation, pre-study exercise and more, read our article Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide.


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