It is evening on the Moore River Native Settlement. Jimmy and Sam, who have painted themselves for a corroboree ceremony, sit by a fire. Joe enters with firewood, and tends to it. Bluey and Billy enter and remove their shirts. They paint themselves with the same wilgi paint that Jimmy and Sam used.
Although Bluey and Billy often act in opposition to the Millimurra-Mundays, they are still Aboriginal men, and still participate in Aboriginal rituals and ceremonies as members of an extended community.
Jimmy begins hitting clapsticks together and sings a song in Nyoongah. Bluey doesn’t understand the words, and Jimmy explains that it’s his grandfather’s song, calling crabs to come out of the river so he can catch them more easily.
Billy and Bluey speak different Aboriginal languages than Jimmy and Sam, but are nonetheless able to join together and relate to the shared ceremony.
Sam begins a group dance. He plays on the clapsticks and Bluey plays the didgeridoo. After a while Sam turns to Jimmy, wondering if he wants to slow down to protect his weak heart.
Billy comments that this country has good dances. Jimmy responds that he feels there isn’t a lot of country, or a lot of dances, left. Billy argues that this country still belongs to Jimmy and his family. In contrast, Billy feels he has no country left, “gudeeah make ‘em fences, windmill, make ‘em road for motor car, big house, cut ‘em down trees.” This is still the Millimurra-Munday’s country, unlike “my country, finish…finish.”
Billy recognizes that the white colonization of Australia has destroyed his culture and the land that used to house his ancestors. His country was turned into towns and cities and farmland, leaving nothing for its original inhabitants, driving them out or actively causing them to die, either through the destruction of resources or through direct violence.
Billy is quiet for am moment and then tells the story of the Oombulgarri Massacre of 1926. A white man, Midja George, saw an Aboriginal man sleeping near the river, and went over and began to whip the man and break his spear. The sleeping man fought back and speared Midja George, killing him. Jimmy interjects that it served Midja George right, but Billy explains that it was bad for his community. The next day, more white men came and found Midja George’s corpse. A mob of policemen and white civilians formed, and they began to shoot all the Aboriginals in the area—men, women, and children. They burned the corpses in a bonfire and tossed the bodies in the river.
This massacre is an event that began as the result of an individual’s anti-Aboriginal racism, but turned into a community-wide, government-assisted ethnic cleansing. Although ostensibly the white community was reacting to the death of Midja George (who was killed in self-defense), their response is disproportionately violent, and clearly Midja George’s murder was an excuse to assault a population white Australians had already barely tolerated.
Billy has some family left, but none of them will return to the land where the massacre took place. Joe asks why, and Billy explains that at night they can hear the voices of mothers and babies crying. Spooked, the men sit in silence and then decide to return home.
This is one of the play’s only examples of the supernatural, but even if these voices are more metaphorical than literal, the language of the dead acts as a bridge between generations past and present, and demonstrates the long-term effects of violence and trauma.
Joe holds back for a moment. Mary calls to him from offstage and he responds. She enters, and they embrace. They sit together, and Mary begins to cry. She tells Joe that Neal is trying to make her work at the hospital, and that this means her wants her “for himself.”
Joe at first doesn’t understand why Mary is upset but does his best to support her. Mary, meanwhile, knows Neal is sexually interested in her.
Joe wants to marry Mary, but they need Neal’s permission and fear they will not get it. Joe decides they should run away and get married in Northam, where he can show her his home.
Joe sees that Neal’s personal prejudices will prevent him from doing his duty and granting them a marriage license. The only option left is to break the law and elope.