7 Stages of Grieving
Today, most White Australians are sensitive and distinctively aware of the social and cultural issues related to Aborigines. This must be credited to playwrights such as Jack Davis and Wesley Enoch&Deborah Mailman as they reveal the brutal discrimination, abuse to Australia's Indigenous people and their sacred culture through their pieces No Sugar and 7 Stages of Grieving. Both plays utilise the theatrical techniques of Western theatre in conjunction with their tradition way of story telling to convey themes of struggle, prejudice and the destruction of Aboriginal culture. First wave playwright, Jack Davis writes the lives of the Millimurra family in their struggle to survive the Depression early in the 20th century No Sugar, while 7 Stages of Grieving focuses on the lives of the modern generation of Australian Aboriginal. This time gap will reflect the changing cultural, social and political issues in
No Sugar was written in a period when the majority of Australians were completely unaware of their situation and became influential along with other texts such as My Place by Sally Moran, which also discloses the reality of Aboriginal people. No Sugar is the second play in a trilogy called " The First Born", which traces the history of the Aborigines in Western Australia from the first White settlement, or in their perspective, invasion, in 1928 to the lives of urban Aboriginals today. The first play Kulluck (Home) shows the destruction of the Nyoongah people as a community and the social and economic oppression they suffered with the arrival of Europeans. Davis wrote this play in 1979 as an angry response to the celebration of Western Australia's 150th anniversary of White 'settlement'. No Sugar was written just two years before the national celebration of the Bicentenary and depicts the lives of post-tribal or pre-urbanised Aborigines people who were caught between assimilation and segregation. In the last play The Dreamers illustrates Aboriginal people today, their nostalgic longing for what is lost as well as their acceptance that it will not return. Being the middle of a trilogy, the characters in No Sugar are also caught in the middle of the process of transformation. The resultant of this process is assimilating into the white society; however, it is merely a replacement term for a second-class citizenship. In the 1970's and 80's, Jack Davis' plays facilitated the raising Black consciousness among the White Australians.
No Sugar is a realist play based on real people. Jack Davis used the technique of the documentary theatre of Agitprop which uses real historic events to recount history. This is done dramatically in speeches and newspaper articles and the narrative of characters who remembers the past. To a White audience this may seem to be too political but for a Black audience, this element is vital in the essence that the truth is finally being told in their point of view. This play is also written in an episodic form, a technique adopted from western Brecht theatre and contains a continuous storyline with coherent connections between each episode. This allows Davis to present his ideas with a series of unresolved conflicts and problems, which when put together, gives us a whole picture of suffering in Aborigines life in this period.
The episodic structure is enhanced by the use of juxtaposition and contradiction on stage between scenes and within scenes. For example, the dual action in Perth and Northam in Act I scene ii where Neville the administrator dictates his letter to the minister regarding reducing rations is counterpoised by the effects this has on Gran and Milly when they arrive at the police station to pick up their ration but only to find that soap has been removed. The sergeant's ironic suggestion that "they could buy one [soap]" when he should clearly acknowledge the fact that Aboriginals were not allowed to be payed in money at the time portrays the Aborigine's struggle to survive under the social and economic restriction placed upon them. Further irony is also evident in the extract of a newspaper article from the opening scene. " The pageant presented a picture of Western Australia's present condition of hopeful optimistic prosperity, and gave some ideas if what men mean when they talk about the soul of the nation." This contrasts to the Millimurra's appalling living conditions established also in the first scene. Having not enough clothes for David to wear a clean shirt everyday and the allowed expenditure of two pence to buy an apple for lunch confirms the falseness in the government's pompous reports. In scene ii, the entrance of a white, unemployed Frank Brown shows another victim of the "optimistic prosperity" of the state.
The uses of physical forces and abuse against the Aborigines is dramatically symbolised by Neal's beating of Mary. Lights blacks out just as we are told by the stage directions that " Neal raises the cat-o'-nine-tails". " A scream" follows and confirms our predictions of a heavy beating. This use of lighting suggests that physical abuses had been hidden away from most people at the time.
The central symbol and also from which the title of this play derives from, is sugar. Sugar is sweet and usually brings joy. Thus the title NO Sugar suggests that Aborigines experiences no joy. Sugar can also be interpreted deathly in its seductiveness. This has Christian connotations where sugar, ironically named 'humbugs' is sent to seduce children into attending Sunday school.
Jack Davis tends to use stereotyped characters to represent social or human traits. Each White Australian
character represents one aspect of the white society that caused the destruction of Aboriginal tribal life. Augustus Neville symbolises the government "protector of Fisheries, Forestry, Wildlife and Aborigines." From his speech to the Historic Society, it can be seen that he is a man full of grand theories but who stands revealed as the sterile representative of the naked and blind power in the last Act as he threatens (unaware of the hideous irony) " no more privileges." Matron represents a 'softer' face of White power. The scientific superiority is one of the 'supposedly' benefits brought the native Australians. Being a medical professional, Matron does care about those she is in charge with but cannot accept that the uncivility of Aboriginal culture can look after themselves. Billy the black tracker is one of the characters in the novel who have assimilated into the White society. To a traditional Aborigine, he is a betrayer of his own cultural heritage. Joel dismissed his existence by describing him as "nothing". However as he recalls the destruction of his cultural tribe in Act II scene vi, the audience can see that he still understands the unforgivable things the White people has caused to him. " Big mob politjman, and big mob from stations, and shoot 'em everybody, mens, kooris (women), little yumbah (children)." This reinforces the spiritual connection Aboriginal people had with each other during times of adversity.
The names of significant black characters holds religious connotation and serves the purpose of catching the audience's attentions. Mary (the blessed virgin) is associated with a convicted black criminal Joseph and is an illegitimately pregnant unmarried mother. When the white audience see this on stage which does not fit in the conventional connotations, they are forced to question the political and social issues associated.
The use of songs as an Aboriginal traditional way of communication is incorporated into this play. The first song ' shout of praise' reveals Aborigines' appreciation for the natural beauty and sustenance provided by the land. The second song is a hymn turned into a song of protest. The third is sang by Gran and is a lament and cry for compassion. These songs move its audience from anger to understanding and finally, hope.
Setting and properties echoes the difference of power between White Australians and the natives. In Act IV scene v, the opening stage directions report that the dominating Whites are seated on a raised "dais" above the blacks. Furthermore, Billy and Bluey are dress in "absurdly ill-fitted uniforms".
At the end of the novel, though the Millimurra family celebrates the birth of Mary and Joseph's baby, it does not bring a resolution to all the conflicts. The unresolved ending invites the audience and readers to thin about the problems raised.
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