As a singular individual within a world of an excess of 7 billion people, it can be difficult to pinpoint all of the happy occurrences and unfortunate realities that may take place in one of the billions of walks of life that don’t include your own. However, upon the occasion of an encounter with a specific song, artwork, novel, person, place or performance, the sudden attraction towards a certain issue or cause that has been made apparent through the text can be revolutionary towards ones’ view of the world and ultimately conveys a message that can be universally applied to various situations. For myself, this ‘revolutionary’ enlightening text was a play- No Sugar by Australian playwright Jack Davis- which abruptly informed me of the harsh realities that plagued an entire racial group approximately 90 years ago. The alarming reality of this text, however, was that it is set in the 1930s yet it simultaneously represents a universal message of human misconduct, which startlingly still burdens humanity within the modern age.
Jack Davis’ exploration of the social injustices inflicted upon Aboriginal Australians throughout the nation’s history in his play ‘No Sugar’ reflects events and attitudes that are seemingly plucked from an unimaginably evil fictional story. Appallingly, however, the atrocities that decorate No Sugars’ plot is not a fictional ‘story’ and is alternately a realistic interpretation of true events. No Sugar is a confronting exposé on the institutionalised breeches of fundamental human rights that occurred within Australia’s history regarding the social injustices towards indigenous Australians by white colonial authorities. Not only does No Sugar draw attention towards the subjugation and mistreatment of indigenous Australians, but also to the appalling mistreatment and exploited rights of indigenous cultures from all over the world. The underlying message of this theme is one of a universal magnitude and is something that every single human being should acknowledge. What is the message? An overview of No Sugar reveals all…
Colonisation and assimilation
Aboriginal Australians have been accredited to inhibiting this land for the considerable duration of forty five thousand years and are appropriately referred to in certain contexts as the ‘first peoples of Australia’. Indigenous Australians lead a nomadic lifestyle, sustaining themselves through food and resources acquired from their surrounding natural environment. Across the span of 45,000 years, the richly diverse Aboriginal culture presented 500 separate clans or tribes across the entirety of the nation and established the formative basis of human life in Australia. However, between 1790 and 1810, relations between Indigenous Australians and the new onslaught of European explorative fleets became hostile as Aborigines realised that the land and resources upon which they depended were severely disrupted by the on-going presence of these colonisers. Ever since the encroaching period of colonisation that plagued the lives and cultures of Aboriginals in the late 18th- early 19th centuries, hostility and opposition concurred between the indigenous and European groups, unfortunately curating deficits of civil breeches and formidable misconducts of deplorable interactions. By the early 1900’s, European settlers were comfortably established on Australian lands and had successfully inhabited far-reaching breadths of the nation, converting the country from the east coast to the west with the infiltration of British and European standards through infrastructural and social means. In the midst of these evolutionary developments of the nation, English settlers seemingly adopted a hierarchal perspective of their own importance and depicted themselves as the superior race over that of the indigenous Australians, thus deeming Aborigines as upholding a ‘lower’ social ranking. Alongside this righteous claim to superiority, the belief developed that aboriginals required ‘help’ to be integrated into white, colonial society. Drastic measures were implemented to ascertain the depletion of Aboriginal culture in order to unify the nation in accordance to European and British societal norms; the measures of which included the appointment of an administrative government department dedicated to aboriginal assimilation, the removal of Aboriginal children from their families between 1890 and 1970, the enforcement of ‘white culture’ through Anglo-Saxon derived religious practices, standardised English education, audited residential settlements and genocide. Some of these acts of assimilation are exemplified within Jack Davis’ No Sugar, and are included as introspective currencies that outline the plays plot and suffice as the fundamental basis of oppression and racism that Davis explores within his work.
In No Sugar, one of the characters, Mr. A.O. Neville, is accurately based off of the real-life administrative Chief Protector of Aborigines A.O. Neville who was a government official that micromanaged the lives of many Indigenous Australians throughout the span of his career in Western Australia during the early-mid 1900s. Neville upheld foolish policies and intentions orientated towards ‘breeding out the colour’ of Aboriginals by integrating half-castes into white society. Essentially, Neville was a denominating facet of the perpetuation of oppression, segregation and suffering endured by the Indigenous Australian population during the twentieth century. The infamous Moore River Native Settlement is also mentioned in the play and is accurately based around its real-life counterpart, a historically remarked but now defunct Aboriginal settlement and internment camp located 135 kilometres north of Perth and near the headwaters of the Moore River. It was established by the Western Australian government in 1918 and used to occupy Aboriginal children and inflict the teachings of European culture upon them in order to assimilate the Indigenous into colonialist culture. Christianity, and more specifically Anglicanism, was enforced upon inhabitants of such settlements camps as a way of further perpetuating the infiltration of Anglo-Saxon culture into the Indigenous community. Jack Davis addresses this fact within the play through the character Sister Eileen, a figure of religious education enforcement, and through the mentioning of ‘Sunday School’ which was a term used to refer to weekly classes used to teach children about Christianity, which was a heavily regimented system within Aboriginal settlement camps as it was the foundation of religious education within such circumstances. As the play is set during the Great Depression, government-distributed rations of basic products were a relevant facet of 1930s society in Western Australia, and as was conveyed within the play through the frugal distribution of certain products, such as meat and soap, which were only given conservatively or not at all to Aboriginal patrons. This was essentially the means of the government extenuating control over Indigenous Australians and became an unfortunately concurrent issue for Aborigines within this time period, thus executed in confrontingly realistic detail in No Sugar. Alongside the suffering of indigenous Aboriginal culture due to colonisation and assimilation are dozens of other indigenous peoples that have suffered on a personal and cultural level as across the world as a result of similarly appalling reasons. For example, the fate of the Native American people at the merciless hands of Christopher Columbus’ European fleet in 1492, which saw the white settlement of America and thus the detriment of the lands indigenous culture. Similar examples of colonisation are seen in multitudinous cases from around the world, such as European settlement of South Africa, New Zealand, the Amazon, Tibet, the Mayans and many others, which were all consumed by the principles of Western Civilisation. Indigenous cultures are an integral facet of the world’s diversity, and such richly developed civilisations are deserving of preservation and respect. Human beings are the only entity responsible for the maintenance of other cultures, and so it should be a fundamental priority to cooperatively do so. As history shows, crimes against humanity and its many forms are irreversible, so it’s about prevention and not a cure.
Segregation and Oppression
Segregation: To separate or isolate from others or from a main body or group.
The act of segregation was precisely what white authorities and the government of Western Australia attempted to do to Aboriginal Australians during the early twentieth century in order to isolate and ultimately diminish Indigenous culture and alternately impose the assimilation of such into Western society. Aboriginal civilians were segregated by the government in various ways, such as through the enforcement of patrons to inhabit Native Settlement placements and through racial profiling by authorities such as law enforcement officers. Racially motivated segregation is of incredibly low morale and is essentially a recipe for oppression. Oppression is defined as the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment of a person or group and is an unfortunate feature of the history regarding Indigenous peoples of the world and their relations with westernised colonisers. The segregation and oppression of Aboriginal Australians that took place during the early 1930s is showcased in No Sugar from the perspective of the Millimura/Munday family of Northam, Western Australia. For example, the conservation of rationed items like meat and soap that were considered to be more ‘luxurious’ were not handed out to the Millimura’s due to their ethnic lineage. The Moore River Native Settlement is also another prime example of segregation and oppression within the text as it shows how Aboriginals were literally isolated from outer society. The racist slurs and comments of authority figures like Sergeant Carrol and Constable Kerr, who said lines that referred to terms such as “nigger twist” and “Niggers’ Department”, thus representing racism and oppression from authority faculties.
Racism is also represented as a facet of the wider community when young Cissie states that “Old Tony the ding always sells us little shrivelled ones and them Wetjala kids big fat ones”, therefore referring to the everyday occurrences of normalised racism that appeared in society. These instances of racism, segregation and oppression among ethnic cultures is also seen in global circumstances, such as the civil rights movement in the United States as well as a multitude of examples spanning across all nations. When reviewing the means and motivations behind segregation, fundamental human rights come into question. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights and outlines the very basis of what quantifies the rights of an individual, whilst also being tailored to apply to people of all different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and social standing. Some examples of basic human rights that are breeched through racism and segregation, namingly that of which is conveyed within Jack Davis’ No Sugar, are listed below:
- Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
- Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
- Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
- Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
- Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
- Article 17. (Subsection 2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property
Essentially, the segregation and oppression of humankind is a deplorable act of which only humanity can incur and therefore prevent.
Massacre and Genocide
Whilst the fundamental importance of a persons right is not particularly easy to rank, arguably the penultimate breech of a human beings rights is the deduction of ones life, typically phrased as murder. ‘Genocide’ is technically, therefore, the ultimate action against humanity. The scary fact is that within Australian history, genocide of Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders was endowed by government-endorsed departments and sanctioned in accordance to the nations system of judicial and law enforcement. The motivation behind such unimaginably offensive actions was the colonial government ta intention to eliminate their governments major ethnic opposition from within society, and also to ‘cleanse’ society of what they felt was a blemish within their relatively recently westernised country. Jack Davis actually references an infamous example of government-endowed genocide of Indigenous peoples in Australia through Mr. Neville’s reference to the ‘Tasmanian Solution’ in No Sugar. Prior to my acquisition of No Sugar, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Genocide was a historical event obsolete from my knowledge, which is reflective of a frighteningly thin veneer of modern coverage regarding the racially motivated massacre that actually saw the “full-blood” Indigenous population of Tasmania drop from 6,000 to zero from 1776 to 1803. Jack Davis’ referral to governmentally supported genocide is also representative of the millions of people whose lives have been sacrificed due to their ethnic lineage or cultural circumstances; such as the prolific genocide of Native Americans in North America and Canada, the savagely widespread killings of the Indigenous peoples of Brazil, the death cast upon Indigenous Māori upon the European settlement of New Zealand, the Holocaust, as well as western interference with indigenous cultures of the Amazon, Venezuela, Bolivia and many more. Whilst genocide is a purely devastating affixation of not only Australia but also the world’s history, other measures to ensure the ‘removal’ of certain social groups or cultures have also been implemented, such as assimilation and sterilisation. Collective depletion of entire cultures- whether through assimilation, sterilisation or blatantly evil genocide- serves as the ultimate crime against humanity itself. With texts like No Sugar, such issues are brought to light and stand to attention through their unapologetic conveyance of what was once a reality, a may still be a reality, but with enough attention, condemnation and action to rebel and prevent- will it ever end?
Amidst these unsettling issues, confronting realities and devastating examples of segregation, oppression and racism throughout history, long-term impacts of such atrocities committed between one human group to another are what truly serve as a representation of the potential detriment that can occur as a result of one’s actions. The diminishing currency of art, music, folklore, dance, rituals, foods and traditions of an entire culture is the realistic potential outcome of assimilation and genocide. Segregation and oppression of a social group due to their ethnic background or lineage only breeds a vicious cycle of racially-fuelled hate and hatefully fuelled racism within society, as was conveyed through Jack Davis’ portrayal of such within Australian society in No Sugar. Why allow for humanity to become a swirling conjunction of dismay and disrespect? Cultural differences should be celebrated and enshrined with glory due to the sheer wonder that is diversity within a species quantified of the same fundamental qualities. Culture is what sets us apart from fellow human beings and should not be utilised as a device to generate segregation or as an instrument of hate. Whilst upon this train of thought, I suppose it’s time to refer back to the important message that was mentioned earlier…
Jack Davis’ shockingly realistic portrayal of the deplorable examples of assimilation, subjugation and genocide of Australia’s Indigenous culture through the actions of European settlers imposing colonial westernisation in his 1984 play No Sugar is evocative as it draws attention not only to the cases of human rights breeches within an Australian context, but also to that of contexts that span across all geographical and historical locales of humanity. The long-term impacts of such actions are fundamentally and undeniably irreversible. The best and only ‘solution’ to ensure the end of this hateful destruction of humankind’s own rich diversity is about recognising the things that were done wrong and actively ensuring that such mistakes are not multiplied or repeated. When it comes down to the wellbeing of humanity, it is about prevention as there is essentially no cure. Social injustices are preventable, however, they are not reversible.
Author of WordsOfTheWise.blogpost.org