Dr Mark’s Meaning in a Nutshell

Hannie Rayson, Extinction (2015) – Play Meaning

Hannie Rayson’s Extinction (2015) is a play with a strong political message about the urgent need to combat man-made climate change to protect biodiversity and to preserve endangered species threatened by human behaviour.  Meanwhile, the coal industry is singled out for its villainy and culpability in this steadily encroaching environmental disaster.

The play revolves around the complexities of a moral challenge presented to a cosy clique of committed environmentalists, who are well-meaning and morally decent individuals despite exhibiting some character flaws, by the chance appearance in their midst of what initially seems to be a well-intentioned coal mining executive. The coal mining executive is an ideologically-designated enemy of the environmentalists yet he offers to use resources from his company to fully fund a campaign to attempt to save from extinction the endangered tiger quoll in the Otway Ranges rainforest in South-Western Victoria.  This is the same region that is being threatened by extensive coal mining projects aimed to exploit its underground mineral wealth.

In this context, the play explores the intersection of the political and the personal as the trio of committed environmentalists (Piper, Dixon-Brown, and Andy) deal with a charming, handsome, and wealthy coal mining executive (Harry Jewell) who challenges their consciences.  The decision of the two women (Piper and Dixon-Brown) to accept his offer is influenced by their attraction to him and his seduction of them.  While the uncompromising opposition of the man (Andy) is influenced by his hostility to the coal mining executive’s interest in his girlfriend (Piper). Meanwhile, the coal mining executive may have devised the campaign to save the tiger quolls as part of his ruse to seduce the environmentalist he desires the most out of the two women (Piper).

The play also examines how different environmental perspectives on the strategy of addressing important environmental issues can cause stresses and strains within the environmental movement.  The character Piper, the zoologist, represents the romantic and idealistic environmentalists who see every animal life as worth trying to save, despite the impracticalities of this.  By contrast, Dixon-Brown, the academic, represents the pragmatic and realistic environmentalists who are as committed to the cause but who realise that tough decisions have to be made due to limited resources.  This means that some campaigns can be practically be taken up while others that offer less chance of success have to be jettisoned.  Both of these environmentalists are willing to do business with Harry the coal mining executive since they see some positive environmental benefit from doing so.  There is also Andy, the vet, who represents those environmentalists who are unwilling to compromise on principle who say who ‘no’ to virtually everything the businessmen are seeking to do and who are proudly a thorn in the side of the coal mining interests who threaten the environment.  He advocates that resources be put into renewables like wind power rather than doing any deals with the coal industry and taking its ‘dirty money’.

The play ultimately shows Andy to be right, but not completely right.  At the end of the play when Harry has fallen from grace (both in his coal mining company and in the affections of the two women he seduced) and is unceremoniously bundled out of the lives of the environmentalists so they can resume their equilibrium, the play suggests that Harry’s defeat pathed the way for the takeover of that coal mining company by a rival executive who is not as progressive as Harry and whose exploitative attitudes to the environment will be more harmful than if Harry had remained and had his way.  However, the play concludes on an upbeat Marxist and environmentalist note by proclaiming that the ways of exploitative capitalism and the coal industry are doomed and that renewables are the way of the future.

© Mark Lopez 2018-2019  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Student and Teacher Resources by Dr Mark Lopez

Extinction meaning, Extinction themes, Extinction analysis, Extinction notes

The purpose of Dr Mark’s Meaning in a Nutshell is to help students and teachers unlock the meaning of texts and films they are assigned to study. More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my Melbourne private tutoring business.