Deadly, Unna?


Phillip Gwynne

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Deadly, Unna? Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Phillip Gwynne's Deadly, Unna?. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Phillip Gwynne

Phillip Gwynne grew up in rural South Australia and Victoria, where he was one of eight siblings. As a young man, he played professional Australian Rules football and graduated from James Cook University with a degree in Marine Biology. Before beginning to write novels at age 40, Gwynne worked as a fruit picker, a fishing boat deckhand, and a pool manager. He published his first novel, Deadly, Unna?, to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Throughout the 2000s, Gwynne published popular young adult novels, including the sequel to Deadly, Unna?, Nukkin Ya, as well as several picture books. In 2002, Gwynne collaborated on the screenplay for Australian Rules, the award-winning film based on his first novel. He currently lives in Bali, Indonesia with his family, and his next young adult novel is expected to be published in 2020.
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Historical Context of Deadly, Unna?

The 1960s and ‘70s in Australia, the time when Gwynne was the same age as the main character of Deadly, Unna?, saw dramatic changes in the social and political standing of indigenous peoples in Australia. The 1962 Commonwealth Electoral Act gave all indigenous people in Australia the right to vote in federal elections, while the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976 was the first in a series of acts that allowed indigenous communities to reclaim land taken by the colonial government. These political changes led to a greater awareness of the struggles of indigenous peoples in Australia, which is reflected in the way that Blacky gains a greater understanding of the discrimination against aboriginal people in his own town. Despite these successes, racial tensions and discrimination in Australia persisted throughout the 1970s. Specifically, Gwynne has said he based the events of the novel on the 1977 shooting of two aboriginal teenagers accused of robbing a hotel in Southern Australia.

Other Books Related to Deadly, Unna?

In 2000, Phillip Gwynne published a sequel to Deadly, Unna? titled Nukkin Ya. The sequel explores the interracial romantic relationship between Blacky and Clarence, referenced in the first book, and further develops the themes of the first novel concerning racial tensions and poverty. Deadly, Unna? is similar in style and subject to the novels of Chris Crutcher, who also uses stories of high school athletes to explore the larger issues teenagers face, such as racial tensions, social class, and family dynamics. In Crutcher’s novel Whale Talk, a biracial high school student challenges the racism of his hometown by forming a diverse swim team. Another contemporary young adult novel, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, also deals with issues of racism in Australia in the context of a coming-of-age story.
Key Facts about Deadly, Unna?
  • Full Title: Deadly, Unna?
  • When Written: 1998
  • Where Written: Australia
  • When Published: August 30, 1998
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction
  • Setting: The Port, a fictional small town in rural Australia
  • Climax: Blacky and his siblings’ fight with their father over the graffiti
  • Antagonist: The Port’s pervasive racism; Bob Black
  • Point of View: First-person

Extra Credit for Deadly, Unna?

Australian Rules. The film version of Deadly, Unna?, titled Australian Rules, opened in 2002 to critical acclaim and several awards. However, the movie was criticized by aboriginal activists for its alleged appropriation of aboriginal culture and sensitivity issues over the real-life events upon which the book is based.

Footy. Australian rules football, also known as “Aussie rules” or “footy,” the sport played by the characters of Deadly, Unna?, began in Australia in the 1850s. The sport has since grown in popularity in Australia and across the world. Today, there are over 1,400,000 registered players worldwide.