The physical stage is decorated to represent a huge swatch of Western Australia. On one side is the town of Northam and Government Well Aboriginal Reserve, where the Millimurra-Munday family lives. On the other side is the Moore River Native Settlement, where the family is eventually forcibly relocated. Facades, signage, or furniture represent other locations, such as Perth and the Western Australia Historical society. The play begins in 1930 at Government Well, as Sam, Joe, Gran, Milly, David, and Cissie eat breakfast and prepare for the day.
The setup of the stage does its best to portray the vastness of Western Australia. However, the Millimurra-Munday family and other Aboriginal people are only allowed to inhabit small corners of the state. The play begins in 1930, the second year of the worldwide Great Depression, which destroyed the economies of many nations and led to devastating unemployment in Australia.
Gran and Milly wash clothes. Jimmy sharpens an axe “bush fashion.” Joe struggles to read from the Western Mail newspaper. It is a centenary edition, celebration 100 years of colonization, and describes a parade of white men, “commemorating the pioneers,” carrying “with them…a reminder of the dangers they faced, in the shape of three lorries…carrying Aborigines” who were dancing to a brass band. The whole family listens as Joe reads. Sam and Jimmy are upset by the idea that Aboriginal men and women would volunteer to dance to the music of white Australians in a celebration of white settlement. Jimmy criticizes the “stupid bloody blackfellas.”
Joe is barely able to read the newspaper, as he only went to school for a few years. This is just one form of government oppression—preventing Aboriginal people from learning to read and obtain information about their own country. The centenary celebrates the establishment of the Swan River Colony, which would go on to be the city of Perth. Ironically, Aboriginal men and women, whose ancestors were killed to make way for the white Australian colonizers, are made to participate in a parade celebrating their own oppression.
Jimmy argues that the wetjalas (white people) are only marching because “them bastards took our country and them blackfellas dancing for ‘em.” Milly responds that had Jimmy been at the celebration he would have danced too, but he disagrees.
Jimmy believes the white marchers understand that Australia was founded only because the country’s indigenous inhabitants were first subjugated.
Milly makes David and Cissie stop playing cricket and get ready for school. She gives them twopence each to buy an apple for lunch, but Cissie complains that the grocer gives her and her siblings “little shriveled ones,” while white children receive “big fat ones.” Hearing this, Joe gives his siblings an additional thrippence.
Cricket is a British sport, and just one way that British and Western culture has made its way into the Millimurra-Munday family’s lives. The children do suffer from the racism of the grocer who privileges white children over Aboriginal ones.
Milly notices that David’s shirt is inside out which, he explains, is because it is dirty on the other side. She makes him change and then sends David and Cissie to school. Milly tells Joe and Sam they’ll have to catch meat for dinner, and then exits the stage with Gran.
Milly is constantly taking care of her family’s wellbeing, be it their appearance or their next meal. She is the center of the family and the woman who guarantees life runs smoothly for everyone.
Joe continues to read the paper to Sam. The paper describes “Australia’s present condition of hopeful optimistic prosperity.” Sam is unimpressed. Sam and Joe leave to catch some rabbits.
Sam recognizes that in the midst of an economic depression, and especially as an Aboriginal family, there is little opportunity for “optimistic prosperity.”