Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Tom Wright, Black Diggers (2015) | Play

Tom Wright, Black Diggers (2015)

The play Black Diggers (2015) was written by Tom Wright from the research completed by the Aboriginal theatre director Wesley Enoch and the Aboriginal researcher David Williams who had previously served in the Royal Australian Navy and had a leadership role in the RSL (Returned and Services League).  The play looks at a hallowed dimension of Australian history from an Aboriginal perspective, the experience of the ANZACs during and after the First World War, by tracing the little-known involvement of Aboriginal volunteers in the Australian Army during the war and after their demobilisation. 

This play firstly seeks to draw attention to the service of these Aborigines, seeking to include them in a national story that had virtually overlooked them, thereby correcting a silence and omission.   Secondly, the play tells a grim story of injustice towards Aboriginal servicemen, and the Aborigines in general, due to the pervasiveness of racism in Australia.  As a post-colonial play, it puts racism at the centre of Australian history, treating the British settlement as an invasion that involved: the violent displacement of Aborigines from their traditional tribal lands; frontier wars involving massacres and genocide; and then oppression, systematic discrimination, the denial of rights such as citizenship rights and land rights, as well as being subjected to a paternalistic welfare system that controlled the lives of Aborigines, as well as a society that subjected them to alienation and degrading poverty, which sometimes resulted in a descent into alcoholism.  The play blames whites for persistent problems plaguing the Aboriginal community, including alcoholism. 

The play argues that the Aboriginal servicemen deserved respect for their military service but their choice to serve the Australian nation was ultimately foolish since they put their lives at risk for a racist society that oppressed them.  Their only respite was that while they were in the Australian Army the Aboriginal soldiers were generally treated as equals, and any racist whites who insulted them were resented or disciplined by other soldiers.  The play suggests that the Aborigines on the Western Front received the worst racist insults from West Indians in the British Army, who were also black, rather than by Australian whites.  But this source of optimism for positive social change after the war was dashed as soon as their service concluded and they resettled into a racist Australian society.  Their hopes that their service would result in better treatment for themselves and for their fellow Aborigines came to nothing.  Not only did the returned Aboriginal servicemen receive little respect from white Australians, they received little respect from their Aboriginal families and others in their respective clans.  The exception to the racism of mainstream white society was the sympathetic attitudes of some white ex-servicemen and some white RSL leaders who demanded that Aboriginal veterans be treated equally, especially by publicans who refused entry to blacks into their pubs.  The play presents the systematic refusal of entry into pubs as a particularly significant bone of contention for Aborigines. 

The play also looks sympathetically at the Aboriginal returned servicemen who endured physical and psychological injuries that persisted long after the war.  These psychological injuries are given particular attention because they were notoriously neglected by officials at that time in history, often dismissed as cowardice or weakness.  The play seeks to counter that view. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Black Diggers meaning, Black Diggers themes, Black Diggers analysis, Black Diggers notes