Author, actor and activist Jack Leonard Davis was born on 11 March 1917 in Perth, Western Australia, the fourth child in a family of eleven. Both his parents, he recalled, were great storytellers. He spent his early childhood in the Western Australian mill town of Yarloop, where his father worked in the timber mill. After his primary schooling, Davis and his siblings were sent to the harsh Moore River Native Settlement.
Live Performance Australia, 2007.
No Sugar by Jack Davis was first performed as part of the Festival of Perth in 1985 to great acclaim. Throughout the play, Davis depicts the First Australians struggling to survive in sub-human conditions on an Aboriginal Reserve in the 1930s. During the depression, life is particularly difficult for the Munday and Millimurra families who are controlled by apartheid-style policies. Davis uses a variety of dramatic literary techniques to depict their struggle to survive in a hostile white culture, which treats them as “incompetent savages”. That they often speak in their own language helps Davis draw attention to their cultural differences and their alienation from mainstream culture.
Those in a position of power and authority treat the First Australians with contempt and do not provide humane and decent opportunities for them to improve their sub-standard living conditions. They believe that these “blithering stone age idiots” need to be civilised in order to take their place in mainstream, white society. The constant references to dirtiness, laziness, violence, and drunken, criminal behaviour are used by white “civilised” people to reinforce and justify their discriminatory policies. In this regard, Davis explores the consequences of the dispossession of the aborigines which culminates in a farcical depiction of the Australia Day celebrations. These celebrations place a strong emphasis on the (main) story of the pioneers and overlook the cultural life, spirituality and history of the First Australians.
Rating: E Duration: 22:14
Description: The coming of the Europeans, wars, massacres, disease and dispossession, missions, reserves, racism, population decline, stolen children, political activism, land rights, native title and culture.
Rating: E Duration: 25:32
Description: This program explores early views on race and the attitudes of both black and white people. Key figures discuss the methods used to assimilate Indigenous people.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says sorry to the stolen generations.
Aboriginal Australia (To the Others)
You once smiled a friendly smile,
Said we were kin to one another,
Thus with guile for a short while
Became to me a brother.
Then you swamped my way of gladness,
Took my children from my side,
Snapped shut the law book, oh my sadness
At Yirrakalas’ plea denied.
So, I remember Lake George hills,
The thin stick bones of people.
Sudden death, and greed that kills,
That gave you church and steeple.
I cry again for Warrarra men,
Gone from kith and kind,
And I wondered when I would find a pen
To probe your freckled mind.
I mourned again for the Murray tribe,
Gone too without a trace.
I thought of the soldier’s diatribe,
The smile on the governor’s face.
You murdered me with rope, with gun
The massacre of my enclave,
You buried me deep on McLarty’s run
Flung into a common grave.
You propped me up with Christ, red tape,
Tobacco, grog and fears,
Then disease and lordly rape
Through the brutish years.
Now you primly say you’re justified,
And sing of a nation’s glory,
But I think of a people crucified -
The real Australian story.
Jack Davis, 1977.
Between 1910-1970, many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies. The generations of children removed under these policies became known as the Stolen Generations. The policies of child removal left a legacy of trauma and loss that continues to affect Indigenous communities, families and individuals.
Australians Together, n.d.