Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Přemysl Šourek

The White Australia Policy and the Issues of Aboriginal Population As Depicted in Contemporary Aboriginal Drama
Master’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: Mgr. Martina Horáková, Ph.D.


I hereby declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the works cited section.

Přemysl Šourek

I would like to thank my supervisor, Martina Horáková, for her kind help and invaluable advice. My thanks also go to her for initially introducing me to the world of Australian literature.

I am also thankful to Ernie Blackmore whose lectures and seminars I had the honour of attending during my stay at the University of Wollongong and who fostered my interest in Aboriginal people and their literature.

I would not be able to present this thesis as it is now without my friend Kimberly Wilson. I also thank Angela Flack who provided me with the access to many sources used during my research for this thesis.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank my family and friends who have supported me during all my years of study.

Table of Contents

Introduction 4

1. The White Australia Policy 11

1.1. Origins of Racism in 19th Century Australia 11

1.2. Implementation of the White Australia Policy 14

1.3. Changes Leading to the Abolition of the White Australia Policy 18

1.4. The White Australia Policy and the Aboriginal Population 20

1.4.1. Policies towards the Aboriginal Population 21

1.4.2. Policy of Self-determination 27

2. Contemporary Aboriginal Drama 30

2.1. Aboriginality and Indigenous Self-Representation 30

2.1.1. Historical Context of Defining Aboriginality 32

2.1.2. Aboriginality and Black Australian Drama 36

2.2. Characteristics of Aboriginal Drama in Australia 38

2.2.1. Content of Aboriginal Drama 39

2.2.2. Structure, Form and Style of Aboriginal Drama 44

2.2.3. Humour in Aboriginal Drama 47

3. Issues in Aboriginal Society as Depicted in Contemporary Aboriginal Drama 52

3.1. No Sugar 54

3.1.1. Poverty and Crime 54

3.1.2. Family Relationships 57

3.1.3. Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal Relationships 59

3.2. The Dreamers 64

3.2.1. Poverty and Crime 65

3.2.2. Family Relationships 67

3.2.3. Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal Relationships 69

3.3. Barungin (Smell the Wind) 71

3.3.1. Poverty and Crime 71

3.3.2. Family Relationships 76

3.3.3. Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal Relationships 77

3.4. Box the Pony 81

3.4.1. Family Relationships 82

3.4.2. Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal Relationships 87

3.5. Waiting for Ships 90

3.5.1. Poverty and Crime 91

3.5.2. Family Relationships – Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal Relationships 93

Conclusion 103

Works Cited 111


21st century Australia is one of those countries in the world that can be proud of their multicultural society, comprising people of many different nationalities. But as James Jupp from Australian National University says,

Australia is only very multicultural compared with its former self ( before 1950) or because it contains a very wide variety of different origins, languages and religions–often represented by very small numbers of people and including, of course, the indigenous peoples as well as immigrants and their second generation children. It does not include very large numbers of very well established and regionally based ethnic minorities, even when compared with the United States, Canada, New Zealand or Britain, let alone India, Indonesia or the late Yugoslav federation. (Jupp 2)

Not always was the population of the Australian continent so varied. The original inhabitants of Australia–the Aboriginal people1–had lived there for about 40,000 years2 before the arrival of the British colonists. After 1788, when the colonisation process started, there was an influx of people from Britain and Ireland who presented an almost homogeneous group of people of Anglo-Celtic origin. These colonisers became the majority in society and constituted what I call the white population3, as opposed to the Aboriginal people, i.e. the blacks4. This ‘white’ majority later did not want anyone who did not fall in this category of being ‘white’ to settle in Australia, thus preserving its single national culture for a long time.

The White Australia policy is a term used to describe series of complex acts, regulations and policies introduced to the Australian legal system after the Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901. Its initial goal was to prevent non-European immigration to Australia, thus helping maintain Australia’s “whiteness” in the sense of the origin of the population, as mainly of Anglo-Celtic descent. After the policy was introduced, Australia was a far cry from being the place of a mingling of many different cultures as it is now. Rather it was a racist state, treating both the people already living there and new immigrants as well on the basis of their origins5.

As mentioned above, the White Australia policy was a series of acts, laws and regulations enacted by the Australian parliament. These measures were not taken all at once but were gradually added to the legal system of the Commonwealth of Australia, thus altering it by a great number of changes affecting not only the prospective immigrants to Australia but the non-European population on Australian land as well. Despite being the original inhabitants of the continent, the Aboriginal people suffered a great deal in the aftermath of the laws and other policies introduced by the white colonisers. These had already been introduced before the Commonwealth was formed in 1901, even as early as 1881 through the naming of the first NSW Protector of Aborigines. Though the term White Australia policy is used to describe the state of affairs after 1901, it is necessary to include all policies towards the Aboriginal people even before that particular date and following on, the infamous assimilation policies that resulted with the Stolen Generations.

Though having been officially abolished in the 1970s, the impact of the White Australia policy is still present; the contemporary Aboriginal population is still dealing with the consequences of the Stolen Generations today. Many of those who were taken away from their homes are still alive, facing the problems of displacement and the loss of identity. No wonder these people have not been able to provide their children with something they were denied due to the laws of the White Australia policy. The current issues of domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction or child abuse among the Aboriginal population are the reminders of that era of Australian history in which the laws of the White Australia policy were in force.
The aim of this thesis is to present current issues and problems the Indigenous population in Australia have to deal with. These issues are studied with the help of theatre plays by contemporary Aboriginal authors, namely Jack Davis, Leah Purcell and Ernie Blackmore. The analyses of their plays will focus on the problems of contemporary Indigenous society, such as alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, displacement, loss of identity, etc. This thesis aims at showing that these problems are a direct result of the Government’s policies concerning the Aboriginal people that were in force in the 20th century as part of the White Australia policy.

The first chapter studies the White Australia policy and the policies aimed at the Aboriginal population of Australia. Historical background to the implementation of the White Australia policy is given with its impact on limiting non-European (i.e. “non-white”) immigration to Australia. This is necessary for understanding the emergence of racism as the fundamental principle for introducing the White Australia policy, and the policies aimed at the Aboriginal people, which attempted further “whitening”6 of the country. The last part of the chapter deals with the current policy of self-determination, in which many Aboriginal people struggle in finding or keeping their cultural identities, thus being vulnerable to social problems.

The second chapter presents an overview of contemporary Aboriginal drama as a powerful media and a means of cultural self-representation. The term “Aboriginalism” is studied as a discourse of self-representation of the Aboriginal people together with historical context to determining what Aboriginality is. Defining characteristics of contemporary Aboriginal drama are given, focusing on the content, structure and style. Humour as a valuable part of most Aboriginal plays is also analysed here.

The last chapter is dedicated to the analysis of five plays by contemporary Aboriginal authors. These are No Sugar, The Dreamers and Barungin (Smell the Wind) by Jack Davis (1917-2000), Box the Pony by Leah Purcell7 (1970- ) and Waiting for Ships by Ernie Blackmore (1940- ). The plays depict lives of Aboriginal families and individuals from the 1930s to present time and show the social and personal problems Aboriginal people face, such as poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, child abuse, displacement, loss of identity, etc. These issues are analysed with the help of the plays and collated with other sources describing the problems in more general situations.

In the conclusion this thesis tries to summarise the connection between the historical events caused by the White Australia policy with the current situation of the Indigenous population of Australia.

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