Black Diggers

Black Diggers


Tom Wright

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Letters Symbol Icon

Letters appear frequently throughout Black Diggers, from Archie’s periodic writings for Auntie May, to the scene in the second act when a number of anonymous letters fall from the sky, to Bertie’s coded letter asking his mother to help him get discharged, to Nigel’s letter condemning the Coinston massacre. In all these cases, the letters point to the simultaneous intimacy and distance of the soldiers’ relationships with their families, administrative sources of power, and the future. As the only form of communication back home from the battlefield, letters represent soldiers’ enduring connections to their families and rich, private emotional lives even when halfway across the earth from their loved ones. And yet, as Bertie’s circus show metaphor demonstrates, these letters were also censored, which points to the sense in which letters mediate between the soldiers and the state power that both oppresses them in Australia and allows them to serve in the military in Europe. This modern state structure, in which literacy and formality are prerequisites to be taken seriously by those in power, also demonstrates how Aboriginal Australians were systematically excluded from recognition as full human beings—for instance, the newspaper editors expect that Indigenous people will not write in about the Coinston massacre, and then when Nigel does, they are so impressed by his literacy that their story becomes about his handwriting.

Finally, the predominance of letters in Black Diggers is also a continual nod to the play’s own circumstances of production: it was constructed out of anonymous archives, which researchers stumbled upon like anonymous letters falling out of the sky. There is at once an unbridgeable distance—in terms of soldiers’ identities and full experiences—and an undeniable intimacy to the anonymity of letters. This is, in turn, why the play is structured as it is, with a number of short, pointed scenes that underline the emotional impact of the war as much as the anonymity of its soldiers.

Letters Quotes in Black Diggers

The Black Diggers quotes below all refer to the symbol of Letters. 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.
Foreword Quotes

In post apartheid South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there was a four-part definition of truth:

- Personal truth — the thing you believe to be true
- Social truth — what a group believe to be true through discussion and debate
- Forensic truth — the truth that can be proven through science and records
- Public truth — the value of telling the truth for the greater good

Related Symbols: Letters
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Act One Quotes

And the worst of it is that Ollie is still alive, he’s in the hospital and he hasn’t got a face but he’s alive Aunty May. But he hasn’t got a face Aunty May, he hasn’t got a face.

Related Characters: Archie (speaker), Aunty May
Related Symbols: Letters
Page Number: 52
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:
Get the entire Black Diggers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Diggers PDF

Letters Symbol Timeline in Black Diggers

The timeline below shows where the symbol Letters appears in Black Diggers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act Two
Racism Theme Icon
History, Memory, and the Archive Theme Icon
In a new scene, short excerpts from soldiers’ letters fall from the ceiling and the cast reads them. In the first, a soldier thought... (full context)