Jack Davis’ play, No Sugar, represents the different cultural societies and identities within a Western Australian setting. Set in a time of the great depression, the play focuses around the struggles of everyday life. The characters reflect how culture is portrayed though literary discourse and language devices such as dialogue, costume and props. The play offers several perspectives, yet the audience is felt to side with the Indigenous families.
Culture is represented within Davis’ play through the character Billy. Billy attempts to assimilate into White-Australian society in an attempt to have a sense of belonging and, as a result, abandons his cultural attitudes and values behind. His role in the play is to track Aborigines in an attempt to oppress his own race for the White-Australians. However, the other first Australian characters view this as a betrayal to their culture through the dialogue, “Cause them bastards took our country and them blackfellas dancin’ for’ ‘em”, and “He ain’t black, he purple”. Billy is therefore rejected by the Indigenous culture by the mocking tone and attitudes as a result of his attempt of his assimilation. Yet it is ironic as Billy assimilates to fit into the White-Australian cultural ideas, however he rejected by the White-Australians in addition to his own culture.
The costumes and props reflect this, as Billy has been given “new but absurdly ill fitting uniforms”, to imply that while his traditional culture is being replaced by the white culture, Billy does not belong in the society. The uniform is expected to show unity and cohesion between people, yet how it is described as ill fitting represents mistreatment, criticising the attitudes those with power had towards the Indigenous culture. Billy is further shown to not belong by having to “stand beside the flagpole with the flag ready to raise” as the flag will be the British flag rather than his own, an attempt to humiliate their sense of identity and culture. Billy is therefore rejected by both Indigenous culture as well as White-Australian culture leading to the sense of a lack of belonging. Billy is an important character to represent the importance of culture.
Language reflects a huge importance of culture, especially for the Indigenous identity. Jimmy speaks in both English and Nyoongah to proudly express his traditional culture. Jimmy will even challenge the influence of those with authority, as seen in Act four Scene five as he exposes the intentions behind the relocation of the Indigenous people. As the protagonist, the audience looks up to Jimmy. But Jimmy’s death stops his voice from being heard, which his voice was symbolic of protest and voice – thus the power of dialogue. Mary’s child is named “koolbardi (magpie)”, a Nyoongah term, to go against this notion that Jimmy’s death does not end his legacy, and that their culture will continue on. Joe even names the child “Jimmy” to reinforce that their voice will be heard rather than silenced. Billy’s identity is completely different to Jimmy by the contrast in the two languages. While Jimmy’s voice is of protest, Billy’s dialect is broken English as a representation of failed assimilation. He first calls himself a “politjman”, yet he is only a black tracker, showing that he hopes to gain a position of power and influence of that of the white culture, yet his inability to speak fluently shows his true position in society; He is caught between the black and white cultures.
Topsy uses language to show a successful assimilation in society. Topsy is an indigenous girl who speaks fluent and formal English, while not showing any background of her ancestral culture and language. Topsy has a lot of knowledge on the biblical stories, which is a juxtaposition to Joes inability to read, showing the differences in culture even when they are both of the same race. The audience is positioned to feel concerned by how easily a traditional identity was easily replaced by the invading culture. Unlike Jimmy, Topsy does not protest along with all the other Aborigines to reinforce the idea of assimilation is a negative solution to having a sense of belonging. Thus language portrays the importance of belonging and therefore human identity.
In conclusion, the play represents the different cultural societies. The play highlights the damaged caused by assimilation and how assimilation is not a solution to finding a place to fit into society, rather the underlying message is to fight for individual beliefs through the use of the language devices. While the play offers many perspectives, it is the Aboriginal community that the audience is positioned to side with due to the emotion evoked with the destruction of a culture.