Black Diggers

Black Diggers


Tom Wright

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Nigel Character Analysis

The Indigenous soldier whose story opens and closes Black Diggers, Nigel grows up in the wilderness of Bellender Ker, Queensland, but his parents are murdered by white settlers and he is only spared because a Taxidermist sees him as a “perfect specimen.” The Taxidermist later adopts Nigel as his own son and shows him around the Australian Museum; the Taxidermist is proud of his stuffed apes but unwilling to confront his role in the deaths of Nigel’s parents. During the war, Nigel ironically manages to survive a German attack because he is ordered to retrieve a lost telephone on the battlefield. He ends up in the Zössen POW Camp, where he listens to German soldiers’ lecture about the evils of British colonialism and talks with Indian soldiers who are both proud of their Britishness and hopeful about kicking the British out of India. As though rehashing the first scene, a German Professor uses Nigel as an “anthropological specimen” at the camp, and Nigel agrees to participate in exchange for better conditions for the Muslim prisoners. After the war, Nigel’s eloquent public letter about the Coniston massacre is duly ignored by newspaper editors more interested in his handwriting than his message, and the play reveals that his day job is selling tickets for the show “TARZAN THE APE MAN.” Unsurprisingly, after a life of being treated as a subhuman marvel, Nigel ends up alcoholic and insane, and he ends the play in the Callan Park psychiatric hospital.

Nigel Quotes in Black Diggers

The Black Diggers quotes below are all either spoken by Nigel or refer to Nigel. 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

Full-blood, too. Unusual. Perfect specimen. And if I’d been only five minutes later … it’s all chance, and fate. [To the baby] Look at you. Back from the dead, if only you knew it.

Related Characters: Taxidermist (speaker), Nigel
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

NIGEL: Father, what happened to my aborigine parents?

TAXIDERMIST: You know that, little man. They died.

NIGEL: How did they die?

TAXIDERMIST: I’ll tell you one day. Look, a chimpanzee. They are our closest relatives.

NIGEL: Why not now?

TAXIDERMIST: Because you’re not ready yet.

NIGEL: Ready for what?

TAXIDERMIST: The world—the bigger, grown-up world—is a complicated, difficult place. You should enjoy every moment of your childhood. Plenty of time for truth later.

Related Characters: Nigel (speaker), Taxidermist (speaker)
Page Number: 19-20
Explanation and Analysis:

You must all see now, having been captured, that you have been used and abused. You are victims of your oppressive masters, who brutally seized your lands and took from you your birthrights. You are little more than slaves until you rise up and throw off the shackles of your British masters. The time for being lickspittles has ended, this war and the inevitable defeat of Great Britain has washed it all away. The question is, who will acknowledge they have been made fools, have been kept children, have accepted their own slavery? It is Time to fight, to fight against your oppressors, for a free India, for free Africa…

Related Characters: German Prison Guard (speaker), Nigel
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two Quotes

REPORTER: Surely the letter’s point is about the massacre up in the Territory?

EDITOR: No-one’s interested in payback in the back of Bourke. An Aborigine who can write like this is a much better story. He must be doing all right for himself, mustn’t he?

Related Characters: Nigel
Related Symbols: Letters
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Tarzan. At the Empire. Tarzan, man of the apes. The ape man. Tarzan. Ape. Man. Lowland Gorilla. From Zanzibar. Ape. Man.

He stops, has a surreptitious swig from a bottle. Stands still, watching people rush past him.

Sorry Dad.

Related Characters: Nigel (speaker), Taxidermist
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Black Diggers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Diggers PDF

Nigel Character Timeline in Black Diggers

The timeline below shows where the character Nigel appears in Black Diggers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One
Racism Theme Icon
The scene shifts to 1895, when the Taxidermist takes a boy, Nigel, through Sydney’s Australian Museum, showing him the exhibits of stuffed animals (really the play’s actors).... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
At a battle in Bullecourt in 1917, having lost his unit, Nigel hides out with a different one. The soldiers are surprised to see he is black;... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Still in Bullecourt in 1917, Nigel gets sent to crawl into the battlefield and retrieve a telephone because his superior insists... (full context)
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
In Germany’s Zössen POW Camp in 1917, Nigel is imprisoned alongside three Indians and forced to listen to a German prison guard explain... (full context)
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
One of the Indians explains to Nigel that they have to sit there all day and listen to these discourses, which are... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Back at the Zössen POW Camp in 1917, a German Professor approaches Nigel and explains he is collecting “anthropological specimens” for his records in order to “draw an... (full context)
Act Two
Australian Nationhood and Indigenous Dispossession Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
History, Memory, and the Archive Theme Icon
In Forest Lodge, Sydney, in 1929, Nigel writes a letter condemning the previous year’s Coniston massacre and insisting that Australia’s “brutality and... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
On George Street in downtown Sydney, Nigel wears a costume reading “TARZAN THE APE MAN” and hands out flyers for the show.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
War, Violence, and Shell Shock Theme Icon
At the Callan Park psychiatric hospital in 1951, a nurse wheels a sleeping man past Nigel and asks if he is “enjoying the sun,” but tells him not to “stay out... (full context)