Jack Davis’ No Sugar: a study of race and place.



Racism has always been an aspect of society in which we fail to recognise in ourselves the harm and negative attitudes we hold to that of someone from a cultural diverse background. We perceive the idea of racism as being linked with a past time period of human evolution however, we as a people still hold racism as an issue in which is inescapable. Jack Davis’s play No Sugar (1985) set in 1929 tells the story of nyoongah people (the Millimurra family) and their forced removal from their home in Northam to the Moore River Native Settlement. This play shows the cruelty and segregation white administrators believed was a necessary precaution placed upon these nyoongah people. Whilst showing the cruelty, it portrays the resilience of these people to have survived such ordeals whilst continuing their culture. Jack Davis takes the history in which we know and spins an alternative perspective upon it allowing the audience to overlook elements of history in which may have been whitewashed by historians.


Random information:

The first scenes show the Millimurra-Munday family as being unified under European control.


For further information use the hyperlink:

Quick notes for No Sugar – examples of racism – English Works




The predominant setting announced continuously throughout the play is the Moore river native settlement. This settlement now nonexistent was located 135 kilometres north of Perth. Originally planned as a self-sufficient farm for 200 aboriginals, with schools and health facilities for the indoctrination of European culture. However the land was incapable of being cultivated and so became known for its harsh conditions upon aboriginal families. Families were forced to go to this settlement and so in no sugar the same requirement was forced upon the Millimurra family. In the play Mary was afraid to work at the settlement as she feared she would be raped by Mr. Neal. This fear was brought about by her friend who informed her that “the bosses sons used to belt her up, and you know force her.” When Mr. Neal requests for a girl it means he will rape them. Of eighty women who went to work at the Moore river settlement, thirty returned pregnant.


The Oombulgarri Massacre:

Through act 2 scene 6 Billy’s context is apparent when he mentions “Gudeeah bin kill ’em. Finish, kill ’em. Big mob, 1926, kill ’em big mob my country.” This section of the play allows the audience of predominantly upper class pensioners to see through the events of the past from an aboriginal’s perspective through the eyes of their white selves. This scene in the play is mentioned by Billy when discussing his people and what has occurred of them. The so called Oombulgarri Massacre in which Billy is explaining was a dispute in which started with the killing of a local pastoralist by an aboriginal during 1926 in the Kimberley region. The local law enforcement performed the massacre and in 1927 the royal commission investigated into the situation at hand. It determined that eleven natives were killed and one of their own, this however was a lie to cover up the hundreds of slaughtered aboriginals. Charges against two white law officials were dropped due to ‘lack of evidence’. The author Jack Davis is attempting to suggest that the aboriginals weren’t at fault and that throughout history one group has concurred over the other. This evidently being white over black.


The Tasmanian Solution:

The Tasmanian solution of 1824 – 1831 saw the loss of a 1000 lives. This solution was the attempt at complete annihilation of the indigenous aboriginals in Tasmania. In the play Sergeant states “too late to adopt the Tasmanian solution” after having a conversation with constable in which he explains “pinch of strychnine in the flour” [39]. These lines portray the disrespect held towards the aboriginal people and the efforts enforced to eradicate them from existence. This Tasmanian solution commonly known as the black war is commonly assumed to have been started with white men using violence/violent acts to gain sex from aboriginal women and children. These violent acts occurred due to the belief of white men being allowed to do what they wanted as well as the large proportion of men compared with women. When the aboriginals tried standing up for themselves the white men attempted a complete eradication of aboriginal life. This Tasmanian solution was considered an act of genocide due to it almost eliminating Tasmanian aborigines.


For further information use the hyperlink:

Tasmania’s Black War: a tragic case of lest we remember?


Sorry Day

In modern times this play still holds a level of relevancy due to aboriginal’s anger towards the stolen generation. On the 26th may 1998 the first national Sorry Day was held out of respect for the aboriginal people. This day had a range of events to show sympathy towards the people in which white settlers had affected over the many years. In 1992 Prime Minister Keating acknowledged the stolen generation by saying “we took the children from their mothers”. In 2008 on the 13th February Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generation for the grief on the families and communities altered lives and placed a motion in parliament. This motion was to close the gap between aboriginals and white people by improving ‘life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity’.


For further information use the hyperlink:

Sorry Day and the Stolen Generations | australia.gov.au


Australia Day

In 1946 the commonwealth and state governments agreed to unify January 26th as a holiday named ‘Australia Day’ through which all of Australia would celebrate on the same day. This was out of respect towards Captain Arthur Phillip who took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and raised the British flag for the first time in Sydney cove on the 26th January 1788. Australians celebrate this as a day of founding meanwhile the aboriginals mourn the day due to it being the day of “the coming of one race at the expense of another” aka Invasion Day. In scene five act four, Australia Day is celebrated and is expressed as being a day of nyoongah people abiding by the European culture in which they call ‘Australian’.


For further information use the hyperlink:

Australia Day – Invasion Day – Creative Spirits



Readers of this play have a sense of realism placed upon them allowing them to gain some truths out of the characters at hand, predominantly that of Neville. Neville is the chief protector of aboriginals and is the person who introduced the controversial policy of removing aboriginal children from their parents which has become known as “the stolen generation”. Over 25% of all aboriginal children were taken to concentration camps such as the Moore River Settlement. In act 3 Neville is explained as being dressed smartly therefore portraying him as authority/power figure who is of upper class decent. Neville’s sense of importance is echoed throughout the play. Due to Neville’s language and tone he is seen as being as alien as those using a language of another type by the audience witnessing him. His paternalistic attitude towards the aboriginals allows the audience to view his condescending tone towards the aboriginals as a father knows best type relationship. He is attempting to help the nyoongah people inspire themselves in following European culture by playing the role of father. Neville’s racism is cloaked in officialdom due to his position in society and his job occupation evident in the quote “The natives entrance is around the back”. He enforces cuts due to his lack of consideration for people of aboriginal descent.


Racism comes in many forms evident:

South Park – Wheel of Fortune – Naggers – YouTube


Other Characters:

Other characters in this play portray truths of the time period with Neal, Neville and Sergeant all believing blacks as worthless animals, while matron and frank are the only white characters who show sympathy towards there black counterparts. Mr. Neal in act 2 scene 5 turns up to work with a hangover, this showcases the lack of respect/pride he holds of his job as the superintendent of the Moore River Native Settlement. Mr. Neal uses a weapon known as a cat o’nine tails which inflicts harm upon numerous nyoongah people. This weapon shows how white culture holds better weapons over that of the aboriginal civilians, since Billy has a whip and the aboriginals have an axe. This clearly shows a class hierarchy of weapons and that white men/European settlers hold the power in Australia. The character of Frank Brown whose last name has connotations of a dark skin colour contrasting his own. A white Australian, Frank is the most sympathetic of all the white characters to the nyoongah people since his lack of adequate housing and befallen poverty. Frank is willing to befriend the Millimurra family despite society disagreeing with his choice. His last name indicates that colour of a person isn’t the be all or end all and that racism is taught not bred.


Billy Kimberly

Billy Kimberly, a black tracker whose compliance with European culture was forced upon him by settlers who enforced assimilation. He works for Mr. Neal and is now a character who enforces European culture just as the settlers did. Billy however is stuck between cultures due to him lacking skills in English pronunciations, “she comin’ you fella all wait this place now”. He is also being considered another enemy by the aboriginal society he would have called home since he is enforcing white man’s rules upon society. Billy’s whip which is a symbol of his lack of power in a society of white control. He attempts to give it away near the end of the play as a sign of his changing behaviour back into a more aboriginal based surrounding. Billy is seen as lacking a purpose in society when he is shown standing beside a British flag which clearly isn’t his own. It is unclear which side he is internally supporting, however openly it is the side of ultimate power.


I couldn’t find a picture of Billy Kimberly since it’s a play with some fictional characters so here’s a picture of Billy Dee Williams.



Symbolism is highly evident in the play no sugar as every scene holds a different relevancy point to the overarching themes of the play. Showcased in act 3 scene 5 a portrait of the king and the Union Jack are shown as being next to an Australian flag, portraying the colonial oppression occurring in Australia from first settlement. These symbolic items also create the idea of Australian culture abiding by the European. The use of blood in the first scene allows the audience to witness imagery and gain a possible foreshadowing of events to occur. “Jimmy sharpens an axe, bush fashion”, he nicks his finger and watches the blood drip to the floor. This is foreshadowing the heart attack in which occurs to Jimmy near the conclusion of the play, this drop of blood signifies his helplessness in a situation in which is out of his control. Blood spilling onto the floor symbolises the connection in which aboriginals hold for the land and also portrays the idea of genocide which has occurred as part of the Tasmanian solution.


Soap And Hygiene:

Soap and hygiene are the first things taken from the nyoongahs in no sugar. The aboriginals are viewed as being dirty people both metaphorically and literally. “That shirt its filthy” (scene 1) and “no more soap” (scene 2) both help the understanding of the situation occurring and show the little respect white settlers had for aboriginals. These aboriginals had no right in attending schools if they were of an unclean standard however due to the lack of soap the settlers had limited their options. The lack of cleanliness emphasises the thought process of aboriginals being second rate citizens living in low income housing.


Western Past Times:

Western past times such as cricket, tea and reading newspapers (evident in scene 1) are relevant in this society which enforces assimilation. White Australian legendary cricketer Don Bradman is mentioned by David, this is to allow a sense of familiarity to encompass the white audience. Tea is predominantly drunk by English people however, this tradition has passed on into Australian culture too. Tea drinking is commonly associated as being an upper class activity in which only a few English people could have participated in. Reading newspapers is an unusual activity to be occurring in this time period due to aboriginals struggle with the language barriers present. These readings help show aboriginals requirement to learn the English language to better understand the now predominant European society.


Random information:

Two sets are placed in front of the audience at the same time and the audience must perambulate around the place of production. This shows the juxtaposition of aboriginal and white society and through this Davis makes you concentrate throughout the whole play. Evident in act one scene two, when the stage is divided into a white and black society. The only thing linking these sets is the telephone call in which Sergeant Carroll is having about the aboriginal problem.



The use of language plays a part in the understanding of race and culture throughout this play. The nyoongah language is part of their cultural norm and so is constantly used to attempt at keeping aboriginal language remaining alive. When the aboriginals in the play get excited they use their own language as it is what comes easiest to them since they have learnt the English language due to introduced culture. Alcohol was introduced by white settlers however, they assume aboriginals as drunks even though it was an item introduced by the British. The aboriginals have a lack of education due to most speaking with broken English and predominant nyoongah language. These characters won’t learn the vocabulary of Neville however aboriginals use colloquial English to be more easily understood. They use this type of vocabulary to relate with the white audience and racist characters use it to show the comparison with a more modern time in history. The racist characters terminology can be seen as relatable with a white audience due to people’s hidden beliefs and secret truths. Even if people don’t like to admit it everyone has been racist at some point in their life. Certain characters use racist terminology which is harmful for the audience. Sergeant Carroll uses the term “abos” and the words “nigger twist” are used. These portray the racist environment in which the British have created in Australia since mainly the white characters are racist. However, the nyoongah people still use racist terms as well such as “wetjala” meaning white man. The idea of humour as a form of mocking is utilised by Gran with her disrespectful pronunciation of sergeant Carrols name as “Chergeant”. Gran fights for her family and the rights they deserve, “they not slaves, Chergeant!”.


For further information use the hyperlink:

No Sugar by Jack Davis – English Works


We all have the possibility to be racist.


How we differ from our past?


How do we justify our ancestors’ mistakes?


by A.M.


One thought on “Jack Davis’ No Sugar: a study of race and place.

  1. Your controversial memes will surely spark reader interest.
    Once they’re engaged, they’ll find a comprehensive discussion of key elements than influenced the play and a run down of the important characters, settings, props and events.

    Sounds like you’ve done a lot? You have. Probably too much. This would have read better if the focus was narrower and the style more cohesive – this might have also allowed you more time for proofreading and editing.


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