JOE: ‘The—blood—was stirred…as if by a trumpet… by the history-ical…Headed by a tab-leau… […] ‘…Commemorating the pioneers whose lives…’ […] ‘…Were a steadfast performance of duty in the face of difficulty and danger. With them was a reminder of the dangers they faced, in the shape of three lorries…carrying Aborigines.
[They all stop what they are doing and listen.]
JOE: All right! ‘…Dancing…to a brass-band.’
SAM: Koorawoorung! Nyoongahs corrobereein’ to a wetjala’s brass band!
JIMMY: Ah! That beats everythin’: stupid bloody blackfellas…You fellas, you know why them wetjalas marchin’ down the street, eh? I’ll tell youse why. ‘Cause them bastards took our country and them blackfellas dancin’ for ‘em. Bastards!
JOE: ‘The pag…page…page-ant pre-sented a picture of Western Australia’s pre-sent condition of hopeful optimum-optimis-tic prosperity, and gave some idea of what men mean when they talk about the soul of the nation.’
SAM: Sounds like bullshit to me.
NEVILLE: Can you take down a note for the Minister, please? […] Item one: the native weekly ration currently costs this Department two shillings and fourpence per week. Perhaps this bears comparison with the sustenance paid to white unemployed which I believe is seven shillings per week. […] Item two: off the cuff, the proposed budget cut of three thousand one hundred and thirty-four pounds could be met by discontinuing the supply of meat in native rations. Soap was discontinued this financial year. Item Three: of eighty girls from the Moore River Native Settlement who went out into domestic service last year, thirty returned—
NEVILLE: Where was I?
MISS DUNN: Of eighty who went out in the domestic service last year…
NEVILLE: Thirty returned to the settlement in pregnant condition, yours etcetera… If you could type that straight away I’ll run it up to the Office myself.
MILLY: Whose idea was it to stop the soap?
SERGEANT: The idea, as you call it, came from the Aboriginal Department in Perth.
GRAN: Mister Neville?
MILLY: I just can’t believe it: no soap!
SERGEANT: Your trouble, Milly, is you got three healthy men bludging off you, too lazy to work.
MILLY: Where they gonna get work?
SERGEANT: They’re afraid to look for it in case they find it.
MILLY: Cockies want ’em to work for nothin’.
GRAN: They not slaves, Chergeant!
SERGEANT: Well, they’ll have to work if you want luxury items like soap.
MILLY: Look, last week my Joe cut a hundred posts for old Skinny Martin and you know what he got? A pair of second-hand boots and a piece of stag ram so tough even the dawgs couldn’t eat it; skinnier than old Martin ’imself.
As I mentioned, I was a little concerned to see so many dirty little noses amongst the children. I’m a great believer that if you provide the native the basic accoutrements of civilisation you’re half way to civilising him. I’d like to see each child issued with a handkerchief and instructed on its use. […] I think some practical training from yourself and Matron in its correct usage would be appropriate. 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.
CISSIE: [holding her throat] Hurts, Mum, here; hurts when I cough.
MILLY: Well, no school for you today, my girl. [To SAM] You ain’t goin’ post cuttin’ today, and David, you walk to school.
DAVID: Aw, Mum!
MILLY: Don’t, ‘Aw Mum’ me. Joe, you git on that bike and go and ask Uncle Herbie for a lend of his horse and cart. We takin’ her to the doctor straight away.
[JOE takes the bike from DAVID.]
SAM: Aw Mill, can’t you and Mum take her? I only want another hundred posts and I’ll have enough boondah to pay me fine.
CONSTABLE: You’re being transferred to the Moore River Native Settlement.
GRAN: I ain’t goin’.
CONSTABLE: You’re all goin’. You’re under arrest.
GRAN: What for? We done nothin’ wrong.
SERGEANT: It’s for health reasons. Epidemic of skin disease.
JIMMY: Bullshit, I’ll tell you why we’re goin’.
CONSTABLE: You wouldn’t know.
JIMMY: You reckon blackfellas are bloody mugs. Whole town knows why we’re goin’. ‘Coz wetjalas in this town don’t want us ’ere, don’t want our kids at the school, with their kids, and old Jimmy Mitchell’s tight ’coz they reckon Bert ’Awke’s gonna give him a hidin’ in the election.
MILLY: Who’s gonna look after our dogs?
CONSTABLE: We’ll attend to them.
MILLY: Yeah, we know that.
JIMMY: With a police bullet.
GRAN: [frantically] You’re not gonna shoot Wow, you’re not gonna shoot Wow Wow. You hear me, Chergeant? I’m not goin’.
[GRAN is frantic now. She tears her hair and throws plates and mugs about.]
SERGEANT: Oh Jesus, take your bloody mangy Wow Wow, whatever you call it. Take the bloody lot, just remember to be ready to move out tomorrow morning.
[The police escort JIMMY away. The family looks on in stunned silence. CISSIE clings to her mother and cries.]
Mary: I don’t like the way [Mr. Neal] looks at me.
Joe: Well, you got me now, for what I’m worth.
Mary: He’s always hangin’ around where the girls are workin’; in the cookhouse, in the sewin’ room. And he’s always carryin’ that cat-o’-nine tails and he’ll use it, too.
Joe: Bastard, better not use it on you or any of my lot.
Mary: He reckoned he was gunna belt me once.
Joe: What for?
Mary: ‘Coz I said I wasn’t gunna go and work for guddeah on a farm.
Joe: Why not? Be better than this place.
Mary: No! Some of them guddeahs real bad. My friend went last Christmas and then she came back boodjarri. She reckons the boss’s sons used to belt her up and, you know, force her. Then they kicked her out. And when she had that baby them trackers choked it dead and buried it in the pine plantation.
[He picks up inji sticks. The Nyoongahs, SAM, JIMMY and JOE, dance with them. BILLY joins in. They dance with increasing speed and energy, stamping their feet, whirling in front of the fire, their bodies appearing and disappearing as the paint catches the firelight. The dance becomes faster and more frantic until finally SAM lets out a yell and they collapse, dropping back to their positions around the fire. JIMMY coughs and pants painfully.]
BILLY: This country got plenty good dance, eh?
JIMMY: Ah, yuart, not too many left now. Nearly all finish.
BILLY: No, no, no. You song man, you fella dance men. This still your country. [Flinging his arms wide] You, you, you, you listen! Gudeeah make ’em fences, windmill, make ’em road for motor car, big house, cut ’em down trees. Still your country! Not like my country, finish… finish.
[He sits in silence. They watch him intently. JOE puts wood on the fire. He speaks slowly.]
BILLY: Kuliyah. [Miming pulling a trigger, grunting] Gudeeah bin kill ’em. Finish, kill ’em. Big mob, 1926, kill ’em big mob my country.
MATRON: Apparently you told [Mary] she was going to work at the hospital and stay in the nurses’ quarters.
NEAL: Who told you that? [Yelling] Billy!
BILLY: [off] Comin’, boss.
MATRON: It seems she was terrified at the prospect of working in the hospital.
NEAL: They’re all scared of the dead.
MATRON: I think she was scared of the living.
When referring to Australia’s treatment of her Aborigines we are apt to refer somewhat scathingly to Tasmania’s harshness in ridding herself of her natives within the first seventy years of settlement. In that time some six thousand natives disappeared and only one was left alive. Yet here, in the south-west of our State, within an area about twice the size of Tasmania between 1829 and 1901—seventy-two years—a people estimated to number thirteen thousand were reduced to one thousand four hundred and nineteen, of whom nearly half were half-caste.
NEAL: Just a moment… There’s another matter I’d like to discuss with you. I believe you’ve been lending books—novels—to some of the natives.
SISTER: Yes, I have.
NEAL: There’s a sort of unofficial directive on this is; it’s the sort of thing which isn’t encouraged by the Department.
SISTER: What do you mean? That you don’t encourage the natives to read?
NEAL: That’s right.
SISTER: [incredulously] But why? I’d intended to ask your permission to start a small library.
NEAL: I’m sorry, Sister, but—
SISTER: [interrupting] It won’t cost the Department a penny, I can get the books donated. Good books.
NEAL: It’s quite out of the question.
SISTER: But why?
NEAL: Look, my experience with natives in South Africa and here has taught—led me to believe that there’s a lot of wisdom in the old adage that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.
SISTER: It gives me great pleasure to be with you all on this very special day, when we gather together to pledge our allegiance to the King and to celebrate the birth of this wonderful young country […]. We must remember today not just our country and King, but the King of kings, the Prince of princes, and to give thanks to God for what He has provided for us […]. Even we here today, Mr Neal, Matron Neal and myself, are but His humble servants, sent by Him to serve your needs. The Lord Jesus Christ has sent His servant, Mr Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines, to speak to us on this special day. Mr Neville is going to say a few words before leading us in a song of praise to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
[NEVILLE rises. The whites clap while the Aborigines remain silent.]
There is a happy land,
Far, far away,
Where saints in glory stand,
Bright, bright as day:
Oh, how they sweetly sing,
‘Worthy is our Saviour King!’
Loud let His praises ring,
Praise, praise for aye!
[As the whites continue, the Aborigines break into full clear voice with a parody of the words.]
There is a happy land,
Far, far away.
No sugar in our tea,
Bread and butter we never see.
That’s why we’re gradually
DAVID: Eh, brother, you want my pocket knife? You might need it.
JOE: No, Brudge, I can use glass if I wanna gut a rabbit.
[SAM hands JOE a home-made knife.]
SAM: Here, son, take this one.
JOE: No, I’ll be all right.
SAM: Take it. I can git another bit of steel and make another one. Here, take it.
[Magpies squawk. GRAN begins to sing. They farewell each member of the family, then walk off into the distance.]