Family is incredibly important to the Millimurra-Mundays, the Aboriginal Australian protagonists of No Sugar. From the very first scene, in which they are demonstrably poor, with few physical belongings, they are shown to be rich in love and affection for each other, with each member of the family doing his or her best to alleviate the suffering of the others. Additionally, the definitions of family are loose, and the Millimurra-Mundays are easily able to absorb into their family white itinerant farm workers (like Frank), other Aboriginal men and women who want to participate in song or ceremony, and the love interests of their children. The bonds and obligations of family are what allow the Millimurra-Mundays to survive, but unfortunately their white colonizers pose a constant threat to their wellbeing and happiness. Neville (the “Protector of Aborigines” in Western Australia) and Neal (Superintendent at the Moore River Native Settlement) especially, two men whose job it is supposedly to improve the lives of Western Australia’s Aboriginal community, instead spend much of their time concocting ways to further oppress their native charges. By attacking family units, white Australians hope to destabilize and control Aboriginal Australians. However, while the bonds of family alone are not enough to completely erase the hardships the Millimurra-Mundays have been through, having a loving, supportive family can help an oppressed or disadvantaged group continue on, and maintain hope for the future and future generations.
The family provides emotional support, but they are also physically there for one another, taking care of each other’s medical needs when the government or reservation fails them. At Government Well in Northam, everyone contributes in any way they can. Milly and Gran collect rations, Cissie and Joe tend the fire, Jimmy brings some turnips, and so on. Although living in extreme poverty, the Millimurra-Mundays take care of each other through loving cooperation. When Cissie gets sick in the first act, the entire family drops everything to take care of her. Milly tells her husband, Sam, that he won’t be working today so he can carry Millie to the doctor, and her son, David, that he will have to walk to school alone. Everyone is quick to make sacrifices if it means they can take care of one of their own. Later, when Cissie returns from the hospital, the family borrows a cart. Sam knows borrowing it will mean he has to do more physical labor (cutting fence posts) as repayment, but Milly points out “ne’mine the posts, long as we git her home.” Later in the novel, Joe becomes romantically involved with Mary. The two are not legally married, but their families recognize them as a couple, and the child they conceive as legitimate. When it comes time for Mary to give birth, it is her in-laws who take care of her, immediately absorbing her into their family unit. Mary doesn’t want the Matron to help her, and so Gran is forced to deliver the child herself, just as she delivered her grandchildren. For generations, the Millimura-Mundays have not only been caring for each other’s health, but literally bringing each other into the world.
The white Australians attempt to “civilise” the Aboriginal Australians under their care, and to instill their own set of Western family values. However, ironically, the people with the lowest regard for families and least amount of respect for the importance of ancestral bonds are the government officials who claim to have the Millimurra-Mundays’ best interests at heart. When Jimmy dies during Joe’s imprisonment, the Millimurra-Mundays petition Neal to let him out for a day for the funeral. Neal refuses—he enjoys denying the Aboriginal community’s requests, because it allows him to demonstrate the power he holds over them, and the ways in which they must defer to his judgment and authority. When Mary gives birth, she fears someone will come and take her baby away. She refuses to let the Matron help her because she knows of other Aboriginal women who had babies that were taken from them and killed by black trackers at the settlement. This fear is not unsubstantiated. Mary says: “My friend went last Christmas and she came back [pregnant] […] and when she had that baby the trackers chocked it dead and buried it in the pine plantation.” As shocking as this disregard for human life is, it mirrors the callous way Neville and the other officers described how many women in their care were raped by the men who employed them. Similarly, Mr. Neal himself is known for preying on young women at the Moore River Settlement. Mary knows that “when Mr. Neal sends a girl to work at the hospital it usually means […] that he wants that girl […] for himself.” Even after Mary has been married and had a baby, Neal attempts to coerce her into working with him, demonstrating a total lack of respect for women generally, Mary specifically, and the institutions and bonds of family and marriage.
Each member of the Millimurra-Munday family recognizes the importance of the family unit, and of looking after those people in their family, biological or chosen. Their commitment to family and helping others is especially important when faced with the total disregard for family, women, and mothers demonstrated by the play’s white Australian civil servants. Although the strength of family is not enough to avoid racist mistreatment or extreme poverty, a respect for and emphasis on the importance of interpersonal relationships helps the Millimurra-Mundays endure many of life’s hardships.
White Australians vs. the Aboriginal Family Unit ThemeTracker
White Australians vs. the Aboriginal Family Unit Quotes in No Sugar
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.
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.
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.]