Women are freakin’ awesome. I mean, they’re freakin’ great. Men, eh, they’re alright, but Women: freakin’ awesome. Especially the Women in Jack Davis’ No Sugar (see what I did there). If you’re reading this, you’re probably a female (or Mr Barton, but the category fits (jk please give me an A)) and you’re probably expecting a feminist interpretation of the play talking shiz about repression and lack of rights etc. Well that’s sort of it. I want to talk about how the Women in No Sugar are hands down some of the most inspiring, badass, batshit crazy female characters in a play that I have ever read.
Ok people, let’s didgeridoo this:
No Sugar was written in 1985 by a man (gross af), called Jack Davis, who was a Nyoongarah Perth-born author who experienced much of the hardships and discrimination which he represents in his play. It follows the Millimurra-Munday family who are forced to leave their makeshift homes by the government, settling in an overcrowded Native Settlement on the Moore River. The family, comprised of Gran (the grandmother), Milly and Jimmy (her children), Sam (Milly’s husband) and their three children (Joe, David and Cissie) is a synecdochal representation of a Nyoongarah family and the hardships endured by a vast majority of indigenous individuals under European colonisation. Whoa! Serious much! But now we can get into the good stuff.
No Sugar has some radical female characters who are utter symbols of resistance, compassion and strength and give the dirty patriarchal society a run for its money. Regardless of their race, age or socioeconomic status, these women are responsible for many of the plays important themes and god damn they demonstrate just how freakin’ cool it is to be a female. So let’s get into this shiz.
In the white corner we have (drum rollllllllllllll……….)
Sister Eileen and Matron Neal
I know, I know, the play is about the plights of black characters, but I want to start with the white female characters for a reason. Matron Neal and Sister Eileen are, in their own respect, just as important as Milly, Mary and Gran (and I’m not saying that just because I’m white af). They represent compassion and sympathy and fight for the aboriginal people’s welfares against a system which attempts to silence and marginalise them.
Take Matron Neal for instance; wife of the abusive, unfaithful N.S Neal. As a nurse on the settlement, she suffers verbal abuse from the indigenous peoples, low pay, and her asshole boss is also her asshole husband who, btdubs, is a total asshole. Yet, she never does any less than her best to love and care for the indigenous peoples. She’s the only white character who actually respects and values their cultural traditions and treats the indigenous as equal in the way she addresses them; especially where the white male characters talk badly about them (because white males are pretty crap). Want some examples? Well better believe you’re gonna get ‘em.
- Jimmy dies in Act Four and his family is devastated. It’s Matron that assures them; “he’ll receive a good burial”, despite Neal’s assholery (real word).
- When Billy comes back after being beaten by Joe, Matron wants to help him; “Goodness me, what happened…Oh, you poor man” and speaks to him with respect; “Billy, was the train going that way or that way?”, whereas ‘I’m-a-knob-Neal’ only screams at him; “You bloody fool of a man”.
- Matron regulates her language to communicate, decreasing the language barrier.
- When Mary runs away because she’s scared she’ll get raped by Mr Neal, Matron holds him accountable instead and tells the bastard straight; “Apparently you told her she was going to work at the hospital and stay in the nurses’ quarters… I think she was scared of the living”.
- When Mary gives birth, Matron comes to ensure that the baby is healthy, but sees Gran has it under control and instead of stepping in and taking over, she respects Gran’s Nyoongarah beliefs and lets her do her thing; “Gran evidently seems to be doing a good job”.
Hell yeah Matron.
Sister Eileen is also pretty awesome when you think about it. She tries to ease the Nyoongah children through their difficult assimilation (made so by men in govt, wtf), by teaching them European cultural behaviours/cultures so that they can fit better in the society. Where ‘Knob-Head-Neal’ tries to force her to push religion onto the kids and force European culture onto them, she resists and I think that takes some guts.
Let’s be real though, I don’t like her character as much because she represents Christianity and European customs which are highly patriarchal and I hate men, but whatevs, she’s a nice lady.
Regardless, she demonstrates sympathy for the children and, in my [expert] opinion, is the only character who demonstrates loyalty and respect to both European and Nyoongah cultures. Not following? (It might be because you’re a man, you should get that checked).
- She has religious ties to Christianity, a significant factor of Anglo-European values and traditions which pretty much make up the whole society, yet she shows that she respects the children’s culture by not forcing her religion onto them. She encourages the children to learn of “their own free will”.
- She is also represented as their protector of sorts.
- Christianity carries connotations of gentleness and protection just like how good ol’ JC came down to save y’all for your sins (not mine because I’m perfect). Sister Eileen does the same; when Billy’s whipping the holy heck out of David, she comes and stops it, making sure that he’s alright. “What are you hitting that boy for?”
- She confronts N.S Neal about forcing the children to go to school and tries to open a library for the people to encourage them to read more; “You don’t encourage the natives to read?”. When Neal shuts her down (might have something to do with him being a man idk), she comes back with a killer comment; “Getting back to the books, what do you class the bible as?”, even though Neal could’ve physically retaliated with his nine tails.
Good on ya Sister, great job.
(Get it? My audience would, because I’m appealing to them)
Now, in the black corner we have (even louder drum rolllllllllll….because the entire play is about Aboriginalssssssssss…………)
Mary Dargurru, Milly Millimurra and Gran Munday
What absolute legends! 3 generations of homegrown badassery, they take the filthy figures of the patriarchy and give ‘em what for. Communicating themes of resilience, family and love through the depiction of strength in their language and responses to situations, they are the gleesome threesome of Nyoongarah toughness.
Gran is a radical depiction of resistance to the pressures of forced European cultural assimilation. She continues her own cultural activities and ignores European customs such as cricket and reading the newspaper, unlike other characters. She also uses more words that are traditional to the Nyoongah language rather than English which demonstrates her lack of interest in European culture. The word Nyoongah literally means ‘man’, which depicts how strong male influences are in the Nyoongah culture, however Gran maintains power over the males consistently. As the eldest, she’s basically the Matriarch, and tells everyone else what to do. She’s a constant figure of support and guidance, acting as a consistent presence of protection for her family.. Here’s why she puts the ‘cool’ in ‘radical’:
- Gran gave birth to all her children without western medicine. She has assisted in the births of her grandchildren and her great grandchild. “I brought plenty of babies into this world, Matron”. She doesn’t compromise her native heritage and values to adhere to western ones.
- When the rations are cut, putting her family under more pressure, Gran isn’t shy in holding the [male] Sergeant accountable; “An’ you’re supposed to be native ‘tector” and demanding respect for her family from him, instead of being treated without respect; “Her name is Mrs Millimurra. Proper church married”. Gran isn’t afraid to speak her mind and give the men a piece of her mind.
- When her son, Jimmy and son-in-law, Sam begin fighting, Gran isn’t afraid to intervene, she “[charges at them, grabbing both by the hair and pulling viciously]”. Despite the fact that she is slighter and physically weaker than both of them, Gran still assumes the authority and acts as the leader; “I’ll stop you two fellas.. I’ll stop youse”.
Strewth! What a legend! Good on ya Gran.
Milly Millimurra is an inspiration! A strong, resilient Woman! She faces racial oppression and sexism in and out of her culture, lack of food, hygiene and awful living conditions, yet she manages to care for her children better than half the white women in today’s society (Zinnia Wormwood, eat your heart out). Milly represents just how important family is in Nyoongah culture, and she protects them from European hostility. How you ask? Here, have some sick examples;
- When Cissie is sick, Milly makes her welfare the focus of the whole family; her kids comes first, “you ain’t goin’ post cuttin’ today, and David, you walk to school…Joe, you git on that bike.” \
- She accepts the costs of taking her to a hospital, and bringing her back again, because cares more for her child than money and education. “Ne’mine the posts [cost], long as we git her home”.
- When Mary and Joe leave the Settlement to start a better life together, Milly encourages them to leave, providing them with the majority of the food that he family has, to help them. She gives up what she has to help her children and grandchild to start a better life.
You’re a legend Milly, you bloody beauty!
Finally Mary, the Nyoongah Rockstar of the play. This legend communicates themes of resilience, compassion and resistance in the play as well as her being representative of a similarly important female in Christian biblical studies. God damn she makes me proud to be a Woman.
Mary carries religious connotations in her name, referencing the Virgin Mary, (OMG I know! I actually screamed when I realised! MIND BLOWN!) She demonstrates similar resolve and completes a similar journey to protect her unborn child from the King Herod of No Sugar (Can you guess who? Hint: he’s a male), N.S [Not-Swanky] Neal. She flees the Native Settlement with Joe (Holy Shit, like Joseph?! The husband of Virgin Mary???), to protect her child after she fears that it will be murdered and disposed of due to the extreme racism of the Settlement’s authorities. She literally breaks the law by fleeing the camp to ensure a better life for her child and while she’s under the age of 18. She is a true representation of strength, fighting for the rights of herself and her child. I think that’s AMAZEBALLS!
Wanna know why else she is literally the crowing glory, saviour-with-a-labia, badass of the play? Better believe I’m gonna tell you. SHE PUTS HER HEALTH AND WELLBEING ON THE LINE TO STICK IT TO KNOB-FACE NEAL. That’s right.
Scared out of her mind and facing the wrath of a known sexual predator who preys on young women, orders the murder of children and beats those who refuse to obey his demands, she stands up and tells him to “Go to hell”. Then she repeats herself just to make sure the bastard heard and takes his punishment. Yet, when her family wants to “kill him”, she persuades them not to because she cares more for the wellbeing of those she loves then for her well-deserved revenge, which is hands down the best example of how Mary represents compassion and strength.
What a trooper, you absolute treasure Mary.
In conclusion, I guess men are ok… at being a huge pain wtf male scum?? Actually though, No Sugar wouldn’t be half the play it is without any of its amazing female characters. Good on ya’ girlies, rock on.