On the street in Northam, Sergeant Carrol interrupts Frank as he rolls a cigarette. Although Frank is camping out with a group of other white men, the Sergeant has seen Frank hanging out with the Aboriginal Millimurra-Munday family. Frank points out that socializing with them is not against the law, but the Sergeant suggests that Frank has been supplying Aboriginal men with alcohol, which is a crime.
The lives of Aboriginal Australians are heavily regulated. They are not allowed to drink alcohol, ostensibly for their own good, but this mindset assumes Aboriginal people are unable to take care of themselves in the same way as white Australians, who are allowed to purchase and drink alcohol.
Jimmy was discovered drunk, and the Sergeant suggests that Frank bought him alcohol. The Sergeant warns Frank that, although Jimmy only received a warning, next time he’s going to jail, and his supplier will be punished.
Jimmy’s drunkenness should only affect himself, but because it is illegal for him to buy or consume alcohol as an Aboriginal man, his drinking has become a legal issue.
The Sergeant suggests Frank leaves town, but he doesn’t want to go. He’s looked for work all over the area and found nothing, and he can’t afford to return home to his family. Taking pity on him, the Sergeant gives Frank a few cigarettes, before warning him that “natives best left to keep to themselves.” He says, “I got nothin’ against ‘em, but I know exactly what they’re like.”
The Sergeant makes it clear that he is not only doing his legal duty in persecuting Jimmy and others, but he also has a personal grudge against Aboriginal people. By saying “I know exactly what they’re like” he suggests that he thinks they are somehow worse or less deserving than white Australians.
Frank exits the stage, and the Sergeant enters the police station. Across the stage, Miss Dunn and Neville sit at their desks in Perth. They share an office with a sign on the door that reads “Government of Western Australia, Fisheries, Forestry, Wildlife and Aborigines.”
The fact that Aboriginal people are lumped in with Fisheries, Forestry, and Wildlife demonstrates that the government does not see them as people, but as a natural resource to be managed.
Miss Dunn makes a personal phone call. She is trying to sell her brother’s motorcycle. He has been unsuccessfully looking for work, and after failing to find employment in Perth is now in South West Australia. Neville remarks that unemployment is at thirty per cent, so it is unsurprising he hasn’t found a job.
When Aboriginal characters struggle to find work, they are chastised for not trying hard enough or for being lazy. However, when a white character struggles to find work, other white characters are sympathetic.
Neville has Miss Dunn call the Sergeant. As they wait for the call to connect, Neville dictates a note to a superior in the government. He reports that the Department is short on money, and suggests no longer including meat in the rations supplied to the Aboriginal community. He compares the two shillings and fourpence per week spent on the rations compared to the seven shillings per week paid in welfare to white workers.
Neville’s job is to ensure the health and wellbeing of the Aboriginal population of Western Australia, but as a cost-saving measure he is willing to deprive them of the food they need to survive. Although the economy is struggling, the government manages to pay unemployed white Australians almost three times as much as they agree to spend on Aboriginal people.
Sergeant Carroll returns Neville’s call, interrupting his dictation. Neville reports that he has had trouble finding a new location to serve as a reserve for Northam’s Aboriginal population. A man has protested the proposed site because he “claims he wouldn’t be able to go out and leave his wife home alone at night.” Neville tells the Sergeant to recommend a new site “well away from any residences.”
One man’s individual racism—his claim that Aboriginal men are dangerous sexual predators—has influenced government policy. Northam’s Aboriginal population is being relocated not because it is better for the Aboriginal community, but because the white community cannot tolerate them and wants their land.
Gran and Milly arrive at the Northam police station to collect their rations, interrupting the Sergeant’s call. He and Neville hang up, and the Sergeant turns his attention to the two women. As he speaks to them, Miss Dunn and Neville have an overlapping conversation in Perth, Neville continuing to dictate a letter to the Minister. He reports of eighty Aboriginal women who left their settlement to work in domestic service. Thirty returned pregnant.
Neville emotionlessly reports the rape of over eighty Aboriginal women at the hands of their white employers, demonstrating that he does not care about their wellbeing at all. He is not shocked or disgusted, and makes no effort to find a solution to what is clearly an epidemic of sexual violence.
Back in Northam, the Sergeant gives Milly and Gran their rations: flour, sugar, meat, fat drippings for cooking, and cream of tartar. The Sergeant jokes that life is easier now that Gran doesn’t have to grind her own flour out of jam and wattle seeds. Gran says she preferred it. The Sergeant says she still could if she wanted, but Gran points out that the “wetjala cut all the trees down.”
Jam and wattle seeds came from an indigenous Australian plant whose population was devastated by white colonizers. The destruction of this food source was the result of governmental neglect and a racist dismissal of the needs of the Aboriginal population.
Milly is upset when she realizes that soap has been cut from the rations. The Sergeant says she can buy some, and when she asks what money she will use, he tells her she has “three healthy men bludging off you, too lazy to work.” Milly points out there is little work, and what work the men find is poorly compensated. Milly and Gran leave, mocking the Sergeant and cackling. He returns to work.
Although there is a nationwide (and worldwide) economic depression at the time, the Sergeant acts as though Sam, Jimmy, and Joe being unable to find work is their fault. As offensive as this is, Milly and Gran find comfort in each other and are able to laugh off the Sergeant’s racism.
In his office, Neville finishes his letter and dictates a thank you note to Mr. Neal for hosting him at the Moore River Native Settlement. While Neville compliments Neal’s hospitality, he criticizes the “dirty little noses” of the Aboriginal children. He believes “if you provide the native the basic accouterments of civilization you’re half way to civilising him,” and suggests giving each child a handkerchief. He has a plan on how to provide handkerchiefs, even though the entire Government is short on money.
Neville is interested in “civilizing” the Aboriginals of Australia, which he sees as making them appear more Western, and therefore more white. He is uninterested in actually improving their lives (earlier in this act he cut rations for soap, which would actually clean children) and is instead interested in the appearance of cleanliness, not the actually cleanliness of the children.
In his letter, Neville announces he will be sending limited supplies of toilet paper to the Settlement, and that it is Neal’s job to teach the Aboriginal people under his care how to use it. Neville suggests “If you can successfully inculcate such basic but essential details of civilised living you will have helped them along the road to taking their place in Australian society.”
Neville’s racism becomes government policy. He personally believes that Aboriginal people can only be happy if they become more like white Australians, and so he forces them to do so though the policy he holds the power to create.