5 facts within Jack Davis’ “No Sugar” that’ll keep you up at night

And by ‘keep you up at night’ I mean me. I will be up at night. Finishing this task.

Alright now that the disclaimer is out way let’s get started, shall we? Jack Davis was an Aboriginal activist and playwright. In his play ‘No Sugar’ he includes many important ideas most of which go hand in hand with the unjust treatment of aboriginal Australians. Then intent of the play was to expose Australia’s racism and, well, it worked.


So without further ado, here’s 5 facts about ‘No Sugar’

1. A large theme within the text is corrupt authority

Corrupt authority is a reoccurring theme within the text shown through the use of characters like Mr Neal. Mr Neal is in fact the advocate for corrupt authority figures. The characterisation of Mr Neal results in the audience being rather repulsed by, and in turn distrust, the authority. In act two scene five, the stage directions mentions Mr Neal “has a hangover” allowing the audience to interpret that he takes no pride in his job as a superintendent. I mean sometimes a job isn’t something you take pride in, but I feel it’s like a general no no to be completely hungover when you’re in charge of a group of people. Maybe that’s just me.


Diction is used within the text to convey the type of character Mr Neal is. On page 58 he ignores and hides away from Jimmy claiming to “attend” to him later. The use of the word ‘attend’ is significant, it implies that talking to Jimmy is something unpleasant, something that he is made to deal with. He acts as though talking to Jimmy is a horrendous task that he is forced to do, and yet as superintendent it’s his job.


The idea of corrupt authority is further enforced on page 58, when Mary brings him tea and he “leers at her body”. For starters this act is never favourable (especially when it’s a younger girl and an older man).The use of the word ‘leer’ generally has negative connotations it’s usually applied to an unpleasant and unwanted gaze.


The symbolism of the props that Mr Neal has is also significant. A whip symbolises authority but a cat-o-nine-tails represents higher authority and more brutality, as this type of whip generally causes a lot more damage. On page 87 Mr Neal whips Mary over a bag of flour, this punishment was a real event. The origin of this punishment resulted in the girl peeing on the flour before being forced to eat it. This act is a not only brutal but humiliating and degrading, this scene aptly represents the characterisation of Mr Neal and the theme of corrupt authority. This act has the audience feeling disturbed and in turn more sympathetic for the aboriginal plight.


Also when Mary was whipped she was “very pregnant”, and call me old fashioned but I feel whipping pregnant ladies is a tad rude.


2. There’s double standards

In act 1 scene 5 Jimmy and Sam are in court and sentenced for drinking alcohol, that Frank supplied them with. Frank in doing so was “breaking the law”. The court case ended in all 3 men being sentenced to prison with hard labour as punishment. This punishment is excessive and allows the audience to question the (stupidity of the) law. JP mentions “…it’s my duty to protect natives and half-castes from alcohol.” This sentence seems like something that would be said about a child, but no it’s white adults thinking they have a right to control aboriginals.


This can then be juxtaposed against act 2 scene 5 when the Matron says that Mr Neal spent “the day in the hotel drinking”, and then it’s mentioned in the stage directions that he shows up hungover for work. But that’s all right because he’s white! The use of these two scenes allows the audience to view and create a clear understanding of the double standards present.


Especially since Mr Neal was meant to be working, claiming he “…had to go to Moora…”, and work the next day, but could still get away with it, whilst Jimmy and Sam were drinking at home and as a result were punished.



3. There’s the idea that authority is untrustworthy

In act 3 scene 1 the family returns back to Government Well to find the camp burned with few relics remaining. The most important prop in this scene is “…the burnt remains of DAVID’s bike.” Joe mentions that “… they was gunna look after everything we left behind.” And then in an act of betrayal they burnt everything. This scene is especially important given how passionate the children were about this bike. The children’s love for the bike allows the audience to have an emotional connection with the characters, that results in them feeling sympathy for the children but to also feeling the same rage as them. The children were assured that no damage would occur and yet look at what happened, this allows the audience to make their own interpretations resulting in a distrust in authority.


And I mean, come on, they’re children how can you upset a child like that? Burning a bike is automatically 12 times worse when it belongs to a child, especially when it’s the only one they have (because you know poverty, the Great Depression and all that jazz).


4. The story Billy tells is a historical event

The story Billy recounts on page 62, is an actual massacre that took place. The event is known as the  Oombulgurri massacre or The Forrest River massacre. The part that Billy tells is only a small fraction of the crimes committed. A man named Fred Hay attacked an aboriginal man named Lumbia (this was not the first time Hay had attacked and killed aboriginals). Hay flogged Lumbia and afterwards, when he went to ride off, he was stabbed in the back by a spear and killed. The reason behind why Lumbia killed Fred Hay (well besides the fact that he was just flogged) was believed to be that Fred Hay raped both of Lumbia’s wives, who I might add were children. Oh and he raped one of his wives in front of Lumbia before mounting his horse, not bothering to dress, and left. Honestly what a bastard.


The inclusion of an event that occurred in real life really helps the audience to create an opinion on the awful treatment of aboriginal people. The fact that this massacre is not fiction adds to the shock value. Generally audience’s would react sympathetically if this where just a fictional event (unless your a stone cold bastard or a sociopath) but because it’s a real event that occurred and real people were harmed, it really hits hard. An audience will have much stronger reaction, resulting in even stronger opinions being formed.


5. There’s the idea that aboriginals don’t belong

In act 4 scene 5 the stage directions mention Billy and Bluey (both aboriginal trackers) are dressed in “…absurdly ill-fitting uniforms” this is representative of the aboriginal people not fitting in or belonging. The fact that this ill-fitting uniform is worn on Australia Day further symbolises this. Australia Day is known by many aboriginals as the day their country was invaded by white people. The ill-fitting uniform worn on this particular day represents that aboriginals within the newly created colony no longer belong or have a place within society.


This can also be further interpreted by the audience to mean that the white people didn’t actually  want the aboriginals to fit in. After all, the uniform was probably designed and created by white people (I doubt any aboriginals within this time period had such jobs). Also how hard is it to make a well fitting uniform? The uniform on Australia Day can be symbolic for white people removing and pushing out aboriginals from their new white culture.

Bonus fact: Mr Neville is a real person!

Whaaaat?! Ikr what a crazy world we live in.

Sorry? What’s that? Oh I used a minion. Yep okay there’s the door I’ll see myself out.


by R.R.


One thought on “5 facts within Jack Davis’ “No Sugar” that’ll keep you up at night

  1. This is, actually, very cool. And, yes, I know that potentially sounds condescending but I assure you that was not my intent.

    What I mean when I say this was “cool” is that it felt like I was actually reading a random blog post about the play and not at all like I was reading a student’s assignment.

    Your style was excellent – it was easy to follow, contained humorous asides and explored a variety of pertinent issues (even if points 1 and 3 were essentially the same).

    Great stuff!


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