Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman, The 7 Stages of Grieving (1994−1995)

The play by the Aboriginal theatre director Wesley Enoch and the Aboriginal actress Deborah Mailman, The 7 Stages of Grieving, written in 1994 and first performed in 1995, makes the case that Aborigines carry the burden of a collective sense of grief due to their maltreatment by white Australians following colonisation.  This post-colonial play is intended to present Australian history from the Aboriginal perspective to show it as a story of racism and oppression where all the chronic problems besetting the Aboriginal people are presented as due to their maltreatment by whites. It is a play condemning structural and systematic racism.  The play also takes particular issue with what was then a topical issue: Aboriginal deaths in custody.  The play argues that this problem continues to produce injustices.

The play depicts Aboriginal history as seven stages of grieving: Dreaming, Invasion, Genocide, Protection, Assimilation, Self-determination, and Reconciliation.  Only the first stage, Dreaming, which covers the period before colonisation, is regarded as positive.  The play condemns the policies of Aboriginal protection, assimilation and the ‘stolen generations’.  In this context, the play celebrates Aboriginal resistance, political activism, solidarity, cultural continuity and survival in the face of colonisation and racism.  It profoundly empathises with Aboriginal grief in the face of this injustice and seeks to present white people in the theatre audience with the Aboriginal version of Australian history so they can distance themselves from the traditional Eurocentric version and become more sympathetic regarding Aboriginal issues.  In addition, the death of every Aboriginal elder is presented as taking with them their stories and this loss of Aboriginal history compromises a sense of Aboriginal identity.  

At times the play uses Aboriginal languages to convey that these are living languages entitled to representation in contemporary literature, even though many white people will not understand what has been said or sung.  The play uses Aboriginal words sprinkled throughout, as well as Aboriginal slang, placing the onus on white people to figure out the meanings of these words.  This is the reverse of the onus being placed on Aboriginal people to comprehend complex or unusual English words.  The English language is presented as unfairly imposed on Aborigines due to colonisation. 

Originally this play was sceptical about the prospect of reconciliation.  Later versions of the play are more ambivalent and hopeful of the prospects for reconciliation to generate good will from white people and therefore give Aboriginal people reasons to have hope.

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: The 7 Stages of Grieving meaning, The 7 Stages of Grieving themes, The 7 Stages of Grieving analysis, The 7 Stages of Grieving note