I think that one of the strongest essay topics to emerge from Newton's work is the idea of maturation. When his father dies, Charlie says, "When the undertakers came to wheel my father's lifeless body out to the hearse, it was as if they took my childhood with them." One essay topic that can emerge from this would be for student to provide three examples from the text that shows how Charlie "loses" his childhood as a result of external reality. This essay topic forces students to analyze how Charlie changes over the course of the text as a result of his father's death. It also will compel students to analyze what conditions in one's life causes change, something that could be relevant to them.
Another essay topic would have students examine the condition of poverty. Simply put, the essay would ask students to assess the role that poverty has played in Charlie's life. On one hand, poverty played a big role in many of the events that happen to Charlie. However, a very interesting aspect to see students to address would be how poverty of economics does not contribute to a poverty of spirit. Even though Charlie struggles economically, it does not trade off with the loyalty he shows to his family and to the honorable notion of the good. It would be effective for students to examine the role of external reality upon the protagonist, but also enable them to examine how individuals can transcend, from a spiritual or emotional standpoint, some aspects of external reality.
Finally, an interesting essay topic would be to examine the setting of the novel. Students could write about what elements in the narrative make it "Australian" and what elements make it universal. It would be good for students to be able to dissect the specifics that are intrinsic to Australia, such as setting, dialect, and location. However, the themes of overcoming grief, maturation, and honoring personal conviction are universal elements. It would be good for students to write about how literature might start from a specific context, but speak to a widened frame of reference.