written by Jonathan Wong
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Sample #1 - Plastic pollution
- for the purposes of this analysis, most of the images in the above article are irrelevant - the exception is the main image depicting bags of apples.
- the additional comment by 'Tony' is not available.
- the relevant 'National Geographic' image is depicted above.
There has been a significant amount of debate in recent times as to whether both Australians and overseas supermarkets are overly reliant on single-use plastics. In an article entitled ‘Plastic pollution … supermarket aisles’ published on the ABC news website on 6 May 2018, freelance writer Nicola Heath contends that supermarkets need to minimise plastic use, and that consumers must avoid overusing plastics, too. In a concerned tone, Heath suggests to an audience of supermarket retail executives and Australian consumers that the environment needs to be our priority. In a subsequent comment written by ‘Tony’, he contends in a defiant tone to the same audience that we cannot just blame big business for plastic use - that there are logistical problems with removing all plastic - and that consumers need to change as well.
Heath begins her article by describing how a ‘major supermarket’ offered her ‘bonus loyalty points’ to purchase certain products wrapped in plastic. Referring to this anecdote emphasises to the reader that supermarkets are apathetic towards the volume of their plastic use - that they value consumer spending over the environment. She then describes them as ‘environmental vandals’, which paints supermarkets as not just apathetic, but almost negligent, before asking the reader to contemplate when ‘chopping an apple [became] so inconvenient’ that plastic was used to package it. This rhetorical question points out to the reader that we value what is easy over what is right - namely that we will happily sacrifice the health of the environment simply so we do not have to prepare our own foods. Heath then mentions some key statistics, which she prefaces with the alarming statement that ‘our oceans … are drowning in plastic litter’. Among these statistics are ‘40,000 pieces per square km’ of plastic filling up our oceans, and ‘30 kilograms of rubbish’ found in the stomach of a dead sperm whale. The alarming statement encourages the reader to see that environmental damage is occurring now, and the statistics will consolidate this view that the evidence of such damage is now impossible to ignore.
Heath goes on to reference a ‘high-profile campaign’ called ‘#banthebag”, which resulted in the outlawing of single-use plastic bags from the major supermarkets in 2018. The mentioning of this campaign, as well as the fact that ‘Woolworths [are phasing out bags by] June 20’ along with Coles (July 1) indicate to the reader that something has already been done regarding one type of plastic. The reader is asked to appreciate that options are available - that if we organise and conduct concerted campaigns, then it is possible to galvanise environmental change. She cites a few statistics as well, specifically that Woolworths ‘hands out 3.2 billion … plastic bags’, as well as an ‘ACT review’ which found that plastic bag use ‘fell by 36 per cent’ after their 2011 ban was put into force. These statistics demonstrate to the reader that a ban will instigate real, material change, and to highlight the core of the current issue, an image of apples in plastic packaging is attached to the article. Every single pack of apples is wrapped in plastic, demonstrating to the reader that although we have banned plastic bags, the issue has still not been completely solved. The picture makes the plastic seem superfluous, and asks the reader to consider why they are not kept out on their own, without any wrapping.
Tony touches on the issue Heath refers to throughout her piece, although he believes that removing all plastics from supermarkets is not as simple as how Heath describes it. Heath contends that the ‘huge volume of plastic’ in supermarkets, including ‘plastic encasing apples … bananas’ is just far too much. She also states that bananas ‘come pre-packaged by nature’, and her arguments are intended to ask the reader to appreciate that we need to abstain from packaging things in plastic just for the sake of it. Tony, on the other hand, is of the opinion that ‘legal action’ will result if ‘customers [slip] on grapes, lettuce leaves etc’ and that the supermarkets ‘can’t be expected to watch one area all the time’. He is pointing out Heath’s naivety by stating that there are logical considerations in why plastic is used. The reader is thus asked to agree that removing all plastics will take time, money and will involve a lot of pushback. Tony believes that customers are partly to blame for this outcome, and that he has ‘personally seen customers throw lettuce leaves’ and ‘[walk] away from [spillages]’. His point is that consumers are the reason there are so many plastics in supermarkets - that these ‘hazards’ are their own doing, and that the ‘insurance premiums’ are what ensure ‘everything comes nicely wrapped’. This encourages the reader to see that the issue starts with us; that if we want supermarkets to relinquish their use of plastics, then we have to be more responsible when using them.
Another image lies at the bottom of the comment, and it depicts a cover of National Geographic magazine from 2018. On the cover is a large plastic bag, resembling an iceberg, with only the very tip visible at the surface. Making the plastic bag the centrepiece of the cover highlights to readers that plastic is clogging our oceans, and the comparison to an iceberg suggests to them that there is more of this waste than we can fathom. The caption, which reads ‘18 billion pounds … tip of the iceberg’ reinforces this fact - that tons upon tons of waste are being dumped into our oceans and seas every year.
Heath concludes her article by asking for consumers to ‘draw a line in the sand’ and to ‘make sustainability our priority, not convenience’. This is a call to action that is intended to inspire the reader to do something about the plastic packaging issue - to not rest on their laurels regarding the successful #banthebag campaign, and to try and push for more. Tony, on the other hand, states that ‘it’s easy to … blame big business’, and finishes by mentioning that ‘we are ALL responsible for this problem’ and need to change. This statement asks the reader to consider that the issue is our own, that if we want to influence the supermarkets, we are the ones who need to make a difference.
Sample #2 - 2015 VCAA Exam
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There are a large number of volunteer organisations in Australia, and at an award ceremony sponsored by ‘bigsplash’, a financial institution, these organisations are recognised for their work throughout the year. In her speech at the Australian Volunteers Award ceremony, Stephanie Bennett (bigsplash’s CEO) discusses the efforts of volunteers around the country, and contends that their contributions to society are currently being undervalued. In an [enthusiastic] tone, she explains to an audience of volunteer workers and organisation representatives that bigsplash commends the work they have done. In a subsequent acceptance speech, Mathew Nguyen states in a humble tone that Tradespeople Without Borders are grateful about being recognised, but in the end, volunteering is its own reward.
Bennett begins her speech by highlighting the ‘strong commitment’ they have to communities around Australia, and that their goal is to provide a ‘helping hand’ to the organisations who contribute so much to the country. These statements encourage the reader to see that bigsplash cares deeply about the work that volunteer organisations do - and the emphasis on a ‘$100,000 donation’ they provide indicates that their support has significant substance. The fact that bigsplash supports ‘over 200 such organisations’ is likely to demonstrate to the reader that their work covers a sizeable part of the volunteering community in the country. Bennett affirms that bigsplash is ‘truly inspired’ by what she has seen from the award submissions, and considering all the effort they have put into this function, the reader is positioned to feel that her words are sincere and genuine. The banner on stage contains the event’s logo - where ‘volunteers’ is bolded, to highlight the focus of the night - and placed at the bottom-middle is an image of two hands holding each other. This symbolises the volunteers themselves, and the fact that their goal is to lift people up; to help those in need.
Bennett continues on by explaining the work these organisations do on a day-to-day basis, and she provides numerous pieces of specific evidence pertaining to the value of such work. Firstly, however, she discusses how many volunteers there are - that they are ‘undervalued and under-recognised’ and consist of ‘a quarter of the … population’. This demonstrates to the reader that volunteers are large in number, and that such a robust contribution to society should be more highly regarded. These volunteers work roughly ‘713 million’ hours, according to Bennett, and the value of this time and effort amounts to ‘billions of dollars’ in unpaid wages. The reader is therefore positioned to see that there is concrete monetary value in what volunteer workers are doing - that their ‘kindness to strangers’ is not only charitable, but represents a serious financial benefit to the citizens of Australia. She stresses that we are ‘becoming more and more dependent’ on these volunteers, implying that without them, society would struggle to function. She believes that volunteers ‘[stitch] together the social fabric’, [demonstrating] to the reader how much they truly do, and how important they truly are.
In his acceptance speech, Mathew Nguyen is very humble, and he describes his feelings as ‘blown away’ and ‘really grateful’. These words encourage the reader to see that Nguyen - and Tradespeople Without Borders - are self-sacrificing, and that above all, they care about the welfare of Australians in need. He continues on by describing the reason started his foundation - namely that he ‘realised how hard’ it was for certain people to solve simple issues such as affording a plumber. This emphasises to the reader how caring Nguyen is, and that he truly believes his contention that volunteering is not about fame or recognition. He provides reasons for why such help is needed, explaining why he was so eager to ‘go overseas to dig toilets’ - the reason being that there are ‘2.5 billion people’ in dire need of help. The reader can thus appreciate that Nguyen’s focus is on those around him, and that there is no time to worry about accolades when people cannot even access things like proper toilets. Nguyen ultimately believes that people ‘have a right’ to help when they need it, and that volunteer organisations ‘shouldn’t ask for praise’. Their dedication to unity is symbolised by the picture accompanying their application, which depicts a number of hands placed on top of each other. This image evokes togetherness, as hands joined together are a universal sign of peace and friendship.
Bennett concludes her speech by stating ‘we should never forget or overlook [volunteer organisations]’, and she thanks Nguyen and Tradespeople Without Borders for the work. These concluding words show that she wants to shine light on what Nguyen has done, and although Nguyen believes they should not be thanked, he still recognises that other organisations are doing great work. He finishes by saying ‘thanks to all the members’ of his organisation, and he also congratulates the other finalists.