The play begins in 1930 in the city of Northam, on the Government Well Aboriginal Reserve, where the Millimurra-Munday family, comprising Jimmy, Sam, Milly, Gran, Joe, Cissie, and David live. Australia, like the rest of the world, is suffering from the Great Depression, and so work and money are scarce. The Millimurra-Mundays survive on limited government rations, meat they’ve caught themselves, and a little money that Sam, Jimmy, and Joe earn doing odd jobs around town. The Millimurra-Mundays have to deal with various problems, including diminishing ration allotments, Jimmy’s imprisonment for public drunkenness, and Cissie’s poor health. Although they struggle to stay afloat, each member of the family looks out for everyone else, and makes compromises for the wellbeing of the group.
As the Millimurra-Munday family attempts to make ends meet, the audience is given insight into the bureaucratic plots of Neville, Miss Dunn, the Sergeant, and the Constable, who frequently talk on the telephone as they make plans to relocate the Northam Aboriginal community to the Moore River Native Settlement. Although the Millimurra-Munday family and their neighbors will be the most affected by this move, they have no say in the decision. Instead, one day the Sergeant and the Constable arrive at their encampment and announce that they must uproot their lives. Jimmy and Gran fight back, but it is a losing battle. In the end, the whole family makes the move.
Moore River is run by Mr. Neal and his wife, Matron Neal, who runs the local hospital. Matron Neal genuinely cares about the wellbeing of Moore River’s indigenous population, but Mr. Neal is more interested in his own quality of life, and in taking out anger, aggression, and lust on the Aboriginal Australians under his “care.” The Millimurra-Mundays arrive at Moore River and are immediately inspected by Matron Neal. The family, and dozens of other Aboriginal families, were sent to Moore River because they supposedly had scabies. However, upon examining the group, the Matron determines they’re perfectly healthy. Unfortunately, they will still be forced to stay in Moore River, clearing space in Northam for white families and white recreation, which was Neville’s plan all along.
The Millimurra-Mundays make a new life in Moore River. Joe meets and falls in love with another girl living at the camp, Mary. She eventually becomes pregnant, and Joe convinces her to elope with him back to Northam, where they can live independently. They illegally escape Moore River, and live freely and happily for several months, but are eventually recaptured by the Sergeant and Constable. Mary is sent back to Moore River, and Joe is sent to prison.
Back in Moore River, the Millimurra-Mundays care for Mary and adopt her into their family. When Neal whips her for rejecting his offer to work at the hospital (where she suspects he would attempt to sexually harass or assault her), Milly and Gran tend to her wounds. She eventually delivers her baby, and Gran is the one who tends to her and ties the knot on the baby’s umbilical cord.
On Australia Day, 1934, Neville comes to Moore River to deliver a speech. Jimmy and his extended family are unimpressed with the speech, which seems to suggest that Aboriginal Australians should be grateful for their white colonizers. Jimmy and others parody a hymn that Neville sings, and Neville stops the event to chastise Jimmy. Jimmy fights back, but he has a weak heart and cannot handle the exertion. He becomes overexcited and dies.
Joe is released from prison and meets his new son, who he names “Jimmy” after his uncle. He asks Neal for permission to leave Moore River, which he finally grants. The play ends as Joe, Mary, and their baby leave Moore River for a second time.