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
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
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.
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?