Black Diggers

Black Diggers

by

Tom Wright

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Ern Character Analysis

Ernest Hopkins, called Ern throughout the play, is a friend of Bob and Norm’s from Barambah in Queensland. All three sign up for the war together and end up severely injured—Ern loses an arm, a less serious fate than his friends, who lose their eyes and ears. Unlike his Norm and Bob, however, Ern is proud of his sacrifice for “Australia” and is convinced he will be seen as a hero. Back in Barambah (now called Cherbourg), this never happens. Soon, he randomly gives his war medals away to a pharmacist, lamenting that not even his family cares about his service. He gives a long monologue set in 1956, during which he acknowledges that it was unrealistic to hope that people would treat him with respect, but he claims to be happy to have mostly put the war behind him—until World War Two, when he finds 17 old bullet casings stuck in his side, a metaphor for the enduring and often hidden trauma of war that “inches its way up” years after the fact. While neither absolutely maimed (like Bob and Norm) nor absolutely traumatized (like Tommy and Bertie), Ern’s story shows how it was impossible to fully move on with life as it was before after the war.

Ern Quotes in Black Diggers

The Black Diggers quotes below are all either spoken by Ern or refer to Ern. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Playlab edition of Black Diggers published in 2015.
Act One Quotes

RETIRED SCHOOLMASTER: Think about what it might mean, if swathes of Mahommedan Turks or creeping armies of sausage-breathed Huns over-ran our country, imposing their foreign ways, interfering with our women. Imagine the horrors of what it would be like if we were to lose, and you wake up one morning and find us all under occupation.

HARRY: Yeah. Imagine.

They laugh. The old bloke moves on muttering under his breath. They join him, mimicking him at first, but one of them has a bass-drum, their parade of mimicry becomes a rallying march.

Related Characters: Harry (speaker), Retired Schoolmaster (speaker), Ern, Norm, Bob
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

ERN: Soldiers. If you can fire a gun and stand in the sun, they might pretend to forget you’re …

NORM: What??

Related Characters: Ern (speaker), Norm (speaker), Bob
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

I’m sorry, son, I have no idea what to do with this. With you. Wait here.

He goes and talks to a superior. There is much consulting of books and disagreements until a half dozen men are all scratching their heads and carrying on.

Anyone have the slightest idea what “Substantially European” means?

Related Characters: Recruiting Sergeant (speaker), Ern, Norm, Bob
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

It needed to be seen; these extraordinary specimens, these gallant figures, resolute as they were silhouetted against a foreign sky, they had the toughness, the ingenuity of the land of their birth. They had come to the other side of the globe to defend noble ideals; to protect motherhood, the safety of law, the sanctity of liberty, to fight for their King and all His Majesty carries … truly, from some confused, even shambolic frontier, the Australian has arrived. Fair, clear of eye, the finest of the British race cast anew under a southern sun. These boys are us, those that remain; those that returned. The greatness of the White Man, rendered greater still by peril, fighting not just for God and Empire, but to define what it is to be a man, an Australian man, in this our young Commonwealth …

Related Characters: Ern, Norm, Bob
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

VOICE IN THE DARK: Have we ever met?

ERN: Passed in the road. Your old man took his belt to mine a few times, when he went for a drink.

VOICE IN THE DARK: Why would he do that?

Related Characters: Ern (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Seriously, this has gone for years and it could go for years. We lose a few mates, they lose a few, the whistle blows, we gain another cricket pitch worth of Belgium, the horn blows, they chase us out. But most of the time we sit here and we sing our songs. And they sit over there and sing theirs. And everyone, everyone hates the whole bloody stunt.

Related Characters: Ern (speaker), Archie, Mick , Stan
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two Quotes

I reached round and felt just here under that scar and yep it was oozing that lovely rich black blood you know not the fairy light stuff close to the surface skin blood no this was that dark dark blood that comes from deep and has been there for ages, you know? […] You see, when there’s been a war there’s metal everywhere, just tons of it and it gets buried in the mud and the dirt and it gets forgotten.

Related Characters: Ern (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ern’s Bullet Shards
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Black Diggers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Diggers PDF

Ern Character Timeline in Black Diggers

The timeline below shows where the character Ern appears in Black Diggers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
History, Memory, and the Archive Theme Icon
...stick-carrying white Retired Schoolmaster tells a group of boys—Harry and his mates Norm, Bob, and Ern—about the “quiet war” that “could easily threaten all that is right, and true, and valuable... (full context)
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
In the year 1916, Norm, Bob, and Ern are in Brisbane’s Boundary Hotel wondering about what will happen to their “army pay,” and... (full context)
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Flashing back to 1915 in Petrie Terrace, nineteen-year old Ern—full name Ernest Hopkins—goes to sign up for the Army. Upon learning Ern was born in... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Ern, Norm, and Bob go to another recruiting hall in order to “do it different this... (full context)
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Ern, Norm, and Bob pose on Queen Street for a photo, joking that their families and... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
...1918, a “voice in the dark” announces he “love[s] that song” and is from Australia. Ern says he is, too, and they discover they are from the same place. The man... (full context)
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
In a trench on the outskirts of a battlefield in 1917, Mick, Archie, Ern, and Stan play “I spy” to pass the time. Ern notes that they have “moved... (full context)
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
...one in Abbeville, Norm has bandages on his ears and Bob on his eyes, while Ern is wearing a sling for his arm. Ern says the others’ injuries are their “ticket... (full context)
Act Two
Racism Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
...the Queensland reservation called Cherbourg where they grew up (back when it was called Barambah), Ern and Norm sit by a fire. Ern complains that his remaining arm has started to... (full context)
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
In the town of Murgon in 1939, Ern walks into a pharmacy and gives the chemist his war medals, because his family is... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
History, Memory, and the Archive Theme Icon
...worse than in the past, as he waits for his back pay. In the fourth, Ernest Hopkins explains that he enlisted under a different name, but does not understand “why I... (full context)
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
An old soldier, who turns out to be Ern, gives a long monologue in 1956. He remembers entering the war so naïve, too young... (full context)
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
History, Memory, and the Archive Theme Icon
During World War Two, Ern says, one day his scar began “oozing that lovely rich black blood.” He got fixed... (full context)