Women. We all know and love them. We wouldn’t be here without ‘em. You know what’s even cooler than women? Celebrating them. Intersectional feminism (which is when you support all women, of any race, religion, etc. Basically not being an asshole). You know what’s cooler than appreciating women and analysing gender roles? Applying that to literature!
“What does intersectional feminism have to do with Jack Davis’ 1985 play No Sugar?” I hear you ask. Well, kids, everything! Read on to find out…
Jack Davis’ 1985 play No Sugar was a widely acclaimed success for its portrayal of the struggle of indigenous Australians under an oppressive white government. It is a cornerstone of Australian postcolonial literature but, I feel, is often overlooked in regards to its feminist content. As a white person myself, I sometimes struggled throughout the reading of the play to grasp the intricacies of the cultural aspects portrayed within the play.
However, as a woman and a feminist, I could understand very well how integral the roles of the Millimurra and Munday women were. No Sugar can be read in a postcolonial feminist manner, that is, an analysis of the impact of colonisation and oppression upon indigenous women and/or women of colour by white people, almost always the colonisers and oppressors. By examining the role, characterisation and purpose of Gran, and comparing those factors against those of Matron Neal, a deeper and more complex analysis can be made of the text regarding not only the importance of women in the text, but women of colour in a postcolonial society.
Gran is the matriarch of the Millimurra and Munday families. She represents a strong connection to the past, and also a staunch refusal to assimilate into the culture that so negatively affects her family. This can be shown by her prolific use of her native tongue, Noongar, as opposed to other characters, who only make use of the Noongar language in times of exasperation. Gran expresses a deep resentment towards those who run the Government Well and Moore River Native Settlements, muttering to the Sergeant after finding out that her rations no longer contain meat, “An’ you’re supposed to be native ‘tector.” (Act 1, Scene 7).
Gran appears to command respect from all those around her, being referred to as either ‘Gran’ or ‘Granny’ by the Sergeant and Constable, as if it were a title. This could be read as being condescending in some form, but I believe that it is some mark of respect towards her, however out of place it may seem given how she and her family are treated. The character of Gran could be seen as a personification of the traditional ways of the Aboriginal Australians, living off the land and relying upon it for survival when the white government cannot provide for them. An example of this can be seen in Act 1, Scene 3 where Milly tells Cissie of soap being left out of the rations. “Don’t worry, we can use tjeerung bush.”
Matron Neal can be compared with Gran quite easily. She’s a bad bitch, bucks the trend of being a completely subservient wife.
Matron Neal is especially interesting in this regard, as her husband, Mr Neal, is the cruel Superintendent of the Moore River Native Settlement. Matron Neal appears to be aware of Neal’s actions towards indigenous girls working in the hospital, as seen in Act 2, Scene 9, but doesn’t appear to do anything about it: “It seems [Mary] was terrified at the prospect of working at the hospital.” to which Neal replies, “They’re all scared of the dead.” Matron answers with “I think she was scared of the living.” This implies that she is aware of Neal having raped many young indigenous girls, but either feels she is powerless to do anything or that there is no point, as he would simply continue. This upsets me as a woman in the modern day, but Neal doesn’t exactly seem like the type of man to listen to and respect the opinions of even his wife, let alone any woman at all. Grade A misogynistic asshole right here, folks.
Gran and Matron are both tough broads, standing up for what they believe in. “Yeah, sure, alright, but why is this important?” You ask again. It’s important because not only is No Sugar a proponent of the terrible, God-awful things white people did to Australia’s indigenous (and still do, coughInvasionDayAndTheInherentRacismAndPredjudiceOurSocietyIsBuiltOncough), it shows the importance of women in society. They keep our shit together, let’s be real. Gran especially, as the head of the family. She doesn’t take white folks’ crap, just like Matron doesn’t take her husband’s crap.
Just imagine your family without your mother, your wife, whatever female is in a significant position. If they just didn’t exist, would life still be the same? Would you still have someone that was nurturing and supportive, and provided you with all those creature comforts like food and a clean house? I certainly hope so, because gender roles are archaic and should be abolished, but anyway… The point is, it wouldn’t be the same. So love the women in your life. Don’t be like Neal. He’s an asshole. Be like Gran and Matron.