Men at Play

Men at Play
Masculinities in
Australian Theatre
since the 1950s
J on a t h a n Bollen
Ad r ia n Kier n a n d er
Br u ce Pa r r
Monograph 11 in the series
Series Editor: Peta Tait
Amsterdam - New York, NY 2008
The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements
of “ISO 9706:1994, Information and documentation - Paper for
documents - Requirements for permanence”.
ISBN-13: 978-90-420-2357-4
©Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2008
Printed in the Netherlands
List of figures vi
Foreword by the Series Editor viii
Author biographies ix
Acknowledgements x
Introduction 1
Chapter 1: “What’s a man to do?” 15
Chapter 2: Fists, boots and blues 32
Chapter 3: The bully and the businessman 52
Chapter 4: Black men, white men 70
Chapter 5: In the theatre of war 90
Chapter 6: “Wog boy” moves 108
Chapter 7: Representing gay masculinities 125
Chapter 8: From father to son 146
Chapter 9: Between the sea and the sky 164
References 185
Index 201
List of figures
Figure 1.1 Reedy River
Figure 1.2 The Sentimental Bloke
Figure 1.3 Lola Montez
Figure 2.1 The Shifting Heart
Figure 2.2 Bird with a Medal
Figure 2.3 Gary’s House
Figure 3.1 The Bastard Country
Figure 3.2 The Bastard Country
Figure 3.3 The Boys
Figure 3.4 Essington Lewis: I Am Work
Figure 4.1 Burst of Summer
Figure 5.1 Naked Island
Figure 5.2 Outpost
Figure 5.3 G’day Digger
Figure 6.1 The Heartbreak Kid
Figure 6.2 Milk and Honey
Figure 6.3 The Young Wife
Figure 7.1 A Fox in the Night
Figure 7.2 The Boy from Oz
Figure 7.3 The Last of the Rainbow
Figure 8.1 The One Day of the Year
Figure 8.2 Words of One Syllable
Figure 8.3 The Jungle
Figure 9.1 Half Safe
Figure 9.2 James and Johnno
Figure 9.3 Cloudstreet
Foreword by the Series Editor
I would like to gratefully acknowledge the unique and important
contribution to the Rodopi Australian Playwrights series made by
Professor Veronica Kelly, and through her work as the series editor, to
scholarship on Australian drama and theatre. As the new series editor,
I take over a substantial list that encompasses the breadth of
scholarship on drama, theatre and performance studies.
I am delighted to introduce Volume 11 in the series, Men at Play:
Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s, by Jonathan
Bollen, Adrian Kiernander and Bruce Parr. This thoroughly
researched book of scholarship is the first on this significant subject,
and draws on a major study for its exploration of masculine identity
over fifty years of Australian drama and theatre. At the same time it
makes highly engaging reading for academics, students and general
Editorial note: year dates without brackets indicate the year of a
play’s production, in contrast to publication dates given in brackets.
Professor Peta Tait
La Trobe University
Author biographies
Jonathan Bollen lectures in drama at Flinders University in Adelaide.
He trained in performance studies at the University of Sydney and the
University of Western Sydney and undertook post-doctoral research at
the University of New England. His research on gender, sexuality and
performance has appeared in Australasian Drama Studies, The Drama
Review and several anthologies.
Adrian Kiernander is Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of
New England in Armidale, New South Wales. He is the author of
Ariane Mnouchkine and the Théâtre du Soleil for Cambridge
University Press and has published widely on aspects of French,
Australian and New Zealand theatre. He also researches in the field of
Shakespeare studies.
Bruce Parr has taught theatre studies at the Universities of Queensland
and New England (Armidale and Brisbane campuses). He has
published in the intersecting areas of theatre, gender and sexuality.
From 2000 to 2004 he was managing editor of AUMLA, journal of the
Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association. He is
an honorary research advisor in the School of English, Media Studies
and Art History at the University of Queensland.
We would like first to acknowledge the grant from the Australian
Research Council which made this book possible; research for the
project was supported under the Australian Research Council’s
Discovery Projects funding scheme (project number DP0210510). As
part of this grant, Jonathan Bollen was the recipient of an Australian
Research Council Post Doctoral Fellowship.
The Stage on Screen project, supported by the Australian Research
Council’s Linkages funding scheme (project number LP0218607)
which ran concurrently with this and which looked at materials in the
archives of ABC Television and Channel Nine, has greatly informed
much of the work in this book, and we are grateful to Mary-Jane
Stannus, Sal Russo and Wendy Borchers of the ABC and to Jasmine
Kelly and Jenny Guion of Channel Nine for their enthusiastic co-
operation. Major thanks are also due to Jeremy Gadd and Mary
Walsh, whose work on that project contributed greatly to this one.
AusStage (, the internet gateway and
database for the Australian performing arts hosted at Flinders
University, has been an amazing resource for the project, and we
would like to acknowledge all those who made it possible, especially
Joh Hartog and Jenny Fewster. This facility has been funded by the
Australian Research Council under its RIEF and LIEF schemes
(project numbers R00002742, LE0346553 and LE0775527).
Our research assistants, Jeremy Gadd, Graham Seaman, Nicola
Speden, Leigh Summers and Mary Walsh have uncovered quantities
of unexpected and valuable materials which have enriched our
knowledge and understanding of the field. We are grateful for the
generous assistance we received from staff at Australia’s performing
arts collections including Joanna Leahy and Patricia Convery at the
Performing Arts Collection of the Arts Centre in Melbourne, Jo
Peoples and David Wilson of the Performing Arts Collection of South
Australia, Beryl Davis at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre,
Mark Richmond at the University of Melbourne Archives, and Judith
Acknowledgements xi
Seeff at the Sydney Theatre Company archives. The Campbell
Howard Collection at the Dixson Library of the University of New
England and the Eunice Hanger Collection at the Fryer Library of the
University of Queensland provided invaluable access to unpublished
play scripts. We are also grateful to staff at the University of New
South Wales Library which housed the Wolanski collection, the
Special Collections of the Australian Defence Force Academy
Library, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives, the
University of Adelaide Archives, and the State Libraries of New
South Wales and Victoria.
Stephen Orgel, Lawrence Senelick and Bruce R. Smith were all
exceptionally generous with their time and knowledge while Adrian
Kiernander was in North America on study leave in mid-1993
working on this project. Our workmates at the University of New
England, Flinders University and the University of Queensland have
listened patiently and generously to work in progress and provided
useful suggestions and insights; special thanks are due to Michael
Macklin, Gail Hawkes, Frank Bongiorno, Jane O’Sullivan, Anne
Pender, Sue Fell, Andrew McCue, Julie Holledge, Murray Bramwell,
Veronica Kelly and Bronwen Levy. The same is true of our friends
and colleagues in the discipline of Theatre Studies throughout
Australia and beyond, and especially the members of ADSA, the
Australasian Association for Theatre, Drama and Performance
Studies, who have given us invaluable support and feedback on
conference papers at numerous conferences; much of the content of
this book was explored in papers delivered at the ADSA conferences
at the University of Tasmania in Launceston (2002), the Australian
Catholic University in Brisbane (2003), Victoria University of
Wellington (2004) and Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga
(2005). Conferences organised by the Desmi Centre for Ancient
Greek Drama in Greece (2004), the Gender Relations Centre at the
Australian National University (2005) and the Centre for Research
into the New Literatures of English at Flinders University (2005) also
provided welcome opportunities for presenting our research. Some
material in chapters 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 has been previously published in
three articles in Australasian Drama Studies 46 (April 2005) and in
the anthology What a Man’s Gotta Do? Masculinities in Performance
edited by Kiernander, Bollen and Parr (CALLTS: Armidale 2006).
Men at Play xii
In preparing this book for publication, we received generous
financial support from Flinders University and the University of New
England. We are grateful to Nena Bierbaum for editing the manuscript
and Linda Brainwood for picture research. We particularly thank Peta
Tait for her encouragement and advice as general editor of the Rodopi
On a personal level we would like to thank Anne and David
Bollen, Kent Laverack and Joseph Ting for their patience and
encouragement over the past five years.
In The Lost Echo, an eight-hour adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis
directed by Barrie Kosky for the Sydney Theatre Company in 2006,
the role of Satirino was performed by the well-known actor Deborah
Satirino was played as a dishevelled late-adolescent
schoolboy: aggressively macho and sexually assertive, he sports a
two-day stubble and has a nymph perform oral sex on him. Mailman’s
performance was so convincing that some experienced theatre-goers
did not realise that the role of the young man was being played by a
Mailman later in the same production played the character of
Philomela, a vulnerable and very feminine victim of rape, again with
great conviction. These two performances immediately raise questions
about gender, both on and off the stage.
While masculinity is usually thought of as a quality pertaining to
men, it is commonly accepted that some women can be more
masculine than others, and indeed that some women are more
masculine than some men—the term mannish applies almost exclu-
sively to such women (Halberstam 1998). There can be little argument
that the character of Satirino was masculine, even though he was
being created in and by the body of a woman. Interpreting the theories
of Judith Butler (1988, 1990, 1993), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1993)
and others that gender is constituted through performative acts, it is
possible to argue that Mailman’s performance did not just imitate
masculinity but that it was an enactment of masculinity itself.
In the same production there were numerous examples of male to
female cross-dressing. Two of Australia’s well-respected senior
actors, John Gaden and Peter Carroll, appeared in ball gowns as
Teiresias and Cadmus in a reworking of Euripides’ The Bakkhai; and
Paul Capsis, in a more complex and intriguingly theatrical inversion

The Sydney Theatre Company production of The Lost Echo by Barrie Kosky and
Tom Wright opened at the Sydney Theatre on 9 September 2006.
This observation was founded on conversations with audience members and
confirmed in a personal conversation with the director.
Men at Play 2
of appearances, acted both as the goddess Diana, who appeared in the
form of a gawky schoolgirl, and—wearing the same costume and
makeup—as Jove, who was convincingly disguised as Diana.
Theatre, like other kinds of representation, can reinforce stereo-
types about gender and “help to reproduce (and therefore reinforce as
normal) cultural configurations of femininity and masculinity as being
naturally determined by sexual difference” (Allen 2002: viii). But it
can equally reflect changes in the world outside. Theatre can seek to
intervene in public debates about gender and contribute to the changes
which are taking place. It can highlight aspects of gender which are
worthy of attention, perhaps because they are in transition, or because
they are residues of past behaviours which are now unacceptable.
Gender as performance
Masculinity is theatrical. It is constantly in the process of being
watched and critically evaluated by its audience—an audience of men
as much as of women. Michael S. Kimmel notes:
We [men] are under the constant careful scrutiny of other men. Other men
watch us, rank us, grant our acceptance in to the realm of manhood. Manhood
is demonstrated for other men’s approval. It is other men who evaluate the
performance. (1994: 128)
Changes in theatre practice are a way of charting developments in
society more widely. As social conditions change over time, so the
theatre reflects developments in social attitudes. By studying theatre
and the responses to it, we see what characters audiences will readily
accept, what challenges to accepted characters may be tolerated, and
under what conditions those characters may be changed. Theatre is
created by writers, actors and directors whose careers succeed to the
extent that they are attuned to the world around them. The theatre thus
records, with the perspicacity of keen observers, how things are and
their significance. It stages with dramatic clarity what the present is,
and imagines what might be in the future. What is more, most plays
set their characters and plots in a plausible dramatic world with some
relation to the real world. Thus theatre engages with society by
dramatising its characters in a social context.
By creating gender, as it creates characters, using the bodies of
actors, theatre takes an active role in social debates about gender, and
comes to influence society’s attitudes. The shock of discovering that
Introduction 3
Satirino was played by a woman may well have jolted some members
of the audience out of habitual ideas and feelings about masculinity.
Marking masculinities
This book explores the role of Australian theatre in public debates
about masculinity.
It charts the changes in Australian masculinity
which are recorded by Australian plays, on the page and in
performance, since the middle of the twentieth century. The book is
based on dramaturgical analysis of play scripts and research into the
production history of plays. We focus, in particular, on premiere
productions and draw upon theatre reviews, publicity photographs,
films and video recordings as evidence. To get a clearer picture of the
changes which have taken place, we compare two distinct and
significant periods of Australian theatre history, from the 1950s to
about 1970, and from the mid-1980s onward.
The earlier period has not often been revisited in recent studies of
Australian theatre, yet it is an important time. The year 1955 was
particularly auspicious. It saw the appointment of Ray Lawler as
director of the Union Theatre Repertory Company (later the
Melbourne Theatre Company), the first production of Lawler’s
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, and the foundation of both the
Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and the Adelaide Company of
Players. The period also covers the first Adelaide Festival in 1960, the
founding of the National Theatre Company in Perth in 1956, and the
establishment of the Old Tote Company in Sydney in 1962. Towards
the end of the period came La Mama (from 1967) and the Australian
Performing Group (from 1968), both in Melbourne, and the Hole in
the Wall (from 1965) in Perth.
The period encompasses the emergence of a great many Australian
plays, most of them now eclipsed by the stature of Summer of the
Seventeenth Doll. It saw the realisation of a national theatre
movement, conscious of its contribution to the nation’s cultural life
and fostered by public support and government investment (Bachelor
2002). It was during this period that many works of Australian
playwrights, exploring narratives of Australian social life, were first
staged by government-subsidised theatre companies. The period also

The contributions of American dramatists to debates about masculinities have
been thoroughly explored in Vorlicky (1995), Savran (1992) and McDonough
(1997). Mangan (2003) examines masculinities in British theatre.
Men at Play 4
coincides with the introduction of television in 1956 and the
beginning of significant audiovisual records of Australian theatre
During the second period, from 1985 onward, the idea of an
Australian national theatre and the clarity of its project became
blurred. A diversification in theatrical production coincided with “a
partial dissolving of the central theatrical narrative of ‘national
identity’”, as the makers of Australian theatre began to engage with
the nation’s cultural diversity (Kelly 1998: 8). With the strong
historical links between the nationalist project and masculinity, it is no
surprise that this blurring of national identity in the more recent period
should also be manifested in the staging of gender.
Defining masculinities
Ideas about masculinity are constantly in flux. The word masculinity
itself is inconveniently elusive in its meanings, with at least three
common uses of the term. The first signifies the real way for men to
behave, clearly differentiated from the ways that women behave. This
perfect masculinity is unattainable for most men, on or off the stage.
Kimmel makes the point, in the North American context, that
[s]uch a model [of masculinity] is, of course, unrealizable for any man. But
we keep trying, valiantly and vainly, to measure up. American masculinity is
a relentless test. The chief test is contained in the first rule. Whatever the
variations by race, class, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation, being a man
means “not being like women.” This notion of anti-femininity lies at the heart
of contemporary and historical conceptions of manhood, so that masculinity is
defined more by what one is not rather than who one is. (1994: 126)
The difficulties of attaining such status are implied in Erving
Goffman’s description of the qualities that a North American in the
early 1960s would have needed in order to be eligible for the status of
ideal masculinity. He would have to be a
young, married, white, urban, northern heterosexual, Protestant father of
college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight and height,
and a recent record in sports […] Any male who fails to qualify in any one of
these ways is likely to view himself—during moments at least—as unworthy,
incomplete, and inferior. (1968: 153)
Even when the status can be claimed, it is always precarious: it is a
crown whose wearer is always uneasy in case it is usurped by
Introduction 5
someone else, or in case the rules defining its possession suddenly
A second common meaning suggests that masculinity is a norm
that men negotiate in common, distinguishing them from women.
Judith Butler addresses the idea of gender as a social norm that
produces the distinction between masculinity and femininity (2004:
40–56). This idea recognises that men and their enactments of
masculinity may vary widely in relation to the norm. But there is a
problem of imprecision. The qualities that make up the varieties of
masculinity range widely depending on which men are regarded as
embodying the norm. It may also marginalise those men who do not
fit the mould. There is a further difficulty in that, as Sedgwick points
out, sometimes masculinity has “nothing to do […] with men” (1995:
12), an observation which this definition has difficulty accom-
A third meaning is that masculinity is a quality that men come to
embody by virtue of their being male. R.W. Connell insists on this
embodied aspect: “Masculine gender is (among other things) a certain
feel to the skin, certain muscular shapes and tensions, certain postures
and ways of moving, certain possibilities for sex” (1995: 52–53).
Something like this can be seen in action in Dick Diamond’s Reedy
River from 1953, where the men seem almost indistinguishably
masculine (see chapter 1). Under other circumstances where men are
seen as a more diverse group, this version may recognise the
embodiment of a range of different masculinities—gay masculinities,
non-white masculinities and so on. The risk here is that masculinity
fragments into so many different versions that the word becomes all
but meaningless.
It should be emphasised that almost all of the possible meanings of
the word masculinity refer not to something that exists, but rather to a
set of images and values which are commonly recognised, and valued
or contested—what John Beynon calls “masculinity-as-a-text” (2002:
10). Understood in this way, masculinity does not describe a reality
but is a conflation of myths, stereotypes and caricatures, and it
probably works to influence, teach and encourage actual behaviours as
much as it describes them. To the extent that a version of masculinity
is admired, it will tell us something about the needs and aspirations of
those who admire it, but it will not be a reliable guide to an
understanding of how men do or should act.
Men at Play 6
One way around the definitional difficulties is to recognise, as
Michael Mangan points out, that masculinity is always relational—
that where it can be identified it exists in relation to other gendered
behaviours (2003: 9). The relationship of masculinity to femininity is
important, but any instance of masculinity is also relational to the
gendered behaviours of other men. There is a constant process of
comparison between the masculinity of any one man and those of
Partly because of these instabilities of definition, and partly
because it has been the dominant gender, masculinity has tended to
remain an unmarked term. The dangers of this are that it then becomes
the unexamined gender, against which other genders stand out as
exceptions or aberrations. A focus on theatre for, by and about women
in Australia has emerged in recent times in the scholarship of Michelle
Arrow, Rachel Fensham, Helen Gilbert, Julie Holledge, Veronica
Kelly, Carolyn Pickett, Elizabeth Schafer, Susan Bradley Smith, Peta
Tait, Joanne Tompkins, Denise Varney and others. This focus on
women and theatre brings into question the performance of
masculinity on stage.
No longer may masculinity be regarded as the
unmarked gender, as unitary and timeless. We must see it, instead, as
a set of gender options among others which change over time and vary
from place to place.
Australian masculinities
This is not to say that masculinity has remained unexamined.
Attempts have been made to define its qualities. One such attempt in
the 1950s in Australia was a best-selling sex education manual for
young men with the title The Guide to Virile Manhood. In its ninth
edition in 1957, this publication claimed to have sold a quarter of a
million copies. It was prepared under the auspices of the Father and
Son Welfare Movement of Australia, a Christian organisation. The
movement’s aims were to provide “accurate information”, “sound
interpretation” and “definite inspiration” about sex and its place in the
lives of men (Guide 1957: 2). The booklet stresses the need for a
combination of physical and moral fitness as the basis of “virile
manhood”, and lists six components of this fitness: muscular strength,

Varney and Fensham (1999) and Kelly (2000) explicitly address masculinity in
Australian theatre.
Introduction 7
endurance (defined as the refusal to give in), energy (as much a moral
quality as a physical one), will-power, courage and self-control. The
guide provides an authoritative version of masculinity, approved by
the establishment. It is more a list of techniques by which a young
man should approach the status of manliness, than a description of
what masculinity might look like if achieved.
At the same time, masculinity came into focus as scholars were
attempting to describe the myth of the Australian. The most well-
known attempt is from historian Russel Ward:
According to the myth, the ‘typical Australian’ is a practical man, rough and
ready in his manners and quick to decry any appearance of affectation in
others. He is a great improviser, ever willing to ‘have a go’ at anything, but
willing too to be content with a task done in a way that is ‘near enough’.
Though capable of great exertion in an emergency, he normally feels no
impulse to work without good cause. He swears hard and consistently,
gambles heavily and often, and drinks deeply on occasion. Though he is ‘the
world’s best confidence man’, he is usually taciturn rather than talkative, one
who endures stoically rather than one who acts busily. He is a ‘hard case’,
sceptical about the value of religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits
generally. He believes that Jack is not only as good as his master but, at least
in principle, probably a good deal better, and so he is a great ‘knocker’ of
eminent people unless, as in the case of his sporting heroes, they are
distinguished by physical prowess. He is a fiercely independent person who
hates officiousness and authority, especially when these qualities are
embodied in military officers and policemen. Yet he is very hospitable and,
above all, will stick to his mates through thick and thin, even if he thinks they
may be in the wrong. No epithet in his vocabulary is more completely
damning than ‘scab’, unless it be ‘pimp’ used in its peculiarly Australasian
meaning of ‘informer’. He tends to be a rolling stone, highly suspect if he
should chance to gather much moss. (1958: 1–2)
It is interesting to compare these portraits of the typical Australian
with the male characters created by theatre practitioners of the time.
In chapter 2, we explore how male characters in realist plays
embodied aspects of the national myth, thereby exposing its
assumptions about Australian masculinity to public recognition.
Masculinity and its Others
Masculinity has a racial aspect. The vast majority of male characters
in Australian theatre of the 1950s are white and from English-

Another version of the stereotype was proposed by psychologist Ronald Taft in
1962 (see chapter 2).
Men at Play 8
speaking backgrounds, though not all are Australian-born. To be other
than white in an Anglo-European society like Australia may create
gender problems, some so complex they are difficult to negotiate
successfully. Other scholars note white attitudes towards black men,
who are stigmatised as deficient in some aspects of masculinity while
being feared as over-masculine, even bestial (Alsop, Fitzsimons and
Lennon 2002: 150). Concerning these contradictory ideas about the
black man in white culture, Lynne Segal asks, rhetorically, “Is he not-
man-enough, or is he too-masculine-by-half?” (1990: 185). This
question continues to resonate in Australian theatre about Indigenous
men (see chapter 4). Asian men have been regarded in white culture as
threateningly unmasculine, on account of perceived racial differences
in disposition, stature and physique (Segal 1990: 175). Asian (and
especially Chinese) men, who have formed an important part of
Australian society since the nineteenth century, have had only a small
role to play in Australian theatre and elsewhere in Australian culture.
William Yang’s solo shows like Sadness are an example of how one
actor of Chinese ancestry has managed to bypass these difficulties in
order to sustain a career and achieve success.
Anxieties also surfaced about Italian and Greek migrants after the
Second World War. Their non-English-speaking background made
them marginal in comparison with Australian masculinity, and their
perceived volatility and emotionality were regarded with suspicion.
However, they quickly became a feature of Australian theatre, as in
Richard Beynon’s 1957 The Shifting Heart (see chapter 6). The
theatrical expressiveness attributed to southern Europeans may have
made them more interesting dramatic subjects than the laconic and
inexpressive Australian stereotypes which were notoriously difficult
to put on stage (Fitzpatrick 1979: 10; see chapter 2).
In the case of Indigenous Australians, the problem of masculinity
is even more acute. Relatively few Indigenous adult male characters
exist in Australian drama from the 1950s and 1960s. Those few,

Yang trained as an actor at the National Institute for Dramatic Arts (NIDA). As
Willie Young, he was a member of Rex Cramphorn’s Performance Syndicate and
acted in the premiere production of The Legend of King O’Malley. His successful
solo shows began with Sadness, which premiered at Belvoir Street Theatre in
1989 and then toured extensively both within Australia and internationally. Other
works include The North in 1996, Friends of Dorothy in 1998, Blood Links in
1999 and Shadows in 2002, and are collectively known as The Journeys of
William Yang.
Introduction 9
portrayed in plays by both Indigenous and white playwrights, often
appear weak and incompetent, as in David Ireland’s 1959 Image in the
Clay and Robert J. Merritt’s 1975 The Cake Man. Chapter 4 discusses
the problems of Indigenous masculinity in these and more recent plays
like Roger Bennett’s 1990 Up the Ladder.
Masculinity is also closely bound up with age and the need to be in
peak physical condition. Young men in Australian plays are usually
described as weak striplings not yet ready for the burdens of
masculinity, and some are taunted with the slur of immaturity, as in
Anthony Coburn’s The Bastard Country and Barry Pree’s A Fox in the
Night, both from 1959. The plays sometimes imply that with hard
work and some luck the youngsters might make the grade. If they do
succeed, however, they are likely to end up competing for the top job
with an older male, often a father figure, as in Alan Seymour’s 1960
The One Day of the Year and Tony McNamara’s 1996 The John
Wayne Principle. This competition across generations and changing
patterns of masculinity from one generation to the next can cause
tensions in the father–son relationship (see chapter 8).
Class has been an area of contention in the Australian context.
Being poor, unemployed and therefore not able to support a wife and
family is a clear disadvantage in some plays. Yet living a comfortable
middle-class existence does not put a man adequately to the test in a
world that values hard work and struggle. In many plays, working-
class battlers have an advantage in embodying gender conventions.
Likewise, living in a rural area and working on the land encourage the
development of an ideal masculinity more frequently than the softness
and constraint of suburban life (see chapters 1 and 8).
As well as physical strength, one of the distinguishing features of
the battler is resilience in the face of adversity—what The Guide to
Virile Manhood calls endurance. Resilience, manifested in part by a
refusal to shed tears when things go wrong, is often coupled with a
more generalised reluctance to show feelings of any kind, which can
lead to a stifling of emotions. A destructive version of the emotionally
straight-jacketed Australian man is the father, Clarence, in A Fox in
the Night who persecutes his more emotional son in a way that brings
ruin on the whole family. Like many aggressively masculine
characters, he can be seen as a bully—a figure which recurs in the
context of families in the earlier period but more often, in the later
period, in the workplace (see chapter 3).
Men at Play 10
Conformity to male culture was important in the 1950s. This
culture valued mateship above all, in the sense of having one close
male companion who could be depended on for support under any
circumstances. The values of mateship were intensified by men’s
experiences at war, as Ernie Boyle’s war-time mate recalls in Patrick
White’s The Season at Sarsaparilla from 1962. It had been a time
when masculinity was heroically on display, but in the twenty-five
years since its end, the war became much more complicated as a
symbol of manhood, as the ex-soldiers grew older and their exploits
were seen as belonging to an outdated past. The One Day of the Year
is the most obvious theatrical investigation of this phenomenon, but
memories of the war leave their mark on many theatrical events of the
time, and on the minds, bodies and behaviours of the men who lived
through it. The plight of men returning from the war, adjusting to the
domestic routines and relations of suburban life, is dramatised in
works which set the bonds of homosocial mateship against the
comforts of heterosexual romance (see chapter 5).
Mateship celebrated the idea of men banding together, working
hard, and keeping each other company outside working hours and
away from home. Hence the importance attached to such communal
manly pursuits as drinking beer after a hot day’s work, smoking, and
the use of nicknames. But what The Guide to Virile Manhood refers to
as “will-power” and “self-control” are important here: the ability to
drink hard and to hold one’s liquor is often admired in the plays, but
getting too drunk is disapproved of, or made to look weak, ridiculous
and demeaning, as when the sons arrive back at the farmhouse after a
night on the town in The Bastard Country or when Alf Cook comes
home inebriated after the Anzac Day parade in The One Day of the
Year. Even in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, excessive drinking
creates problems for Roo and Barney. It leads to the collapse of the
pattern of their lives and relationships, though not, significantly, of
their bond of mateship.
Homosexuality is the greatest disqualifier in the world of 1950s
Australia, the almost unmentionable sin that would automatically cast
any man beyond the bounds of acceptable masculinity. The Guide to
Virile Manhood, licensed by its educational and scientific credentials,
talks with unusual candour about the
many unhappy men and women who have developed this preference for their
own sex […] They have misdirected the drive of sex and cannot know the joy
Introduction 11
of marriage, home and family that should be the happy and satisfying lot of all
who handle their life wisely. (Guide 1957: 25)
Characters who are clearly homosexual only emerge in the theatre at a
later date, but the unspoken and unspeakable threat is still present in
the background to the action of some of the earlier plays as a potential
innuendo that can be used in various coded forms to attack and
demolish any unfitting pretender to masculinity. Clarence’s insults to
his son Michael in A Fox in the Night are coded with homophobic
innuendo (see chapter 7). Even in some later plays this tendency
lingers, as when Ricko in Nick Enright’s Blackrock half-jokingly calls
his best mate a “queer dog” as a warning not to show too much
emotion (1996c: 7). Homophobia is seen therefore as a defining
feature of certain kinds of masculinity.
Nevertheless, while homosexuality may automatically disqualify a
man from masculinity, active heterosexuality may be optional. One of
the signals of successful masculinity in these plays is getting the girl
at the end. Yet a few seemingly adequate male characters are
presented as celibate loners, content in their own company or that of
other men. Most of the minor male characters in Reedy River fall into
this category.
One further indicator of masculinity in plays of the 1950s and
1960s is a tendency to outward movement. In the plots of the plays
this is shown by the men’s habit of moving around, while the women
are more likely to stay at home. Travel is difficult to represent,
however, on the predominantly naturalistic stages of the 1950s, so the
visible manifestation of this tendency to be on the move is represented
by a parallel tendency toward outwardness: in dramatic setting—men
often appear more at ease in outside locations—in the use of physical
objects which are habitually thrown, flicked or tossed around the
stage, and in gesticulation (see Kiernander 2006). It is also manifested
in outbursts of physical violence, with the throwing of punches,
lashing out and kicking when words fail and the frustrations of having
to avoid tenderness overcome self-control (see chapter 2).
Masculinity is not just a matter of brute force. It requires a delicate
balance of qualities. While most of the problems associated with
masculinity are to do with the perception that some men are not
adequate, the problem of excess is also a danger. There exists the risk
of going beyond masculinity into barbarism, bestiality and animality.
Paul Hoch notes:
Men at Play 12
Indeed the very concept of civilization was defined in terms of the
achievement—by men of a particular class and race—of a level of culture,
civility and order which was most sharply defined by its opposite—
barbarism—the inherently disorderly and sexually rapacious level of villains,
brutes and beasts. The breakdown of law and order, it was repeatedly argued,
would result in an upsurge of lust, raping, brutality and villainy of all
kinds—man would sink down to the level of a beast. (1979: 46)
Challenging masculinity
For the most part, conventional masculinity was presented in plays of
the 1950s and 1960s as something to be emulated, but there are scripts
which begin to problematise male behaviour and invoke a debate
about what aspects of masculinity are personally desirable and
socially beneficial, and about the dangers of excess. The Bastard
Country presents two contrasting versions of the ideal man: one
personified by a traditional Australian farmer and the other by a Greek
immigrant. At the beginning of the play they appear to have many
things in common with each other (and with much of what is
advocated by The Guide to Virile Manhood). But the plot reveals that
the inflexible and emotionally paralysed Australian is less of a real
man than he seems, and that it is the newer Mediterranean version of
manliness, incorporating the possibility of emotion and tenderness,
which prevails at the end.
Theatre does not only reflect, record and critique masculine
behaviours, it can also work as part of a social laboratory
experimenting with and disseminating new ways of thinking about
and performing gender. Alma De Groen’s dystopic The Rivers of
China from 1988 includes, as one of its two parallel plots, the story of
a group of people living in an alternative version of Sydney in the
1980s in which women have developed a power called the Medusa
look. This enables them to cause severe pain, or even death, by just
looking at their male victim in a particular way. As a consequence,
women have become the dominant sex and have started to behave
toward men in the way that some men have traditionally behaved
toward women. They have appropriated the top jobs, repressed their
male counterparts who occupy the most menial positions in society,
and have refashioned literary history so that, for example, male poets
have been excluded from the canon. The women have taken on the
attributes of masculinity in the 1980s, and the men have become
conventionally feminised and downtrodden. The perceived loss of
Introduction 13
traditional masculinity is increasingly commonplace, and chapter 9
charts the changing image of men at sea, once a place of prowess in
the open air with fishing rods where fathers and sons could share
experiences of masculinity, but more recently where aging men are
seen as adrift and vulnerable.
Changing masculinity continues to be a topic of fascination for
theatre as performances chart and influence its transitions. The
musical Keat i ng!, by Casey Bennetto, canvasses the changing
masculinities of Australian politics.
It presents the former prime
minister as the new Australian man, a working-class boy who has
transformed himself into a visionary international statesman. A
repeated refrain in one of the major songs in the show has the onstage
band calling out to Keating, “Who’s the man? You’re the man!” The
show pits him against a series of antagonists, all of whom are
examples of competing masculinities. In the 2006 production at
Belvoir Street Theatre, Bob Hawke, from whom Keating wins the
leadership of the Australian Labor Party, was portrayed by Terry Serio
as an old-fashioned larrikin. John Hewson, leader of the Liberal Party
and Keating’s opponent during the 1993 election, was shown in Casey
Bennetto’s portrayal as a professional accountant who was largely
asexual. A later leader of the Liberal Party, Alexander Downer, also
played by Bennetto, was an image of aberrant masculinity as he
vamped, pouted and flirted his way up the aisle of the theatre wearing
a fish-net stocking (a garment which the real Downer ill-advisedly
wore for a fundraising event), a black lacy corset and high heels. John
Howard, Keating’s greatest opponent and prime minister after he
defeated Keating in the 1996 election, was portrayed by Terry Serio as
mobilising all the traditional values of 1950s Australian masculinity.
He was given a song which captured in one succinct quatrain several
strands of conventional, populist Australian manliness:
I’m a man,
And not a boy.
When they go “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”
I go “Oi, oi, oi!”

Keating! premiered in Melbourne in 2005 and was revived, in an expanded form
directed by Neil Armfield, by Company B at Belvoir Street Theatre in November
Men at Play 14
This observantly links Howard’s version of masculinity with a
valorisation of mature adulthood, an obsession with sport, conformist
behaviour, and aggressive Australian nationalism.
Many of the plays we look at indicate that major shifts have taken
place in the theatrical depiction of Australian masculinity over the
past fifty years, and some seem to suggest that masculinity itself is
fading as an important feature of the lives and identities of men (see
chapter 9), but the character of Howard in Keating! is a reminder that
residual versions can linger on, and successfully stage come-backs.
Chapter 1
“What’s a man to do?”
The 1950s was a period in which masculinity was in transition, from
the extreme sexual segregation and homosociality of the experience of
war in the immediate past, to the sexual liberation and the rise of
feminism which were to occur throughout the 1960s. It was also a
time when masculinity was arguably more aggressive in its
performance than at any subsequent period. Despite contention over
what masculinity should be, there was also a widely recognised
consensus at the time about what it meant, and therefore about what
men could and could not do if they wanted to qualify for the status of
the masculine. This chapter examines the features of masculinity as
they appear in musical plays from that period, and discusses the uses
to which these depictions of masculinity are put. Its aims are, in part,
to think about the relationship between the scripts of the plays and the
time in which they were first performed, and to ask questions about
how they worked in relation to changing possibilities for the
performance of gender. We examine three musicals from the middle
of the twentieth century—Reedy River (Diamond 1970; 1989), The
Sentimental Bloke (Brown, Arlen and Thomson 1977) and Lola
Montez (Stannard, Benjamin and Burke 1958; 1999)—showing how
they have staged gender differently in attempts to advocate social
Musical masculinities
The musical is an important genre of theatre from the point of view of
conventional masculinity. On the one hand it is highly suspect, even
more so than most theatre, and has been traditionally linked with
homosexuality, most obviously through the flamboyant figures of the
chorus boy and the show queen. John M. Clum has written about the
camp qualities of musicals in performance, drawing attention to their
“heightened theatricality, their exaggerated, often parodic presentation
Men at Play 16
of gender codes, and their lyrical romantic fantasies” (1999: 6; see
also Miller 1998). Stacy Wolf (2002) has made a complementary
argument for a lesbian reading of the genre.
On the other hand, the musicals presented the kind of theatre that
was seen by the largest audiences, which were the most mainstream,
and therefore apparently the most normal. The “heightened theatri-
cality” of the performance style was acceptable to many people
because that is how musicals were done, and thus the genre allowed
ways of enacting gender that would have been impossible in many
other contexts. It is the apparent safety and the wide popularity of the
musical genre which made it a suitable way to intervene in social
debates about both gender and politics.
The suspect quality of musical theatre performance may be
responsible for the frequency of the word virile in descriptions of
these works. The word seems to have been used more freely in the
1950s and early 1960s (see Introduction) than it is today, and without
any of the current bawdy double entendre. The word was used in the
straightforward sense of ‘manly’, and virility was used as a synonym
for ‘masculinity’. It is used with reference to these productions to
describe both the force of the male chorus in Reedy River and the
plain working men’s songs that they sing. It was picked up as a
marketing tool for Lola Montez when the show was being toured
around the country by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
(AETT), in surprising (to us) combination with the words gay,
Australian and musical.
Reedy River and working masculinity
The popular Australian musical play Reedy River by Dick Diamond,
using traditional folk ballads, was first performed in Melbourne in
1953, then in Sydney, and revived repeatedly by the New Theatres
throughout the 1950s and 1960s in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and
Newcastle (see figure 1.1). It had many other regional productions,
and at least two productions in London. A conservative estimate as
early as 1969 reckoned that it had already been seen, exclusively in
amateur productions, by over 500,000 people (“Reedy River Again!”
The play, written for the New Theatre in Melbourne during the
Cold War, is a clear example of theatre being used as an intervention
in national political debates. It is a celebration of the lives and values
“What’s a man to do?” 17
of working men, and in particular the trade union movement. It was
written in the aftermath of major political changes in Australia, with
the election of a conservative government, led by Prime Minister
Robert Menzies, in 1949 and its repeated attempts to outlaw the
Communist Party. The play seems to emerge out of a combination of
confidence and anxiety about these events, simultaneously celebrating
and defending the history, achievements and ongoing relevance of the
union movement.
Reedy River can also be seen as deliberately linking the values of
unionism with those of traditional Australian male bonding as two
compatible versions of mateship, which could be an effective means
of neutralising any charge in the growing Cold War atmosphere
(parallel with those made against the left in the USA by Joseph
McCarthy) that the nexus of communism with unionism and left-wing
politics might be anti-Australian. The literary historian David Coad
argues that this kind of linking of male mateship and trade unionism
was already well established in Australia:
Unlike Europe and the United States, the Australian unionism of the 1880s
was well organized and effective as it built on a pre-existing pattern of male
solidarity, mateship of the Outback. According to W.C. Spence, a union
leader: ‘[Unionism] had in it that feeling of mateship which [the bushman]
understood already’. (Coad 2002: 87)
The script was proudly partisan, and resistant to the goals of the
conservative federal government at the time. The New Theatre was
considered radical and was monitored by the Australian Security
Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). According to the journalist Gary
Smith there are reports of official surveillance by ASIO at the Sydney
season in the Redfern Town Hall in 1955:
New Theatre enjoyed several years of postwar prosperity, until the insidious
smell of McCarthyism filtered into Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald
refused to run the company’s advertisements and stopped reviewing its shows.
[…] In the cold war climate, with the authorities aware of New Theatre’s past
links with communist and leftwing groups, ASIO kept tabs on it. As Field
Officer B.1 reported to his superiors in a document dated May 25, 1955 “the
performance [of Reedy River in the working-class area of Redfern] was well
attended by what appeared to be local residents […] They roundly applauded
the performance particularly when class struggle and the formation of the
Shearers’ Trade Union was portrayed. It was obvious the majority of the
audience was conversant with the dialogue and songs”. (Smith 2002: 28)
Men at Play 18
The oppositional political engagement of the play’s creators and
audience coincided with a timely revival of interest in Australian folk
traditions and popular culture. Ian Turner, in the introduction to the
published script, makes the point that
after World War II, the labour movement captured some of that radical
nationalism which had flowed through The Bulletin, The Boomerang and The
Worker, the papers most favoured by bush workers. One part of this was a
new interest in bush ballads. Dick Diamond’s play was in part a product of
that interest, but as well it gave an enormous impetus to the ballads. Bush
music groups and folklore societies were formed in the wake of Reedy River,
to collect and perform songs such as those in this play. (Turner 1970: viii)
Reedy River is set in a rural community soon after the historic
shearers’ strike of 1891. Banjo Paterson’s poem “Clancy of the
Overflow”, published in 1889, contrasted the lives of men enjoying
the freedom of the bush and its “vision splendid of the sunlit plains
extended” against that of the city dweller working in a “dingy little
office” breathing “the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city”. As
the poem suggests, the bush has popularly been seen as a place of
authentic and unfettered Australian masculinity. It is where men have
been seen as able to act more freely, less confined and constrained in
their actions than their city-dwelling counterparts, and where inter-
personal relationships, both those between men and those between
man and woman, have been less distorted by artificial external
The plot of the play is constructed around two narrative goals, both
involving the central male character Joe Collins, who returns to Reedy
River in the first scene after having been imprisoned for his part in the
strike. One plot line involves Joe’s part as a Shearers’ Union man in
establishing acceptable conditions for the shearers who are about to
start work on the property of the local squatter, Brodie. The squatter is
under pressure from other big property-holders not to recognise the
Union, but Joe ultimately manoeuvres the situation to a point where
Brodie is compelled to accept the shearers’ demands. The second plot
line involves Joe’s reconciliation with his wife from whom he had
split during the strike—they had disagreed about the extent of his
activism, and his divided duty to the Union and to his family—and
whom he has not seen since his release from prison.
In this agricultural setting, in a romanticised version of Australia,
masculinity is unproblematic. This is partly a function of its location
“What’s a man to do?” 19
in the past, at a time when an authentic Australian masculinity
uncontaminated by the tensions, distortions and the international
influences typical of twentieth-century life might be more easily
imagined. There is no crisis of masculinity evident in the play’s
action, and, even under intense personal, social or political pressure,
there is no point where any male character is accused by another of
being deficient in terms of gender. All the men, on both sides of the
struggle, are accepted as men by their friends and opponents. This
unquestioning acceptance of a normative image of masculinity is part
of the play’s necessary political strategy.
The political context of the 1950s required the male characters of
Reedy River to play their masculinity unquestionably and patriotically
straight. While these shearers are active in their opposition to the
values and policies of the federal government, the play avoids
introducing any features which could leave the unionists in any way
exposed to attack as anything other than good and decent Australian
men. Loyalty to the nation and gender norms were closely linked. As
Lynne Segal notes, the 1950s was a period in which there was a
conflation of perceived sexual immorality (which in practice usually
meant homosexuality) with treason:
This was a decade when, as Jonathan Dollimore has reminded us in his study
of the fiction of the fifties, senior Law Lord Patrick Devlin explicitly
associated ‘immorality’ with treason, demanding the suppression of ‘vice’ as
inherently subversive. Associations of this kind were consolidated in 1951
with the defection of British diplomats Burgess and Maclean to the Soviet
Union, and the concurrent McCarthy witch-hunt against Communists and
homosexuals in the United States. There was a dramatic increase in police
activity against male homosexuality in both Britain and North America.
(Segal 1990: 17)
Under these conditions, the male characters in Reedy River are
extremely constrained and have to appear absolutely conventional in
their performance of gender. It is for this reason that the script and the
traces of performance it has left offer an ideal site for examining a
strictly normative portrayal of theatrical masculinity. The play
represents a kind of gold standard of manliness for its time.
The play itself and its author have some of the generalised features
which can be associated with conventional Australian masculinity: for
Raymond Bowers, reviewing the premiere, the show was “uniquely
Australian […] comradely […] home-grown […] ambling [… and]
casually charming”. According to Bowers, Dick Diamond, who was
Men at Play 20
reputed to have tossed off the script over the course of three
weekends, is “embarrassed about routine sentiment”, preferring “to
get quickly and thankfully back to the real business of teamster
language, shearer-griping, and squatter-baiting”. The songs are
described by Bowers as “rather more manly […] than the ones
[Australia] imports today”. Praised for lacking conventional theatrical
slickness and bluff, it shows a world populated with “unpretentious
shearers, squatters and barmaids” who demonstrate “the rouseabout
carelessness of mind which at once makes them hold firm to their
principles, to the point of walking out of the sheds, and defer their
retaliation, to the point of running out of credit at the nearest bush
pub”. It creates an egalitarian place where “audiences and actors can
hobnob across the footlights” (Bowers 1953).
For Dorothy Darlington, reviewing a 1969 revival in Sydney, the
“spontaneous” writing results in a play which is “no carefully tended,
imported hothouse bloom but a lusty indigenous plant springing from
virgin soil and blossoming in free air”. The male chorus “had
tremendous force and virility” (Darlington 1969).
The characteristics of idealised masculinity depicted in the action of
Reedy River include, by implication, the necessity to be adult, white,
English-speaking, hard-working and more or less working class, loyal
to fellow workers and suspicious of strangers. Generalised comrade-
ship is valued, signalled in part by the use of affectionate or teasing
nicknames, but close friendships between men are not depicted.
Physical contact is largely avoided, both in the stage directions and in
visual records of performances, even where it might be expected. A
television program broadcast in 1970 shows two male chorus songs
from a production probably staged in Sydney in late 1969.
One is a
convivial drinking song, the other a political anthem about solidarity
among working men. While the singing is strong and the singers
animated, there is hardly any physical contact between the men
(Australia—Last of Lands 1970).
The heterosexuality of the characters is assumed and unquestioned,
but they do not have to actively practise it and, apart from Joe, the

This production of Reedy River, directed by John Armstrong for the New Theatre
at Darlinghurst in Sydney, opened on 1 November 1969.
“What’s a man to do?” 21
men are apparently unmarried. The play initially recognises an
alternative form of masculinity in the idea of the man alone, an image
which encompasses a combination of asexuality and celibacy.
Not surprisingly, masculinity is associated with activities like
smoking cigarettes (rollies, of course) and drinking beer. More
unexpected is the positive value the play and the male characters place
on books and reading and on discussions of politics, religion,
economics and philosophy. The conventionalised inarticulacy of rural
male characters is represented in sometimes laconic, awkward or
halting dialogue, especially when they are in the company of women,
but is compensated for by singing and playing music, which Diamond
describes as “good virile songs” (1970: x), by telling yarns, and
through the use of inventive banter and insult. The characters value
the Australian notion of the “fair go” (40), but while passionate about
their beliefs, they remain generally in control of their emotions,
restrain the urge to use physical violence, and never cry.
Masculinity is associated with strength but is demonstrated less
through the accomplishment of arduous physical tasks than through
the ability to resist and endure in the face of defeat; in the play the
shearers’ strike has already been broken, but the men have not
succumbed. Nevertheless, physical strength and the practice of
manual labour are suggested by the rolling up of men’s sleeves to the
elbow, a feature which is revealed through stage directions (39) and
photos of early productions.
There are no youngsters and no foreigners from non-English-
speaking backgrounds, but there are some older figures: Old Bob, an
apparently contented “rolling stone” (11) who is still active and on the
move, and the Elderly Character, represented as a selector at the end
of a long working life, who is now reaping the rewards of stability in
terms of prosperity, relaxation and contentment; there is no suggestion
that his age has left him inadequate as a man.
Even the squatter Brodie, the major antagonist to the shearers, is
represented as a man with a personal tradition of masculine hard work
and adequacy, just trying to do his best, though he differentiates his
masculinity from that of the shearers, implying that to work as a
shearer would reduce him to the level of an Indigenous labourer:
BRODIE: Best part of my life’s gone into this holding, and my father’s before
mine. But what’s a man to do? Shear the sheep himself? Work like a
blackfeller on his own property? (31)
Men at Play 22
Brodie can even laugh good-humouredly when Joe is open about his
in-principle objections to working alongside non-Union labour. If he
has a flaw as a man it is, as with many of the characters, an excess of
masculinity, hardening into inhumane, stony strength. When opposed
“he’s hard. Hard as granite, and ruthless” (29).
Moving out
In this world the action almost all takes place out of doors in open
space coded as masculine. The ultimate image of the inside is gaol,
which represents a loss of masculine freedom. Joe’s past
imprisonment for Shearers’ Union activity is an extreme sacrifice he
has made for the cause, at the possible expense of his own gender
status. The men dislike interiors, even crowded pubs:
THOMO: [entering from bar] All those bush pubs are the same—no brass rail
and no elbow room. No immensities at all. If yer drink inside it’s so
crowded yer likely ter pick up yer glass and shove it into some other
bloke’s mouth. (14)
The first scene is set completely out in the open, away from any sign
of buildings, and all subsequent scenes are set outside the shearing
shed and the pub except for act 3, scene 1 which is inside the
schoolhouse. This is an odd scene which adds relatively little to the
plot development. Instead it explores, through the comical depiction
of a “social” (11), a very tentative coming together of masculine and
feminine in the context of a community song and dance, focusing
especially on how far the men are prepared to go and what they are
not going to give up to achieve accommodation with wives and
This light-hearted conflict between genders is easily resolved in
favour of the men; the real debate within the play is about variant
forms of masculinity: that of the man alone, the man among men and
the man and wife. The play makes a move away from man alone (Joe
travelling alone at the start, Joe in gaol before the play begins) through
the man among men (Joe and his Union mates), and (back) to the
situation of a man and his wife (the re-establishment of the marriage
between Joe and Mary, and the move back home to the selection).
Along the way, space becomes gendered: in Joe’s absence Mary has
been able to keep the house in order, but the land has got out of
control with the fencing down and the grass knee high (27).
“What’s a man to do?” 23
The picture of masculinity in this play is very consistent, and
almost all the men adhere to it closely. In contrast, the female
characters, though fewer in number, display a much wider range of
gender possibilities than the male characters, who are almost
indistinguishable in their behaviour. But the picture of masculinity is
not unproblematic, and there is a sense that some adjustment is going
to have to be made to this almost exclusively male world if the
possibility of marriage, in the form of domesticated heterosexual
stability, is to become a reality.
Settling down
Within the narrow constraints of this regime of gender, what is a man
to do? What are the problems and the options in terms of the
enactment of masculinity? Reedy River is a narrative of male
experience which explores appropriate new ways of being a man in
the changing post-war context. The play begins with the hero
uncertain about his direction or the reason he has returned to Reedy
River where his estranged wife still lives: “When a man doesn’t know
where he’s going, maybe there isn’t much else he can do” (8), but he
nevertheless recognises that “a man needs a corner in life to call his
own” (16).
It is relatively easy for Joe to make the first stage of the transition,
from being a man alone to a man among men, as he rejoins the
shearers after his stint in prison. He has more difficulties about
returning to his responsibilities and his wife. In the past, shown in a
flashback sequence, Mary has demanded of him, “I’m only asking
what every woman has the right to ask—that her husband be around to
look after her when she has her baby”—and at that point he can only
reply, “You’re the best wife in the world, but I reckon I don’t amount
to much of a husband” (28). The trajectory of the play ultimately
shows Joe how to be both a good husband and a good man.
Joe needs to resolve the conflicting versions of masculinity,
claiming that his solidarity with the men in the Shearers’ Union and

The first production of Reedy River anticipates by seven years a parallel treatment
of the same situation in the film The Magnificent Seven (1960), where the
youngest of the gunfighters (Chico, played by Horst Buchholz) decides at the end,
after a debate which runs through the entire movie about traditional and new roles
for men, to relinquish the man-among-men life and instead settle down in the
village to marry the woman he has fallen in love with.
Men at Play 24
his duties as a husband are compatible: “[…] you know what we’re
fighting for. It’s for you and a million wives like you—and their
kids—and the right to three meals a day and a decent life”, and the
play ultimately demonstrates that this is possible. His last line, his task
accomplished and the Union’s fight won, is “And now, Mary, we’re
going home” (44).
Joe is portrayed as the most successfully masculine of the men. As
the casting notes make clear, he combines strength and decency with
maturity (xi) and intelligence to produce a happy resolution to the
conflict. He could have provided the model for Russel Ward’s generic
description of the men of the Australian outback a few years later,
characterised by “adaptability, toughness, endurance, activity and
loyalty to one’s fellows” (Ward 1958: 81). The plot of the play can be
seen as a series of tests which Joe has to pass to confirm his status as a
man. His personal problems and self-doubts, combined with his lack
of power after the suppression of the strike, are hurdles to be
overcome. At the end of the play he has passed all these tests and
comes as close as theatrically possible to the achievement of man-
liness. The play concludes at this point, partly because unquestionable
manliness on stage is of little dramatic interest. His achievement is to
have integrated the various demands of mateship and union activism
with marriage and domesticity within a coherent (though constrained)
model of Australian masculinity.
Sentimental masculinity
The shift from the itinerant masculinities of the man alone and the
man among men to the more difficult masculinity of stable domestic
life within marriage was an ongoing problem, captured in the
oxymoronic title of the 1961 Australian musical by Nancy Brown,
Albert Arlen and Lloyd Thomson, The Sentimental Bloke, based on
the 1915 verse novel entitled Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J.
Dennis (see figure 1.2). It was first produced at the Albert Hall in
Canberra in 1961, directed by the co-author Nancy Brown. It was
given its first professional staging later the same year at the Comedy
Theatre in Melbourne, directed by John Young in a production by J.C.
Williamson’s. This production was toured to Adelaide, Brisbane,
Sydney and Auckland the next year. It has had many subsequent
professional and amateur productions, the most recent being in
Adelaide in 2005.
“What’s a man to do?” 25
The title of the musical creates a tension between Australian
masculinity and romantic sentimentality. This tension provides the
narrative drive for the main character who negotiates his way between
the obligations of homosocial mateship and the entanglements of
heterosexual romance. At the start of the play, Bill is an ordinary man
among men, “a rough sorter bloke wivout any eddication, or perlite
ways […]—not much chop at all” (Brown, Arlen and Thomson 1977:
28–29). He is an orphan who has no idea who his parents were and
has survived in the harsh world of Melbourne’s Spadger’s Lane by the
use of his fists and with the support of his male mates, especially
Ginger Mick. His nickname is Billy the Kid, and he is known as the
hardest hitter in the neighbourhood (40). However, even at his first
entrance he is dissatisfied with his current situation: he is unemployed,
having just lost his job as the result of a brawl with the foreman, and
he has been snubbed by a young woman, Doreen, to whom he seems
socially unworthy. She refuses even to speak to him because they
have not been introduced. His sentimental side is expressed in the
opening scene where he sings awkwardly about the “springtime craze”
of falling in love.
There’s little breezes stirrin’ in the leaves
An’ sparrers chirpin’ ’igh the ole day long;
An’ on the air a gay, sweet music breaves
A bonzer song, a liltin’ sorter choon
That some’ow seems like somethin’ that I ’eard
In ’appy dreams. (8)
Bill’s quest is to find a way of enacting masculinity which will allow
him to be a sentimental lover and responsible husband without
becoming tame and effeminate. This path lies somewhere between
two extreme cases—the careless cynicism of his mate Ginger and the
successful womanising of Horace Smithers, the refined, smooth-
talking and superficially gentlemanly Under Sales Manager at the
pickle factory where most of the female characters work. When Bill is
finally introduced to Doreen, Ginger describes him in terms of the
kind of masculinity which is appropriate for the life Bill is
contemplating—and the kind that he imagines Doreen is interested in:
“Bill ’ere, as you can see, is a quiet refined sorter feller. Wouldn’t
touch a drop or upset the cops, or go out wiv bad wimmin” (13). The
description is obviously inaccurate, and when Bill gets to know
Doreen a little better he offers to “give up fighting and swearin’ an’
Men at Play 26
the grog’ an’ everything for you”. He vows, “I’ll start to be something
fine an’ respectable for your sake—cross me heart” (29).
Doreen insists at first on a gentle form of masculinity. When Bill
threatens violence towards Smithers, she is revolted by Bill’s “brutal,
back-alley stuff” (42) and she briefly develops an affection for the
rival suitor. However, she quickly comes back to Bill and his
sentimental ways, finding him a “dear, funny boy” (51). Bill gets the
upper hand over Smithers but not by knocking him down in a fight,
man to man; instead he takes on a paternal role and infantilises his
rival, putting him over his knee in public and spanking him (53–54).
The play’s tensions are resolved, significantly, by a street brawl
where Bill is ambushed by accomplices of Smithers. Despite
overwhelming odds, Bill and Ginger triumph over their assailants.
Doreen realises that Bill is not to blame for the violence, and she is
impressed by his prowess. He offers to mend his ways but asks
Doreen, “Don’t try an’ change me too quick, will you?” She replies
that she “wouldn’t want to change you in any way, ever” (72).
The question of what kind of husband and father Bill will make is
swept aside by the musical’s ending, based on the sentimentality of a
happy wedding and the acknowledgement of true love which has
taught Bill that happiness is simply about “givin’ and wantin’ to give,
not takin’ and wantin’ to take” (75–76). It is a work which
acknowledges the tensions in Australian masculinity between the
competing attractions of the rugged, solitary manly life and the
potentially tame and less masculine role of the domestic breadwinner
and wage slave. The ending advocates the latter path, acknowledging
the impossibility, for its hero at least, of remaining single, but it
evades a convincing description of a way of sustaining married life
which will continue to suit both Bill and Doreen after the wedding is
over. It may not have been able to provide an answer, but it at least
drew attention to a problem that was to preoccupy many Australians
for years into the future.
Lola Montez, or masculinity endangered
In the 1958 Australian musical Lola Montez, by Peter Stannard, Peter
Benjamin and Alan Burke, the political issues are again less
prominent than in Reedy River and, with less at stake, the concept of
masculinity can be freed up, played with, and in this case, to a
considerable extent, queered (see figure 1.3). The script acknowledges
“What’s a man to do?” 27
a wider range of masculine types and behaviours than was possible in
Reedy River or The Sentimental Bloke. This was again a very popular
work which is still remembered today by many people, even though
its last professional performance in Australia, by the AETT, was in
1958. It had a subsequent production in Canberra in 1988.
The title character is the famous nineteenth-century European
performer and courtesan who had been the mistress of Ludwig II of
Bavaria. The plot is based around a historical incident, while Lola was
on tour in Ballarat (then spelled Ballaarat), where she publicly
horsewhipped the editor of the local newspaper for defaming her in
print. However, despite the title, Lola is not the main role. The
musical is a romance between a young couple, an Irish lad, Daniel,
who has been wounded in the Crimean War, and the object of his
affections, Jane, an Australian nurse who nursed him back to health
and has subsequently returned to Ballaarat. At the start of the musical,
Daniel arrives in the town in search of the woman who has saved his
life. Almost immediately after finding and proposing to Jane he
discovers a gold nugget which enables him seriously to contemplate
the practicalities of married life. Lola’s arrival is not an enabling
device for the romantic plot; on the contrary, she is the obstacle in the
path of true love, and one who comes darkly close to wrecking Daniel
and Jane’s relationship, and, by extension, the domestic stability of the
wider society.
Daniel is a much more vulnerable figure in terms of gender than
Bill in The Sentimental Bloke or any character in Reedy River. He is
portrayed as immature. The stage directions specify that, although he
is twenty-two, he should look even younger. Daniel’s task is to grow
up and establish himself in terms of masculinity and patriarchal
authority; this is certainly what happens by the end of the musical, but
the journey takes some queer twists and turns along the way.
Ballaarat is presented as a representative Australian masculine
monoculture, a rough, tough working men’s town. The local
characters are almost exclusively Anglophone and, though there are
said to be many Irish diggers, the goldminers who appear on stage
seem to be Australian. The arrival of Lola brings with it a proliferation
of different voices. She herself is posing as Spanish, her maids, Gisela
and Ilsa, have thick German accents, and her manager, Sam
Vanderberg, is an American.
Men at Play 28
The action of the plot neatly illustrates the seriousness of the
anxieties voiced by the upright and moralistic townswomen of
Ballaarat when they demonstrate publicly against the arrival of the
outsiders. Anxious about the disruption to their domestic
arrangements by the European intruder, they protest in the street with
placards bearing slogans such as “Homes before Harlotry” and
“Bavarians Go Home” (Stannard, Benjamin and Burke c. 1958: act 2,
scene 1). The Australian men are surprisingly welcoming of this
particular outsider coming into their midst, delegating to the women
the normally male task of expressing the national xenophobia.
Whereas the men in Reedy River behave impeccably in gender
terms, the presence of Lola in Ballaarat has the effect of queering the
male characters. Two readings are possible here. On one level, the
eroticising presence of Lola in the town seems to work as some kind
of guarantee of heterosexuality. One of the first commands made in
Lola’s name, by one of her maids, is “Let there be men” (Stannard,
Benjamin and Burke 1958: 16), and, as long as Lola is around, there
are men. The heterosexual desire she provokes provides a safety net
which allows room for greater freedom in the performance of gender
by the men. Thus photos of the 1958 AETT production reveal uses of
the male body which are unthinkable in the context of the unionist
struggle of the world of the shearers. All the potentially oxymoronic
references of the marketing tag for the production, “A gay […] virile
Australian musical”, are clearly borne out in the performances where,
because they are real men they can afford to camp it up. Half-naked
male bodies are put on eroticised and feminised display, and, under
Lola’s influence, plain Australian masculine manners are corrupted
into excessive European politesse. The physical reticence of the
Australian male is transformed into sensational enactments of
corporeal extroversion, extension, flexibility and ostentation as the
men celebrate the arrival of Lola in town, and conventional romantic
affection is parodied in a same-sex mock coupling with a male
character playing the woman’s part. In this reading, Lola’s presence
allows the men to experiment with gender, without seriously
endangering their reputation as heterosexuals. Their virility is taken
for granted, but its limits are expanded and it is freed up under the
“gay” influence of the unrestrained, exuberant and fun-loving
entertainer, and by the nature of the musical genre itself.
“What’s a man to do?” 29
Female masculinity
A more dangerous reading would see Lola as really queering the
sexuality of the male world of Ballaarat. Read in this way, Lola
herself is a queer figure, combining strong elements of both feminine
and masculine attributes. In Sedgwick’s terms, she is extremely
gender-y, scoring high on the scales of both femininity and
masculinity (1995: 15–16). She is the object of male desire, and she
uses femininity to make her mark. But at the same time she displays
gender characteristics which, in the 1950s, were more often associated
with men. She is active and dynamic, outspoken, sexually predatory,
and is on the move. She stands up for herself, takes control, and is
clearly dominant over her manager. Indisputably a woman, she is also
more of a man than the male characters.
The image of the spider, which is the theme of Lola’s big dance
number, is appropriately ambivalent—spiders being coded female but
in a predatory and unfeminine way. The threat that she presents to the
males is made physically explicit in her onstage performance at the
end of act 1, where she is discovered spread-eagled on a web, dressed
in “a skintight costume running to six extra arms attached by cords to
her own”. At the conclusion of this routine, Daniel, overwhelmed,
leaps onto the stage from the box where he has been watching the
dance, presents Lola with his newly discovered gold nugget, and in
response she embraces him “in her eight arms” (33).
The climax of the role comes later in the show when she takes the
initiative after being insulted by the editor of the Ballaarat Times and
publicly horsewhips him in the street. Her mastery of the whip, an
obvious phallic symbol, is suggestive of masculine gender perform-
In this second reading, based on Lola’s gender ambivalence and
her ability to queer the world around her, there is no longer any
gender safety net. Her arrival in Ballaarat is shown to disrupt the
established norms of behaviour, forcing the respectable women out
into the streets to demonstrate against her, and throwing the male
characters into a state of somatic hyper-excitement which exposes the
gender instability underlying their normal veneer of restrained
masculinity. Lola’s performance in Ballaarat, in this reading, is a
moment of dangerous and unlicensed carnivalesque inversion and
excess which serves to expose already-present queer possibilities that
are normally masked by conventional gender behaviour.
Men at Play 30
These two readings of Lola’s role are not mutually exclusive. If the
show is to work subversively in terms of a 1950s model of gender,
then it is probably the former reading that will be evident for most of
the performance, lulling the audience into a sense of security where
they can accept images of butch men camping it up in normally
unacceptable ways. But the second reading, which sees a genuinely
queer aspect in masculinity, underlies the whole show and erupts at
the show’s biggest theatrical moments.
The potential contradictions in the marketing tag capture a crucial
problem for the Australian theatrical entertainment industry at the
time. Virility and masculinity were important ideals for Australian
society which the theatre would need to stage if it were to relate
meaningfully to the social world of its audience. On the other hand,
Australian masculinity was not in itself inherently theatrical, and was,
under normal circumstances, incompatible with the “gay” flam-
boyance of the musical.
If the stereotypical Australian man was seen as physically
restrained, emotionally controlled and self-effacingly laconic, this
presents a problem for the theatre of popular entertainment which
normally requires the opposite of these qualities. This is a problem
that all three stage works sought to address, each of them influenced
by their own social and political agenda and the kind of audience their
creators presumably had in mind. Reedy River sidestepped it by
emphasising the passions of political struggle and highlighting group
solidarity. The Sentimental Bloke made use of the force of emerging
heterosexual desire to bring the Australian male out of his in-
expressive shell. In Lola Montez, it is the galvanising influence of
Lola that generates and unlocks the potential for theatrical flair in
Australian manhood.
Musical challenges to masculinity
Reedy River has to play masculinity absolutely straight because its
task is to ensure that the slippage from unionist to communist to queer
is resisted, and the play works hard to guarantee that there is nothing
sexually suspect about the shearers. This involves a valorisation of the
masculine as well as its strict and narrow definition. In the world it
depicts, the play has to accept and promote this kind of dominant
manliness without question, co-opting established ideas about gender
as a tactic for advancing the rights of working men. One cost of this is
“What’s a man to do?” 31
a restriction of the ways men could perform masculinity in their own
bodies and in their relationships with (the bodies of) other men. It
could be read as an acquiescence to the Menzies government’s
promotion of the suburban family, the separation of public and private
life, and the increasing differentiation of male and female roles within
those areas. The Sentimental Bloke repeats the same motifs but in the
mode of light comedy where the struggle is made to look easier and
the real problems are largely ignored; nevertheless, the dominant form
of the masculine can be affectionately subjected to greater criticism
and satire.
Lola Montez on the other hand represents a different approach,
neither tacitly confirming nor overtly resisting the conventional image
of Australian masculinity. Using the destabilising influence of Lola,
the show audaciously permits a freer play of gender—unusual in
terms of 1950s conformity—which subversively allows alternative
images of gender behaviour to be explored. The character of Lola is a
carnivalesque figure, tentatively opening up the repressed and boring
world of Ballaarat, and Australia, to emergent and more exciting
possibilities for living and performing gender and sexuality.
Figure 1.1 Reedy River
A scene from the premiere production of Dick Diamond’s Reedy River,
directed by Eric Grayson at Melbourne New Theatre, March 1953.
(Reproduced by courtesy of the New Theatre and the Arts Centre,
Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne).
Figure 1.2 The Sentimental Bloke
A scene from The Sentimental Bloke by Nancy Brown, Albert Arlen and
Lloyd Thomson, probably from the original J.C. Williamson production
at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, in November 1961. (Reproduced by
courtesy of the Arts Centre, Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.)
Figure 1.3 Lola Montez
Mary Preston (centre) in the title role of Lola Montez by Peter Stannard,
Peter Benjamin and Alan Burke, produced by the Australian Elizabethan
Theatre Trust, 1958. (Reproduced by courtesy of the Australian
Elizabethan Theatre Trust and the National Library of Australia.)
Chapter 2
Fists, boots and blues
In his lectures on The Making of the Australian Theatre, the inaugural
director of the AETT, Hugh Hunt, lapsed uncharacteristically into the
local vernacular in declaring his frustration with the state of
Australian playwriting:
Conflict and emotions are at the heart of all drama, but conflict can only be
expressed by articulate people. When realism descends to the inhabitants of
the backyard, conflict has to be couched in monosyllables and emotions have
to take the form of physical violence. It is difficult to think of any Australian
play which does not end up with a ‘blue’. Passionate expression almost
inevitably takes the form of fists and boots in a drama which cannot make full
use of language. (Hunt 1960: 17)
Hunt shared with Australian dramatists of the 1950s a conviction that
emotional conflict was the key to effective drama, but he expected that
conflict to be articulated in eloquent language. A failure to express
emotion through language may also be regarded as a masculine
character trait, in which the force of emotion is channelled instead into
acts of physical violence. Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth
Doll (1957) epitomises Hunt’s observation that physical violence
substituted for eloquent expression in Australian theatre. Yet, in
looking closely at stage directions in the play script and actual footage
from productions, we can see how such acts as the “blue” between
Roo and Barney or Roo’s smashing of the doll were occasions that
were not simply where language gave way to inarticulate violence, but
where male performers also engaged new techniques of realist acting
for expressing emotion.
Our focus in this chapter shifts from musical theatre to realist
plays. We begin by considering an articulation of masculinity and
nationality through the concept of the stereotype which informed the
production and reception of Australian theatre in the 1950s and 1960s.
We then analyse some scenes of violent action scripted for male actors
Fists, boots and blues 33
in the realist plays first staged at this time, including Richard
Beynon’s The Shifting Heart (1958), John Hepworth’s The Beast in
View (1961) and Ru Pullan’s Bird with a Medal (1961). Our analyses
reveal how theatre came to be used in Australia as a kind of laboratory
for experiments in performing the masculinity of the national
character. These were dramaturgical experiments in which play-
wrights varied the mix of actions and words in attempts at scripting
characterisations resonant with national preconceptions about
Australian men. The chapter may be read as a case study in a broader
field of research on acting, emotion and gender (Tait 2002), although
our approach to articulating the emotional aspect of theatrical
sources—play scripts, prompt copies, production photographs, film
footage and so on—derives its understanding of emotion from first-
hand respondents such as Hunt, who found the theatrical expression of
emotion a particular problem in productions of Australian plays. The
chapter concludes with a discussion of Debra Oswald’s Gary’s House
(1996), a more recent play which critically re-dramatises the
emotional inarticulacy of an Australian man.
The Australian character as masculine stereotype
The life and character of the nation were topics of lively discussion in
Australia during the 1950s and 1960s. A raft of publications
contributed to these discussions, including A.A. Phillips’ The
Australian Tradition (1958), Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend
(1958), J.D. Pringle’s Australian Accent (1958), Robin Boyd’s The
Australian Ugliness (1960), Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country
(1964), and Peter Coleman’s anthology Australian Civilization: A
Symposium (1962). A notable feature of these books is their rehearsal
of the character traits of the typical Australian, even if this was often
undertaken in order to reveal the national character as a familiar yet
inaccurate caricature. Although not the most well known, here is one
such rehearsal of the national character, presented with some
justification of its plausibility:
There is a common and well preserved belief that the people who make up
any particular nation have certain typical characteristics that arise by virtue of
their national background, their cultural tradition, conditions of life and, very
often, their biological heritage. These beliefs about national characteristics are
seldom valid for the majority of the population and they therefore represent
only stereotypes. In Australia these stereotypes are given more than usual
Men at Play 34
plausibility in that most Australians are in greater agreement about their own
national characteristics than are people of other nations.
What image is conjured up by the phrase ‘a typical Australian’? The
popular image is that of a man of 30–40 years of age, dressed indifferently,
speaking with an unmistakable Australian accent, bearing himself with a
casual but confident air, friendly and wearing an easy-going expression, but
betraying a ready propensity to become aroused by any attempt to dragoon
him or to invade his rights to self-determination. His occupation and class are
vague as he could equally well be urban or rural, skilled tradesman or white-
collar worker—it matters little as he is quite adaptable from one to the other.
(Taft 1962: 191)
Whereas literary critic A.A. Phillips and historian Russel Ward had
imagined the national character to be a myth or a legend with a
difficult-to-determine and debatable relation to the nation’s history,
the concept of the stereotype, as developed within social psychology
and introduced to Australia by psychologist Ronald Taft, proffered a
more precise method for investigating the social actuality of widely
held beliefs about the national characteristics of the Australian people.
Nevertheless, following the lead of Phillips and Ward, Taft proceeded
to elaborate the masculine traits of the national character in familiar
terms: his rural and working-class derivation and his anti-authoritarian
stance; his emphasis on toughness and suffering rather than skill,
vision, or success; his investment in mateship and an “exaggerated
masculinity” (Taft 1962: 195).
In the same volume, writer and critic Max Harris wrote of “the
masculinity of Australian life” in an essay addressing the “Morals and
manners” of the nation in which he accounted for a relation between
national character and artistic expression in explicitly gendered terms.
According to Harris, the Australian emphasis on “practical
materialism”, on the pursuit of “practical unimaginative activity” and
on a capacity to improvise and make-do, meant that “social life,
manners, imagination, and the arts are bred into the culture later on (if
they are bred into it at all” (Harris 1962: 60). Harris regarded this
“practical materialism” as “an inborn interest in the male Australian”.
On the other hand, he regarded Australian women as “very little
individualised from their British counterparts” (62). It is as if for
Harris, as for other writers at the time, Australianness is itself
gendered masculine.
Theatre played a role in these discussions about national character.
Commentators and critics saw in the theatre of the late 1950s some of
Fists, boots and blues 35
the traits of the national character that were being described and
debated at the time. Taft noted how:
the traditional myth is concerned mainly with masculine behaviour, but it has
a place for two types of women, both typified by the half-prostitute, half-
mother barmaids of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. (1962: 195)
And Harris recalled Alf from Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the
Year saying, “I’m a bloody Australian. That’s good enough for me”,
in order to demonstrate how, in secular Australia, “it is more realistic
to essay the moral ideal of being a good national than a bad saint”
(1962: 50; see Seymour 1961: 26; also chapter 8). The discussions
about national character also provided a framework in which
scholarship on Australian drama emerged. Peter Fitzpatrick (1979)
and Dennis Carroll (1985), for instance, both cite Russel Ward’s more
famous description of the typical Australian at the outset of their
books, as does Leslie Rees (1973) in concluding his history of
Australian theatre (see Introduction). In each case, an appeal is made
to Ward’s synthesis of character traits as a yardstick with which to
measure the Australian characters written by playwrights.
P.H. Davison’s essay “Three Australian plays: national myths
under criticism” (1963) and H.G. Kippax’s essay “Australian drama
since Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” (1964) both offered detailed,
sustained, and explicit commentary on nationality and masculinity in
their analyses of The Doll, The Shifting Heart and The One Day of the
Year. In both essays, the discussion focuses almost exclusively on the
male characters and their relations, troubled as they are in each play
by differences of gender, ethnicity and generation. While Kippax
offers a more sustained discussion of the plays’ literary nationalism,
the introductory paragraphs of Davison’s article are indicative of the
concerns with Australian masculinity in both articles:
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, The Shifting Heart and The One Day of the
Year all say something about Australia and they say it well enough to have
attracted attention outside Australia. These plays criticise aspects of
contemporary Australian life and re-examine a number of Australian myths.
Beynon, concerned with the relations of New and Old Australians and the
supposed inherent superiority of the latter, says what he has to say, clearly,
determinedly, and unsubtly. […] Seymour, in his dramatisation of the
attitudes of old and young to Anzac Day, strips away the illusions of father
and son in such a manner that the play ends, not with the bang we are earlier
led to expect, but with a whimper of resignation. Summer of the Seventeenth
Doll reveals, beneath its simple story, an awareness of the contemporary
Men at Play 36
significance of the legendary prowess, strength, masculinity, and
exclusiveness of the Australian bushman. (Davison 1963; reprinted in
Holloway 1987: 203)
Beyond their recognition of the playwrights’ contribution to the
discussion on national character, Davison and Kippax both aimed at
critically assessing the dramatic form of these new Australian plays
and their effectiveness in the theatre. Their articles are, in fact, highly
critical and urge Australian playwrights to learn from the
shortcomings of their plays and to write ever more satisfyingly
coherent, dramatically convincing and realistically Australian drama.
Subsequent dramatic criticism in Australia differed in critical
approach. Margaret Williams (1972, 1977), for instance, would
dispense with the criteria of realism and the well-made play and take
up the concept of stereotype in developing a response to the plays of
the so-called new wave.
At one time, to describe a character as stereotyped would imply
criticism of the playwright for failing to develop a character with
realistic depth. Criticism in these terms was directed at the new wave
playwrights by critics such as A.A. Phillips who claimed that “the
adoption of stereotyping […] usually shuts a dramatist off from the
greatest achievement within the character” (1973; reprinted in
Holloway 1987: 337). But in Williams’s writings, reflecting in part
her research into the stock characters of nineteenth-century
melodrama in Australia, the stereotype was re-evaluated as a critical
term indicative of the social critique at work in theatre. Indeed, what
became valued in the plays of the new wave was not their
concordance with aesthetic standards of dramatic construction or
theatrical experience, in the way, for example, that The Doll was held
up as a model of the well-made play. Rather, what Williams and other
critics writing in the 1970s valued in Australian plays was an effective
application of theatrical conventions and vernacular language within a
project of social analysis and critique invested in and troubled by the
masculinity of the national character.
Writing about Jack Hibberd’s White with Wire Wheels (1970) and
Alex Buzo’s The Front Room Boys (1970), Williams argued that:
the stereotype is not simply a satirical cartoon, or even a levelling device
which reduces the characters to conforming anonymity; it becomes a
defensive shell, a protective ‘front’ to cover insecurity and limited awareness,
and it springs a deadly trap, locking its victims into their adopted roles
through the very ritual patterns that seemed to afford security. It is surely a
Fists, boots and blues 37
dramatic exploitation of stereotype which grows out of this most conforming
of societies, where the pressure to act the universally accepted image is
peculiarly strong, and where its levelling and deadening effect is most clearly
seen in the repetitious evasions of the vernacular. (Williams 1972; reprinted in
Holloway 1987: 329–330)
Such an analysis deployed not only a dramaturgical conception of the
stereotype as a recognisable stock character, but a psycho-social
conception of the stereotype as an ideological formation that stands in
a determining relation to social identity and behaviour. In a similar
way, Peter Fitzpatrick’s (1979) interest in the stereotypes of the
bushman and the ocker was indicative of a concern with the social
relations of Australian plays, with the way theatre models a relation
between ideal character types and the actuality of living or failing to
live up to them. In the work of both Williams and Fitzpatrick, there is
an explicit interest in investigating how Australian plays, particularly
those of the new wave but also those from the earlier realist phase,
expose the psycho-social dynamics of Australian masculinity to
National inarticulacy as acting style
One of the recognised traits of the national character was inarticulacy.
“He is usually taciturn, rather than talkative”, wrote Russel Ward in
his oft-quoted account of the typical Australian at the outset of The
Australian Legend (1958: 1). Or as Brian Fitzpatrick wrote in 1956:
[The] Australian approach to articulation is best indicated by a generalisation:
utterance is better not done at all; but, if it is done, when it is done, it were
well it were done slowly and flatly and expressionlessly, to betoken that the
subject, any subject, is hardly worth talking about. (Quoted in Fitzpatrick
1979: 10)
For Phillips, this national tendency towards inarticulacy set a
challenge for the arts and arts policy. “A country cannot achieve
nationhood until it has achieved articulacy”, he asserted in The
Australian Tradition (1958: 133). The task of national articulation
presented a particular challenge for Australian playwrights and theatre
critics. “In the disinclination of that stereotype of the Australian male
to speak”, wrote Peter Fitzpatrick, “there are very considerable
problems for the playwright who would put him on stage” (1979: 10).
However, we note that these “considerable problems” assume a
classical conception of theatre as a genre of imaginative talk, a theatre
Men at Play 38
in which linguistic eloquence is the key to emotional expression and
theatrical success.
It is such a conception of theatre in which linguistic articulation is
pivotal to the theatricalisation of emotion that underscored Hunt’s
frustration with backyard realism, with the recourse to “fists and boots
in a drama that cannot make full use of language” (1960: 17). Hunt’s
frustration with the backyard realism of Australian theatre in the
1950s, with its dramatic conflicts “couched in monosyllables” and
expressed in “physical violence” (17), thus articulated a linguistic
distinction of national significance. Hunt was an Englishman, a man
of the theatre, with a taste for the eloquent language of the classical
repertoire. Hunt directed productions of Euripides’ Medea,
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Hamlet, and T.S. Eliot’s Murder in
the Cathedral in his time as director of the AETT.
Striking a clear contrast with the linguistic eloquence of British
theatre, Australian-born theatre director Wal Cherry described
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll as a play of “the inarticulate people”
in which “actions speak louder than words” and “the inarticulate
nature turns to violence, as it must” (Cherry 1956; reprinted in
Holloway 1987: 186–187). He quotes Lawler as saying “These people
feel emotions which are too deep for their expression” and diagnoses
that “a major part of the tension of the play arises from the words
which are not spoken, words which are expressed finally in action so
tremendous that Roo’s life and Olive’s life are shattered beyond
repair” (187). In acknowledging Lawler’s commitment to Australian
realism, Cherry sought to recognise how violent action may, in some
qualified way, substitute for linguistic eloquence as a means of
emotional expression:
Roo and Olive […] can never express their status, because they have no words
of their own—only feelings too deep for expression and everyday words,
whose roots do not twine deeply in their hearts. In Summer of the Seventeenth
Doll actions speak louder than words. The play is dominated by a sense of
energy; energy suppressed or lost or dissipated. So much of the movement is
carried by the fight on the canefields, the tremendous strength of Roo, the
fight in the parlour, the vicious smashing of the dolls. But the commentary on
this beautifully conceived movement lacks the finality, the deep penetration,
which marks a great play. (Cherry 1956; reprinted in Holloway 1987: 187)
Tom O’Regan, a scholar of Australian television and film,
recognised the significance of physical action as emotional expression
Fists, boots and blues 39
in The Doll by suggesting a connection between Lawler’s play and
method acting:
The Doll was created by an actor. It is an actor’s play. A method actor’s play.
If its dialogue emphasises seeing and being seen, its stage directions indicate a
level of gesturality, a dimension of hystericisation, an excess of the body of
the actor—which is more familiar within method acting. (1987: n.p.)
O’Regan’s suggestion is that method acting, a realist style associated
with the work of Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio in New York,
may have become known to Lawler in Australia through the films of
Elia Kazan such as A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the
Waterfront (1954). Unlike acting in the British classical tradition, the
Method did not seek to express a character’s emotion primarily
through the eloquent articulation of poetic language. On the contrary,
inarticulacy—or, rather, an ineloquent way of under-performing the
articulation of words and emphasising, instead, the paralinguistic
aspects of utterance—became something of a hallmark of the style for
male method actors on screen, as the performances of Marlon Brando
and James Dean attest. The ineloquent masculinity that method acting
lent to the performances of American and British actors in the 1950s
and 1960s has been observed by others (Braudy 1996; Bracewell
1998). Film historian Leo Braudy describes how performances like
Brando’s in On the Waterfront and Dean’s in Rebel Without a Cause
(1956) created a “theatricalized masculinity […] that demands an
audience just as often inside the film as outside—yet is
simultaneously crippled and manipulated by it” (1996: 292).
The American actor Hayes Gordon introduced method acting to
Australian actors in Sydney in 1958 at what became the Ensemble
Theatre (Parsons 1995: 247; Lewington 2005). On the invitation to
Gordon’s first production, which featured selections from the works
of Tennessee Williams, one of the actors apparently wrote: “We
haven’t a name yet. Yes, we admit to training—Strasbergian,
Stanislavskian, Meisnerian, Gordonian etc and we emphasise what
might be referred to as the ‘ensemble’ values in production” (quoted
in “Company History” 2006). The slightly defensive tone of this
admission may be responding to an attitude then prevalent that
training betrayed a deficit of natural talent. Australian actors Michael
Duffield and Dennis Miller of the Union Theatre Repertory Company
(UTRC) (later the Melbourne Theatre Company), then under the
directorship of Englishman John Sumner, spoke with hearty
Men at Play 40
scepticism of the “Method” in a television broadcast in 1963
(In Vision 1963). As an actor with the UTRC, Ray Lawler performed
the role of Barney in Sumner’s premiere production of The Doll,
transferring to Sydney after opening in Melbourne in 1955, and then
to seasons in London and New York under the auspices of the AETT.
While it is unlikely that Lawler ever had an opportunity to train in
method acting, it is plausible that an aspect of method acting evident
in Kazan’s films—namely, the significance of physical action for
expressing the emotions of male characters—informed the scripting of
stage action in The Doll.
“Blokes of the she’ll-be-right persuasion”
Enactments of masculine violence abound in the realist plays of the
late 1950s and early 1960s. Playwrights and performers used the
emotionally charged methods of realist acting to generate moments of
climax, in accordance with otherwise classically derived conceptions
of dramatic form which, in particular, applauded playwrights who
provided for a strong second-act curtain.
The prominence of these moments of climactic violence for
audiences at the time is evident in a Cinesound newsreel from 1957
which announced the transfer of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll to
London (“Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” 1957a).
The newsreel’s
producer chose to film the fight between Barney and Roo at the end of
act 2 as the scene with which to metonymically represent the whole
play. “Barney and Roo, for sixteen years, journeyed south from the
cane-cutting fields of Queensland and each year they give their girls a
kewpie doll”, explains the newsreel announcer as Barney charges at
Roo. Roo swings a stage punch at Barney, grapples him by the throat
and wrestles him down onto the table. Olive rushes in, yelling “Stop
it, Roo, stop it!”, followed by Emma (“Pair of flamin’ larrikins!”),
Bubba and Pearl. Olive breaks up the fight, but the scene is set for
accusation, admission and climactic revelation. Barney challenges
Roo to admit they had “a rotten season up north”; Barney, with his

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was first performed at the Union Theatre,
University of Melbourne on 28 November 1955 in a production directed by John
Sumner. The production transferred to the Elizabethan Theatre in Sydney, in
January 1956, and returned to the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, in July of that
year. The AETT toured productions of The Doll around Australia from 1956 to
1960 and the play has been regularly revived since that time.
Fists, boots and blues 41
arm held twisted behind his back by Roo, reveals that Roo “never had
a bad back”; and Roo, after tossing Barney into a chair, reveals how
many knock-backs from women Barney has had. “And Nancy”, yells
Roo at Barney, who is cowering in an armchair, “after seventeen
years, you couldn’t even hold Nancy!”. At this point, Barney reaches
for a vase containing the kewpie dolls and swings it at Roo’s head,
although it is Roo who, grabbing the vase, brings it crashing to the
floor, smashing the vase and scattering the dolls. As Olive kneels
among the shards and nurses the doll to her bosom, the announcer,
leaping ahead to the end of act 3, condenses the whole play in this
climactic moment: “The seventeenth doll is shattered, symbol of a
broken romance. But for the cast it’s the end of another triumphant
performance. And let’s hope there are many more like it, as The Doll
goes overseas”.
There were, indeed, many more like it—many more performances
of The Doll, but also many more plays like The Doll, which created
climactic moments from the violence of men. Following The Doll
with its blue between Barney and Roo at the end of act 2 and Roo’s fit
of pique in smashing the doll at the end of act 3, there were stage
productions of:
• Barbara Vernon’s The Multi-Coloured Umbrella (1961), from
1957, in which two brothers fight amid sexual jealousies inflamed
by alcohol, one brandishing a broken bottle as a weapon, the other
falling from a balcony in his attempt to retreat (see chapter 9)
• Richard Beynon’s The Shifting Heart (1958), also from 1957, in
which the narrative is impelled by violent acts represented on stage
in a parade of physical injuries and domestic conflict: Gino’s
slashed face, Leila’s black eye, and Clarrie’s smashed fist
• Ru Pullan’s Curly on the Rack (1958), from 1958, in which a
group of men come to blows over the spoils of war amid the
tropical torpor and paranoid anarchy of post-war Rabaul (see
chapter 5)
• Anthony Coburn’s The Bastard Country (1963), from 1959, a
revenge play set in outback Victoria, in which a Greek peasant
avenges the war-time rape and murder of his wife by infiltrating
the perpetrator’s family, killing their farm dog, marrying the
daughter, and murdering (in self-defence) the crazed father (see
chapter 3)
Men at Play 42
• Peter Kenna’s The Slaughter of St Teresa’s Day (1972), also from
1959, in which pandemonium breaks out, a man is stabbed, and
another shot, despite Oola’s efforts to keep her annual St Teresa’s
Day party free of the alcohol and weapons which are so often
coincident with violence
• John Hepworth’s The Beast in View (1961), another from 1959 (a
good year!), in which a young man from the slaughter yards of an
abattoir, at odds with the sexualised sophistication and alcoholic
highjinks of his boarding house mates, bashes his girlfriend to
death behind the couch
• Oriel Gray’s Burst of Summer (1960a; 1960b; 1998), from 1960, a
study of race relations in a country town, in which an Anglo-
Australian footballer blinds an Indigenous man with a broken
bottle and attempts to take hostages with a shotgun (see chapter 4)
• Ru Pullan’s Bird with a Medal (1961), from 1961, a study of youth
culture in which a young man, confounded by femininity and
heterosexual desires, stabs another young man with a garden fork
to prevent him from prostituting his girlfriend.
It was a winning formula: realistic enactments of masculine violence
at moments of dramatic climax generated theatrical experiences that
were socially compelling, distinctly masculine, and appropriately
Australian. It was, in effect, a solution to the problems of staging “the
masculinity of Australian life”. As Max Harris explained in his review
of the premiere production of The Beast in View:
It would seem as if Australian drama is going to develop steadily along the
lines of realistic melodrama. It is being peopled with characters who are
tough, sinewy, and resilient, but by no means as insensitive as they seem. If
you think of ‘The Doll’, ‘Shifting Heart’, ‘Bastard Country’, and now ‘The
Beast in View’, you will find the central figures are blokes of the she’ll-be-
right persuasion who have become lost and bewildered in situations where
this rough and ready philosophy won’t work. (Harris 1959)

Robin Lovejoy’s premiere production of The Slaughter of St Teresa’s Day opened
at the Elizabethan Theatre, Sydney, on 11 March 1959. The play was also
produced by the Melbourne Little Theatre (opening 26 October 1961) and the
Adelaide Repertory Theatre (8 May 1962). On 23 May 1960, ABC Television in
Sydney broadcast a studio production directed by Alan Burke. Production details
on other plays are provided when they are addressed in this and other chapters as
The Beast in View, directed by John Edmund, produced by the Adelaide
University Theatre Guild (AUTG), opened at the Union Hall, on 20 November
Fists, boots and blues 43
What troubled these “she’ll-be-right” blokes of the realist plays was
their entanglement in shifting dynamics of gender and ethnic
difference. Their response to the situations they blunder upon and
become bewildered by was invariably and inevitably violent. This is
how Harris describes, with some sympathy, what happens to the
“she’ll-be-right” bloke of The Beast in View:
Bodge, a 21-year-old slaughterman, [is] a ring-in from the espressos of the
Cross, confused as a penned ox in this atmosphere of beat-up sophistication.
Seduced by Elli [the boarding house landlady], and teased by a little tart from
the Cross he has brought home, Bodge deals with his caged misery the only
way inarticulate man or beast can […] by violence. He strangles his little tart.
(Harris 1959)
The idea of entanglement as a way of describing the gender trouble
that precipitates enactments of masculine violence arose from a survey
of publicity photographs from productions of these plays. One kind of
image that was generated in production and selected for publicity
purposes depicted male and female actors in close physical contact,
with their limbs crossing or entwined, and their musculature
manifesting degrees of tension or strain (see figure 2.1). Textually,
these moments of entanglement are structured in play scripts as
oscillations between romantic affection and sexualised violence. One
such moment is from The Beast in View. It reveals how such
oscillation is textually composed from a sequencing of physical
actions and verbal utterances. Bodge, who is also known as Joey, is at
a cafe with his girlfriend, Kathie, who has just been evicted. Keen to
help out, Bodge shows Kathie a one pound note that he had borrowed
earlier from his landlady:
KATHIE: And what do you think you can buy for that, boy?
BODGE: You don’t buy outright these days, girl—no-one pays cash—it’s all
time payment—and here’s our deposit on the whole world!
KATHIE: Except for me, brother—except for me.
BODGE: (still playing it light) Can’t you be had by installments?
KATHIE: Strictly for cash, boy, and if that’s your offer it’s good for a short-
time—down in the park—bending over.
(BODGE’S face is suddenly deathly white. He reaches his hands across
the table and seizes her hands. She gasps, immobilised, but her neck
stretching with the sudden pain.)
BODGE: Don’t say that.

1959. It received two subsequent productions, in Richmond, Victoria, at the Arts
Theatre in 1961 and in Sydenham, NSW, at the Pocket Playhouse in 1962.
Men at Play 44
KATHIE: (gasping) What did I say? … you’re hurting …
BODGE: You’re not a tart—you’re just a kid—(shakes her) understand that!
There’s nothing clever or smart about being dirty like that.
KATHIE: (with playful defiance) And I suppose you’re just a clean-living boy
… it’s just the dreams that keep you awake and give you bags under the
eyes … you never played sniggle in the long grass on your way home
from school. (BODGE shakes her) … You’re hurting.
STUBBSY: (appears, laconically) Hey Joey! (BODGE relaxes his grip on her but
does not turn around at STUBBSY’S voice.) I do not mind how my
customers get their kicks—live and let live is my motto—but I am trying
to run this as a family establishment—if you please! (Pause)
BODGE: (speaking to KATHIE, not to STUBBS) … Sorry …
STUBBS: (shrugs) Maybe it’s a way of life … (off)
KATHIE: (massaging her bruised wrists) What’s this—the big strong male?
BODGE: I’m sorry …
KATHIE: Oh sure—that’s a way of making everything right, to say I’m sorry

BODGE: (his face whitening again) … what the hell else do you want me to
say … ?
KATHIE: I don’t want you to say anything … I don’t belong to you, boy … no-
one puts their hands on me … I don’t want anything from you. Stick it!
BODGE: (on his feet, shivering with the effort to control himself) Right, doll.
Go your own way … just keep away from me … (He turns to go. As he
reaches the edge of the light, KATHIE calls.)
(BODGE stops. Tormented, irresolute.)
KATHIE: Joey. I’m sorry.
(He turns slowly. And when he speaks it is almost beseeching.)
BODGE: Don’t do that again, doll. I may not be able to walk away.
KATHIE: (coaxing) Come back.
(BODGE walks back slowly and walks behind her chair. He puts his
hands on her shoulders. She is sitting straight and still. His hands
linger lightly around her throat. One hand moves up and strokes her
BODGE: Baby. (His inflection is oddly the same as ELLI’S in the first scene.)
Don’t ever do that again. (Hepworth 1961: 1.2.3–4)
The oscillation in this scene between romance and violence, affection
and aggression is obvious enough. What is interesting is how crucial
the stage directions are to this oscillation. It is overwhelmingly Bodge
who is the subject of stage directions: it is he who visibly experiences
emotions—his face whitens, he shivers; and it is he who acts upon
Kathie: seizing her hands, shaking her, touching her shoulders,

Pages in the typescript are numbered according to act and scene. Slight alterations
have been made to spelling and punctuation where necessary to correct errors in
the typescript.
Fists, boots and blues 45
stroking her hair. In contrast, Kathie’s fewer stage directions mostly
qualify her speech—she “gasps”, she “coaxes”, she speaks with
“playful defiance”. In just one instance, she is directed to attend to the
impact of Bodge’s actions upon herself by “massaging her bruised
This imbalance in the way actions and words are textually
apportioned between the actors culminates in one of those photogenic
moments of entanglement. As Bodge places his hands on Kathie’s
shoulders, one hand lingering lightly around her throat, the other
stroking her hair, Kathie sits straight and still, tensed but otherwise
doing nothing. It also makes for some distinctly gendered irony as
Bodge inverts the imbalance and blames Kathie for instigating the
scene: “Don’t do that again, doll … Don’t ever do that again”,
beseeches Bodge. Indeed, Bodge’s abdication of agency in this scene
and elsewhere in the play is consistent with the way inarticulate
enactments of violence are made both sympathetic to an audience and
symptomatic of masculinity. “I never even thought about—it just
happened”, says Bodge of his affair with the landlady; “I didn’t mean
to do it. […] I just meant to shake her … Then I couldn’t stop” says
Bodge when Kathie’s body is later discovered (see also chapter 7).
Depicting male characters as sympathetic victims in their
perpetration of violent acts is not a straightforward task. One strategy
that the realist playwrights took was to stage scenes of frustrated rage
in which a male actor, overcome with emotion, lashes out with
destructive futility and inflicts violence, not at other people but at
other objects or the self. In a photograph from a production of Pullan’s
Bird with a Medal, we see Georgie, played by Peter Oyston, stabbing
at a comic book with a garden fork (see figure 2.2).
corresponding pages from a typescript of the play have handwritten
alterations for an actor playing Georgie, with words struck out and
inserted as indicated (bold) in the following excerpt. Jennie and Col
have just exited to the bedroom of Jennie’s flat, leaving Marry and
Georgie alone with a parcel of hot chips:
GEORGIE (staring after them): Where does all this stuff go?
MARRY: Who cares (moves a few plates to one end of table, puts the
newspaper parcel on the clear space and unwraps it. GEORGIE starts to
read comic.) What’s this? (finds garden fork)

Peter Randall’s premiere production of Bird with a Medal opened at Melbourne’s
Little Theatre on 16 March 1961.
Men at Play 46
GEORGIE (taking it): It’s for them weeds.
(MARRY helps herself to chip potatoes from the parcel. GEORGIE stands
at table reading the comic, drumming a tattoo with the fork.)
MARRY: That a new book? I’m beat …
GEORGIE: I don’t know … I just seen it … look, Mary … here’s somebody on
a bike … looks like Col. Marry … There’s a picture … man on a bike
… looks just like Col …
MARRY (glances at comic—shrugs): So …
(GEORGIE digs at the comic playfully with the fork. At that moment
JENN giggles from the bedroom. He looks up quickly and begins to
stab again and again at the comic until the movement is unmistakably
vicious and out of his control.)
JEN[N] (Off): Oh! Col.
The curtain falls to indicate passing of fifteen minutes.
At rise, the gram is playing loudly and MARRY and GEORGIE are
standing at the table, eating fish and chips from the parcel. COL enters
from the bedroom, doing up the zip of his pants … a moment later
JENN follows him, wearing a loose shirt in place of bra. (Pullan 1961:
The handwritten alterations to the typescript suggest that it was a
difficult moment for the actor to perform, requiring not just a giggle
off stage but an “Oh! Col” from Jen as the trigger to shift Georgie on
from digging playfully at the comic to stabbing viciously, again and
again and out of control. This action, which occurs some way into act
3, anticipates the climax a few pages later when Georgie actually does
stab Col in the stomach with the garden fork. As an acting challenge,
this scene makes similar demands of an actor to those made in similar
moments of solo male violence in other realist plays.
There is a scene in The Beast in View, where Bodge, alone in the
cafe, sits sullenly through the waiter’s diagnosis of “doll trouble” until
he can take it no more. The stage direction at this point specifies that
“Bodge suddenly lifts his fists and smashes them again and again on
the table” before jumping from his chair and rushing off left
(Hepworth 1961: 3.1.2). And there is a comparable moment in act 3 of
The Shifting Heart: it’s Christmas morning and Clarry finds himself
alone in the backyard. His wife is upstairs about to give birth and he’s
outside nursing a bruised and bloodied fist that got injured in a fight
last night.
CLARRY looks up at the window; moves wearily to the bed [on the
veranda] and flops on its side, his head sagging uncontrollably.
Silence. Then the sound of children—shrill with the excitement of new-
found toys. CLARRY flings himself from the veranda. Offstage, the
Fists, boots and blues 47
children laugh in high-pitched squeals. He sags against the fence R.,
turns to face it, supporting himself—arms outstretched along its top.
Then he brings his right fist down and painfully, wilfully begins to
punch, and punch the fence. Each new punch squeezing gasps of
uncontainable pain from him. (Beynon 1958: 92; see chapter 6)
For an actor playing Georgie, Bodge or Clarry, these scenes demand a
capacity to sustain the trajectory of an emotional score through action
alone, through a progressively sequenced emotional crescendo of
otherwise senseless and repetitive action.
Masculine violence as emotional expression
In the realist plays of the late 1950s and early 1960s, intimate
interactions between men and women oscillated between romantic
affection and violent action. Sex and violence were dramatised as the
flipsides of men’s response to their emotional entanglement in gender
relations. In moments of intimacy that mingled violence with affection
and in sympathy-inducing solo moments of frustrated rage, dramatists
directed male actors to draw on a physical capacity for emotional
expression, increasingly without recourse to linguistic expression.
This emphasis on physical action afforded a more realistic, more
masculine, more Australian mode of theatrical expression than the
linguistic eloquence associated with British tradition of classical
acting. In short, the men acting in these plays were required to get just
as emotional as the women, and often more so. But they were also
required to express emotion on stage, not with recourse to linguistic
eloquence, but in realistic acts of violence which effectively
theatricalised the “masculinity of Australian life”.
There was no question, however, that Australian men should
experience emotion and express it on stage; nor that enacting
emotional experience should be the business of an Australian
theatre—even when characters were required to experience emotions
“too deep for their expression”, as must an actor playing Roo in
performing that almost inexpressible affect prescribed by Lawler in a
stage direction at the end of The Doll.
His body sags as the tremendous energy sustaining him through this
last effort starts to drain away. Swaying a little on his feet like a

The Shifting Heart premiered at the Elizabethan Theatre, Sydney, on 4 October
1957; the producer was May Hollinworth. The AETT toured the production
around Australia and to London in 1958 and 1959.
Men at Play 48
beaten bull, he slowly folds down on to the piano stool and buries his
face in his hands. Something breaks deep within him, but there is no
movement in his body, he is far too inarticulate for the release of
tears. (Lawler 1957: 128)
Whatever the challenges of enacting emotional inarticulacy for an
actor, there can be little doubt that audiences of The Doll enjoyed
seeing male actors express emotion on stage. An audience member
recorded his response to actor Kenneth Warren playing Roo at the
Theatre Royal, Adelaide, on 9 September 1956: “I particularly liked
the last scene where he ripped the 17th doll to shreds, and broke down
in uncontrollable tears” (White 1956). Whether Warren did, in fact,
cry uncontrollable tears in that performance or whether the spectator’s
memory embroidered the emotional intensity of the scene, this
memory-image of a man on stage overwrought with emotion is
strikingly fresh.
Examination of a prompt copy used for The Doll’s regional tour
from 1956 to 1958 partially reveals two earlier versions of the final
scene, both of which differ markedly from the published version in
their apportioning of words and actions, particularly to Roo. In the
prompt copy’s uppermost version, after smashing the doll, Roo “turns
to Barney, speaking in a voice nakedly torn with frustration” and
exclaims: “Well what are you waiting for—pack up! You heard what
she said—we’re finished here. And there’s a whole bloody country
out there—wide open before us!” (Thompson 1956: 3.28–29). In an
earlier version, which is partially obscured, the scene has Barney
delivering this line: “We’ll be on our own, Roo, making a fresh
start—the whole bloody country wide open before us!”, and the play
ends with Roo “repeating mechanically”, “The whole [bloody]
country wide open before us … ” (Thompson 1956: 3.29). Evidently,
during those early years of rehearsal and production, Lawler
experimented with the mix of words and actions in finding the best
way to resolve relations between Barney and Roo at the end of the
What becomes apparent when comparing the different endings
in succession is that spoken words are progressively withdrawn from
Roo and replaced by increasingly elaborate directions for physical
action. As Roo becomes less verbally articulate with each version of

According to Geoffrey Hutton, “[t]he last scene of The Doll, for instance, changed
shape between its first and second production” (1960).
Fists, boots and blues 49
the scene, his physical actions become more expressive of emotional
Reconceiving acts of masculine violence in the realist plays of the
1950s and 1960s as a theatrical mode of emotional expression draws
into question popular ideas about Australian men, their emotional
inarticulacy or immaturity and their recourse to violence. What has
developed in the decades since then is a critical perspective on the
way realistic portrayals of emotional drama in gender relations have,
according to dramaturgical convention, naturally resulted in violence.
Violent acts enacted by men continue to animate performances and
attract audiences for such plays as Gordon Graham’s The Boys (1994),
Nick Enright’s Blackrock (1996c) and Daniel Keene’s Untitled
Monologue (2000a). But whereas such violent acts may once have
indicated the natural expression of a man’s national character, they
now come reconfigured within a marginalised disposition comprising
youthfulness, unemployment, criminal delinquency and social
disadvantage which men may potentially transcend (Butterss 1998).
In Gary’s House (1996), Debra Oswald revisits the traditional
inarticulacy of the national character.
Gary is a practical man of
action, a traditional bloke drawn from a vanishing Australia. He
stubbornly tries to fulfil the traditional bloke’s dream of earning the
right to fatherhood (his girlfriend Sue-Anne is pregnant) by building
his own house on his own land. Emphasising Gary’s “practical
materialism”, the house itself is built by the actor on stage as the first
act progresses (see figure 2.3). But the landscape has changed. Having
gone bush to salvage their lives from welfare dependency and
suburban boredom, to eke out a life of their own on the margins of
mainstream society, Gary discovers that the land is not his to build on
alone (it is a joint inheritance with his sister, Christine). What is more,
Gary’s recourse to inarticulate violence is no moment of climax at the
end of the play. It is presented from the outset in the opening scene:
GARY is working on the site, hammering down sheets of flooring onto
the brick footings. He calls to the campsite offstage. [...] There’s no
answer [...] he hurls the hammer down and stalks towards the
campsite, winding himself up into a stiff-necked rage [...] until the

Kim Durban’s premiere production of Gary’s House opened at the Q Theatre,
Penrith, on 1 March 1996, and later played for seasons at the Playbox Theatre,
Melbourne, from 29 March, and the Gold Coast Arts Centre, Surfers Paradise,
from 15 May.
Men at Play 50
sinews in his neck are snapped tight. The rage overtakes GARY
physically, like a fit that he’s accustomed to handling [...] He stabs his
head against the air, arms jerking to stop himself punching at nothing.
He circles, trying to absorb the anger in constant movement. Finally
he stops, sucking in short, sharp breaths. He consciously places his
body in a controlled posture, to make his body act out the movements
of a calm and reasonable person. He walks back to the footings. He
starts nailing again, attacking the task fiercely, pushing the rage into
each swing of the job. The rage subsides gradually. (Oswald 1996:
In earlier plays, a propensity for inarticulate violence entangled men
in their relationships with women, and here it is Gary’s girlfriend,
Sue-Anne, who has the greatest capacity to wind him up. Where
Gary’s House differs from the earlier plays is that the characters,
including Gary, do not regard violence as natural, inevitable or
excusable. Violence now figures as a cultural response which can be
actively resisted: for the most part, Gary’s aggression is channelled
constructively into the act of house-building.
Gary’s character has also been influenced by changes in social
attitudes to fatherhood. As a father-to-be, Gary cares for his partner
and her unborn baby in a knowledgeable and nurturing way, which
contrasts with Clarrie’s comparative indifference to his wife’s
pregnancy in The Shifting Heart. Not that the problems Gary
encounters in relating to Sue-Anne and his sister, Christine, are
readily resolved. On the contrary, Gary’s relationship with Sue-Anne
worsens during the first half of the play to the point where, shockingly
and unexpectedly before interval, he shoots himself.
The second half of the play explores the possibilities of more
sustainable gender relations for the other two male characters who,
though less aggressive than Gary, are no less inarticulate. By the end,
they seem to have achieved this in strange but workable relationships
with Sue-Anne and Christine. In a final action, wordless again yet
emotionally articulate, Gary reappears as a ghost, a memory or fantasy
of what might have been:
[...] the door swings open wider. GARY is standing in the doorway of
the house. CHRISTINE stands and stares at him, holding the crying
baby. Then, on impulse, she hands the baby over to him. He pulls the
baby in close to his shoulder, head cradled into his neck. He rubs the
baby’s back soothingly, drinking in his feel and smell. The baby settles
into silence within seconds. GARY and CHRISTINE exchange a smile.
Fists, boots and blues 51
Gary’s House stages a plausibly successful resolution to the problems
encountered by Australian “blokes of the she’ll-be-right persuasion
who have become lost and bewildered in situations where this rough
and ready philosophy won’t work” (Harris 1959). It demonstrates the
possibilities of men constructively expressing emotion and achieving
sustenance in gender relations, even without linguistic articulation,
eloquent or otherwise. But in bringing back Gary as a dead man to act
out these possibilities, the play recognises that such solutions may not
be straightforward or even possible in the social world of its audience.
Figure 2.1 The Shifting Heart
Frank Waters as Clarry Fowler, Dinah Shearing as Maria Fowler and
Lyndall Barbour as Momma Bianchi in The Shifting Heart by Richard
Beynon at the Elizabethan Theatre, Sydney, October 1957. (Reproduced
by courtesy of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust from Australian
Theatre Year Book 1957, ed. Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust,
Melbourne: F.W. Cheshire.)
Figure 2.2 Bird with a Medal
Peter Oyston as Georgie and Lorna Bollman as Marry in Bird with a
Medal by Ru Pullan at the Melbourne Little Theatre in March 1961.
(Reproduced by courtesy of St Martin’s Theatre, Melbourne, from
Theatregoer 2/2-3: 37.)
Figure 2.3 Gary’s House
Shane Connor as Gary in the premiere co-production of Debra Oswald’s
Gary’s House by Q Theatre Company, Penrith, and Playbox Theatre
Centre, Melbourne, in 1996. (Photograph by Geoff Beatty, reproduced
with permission and by courtesy of Currency Press.)
Chapter 3
The bully and the businessman
The word bully, like the word masculinity, is treacherously slippery,
and its meaning has changed surprisingly over time. According to the
Oxford English Dictionary, its early sense was positive, meaning
‘friend’ or ‘lover’, a sense which is retained in Shakespeare’s A
Midsummer Night’s Dream. The star actor among the amateur troupe
of “rude mechanicals” is called, with admiration and affection, by one
of his fellows, “O sweet bully Bottom!” (4.2.19). Interestingly, the
term was originally applicable to both men and women, but was later
restricted to men only. Gradually it shifted from meaning something
like ‘a good fellow’, gaining the sense of ‘a swaggering braggart’, and
from that to the ‘petty tyrant’ of today’s meaning. But if the modern
sense of the word is relatively recent, the activity it describes has been
in evidence for a long time.
The scholarly literature on bullying is new, and tends to treat the
phenomenon narrowly as a pathological or sadistic form of behaviour.
According to one recent study, the first decade of research on the topic
(up to about the year 2000) was concerned with
definitional issues, incidence, causal factors, consequences and descriptive
dimensions of the experience, and these mainly focused on the individual who
had experienced the bullying. (McCarthy, Sheehan and Wilkie 1996: x)
This chapter looks at examples of the problem in Australian play
scripts to think more broadly about bullying, and about its function in
society. Australian plays tend to focus on bullying as a male activity,
but there are examples in the theatre and in the world of bullying by
women as well (see, for example, Charitable Intent below).
Definitions of bullying have been notoriously contentious, but a
workable one comes from Peter Randall’s Adult Bullying: Perpet-
rators and Victims: “Bullying is the aggressive behaviour arising from
the deliberate intent to cause physical or psychological distress to
The bully and the businessman 53
others” (1997: 4). This is a good starting point, but it is helpful in
studying the phenomenon in a theatrical context to add something
about the abuse of power: bullying normally depends on the bullies
knowingly taking advantage of their greater power, physical or
otherwise, in order to cause distress to victims who are relatively
unable to defend themselves.
The charivari as bullying
One of the earliest records of ritualised, theatricalised and
institutionalised bullying is outlined by Natalie Zemon Davis in
Society and Culture in Early Modern France (1975). Davis focuses on
the phenomenon of the charivari, the dark side of the medieval
carnival, which fits within the definition of bullying. The orchestrated
activities of the bullies were part of a recurrent theatrical event,
widespread throughout Europe, which included forms of popular
Real people were mocked […] in clamorous charivaris and parades for their
real everyday behaviour: husbands beaten by their wives were led by a noisy
masked and costumed throng through the town facing backwards on an ass
[...], or if not the husband himself then a neighbour who shouted “it is not for
my deed, it is for my neighbour’s.” Often the form in which this monstrous
reversal of nature had occurred was acted out: thus a 1566 festival in Lyon
included seven floats in which husbands identified by street and occupation
were being beaten variously with tripe, wooden sticks, knives, forks, spoons,
frying pans, trenchers and water pots: were having stones thrown at them;
were having their beards pulled; and were being kicked in the genitalia [...]
Nor were these the only victims of charivaris: widows or widowers
remarrying were vulnerable, as were husbands deceived by their wives and
husbands who beat their wives during the month of May (a special month for
women). (100)
The staged and theatrical nature of some of these events is evident,
with actors standing in for the original protagonists, and with the
victims humiliated by proxy. Davis’s descriptions of the charivari
focus on the policing of accepted norms and the punishment of social
transgressions. A disproportionate number of the examples she cites
involve norms and transgressions concerning gender behaviour. In
these cases it is not the violent or unfaithful woman who is punished,
but the husband who is insufficiently masculine to keep her under
control. Thus the bullying of the charivari is designed not directly to
discourage wives from being stubborn, wilful or headstrong (qualities
which were routinely attributed to many women at the time), but to
Men at Play 54
ensure that their husbands are encouraged to act in an appropriately
masculine way when faced with female intransigence.
As well as the sadistic or pathological pleasure that bullies derive
from their actions, or the idea of mob hysteria which might be used to
explain communal bullying on the scale of the charivari, bullying
potentially contains an element of the enforcement of accepted social
behaviours, and especially those connected with gender, in situations
where there is little in the way of formal legal sanctions to be brought
to bear on transgressors. Without the bullying, the transgressors might
be able to keep on getting away with it.
An example of bullying to police gender is found in Nick Enright’s
Blackrock (1996c), a play which deals with the ugly side of teenage
urban masculinity in the context of the rape and murder of a young
When the aggressively masculine character Ricko returns
home at the start of the play, one of his mates, Jared, lapses
momentarily into sentiment saying, “I’ve missed you.” Ricko’s
response is, “What are you, a queer dog?”. The terminology is
undoubtedly derived from homophobia, but the taunt is jocular and the
two exit “sparring and laughing” (Enright 1996c: 7) after a brief
exchange of friendly insults. It is not a serious accusation that Jared is
homosexual; if true, that would be no joking matter in the world of the
boys in this play. Rather it is Ricko’s expression of disapproval of
what he thinks is inappropriately and worryingly unmasculine
behaviour on his friend’s part.
Domestic bullying
Australian plays from the 1950s locate the brutal policing of
masculine norms in the home. Anthony Coburn’s The Bastard
Country (1963) features a brutal father figure who uses violently
physical bullying tactics to enforce his own standard of masculinity on
his two sons.
This man, bearing the pseudo-phallic name of John

Blackrock was first performed by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC) at the
Wharf Theatre on 30 August 1995. This was followed by a production in
Newcastle, where the events it refers to took place, in March 1996. It has had
many subsequent productions in capital city and regional theatres.
The Bastard Country was first produced at the Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown,
Sydney, on 6 May 1959, directed by Robin Lovejoy. Under an alternative title,
Fire on the Wind, it toured widely around Australia for the rest of that year, and
was also given productions in Britain. It was adapted into an opera by Colin
Brumby (c. 1990).
The bully and the businessman 55
Willy, is an ex-serviceman and widower living a rugged farming life
with his two sons and his daughter, May, on the outskirts of
civilisation. The other resident of the farmhouse is the housekeeper,
Connie. John is a man who initially appears to be verging on the
conventionally heroic in Australian terms; he is at the full peak of his
patriarchal powers, in his mid-forties, and is described as “powerful”
(Coburn 1963: 4). He is white and xenophobic; he smokes and drinks;
he has no time for those who talk too much; and he betrays no sign of
weakness, either physical or emotional. When we first see him, he
enters the play with his sons after having spent the day fighting
bushfires. One of the boys tells the women that John is a more
effective firefighter than all the others combined: “Dad worked real
hard terday. You should ’ave seen him. He done more’n the whole of
the Brigade put together” (7). Starting with this apparently heroic
image, the play confronts head on the patriarchal myth which
underlies the portrayal of conventional Australian masculinity. The
action of the plot progressively reveals John as weak and frightened
underneath the hard exterior; finally it demonises him as a rapist and
murderer and, perhaps even worse in the drought-ravaged land where
he lives and works, as an arsonist (see figure 3.1).
The boys are unpromising material, especially Billy who is
“essentially gentle and well meaning […], pitiably unsure of himself
[and] lives in fear of his father” (4). Although they are technically
adults in their early twenties, they are infantilised—they are still
known by their childish nicknames, Billy and Possum—and at the
start of the play they are completely under the influence of their
father. It is clear that the boys will have to learn to become like him if
they are ever to achieve his respect, but as May says, the path is
daunting: “It must be terrible bein’ a man” (23).
At the end of the play, the two sons are alone on stage in the
farmhouse kitchen. Their crazed father has been killed, and the
drought outside the farmhouse has finally broken. Billy is unconscious
after having been severely bashed by John, and Possum, the script
says, “talks softly” to his brother: “It’s all over, Billy. All finished and
done with … And the rain has come at last” (54). To understand what
is “over”, it is necessary to read this passage alongside a speech by the
housekeeper, Connie, explaining why she has stayed in the house after
discovering that John had murdered his first wife.
Men at Play 56
I stayed because of you three kids. Now I’m glad I stayed. I got yer
through ter men, you and Billy and yer sister ter marry a good man.
(Indicates JOHN.) Whatever happens to him, now yer can run this place
yerselves and make decent lives if yer want ‘em. (40)
The play reads as a growing-up story, an ordeal for the young
characters through a difficult adolescence, which is represented by
both the harshness of the drought-stricken environment and the
bullying of the father, to the possibility of a more mature and humane
adulthood. The boys are emblematic of a young male Australian
nationhood, and the last scene of the play concludes a trajectory which
preoccupies a great deal of the detail of the script. What is “over” at
the play’s end is the harsh bullying which has blighted their lives and
tried to distort them into an unacceptable and inhumane form of
The play identifies John’s negative qualities with the harshness and
inhumanity of the Australian “bastard country” in which he is at
home, especially the severe drought, and the bushfires which rage
throughout the play as a consequence—like the drought and the heat,
he is responsible for fires. A critic of the time noted the parallel:
There is a symbolic analogy between [John Willy] and the fire, which, a
distant menace at the beginning of the play, gets out of control and threatens
to destroy them all. The murderous glare in the madman’s eyes, the very spit
and crackle of his voice, his leaping gestures are suggestive of the flames.
(Selby 1959)
John’s death is accompanied by the arrival of the rain and the
extinguishing of the bushfires. The implication is that the bastard
country and the bastard men who live in it are going to have to
It is the sons rather than May who are featured in this story. They
have to choose between two conflicting masculine role models—their
father and the Greek immigrant Diargos who comes into their lives.
Ultimately it is the gentler and more flexible humanity of the
newcomer which wins out and is presented as the better path.
The outsider, Diargos, exemplifies a kind of masculinity which
combines the best of the traditional qualities with something new. To
the theatre critic, Brek, he was, as played by Grant Taylor, “a solitary,
sun-blackened statue of a man” (Selby 1959). He is described in the
list of characters as “the biggest man in the cast”, and Connie’s first
response when she sees him approaching the house is to say, “You
The bully and the businessman 57
oughter see the size of ‘im!” (Coburn 1963: 8). Like the other men, he
smokes and drinks hard, and his physical power is made evident in his
first scene alone with John. In a spectacular display of strength
[DIARGOS] leans over JOHN. […] Suddenly he grips JOHN’s throat and
chokes him. JOHN struggles and DIARGOS shouts. […] As JOHN’s
struggles get weaker, DIARGOS lifts him right out of the chair and then
lets go. He stands against chimney piece and lights cigarette watching
JOHN struggling for breath. (14)
But he rejects the role of the bully. He is more inclined to gentleness
than the traditional Australian of the stereotype—a production photo
shows him lifting May off the ground affectionately (see figure 3.2)—
and, unlike the grim Willy family, he has a sense of humour. His
double position as outsider and hero involves the combination of
contradictory characteristics, a feature which was commented on by a
critic of the Sydney production:
The audience were as aware as the other characters of the power and
ascendancy of this man, implacable and stubborn, gay and tender, ruthless and
wise, so calm and confident of the rightness of his actions. (Selby 1959: 119)
This new version of masculinity in a narrow, conformist Australian
context does not have to be enforced by brutality.
A Fox in the Night was a flash in the pan in Adelaide in 1959 by a
young playwright, Barry Pree (1959; 1960; see chapter 7). It stages
another monstrously masculine father, Clarence Turney, and his
relationship with his nineteen-year-old son Michael.
The father is
described as “a colossal man, overweighted with fat and muscle”
(1960: 26). He is violently aggressive to all around him, but especially
his son who was described, in the first production, as having an
“almost feminine sensibility” (Harris 1960c: 53). Clarence, a farmer,
is proud of his own achievements in having tamed the land. He says
that the land is tough, “but what’s a man get if he works soft, sloppy
land all his life” (Pree 1960: 36). His pride in his land, and his own
efforts in surviving there, are counterbalanced by his shame at his son

A Fox in the Night, directed by Barry Pree, was first performed by the Adelaide
Theatre Group at Willard Hall on 28 May 1959. There was no subsequent
production. Pree (1939–1992) was appointed playwright-in-residence (or
apprentice playwright) with the UTRC in 1959. He adapted The Mystery of a
Hansom Cab from the novel by Fergus Hume for the 1960 UTRC season. See
Sumner (1993: 110). He left Australia in 1962 and died in Oxford, England.
Thanks to Alan Seymour for providing some biographical information.
Men at Play 58
whom he bullies mercilessly. “What is he?”, demands Clarence (27).
He treats Michael as both immature and feminine, saying in Michael’s
presence, “He’ll never grow up […] be like a blasted girl all his life!
[…] I want the boy to be a man” (27). A little later, when Michael has
offended him, the bullying turns into a physical fight: “Clarence
overcomes Michael with a blow in the stomach and the boy collapses
into the dust writhing in pain and bleeding from the mouth.” Clarence
then roars in triumph, “That will teach you who the man is around
here! He’s me! ME!” (32).
But in this play, time and age catch up with the patriarch.
Attempting obsessively to prove his masculine vigour, he engages in a
contest with his son for the affection of a young woman. She is
interested in neither of them, and she ultimately leaves with the
family’s life savings, which Clarence has been conned into giving her.
In the course of another fight with Michael towards the end of the
play, a rifle is accidentally discharged and Clarence loses his leg,
ending his ability to work the land and the last traces of his
masculinity. There are hints in the published version of the script that
he wants to kill himself with his gun, which has now been (oedipally)
appropriated by Michael, but he ends up physically and mentally
broken and permanently hospitalised, having lost out to the weakling
son whom he has goaded successfully into standing up for himself. (In
a typescript copy [Pree 1959], which probably represents the
production’s staging, the father does indeed suicide.) The policing of
gender through bullying has worked in this play, but to the detriment
of all the characters in the family.
Peer pressure and gender policing
The inherent violence of Australian masculinity was a favoured theme
in plays of the ‘new wave’, such as Jack Hibberd’s 1967 White with
Wire Wheels (1970), Alex Buzo’s 1968 Norm and Ahmed (1973)
which deals with an encounter between a white Australian and a
Pakistani outsider, and David Williamson’s 1971 The Removalists
(1972) which features the savage beating of a defenceless man by two
policemen. While some of these are not concerned with bullying in
the conventional sense, it is possible to see Norm’s violent treatment
of the physically weaker Ahmed and the fatal bashing of Kenny as an
ineffective husband in Williamson’s play as punishments of gender
behaviour which are deemed to be defective.
The bully and the businessman 59
Gordon Graham’s The Boys (1994) demonstrates the survival of
bullying as a form of gender policing within the family, even if only
in poor and deprived environments.
The play revolves around three
brothers, one of whom has just been released from prison, who
progressively work themselves up into a misogynist rage where they
commit a horrific rape and murder.
In the world of The Boys, the oldest of the three brothers, Brett, is
constantly and aggressively adjudicating appropriate masculine
behaviour (see figure 3.3). One of the first issues which provokes
conflict in the play is the gendering of cars. Brett is angry that he has
been collected from prison in a Corolla—which he characterises as “A
girlie’s car. A little girlie’s car” (Graham 1994: 45)—rather than his
own, now repossessed, V8 Monaro (13). The importance of owning
and driving an appropriate vehicle in order to perform proper
masculinity is emphasised later when Brett goes out to try to buy
himself a new car, “a car a man’d be proud to be seen in” (36), and
rejects his younger brother Stevie’s suggestion that they could go to
the car yards by bus: “Me?! Shit, you ever see a real man on a bus?
Ever?” (37).
Brett frequently bullies his brothers about the way they are treated
by their women. Brett’s major problem is with Jackie, an outsider with
middle-class aspirations who is the girlfriend of the middle brother,
Glenn. Jackie unsettles Brett because she has appropriated something
of the mobility and aggressive noisiness which, in Brett’s world, are
the prerogatives of men. Her first entrance is heralded by “a loud
knocking on the front door” (3) followed by her offstage demand for
the door to be opened. Throughout the play she makes more entrances
and exits to and from the property, often marked by noise, than do the
other women. This adoption of the male privilege to move freely and
intrude into the environment with aggressive noise is consistent with
her assertive dominance over Glenn, which infuriates Brett.
Brett’s response is to bully his brother into submission, by
insulting Jackie and accusing Glenn of being subordinate to her. He
accuses her of being responsible for Glenn’s loss of his own car:
“After all the fuckin’ man-hours we put into doin’ up his Premier he
lets his bitch twist his arm into trading it in on a little Jap shitbox”

The Boys was first performed at the Stables in Sydney in a production directed by
Alex Galleazzi for Griffin Theatre Company on 28 February 1991. It has had
subsequent performances in Victoria and Queensland, and was filmed in 1998.
Men at Play 60
(12). He abuses Glenn for doing Jackie’s bidding: “Let the bitch wait.
Since when do you let a chick tell you when you can come and go?
[…] That bitch of yours has got you by the balls. Pathetic!” (17).
When the verbal bullying of the early part of the play fails to have the
desired effect, Brett uses physical violence. Act 2 begins with a major
brawl between the two older brothers, where Brett
delivers a blow to GLENN’s head. He manages to get on top of GLENN,
wrenching his arm behind his back and grinding his face into the dirt.
GLENN groans in pain. (43)
He follows this up with more verbal abuse, explicitly challenging
Glenn’s masculinity: “She’s got you by the balls! Jesus, if you was
still any sort of a man you’d have backed me up” (46). When Glenn
finally capitulates to Brett’s demands that he break off with Jackie,
Brett’s tone changes to an approval which is still loaded with abuse:
“So, you finally woke up to yourself, have you? Well, about time,
that’s all I can say. Shit it hurt to see what was happenin’ to you. Me
own brother” (68).
Having finally got both of his brothers on side by relentless
bullying—the youngest brother, Stevie, has been an easier challenge
for Brett—and made men of them again, he turns his violent and
aggressive attitudes outwards, and begins to talk about violence
towards women as the proper way of achieving masculinity. When
Glenn says he feels like “punchin’ [women’s] lights out”, Brett
I reckon that’s about all you can do, too, if you want to come out of it with
any self-respect left. I mean, there’s a way a man deserves to feel, isn’t
there, by rights, like a soldier in battle, he’s fought and won? A bloody
warrior in the olden days, conquering! A hero! (68–69)
For these characters, bullying is an aggressive way of ensuring that an
equally aggressive form of masculinity is encouraged and enforced.
Peer-bullying among teenage boys is a theme that Jack Hibberd
explores in Slam Dunk (1996).
The play’s structure has parallels with
Norm and Ahmed—an encounter between representatives of a
dominant culture and someone who is an outsider, leading through
various kinds of bullying behaviour to ultimate violence where the

Slam Dunk was first performed at the Napier Street Theatre in Melbourne on
22 June 1995, directed by Daniel Schlusser. It has had subsequent productions in
Perth and at the Carlton Courthouse in Melbourne.
The bully and the businessman 61
outsider is physically attacked and, in this case, killed. Here the
outsider is Australian, a country boy from a farming background, and
white. But despite his name, Jock is explicitly accused by his attackers
as being inadequate in terms of masculinity—he is mild-mannered,
bespectacled and sensitive. In this play, however, the victim threatens
the self-esteem of his attackers with his greater intelligence, education
and articulacy.
The attackers, who have nicknames suggesting gross corporeal-
ity—Beefy and Chuck—behave like grotesque parodies of aggressive
young modern manhood. They work as a close-knit double act, with
repeated motifs and catch phrases in their words and actions. They
leer at and verbally harass passing women, re-enact violent sequences
from action movies, boast about cutting down native Australian trees
because they hate them and shoot a mother bird in her nest with an air
rifle. After eating hamburgers and drinking Coca-Cola, they
ostentatiously belch and then fart in unison (Hibberd 1996: 29). They
tease and abuse Jock because of his fondness for poetry, his rich
vocabulary and his interest in classical music and “thee-ay-ter” (9).
They also use his lack of interest in sport and rock music as a kind of
taunt. At various times he is accused of being a “homo” (7), of having
a small penis (12), and is degraded throughout the script as a freak, a
hayseed, a cornball, a loser, “four-eyes”, and, punning crudely on his
name, a joke.
There are some features which make the play’s treatment of
bullying and masculinity unusual. First, it is the sensitive and
intelligent outsider and victim, Jock, who is more obviously
associated with Australia; his mainstream aggressors are heavily
influenced by American film and television culture, so the problem of
anti-social youth is presented as an imposition from the outside, even
if it has taken over the dominant position in society. Second, Jock is a
more ambivalent and mysterious figure than he seems on the surface.
He seems to build a fictional persona for himself—the glasses he
wears have no lenses and seem like an affectation of a studious
demeanour—and although he ends up getting beaten and killed, he is
no submissive weakling. The end of the play requires an extensive
fight sequence where Jock largely gets the better of his two assailants
until he is overcome, defeated only because Chuck attacks him from
behind with a baseball bat. The play suggests that the problem of
excessive masculinity is no longer inherent in Australian nationhood
Men at Play 62
and manhood but something alien to the culture and imported via
American film and television.
Workplace bullying
Whereas violent acts and bullying may once have been considered the
natural expression of Australian men’s national character, and the
right, or even the responsibility, of authority figures within the family,
they are often now portrayed as socially undesirable and dangerous,
linked with features such as immaturity, unemployment, criminal
delinquency and other forms of social disadvantage. In other recent
plays, masculine aggression is transposed, abstracted and even in
some instances idealised in the competitive bullying of the business
environment. The figures of the bully and the businessman converge
in a range of plays set in the workplace: John O’Donoghue’s
Essington Lewis: I Am Work (1987), Stephen Sewell’s Dreams in an
Empty City (1986), David Williamson’s Sons of Cain (1985) and
Corporate Vibes (2001), and Tony McNamara’s The John Wayne
Principle (1997).
O’Donoghue’s musical play Essington Lewis: I Am Work begins
with a song, the first verse of which sets the scene for an extended
dramatic investigation of masculinity in Australia:
Now the Lord God knows,
When a man is weak,
And the Lord God cares
For the strong and meek;
But a man must stand
On his own two feet
And work,
If he wants to be a man. (O’Donoghue 1987: 5)
This play, especially the first act, presents another young man’s
growing-up story, similar to The Bastard Country (see figure 3.4).
There are important differences, but as with the earlier play, there is
an image of a youthful Australian male who is being forced to become
a man under the harshly critical and abusive influence of a successful
father who wants his son to be like him. The first image of the father,

Aarne Neeme’s premiere production of Essington Lewis: I Am Work for the
Hunter Valley Theatre Company opened at the Civic Playhouse in Newcastle on
5 September 1981. Since then it has had numerous revivals and has been
performed in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane.
The bully and the businessman 63
John, shows him “carrying a large Bible and stockwhip. He [...] sits
erect, a stern, patriarchal figure; tough, rough and rhadamantine” (7).
Unlike the earlier play, there is less emphasis on overt bullying
behaviour onstage, but the process which is inflicted on the boy is
nevertheless brutal and based on a typical abuse of power. In this play,
however, the harshness of the father is intended not only to punish
actual gender transgressions but also to instil a particularly machine-
like and inhuman kind of manliness in his son.
The play’s underlying narrative of masculinity, dealing as it does
with the biography of a man who achieved fame as a managing
director and board chairman of the giant Australian mining and steel-
making company BHP, is that men start out as unpromising-looking
raw material for gender, and that true masculinity is something that
needs to be artificially created under the extreme conditions of a social
steelworks, just as the steel produced by BHP is smelted out of iron
ore with intense fire and formed under huge pressure. As Essington
Lewis says, “Life’s a rolling mill. You come in one shape and you go
out another” (10). The play deals with the process of Essington’s
development from an unlikely looking boy with tendencies towards
softness and effeminacy—there are hints of a strong emotional and
even sexual attraction toward a male friend—into a ruthlessly
successful businessman, and the human cost of that transformation.
The first act presents a series of bizarre ordeals that the youngster
has to undergo. First, he is given the name of Essington in honour of
one of his father’s achievements. When it is shortened to Essie at
school, the boy is subjected to teasing and bullying as a sissy—
something that he is required to endure and survive (9). His father
insists that his son develop an emotionally repressed stoicism, and he
is forbidden to cry when his mother dies. Then, to toughen him up, the
wealthy father sends his son off to work on a property far out in the
desert. The property is run by a crazed overseer called the Mad
Prophet, an obsessive figure whose religious fervour is in constant
struggle with his sexual appetites, and who keeps asking the young
Essington, “Is your arse sore, boy?” and “How’s your bum?” (15–16).
The son’s task in order to prove his masculinity, it seems, is to resist
being seduced or raped by the Prophet while they are cut off from
civilisation by floodwaters; his father’s voice urges him to keep his
“back to the wall, son” (21).
Men at Play 64
The play needs not only the father to help beat the boy into shape
but also a surrogate father-figure called Delprat—played by the same
actor as the father—who is so physically tough that he can crack
walnuts between his finger and thumb. Under Delprat’s influence,
Essington learns a kind of rote version of how to be a man. Part of this
teaching involves Essington becoming other than a man for a time, as
happens when he is strapped into the shafts of a cart like a draft horse
(30). Sex is problematic in this narrow version of masculinity, and
Essington’s first interest in women and his decision to marry are made
for him by Delprat (27, 32). When he does take a wife, she remains an
almost irrelevant aspect of his life. The play suggests that Essington
could have had a much more interesting and fulfilled career as an
actor in the company of the soprano Madge Elliot—and the play
emphasises the contrast between the two options through the doubling
of roles, with the same actor playing both the glamorous Madge and
the unnamed wife—but he rejects this option for a life in industry. His
sexual energies and interests are sublimated into his work for BHP: a
crucial theatrical moment in the boy’s delayed growing-up is his
participation in the tapping of the first BHP blast furnace in
Newcastle, which is described explicitly in terms of sexual penetration
In the first half, Essington’s masculinity is something imposed on
him by a rigorous and narrow upbringing which hardens him
unnaturally—the Mad Prophet says he has been “refined in the
furnace” (22)—and, in the second half, this old-fashioned form of
masculinity becomes the basis for his brutal and bullying success in
the world of big business. He is shown to be more complex and
humane than his teacher Delprat who boasts about his own brutality
and unpopularity as the boss of BHP when he presided over the
company during a lengthy miners’ strike (81–82). Essington rejects
this approach to industrial relations with the comment that “times
have changed” (82), and he is shown as being closer to the lives of the
workers than to the Melbourne-based industrialists he works with. He
is nevertheless hard and vindictive, and he deliberately bankrupts a
business associate who has insulted him (74–75). Politically, he is
presented as a quasi-fascist who rails against “crazy socialist
governments”, advocating “some kind of revolution to clear the air”
and a “strong leader to set the house in order”. He demands, “What’s
wrong with dictators? They get the job done [...] Democracy is an
The bully and the businessman 65
unmitigated failure” (74). Yet the portrait presented in the play is,
ultimately, a forgiving and affectionate image of a man on his
eightieth birthday who has earned the right to be satisfied with a long
life and proud of his achievements.
The personal cost to Essington of the life he has been forced to
choose is highlighted, in part, by the opportunities he has to sacrifice,
and also by the presence of an onstage alter-ego (or foil), the working
man Taffy Williams, who remains at his side throughout most of the
action. While Essington’s version of masculinity is created and
exercised during the play, Taffy becomes, literally, less and less of a
man, progressively losing an eye, an arm and a leg to battlefield
injuries during both world wars and an industrial accident in the
steelworks. Despite the injuries, Taffy seems, by the end of the play,
to have been a more complete and humane man than Essington, with a
greater sense of humour, a more spontaneous love of life, and a richer
and more loving relationship with his wife. Essington’s life, by
contrast, dwindles and diminishes to the point where he justifies the
title of the play. Instead of the expected boast, “I am a man”,
Essington Lewis and his achievements are restricted to the more
impoverished protestant ethic, “I am work”. The question that remains
to be asked is whether these ideas of work and masculinity are
mutually constitutive, or whether the human cost of Essington’s life is
such that they become exclusive of each other.
A final point about this play is its historical setting in the late
nineteenth century and early-to-mid-twentieth century. This may
explain the play’s contradictory attitude towards its subject. It was
first performed at a time when Australia was in economic transition,
moving away from the industrial and manufacturing mode based on
power and physicality which had made BHP legendary as the ‘Big
Australian’, towards a service economy where aggressive forms of
masculinity were less in demand than skills in communication and
human relations (see chapter 8). The play’s sympathy for Essington
and his world are part of a nostalgia—perhaps more keenly felt in
places like Newcastle which had been built on heavy industry—for a
bygone time when harsh men like Essington Lewis and Guillaume
Delprat could be simultaneously hated and respected because they
represented both exploitation and employment. Essington Lewis: I Am
Work is an exploration of a mode of manliness which was starting to
Men at Play 66
Boardroom bullies
Traces of this kind of workplace bullying nevertheless survive in two
significant plays with negative portraits of aggressive bullies as big-
time property developers. The two plays are different in their
approaches in that one has a tragic and one a comic structure. The
urban tragedy, Sewell’s Dreams in an Empty City (1986), presents a
powerful business magnate, Derek Wiesland, who habitually achieves
his goals through virulent verbal abuse and threats of violence and
Williamson’s Corporate Vibes (2001) deals more satirically
with bullying in the workplace, and the script’s dominant character,
Sam Siddons, is described as someone who could be elected
unopposed as President, Secretary and Treasurer of the Federated
Association of Bullies (Williamson 2001: 11).
Both of these bullies
are contrasted with other male characters who are more sensitive and,
in traditional terms, weaker and less masculine. In both plays, the
bullies express their contempt for those men around them whom they
see as indecisive and timid, and both indulge in occasional homo-
phobic tirades against certain characters. Wiesland is inflexible and
irredeemable, and his high-risk stubbornness and dishonesty are
instrumental in precipitating an apocalyptic stock market collapse.
Significantly, he loses out to another businessman, a well-educated
financier who collects art, quotes Camus and uses devious intelligence
rather than brute force. Sam’s crash-through-or-crash mentality in
Williamson’s play is presented at the start as a major part of the
reason that the company is in trouble but, under the influence of the
company’s new female, and Indigenous, Human Resources Officer, he
ultimately modifies his bullying manner, learns to communicate with
his staff and make decisions in a more consensual manner, and the
company is saved. In Sewell’s tragic structure, masculine bullying is
immutable and catastrophe is inevitable; Williamson’s comic structure
suggests that masculinity can adapt to changing circumstances, find

Neil Armfield’s premiere production of Dreams in an Empty City for the State
Theatre Company of South Australia opened at the Playhouse, Adelaide, 1 March
1986. It was subsequently performed in London at the Lyric Theatre,
Hammersmith, and had productions in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Robyn Nevin’s premiere production of Corporate Vibes for the STC opened at the
Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House on 30 January 1999. It has had
subsequent productions in Brisbane and Melbourne.
The bully and the businessman 67
alternatives to bullying as a management technique, and continue to
Williamson’s Charitable Intent (2002), part of the Jack Manning
trilogy, is an unusual case.
Set within the workplace, it deals with
serious bullying perpetrated by a female chief executive officer. What
makes the play unusual, both within the trilogy and in terms of other
plays from the period, is that the bullying is not to do with the policing
of gender but is a manifestation of a desire for power in its own
right—a desire which is theatrically unmasked and shown in its true
form at the end of the play. This is the only play in the trilogy where a
character’s hidden villainous nature is revealed in a dramatic climax—
the other two have figures who are the authors of violent actions but
this is known from the start. To some extent, the conferencing format
in which the plays are written works to humanise these characters and
help the audience to understand something of their anti-social
behaviour. Charitable Intent, however, rather than displaying the act
of bullying as an example of gender enforcement so that the audience
can observe how it works, seems to be a kind of charivari in itself,
displaying, demonising and punishing a figure who has broken the
rules of gender by being a woman in a position of power.
Tony McNamara’s The John Wayne Principle (1997) deals with
both the family and the workplace, and charts a turning point in
masculinity from the bullying version of fatherhood in The Bastard
Country, A Fox in the Night and Essington Lewis: I Am Work, to
something incorporating features traditionally associated with the
feminine—a more caring and nurturing version of fatherhood.
play is an obvious place to look for gender issues; the “John Wayne
principle” in the title is, quite simply, “a man’s gotta do what a man’s
gotta do” (Dunne 1996a). However, in this play nothing is quite so
simple because the play, set in the world of big business, is more
broadly satirical in its criticism of brutal corporate and familial
bullying than the others.

Charitable Intent was first performed in Melbourne in 2001 in a production for La
Mama Theatre directed by Tom Gutteridge. The following year it was given
performances in Noosa as part of the Long Weekend Festival, with the author
appearing as an actor. In 2006 it was performed by the Perth Theatre Company
and in Sydney at the Ensemble Theatre.
The John Wayne Principle opened at the STC in a production by David Berthold
on 15 May 1996. In the following two years it had productions in Melbourne and
Men at Play 68
It spans both the workplace and the domestic sphere of the main
characters, who are members of a wealthy business dynasty. The
family includes the now familiar bullying father, who has been the
head of the company, and his two children: a hard-bitten elder
daughter, Serena, who, to some extent, takes after her father and
displays many of the traditionally masculine business attributes, and a
less-than-masculine (though thoroughly heterosexual) son, Robbie. In
the past, the father has abused and humiliated both his children in the
course of work, even slapping Robbie hard across the face in the
middle of a meeting (McNamara 1997: 7). Robbie has been driven out
of the world of big business by the actions of his father and is now
living with his wife and baby son away from the action in Far North
Queensland. But at the beginning of this play, almost as if picking up
from where A Fox in the Night left off, the father has already tried
(and failed) to blow his own head off with a gun, and he remains in a
coma until the end; he is described by his two disrespectful children as
a “hamburger with a pulse” (14).
In the world of McNamara’s play, the epoch of the patriarch is
already in the past, and we enter a new era of gender relations, and of
bullying. Because there is no longer the same sense of rigorously
differentiated gender to defend, and because the patriarch is
incapacitated, there is no longer so much need or opportunity for that
kind of bullying behaviour. The bullying after the shooting of the
father reverts to being primarily about the indulgence in power over
others for its own sake. This has been part of the father’s practice as
well, when he hasn’t been attacking his inadequate son. We learn that
one of his practices in the office has been to have his secretary, Sarah,
hide under the desk during meetings and perform fellatio while he is
doing business, as a way of indulging himself in his own power.
During the course of the play, with the father comatose and on life-
support, a struggle for control of the business develops between the
two siblings. Ultimately, and unexpectedly given the history of the
family, the sensitive brother and the more ruthless sister agree to share
power, though one stipulation is that Serena should get the desk. In
the penultimate scene she enthrones herself in her father’s chair,
watched by the secretary. Serena announces that her pen has fallen
onto the floor, under the desk. Sarah, compliantly, “throws a look to
the audience, shrugs” (53), and the lights fade.
The bully and the businessman 69
By the end of the play, bullying as a habit of power remains; but as
a means of policing and passing on business-style masculinity from
father to son it has been explicitly rejected. Robbie stands beside his
father’s hospital bed and explains that he is not going to demand the
same kind of masculinity of his boy, Sam. He says:
[...] you showed no restraint on people, did you? I have a son now. I look
at him sometimes and burn with how much I want for him and from him,
and then I remember how much you wanted from me. But I think I’d
rather he knew me than was scared of me. (53)
Then, in a final rejection of the past, he switches off the life-support
machine and Serena joins him to watch as the monitor flatlines.
Serena says to Robbie, “He’d be so proud” (53). The bullying of the
father is made complicit in its own destruction.
Viewed as a variant of the charivari which has the effect of
enforcing gender norms, the pattern of bullying in these plays suggests
two things. First, it might explain the ambivalent attitude within
Australian society towards bullying. Bullying is officially dis-
approved, but this is sometimes counterbalanced by a pervasive, tacit
tolerance and even encouragement of the actions of the bully by forces
of authority. This positive view of bullying as a way of encouraging
strongly masculine behaviour could explain why people with an
investment in traditional gender stereotypes (such as some school
teachers) might be inclined to turn a blind eye, or even act indulgently
towards the perpetrators.
On the other hand, the changing pattern of bullying in plays
provides evidence that, as gender distinctions between masculinity
and femininity have become more blurred in recent years, the function
of bullying in policing gender may be losing ground. Audiences may
now imagine and accept a tough Serena and a sensitive Robbie
without feeling that the gender lines or the boundaries of sexuality
have been improperly transgressed. This diminishes the justification
of a charivari of humiliation for the Robbies of the world in order to
maintain the integrity of masculinity. It might explain the growing
scholarly interest in bullying as a social phenomenon, and the greater
willingness to take a stand against it. It might suggest that now is a
particularly opportune time for society to tackle the problem.
Figure 3.1 The Bastard Country
Grant Taylor as Diargos and Patricia Conolly as May in Anthony Coburn’s
The Bastard Country at the Elizabethan Theatre, Newtown, in May 1959.
(Reproduced by courtesy of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre
Trust from Australian Theatre Year 1959/60,
ed. F.R. Harvey, F.P. Publications, Sydney.)
Figure 3.2 The Bastard Country
Frank Waters as John Willy in Anthony Coburn’s The Bastard Country at
the Elizabethan Theatre, Newtown, in May 1959. (Reproduced by courtesy
of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust from Australian Theatre Year
1959/60, ed. F.R. Harvey, F.P. Publications, Sydney.)
Figure 3.3 The Boys
David Field as Glenn (left), Peter Lehner as Stevie and David Wenham as
Brett in Gordon Graham’s The Boys for the Griffn Theatre Company at
the Stables Theatre in February 1991. (Photograph by Lynettte Wallworth,
reproduced with permission and by courtesy of Currency Press.)
Figure 3.4 Essington Lewis: I Am Work
Jonathan Biggins (left) and Vic Rooney in John O’Donoghue’s Essington
Lewis: I Am Work, directed by Aarne Neeme at the Civic Playhouse,
Newcastle, in January 1997. (Photograph by Newspix / Chris Pavlich,
reproduced with permission.)
Chapter 4
Black men, white men
Relations between white and Indigenous Australia are part of an
ongoing and highly charged social debate which has been argued
within theatre as well as other social forums. This chapter explores
what theatre can reveal about the interaction of masculinity,
fatherhood and authority in recounting the history and imagining the
future of race relations between Indigenous and white Australians. It
does this by comparing the enactment of Indigenous masculinities in
plays written by white and black playwrights. It turns first to some of
the white playwrights who attempted to portray Indigenous characters
in three plays from the late 1950s and early 1960s—David Ireland’s
Image in the Clay (1964), Oriel Gray’s Burst of Summer (1960a;
1960b; 1998) and Barbara Stellmach’s Dark Heritage (1973). The
portrayal of Indigenous characters in these plays is compared with that
in more recent plays—Richard Mellick’s Welcome to Broome (1998),
Richard J. Frankland’s Conversations with the Dead (2002) and
Katherine Thomson’s Wonderlands (2004).
The chapter then considers how some Indigenous playwrights have
sought a solution to the problem by drawing on the history of
Indigenous involvement in the sport of boxing to stage narratives of
generational succession, racial inheritance and masculine achievement
for Indigenous men. In plays featuring white Australian characters, the
tendency is for both boxing and the rugged, aggressive masculinity it
implies to be seen as dangerous, anti-social and unhealthy; such plays
tend to have a tragic structure. In plays by Indigenous playwrights,
such as Roger Bennett’s Up the Ladder (1997), boxing has a more
complex history which is tied in with the generally positive
experience of many young Indigenous men who took part in the
boxing tent shows entrepreneured by Jimmy Sharman and others.
Here boxing and the troupes of boxers can provide surrogate family
structures, and particularly an intense kind of father–son relationship
Black men, white men 71
which is often absent in other Indigenous theatre, and which allows
traditional skills and knowledge to be passed down from one
generation to the next. Boxing may provide both an escape from
second-class-citizen status and an acceptable way for young men to
achieve a masculine identity and respect which might otherwise be
denied them. But as Scott Rankin and Leah Purcell’s Box the Pony
(1999) illustrates, the sport can also represent the aggressive
masculinity implicated in acts of domestic violence perpetrated by
men against women. These plays reframe, from an Indigenous
perspective, conventional gender-based critiques of boxing’s
masculinist stance (Bollen 1996).
“Sittin’ on the dirt and sleepin’ on the ground”
Watched by an audience of sixty million people, a blonde girl skips
out into the middle of a large open space. No doubt following the
advice of her parents, before sitting down she takes the precaution of
spreading out a towel on the ground to avoid sitting on the dirt. This is
typical of the early training of white Australians. This image of Nikki
Webster, the young white Australian girl performing in the opening
ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, establishes a
contrast with the theatrical representations of Indigenous characters in
Australian theatre, where contact with the earth is a recurrent image.
The connection between Aboriginality and dirt is commonplace in
older Australian society. Francesca Bartlett writes about an
advertisement for “Nulla Nulla” soap from the 1920s in which “a
white woman’s hand hits the head of a crudely drawn ‘black’ face […]
and the text reads: ‘knocks dirt on the head’” (1999: 18). Many plays
featuring Indigenous characters by white playwrights emphasise
negative images of contact with dirt and the ground. An extreme
example is Phillip Grenville Mann’s Day of Glory (1971).
The play is
set in colonial Newcastle in 1830 and based on historical events. The
typescript opens with an image of three men. One white character is
sitting at a table and working. A second white character is lying down

The Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) production of Phillip Grenville Mann’s
Day of Glory opened at the Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne, on 7 July 1970.
According to the program, “The play has a cast of 25 and is based on actual
events in the colony of NSW in the 1830s. It tells the story of the murder of a
young Aborigine, set against a background of corruption and idealism” (Day of
Glory 1970).
Men at Play 72
half-asleep on a bunk. “In a downstage corner, locked in a cell,
crouches a naked aborigine, Jacko, aged about 20” (Mann 1971: 1).
Jacko is sitting on the ground and remains there for most of his brief
on-stage time. He never speaks, and eight pages later he is shot and
falls dead. His body remains lying prone until page 11 when he is
taken by the ankles and dragged away. Michael Boddy’s Cradle of
Hercules made overt the European association of dark skin with dirt.
According to Leslie Rees, the character of Bennelong in this play was
made “the chief object of Governor Phillip’s experiment in civilising
primitive man. Objecting violently, Bennelong is shaved, frontally
naked on the stage, then bathed in a tub” (1978: 91).
The association of Indigenous people with the earth is problem-
atised in Richard Mellick’s more recent Welcome to Broome (1998), a
play which contrasts white and Indigenous ways of life.
Here all the
white characters are male, and all the Indigenous characters female,
with the exception of a minor character, an older man called Uncle
Barney. An Indigenous female character, Chrissy, uses the image as
ammunition in the course of an argument with her white partner, Rob.
She accuses him and all white people of assuming that Indigenous
people “like sittin’ on the dirt and sleepin’ on the ground”. She says
aggressively, “that’s what you think, isn’t it?” (Mellick 1998: 33).
Rob has already given hints that he harbours underlying racist
attitudes by losing his temper and making Chrissy sit in the back of
his ute, as she says, “like I was a dog, like I was a fucking dog”. He
snaps back: “Well, you’re just a bunch of fuckin’ savages, anyway”
(32). He later tries to explain to another character his discomfort about
Indigenous customs involving the earth:
I’ve never had to sit down with the men before. But I had to do what was
expected. So I sat on the dirt with all the men. We all took our shirts off
and these old men painted us up … white ochre down the chest … the
arms … the face … I had no idea what I was meant to do … Chrissy
wasn’t with me—all the women were somewhere else—so I just sat on the
dirt with the men in the midday sun […] Some of the men began to lie
down, on their stomachs or on their side, curled up in the foetal position,

Michael Boddy’s Cradle of Hercules was performed in the Drama Theatre of the
Sydney Opera House in March 1974 in a production directed by George Whaley;
its only production as far as we know.
Welcome to Broome, directed by Michael Gow for the Black Swan Theatre
Company and Company B, was first performed in Perth in May 1998. It then had
a season at Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney in June 1998.
Black men, white men 73
on the hot dirt. Sweaty black skin on the hot, hard ground. But I couldn’t
lie down, I would’ve fried like an egg […] And then she tells me I’m
supposed to sit down with all the men and drink. How could I do that?
How could I? (37)
While the script at this point draws attention to the racist attitudes
which underlie Rob’s attempt at a kind of reconciliation, it also
reinforces familiar negative stereotypes by showing Uncle Barney, the
closest character to a male elder, as a perpetual drunkard who is rolled
onto the ground when Rob pulls his swag from underneath the old
man while he is asleep, snoring and nursing a hangover (18).
The problems of succeeding in a white world
Three plays from the 1950s by white playwrights dramatised the
problems that male Indigenous characters encounter in their
interactions with white Australia.
Image in the Clay by David Ireland
was first performed in 1959.
The title refers literally to small clay
figurines which are made by one of the major characters, but it also
associates the largely Indigenous inhabitants of the play with the
earth. The characters are a racial mix, ranging from Gorooh, an elder
of the local tribe; the main character, Gunner, who is described as a
“half-caste” (Ireland 1964: 17); through to Gunner’s father and wife,
both of whom are “white” (17). While a core group of characters
(Gunner, his father, Gorooh, and Billy, the elder of Gunner’s two
sons) spend a considerable amount of the play sitting about lazily on
the ground, they are outdone in this by Joy, a fifteen-year-old “half-
caste girl” (17) who is constantly wallowing in the dirt. A few stage
directions relating to Joy make it clear how explicit this is:
JOY, a little girl again, drops to the dust in a paddy. (22)
JOY is blubbering in the dirt. (22)
She sprawls in the dust […] The girl does not get up. (22)
She falls flat. (22)
JOY has been squatting; now she has fallen backwards with the shock
of the blast [of the shotgun]. (32)
JOY (near BILLY, belly-down in the dust […]) (54)

Vance Palmer’s Prisoners’ Country (1960), another play addressing race relations
from this period, is discussed in chapter 5.
Image in the Clay premiered at the Pocket Playhouse in Sydenham on 12 May
1959, directed by Norman McVicker. It had subsequent productions in Brisbane
and Perth in the 1960s.
Men at Play 74
JOY […] darts at GORDON and jumps him from at least six feet away.
JOY and GORDON, parcels and bags, descend with a splendid crash to
the ground. (60)
[JOY] laughs and falls on the ground. (96)
Joy is the only female Indigenous character. She is presented as being
full of life but infantile, erratic, drunken, irrationally demanding,
sexually indiscriminate, and doomed. Although the action of lying in
the dirt is hers much more than it is the men’s, to the extent that they
do the same they end up looking like her; thus they lose part of their
masculinity as it is defined in the play itself, falling away from the
ideal of manliness towards the feminine, the childish or the animal.
Gunner makes it clear that the association with dirt is linked with a
failure of masculinity:
GUNNER: […] And I’ll tell you something else. (Lifts BILLY’S hand and points
to his skin.) You think that’s the sun and the colour of your skin; but
sonny, it’s not. I’ll tell you what it is: It’s dirt! Grimed-in, smelly, lousy,
stinkin’ dirt! That’s how they look at it. They don’t want to touch you or
stand near you. They can deny it but it don’t do no good […] We try to
think their skin is wishy-washy and soft like the skin of a festered sore, or
like the naked, helpless skin of a skinned rabbit, but it doesn’t work for
long. There’s always the feeling that—well—they’re on top, maybe
they’re better than us; maybe white is the only colour to be. What does
that make us? … I’ll tell you what it makes us! It makes us not quite men.
Similar views are repeated at length by Gunner’s well-educated and
city-dwelling second son, Gordon, when he comes back home from
the city to visit his family. Despite being described as physically
impressive and “a man” on his first entrance—rather than the “skinny
little runt that Billy has led us to expect” (60)—he admits that he is
stigmatised as sub-human in the city because of his dark skin which
people see as dirt (88–90). Elsewhere, Gunner’s wife, Mary,
emphasises that Gunner, Gorooh and the others in her life are failures
in terms of masculinity; she says to them, “I haven’t seen a man for
many a long day, let alone spoken to one” (46).
In many plays featuring Indigenous characters, images of dirt and
the failure of masculinity are combined with problems to do with
fatherhood, and father figures are conspicuously absent. Image in the
Clay problematises the role of the father not by omission but by
multiplication and fragmentation. The character who emerges as
dominant by the end of the play, the “quarter-caste” Gordon (17), has
Black men, white men 75
three ineffective potential father figures. There is his “half-caste”
biological father who is a braggart and layabout; his aging white
grandfather who owns a timber mill that he is no longer able to work
himself; and Gorooh, the tribal elder who has outlived his influence
and usefulness and who is constantly complaining that the old no
longer have influence or prestige among the young. All three are, in
different ways, inadequate as role models.
Oriel Gray’s 1960 A Burst of Summer has three Indigenous
One is a film actress who has just returned to her home
town (based on Lismore) where she meets up with her long-term
friend and sweetheart, Don. He is a lawyer who has also returned
home to practise law after achieving first-class honours in a law
degree in Sydney. This unusually high level of academic achievement
suggests some kind of wish fulfilment, since there were very few, if
any, graduates with Indigenous backgrounds anywhere in Australia.
The third character, Eddy, is a more stereotypical figure with little
education, who has a degrading job washing dishes in the kitchen of a
café (see figure 4.1). The play associates him with laziness,
lackadaisical good humour, and a fondness for dancing and playing
One of the establishing images of race relations in the play happens
when Eddy clumsily drops and breaks some crockery he is drying. As
he goes on hands and knees to pick up the pieces, he finds himself
kneeling at the feet of the play’s most obvious racist, Mervyn Holmes.
The stage directions confirm that this position on the ground is one
which Eddy finds humiliating: “Eddy is on the floor, almost at
Mervyn’s feet as he picks up the china. He is aware of his abject
position” (Gray 1960b: 6). Later in the play Eddy is blinded by a
broken bottle wielded by Mervyn in a racial skirmish outside the café,
and in tending to him, both of the other Indigenous characters (but
none of the white characters) kneel down. Surprisingly, there is no
reference to either Don or Eddy having a father. The script might

Irene Mitchell’s premiere production of Burst of Summer opened at Melbourne’s
Little Theatre on 20 February 1960. A television adaptation directed by William
Sterling was broadcast by ABC Television, Sydney, on 30 September 1961. A
stage production directed by Murray George for the Adelaide Repertory Theatre
opened at the Arts Theatre, Adelaide, on 15 October 1966.
According to the Macquarie Encyclopedia of Australian Events, Charles Perkins
was “the first Aboriginal to graduate from an Australian university” in 1964
(Fraser and Atkinson 1997: 9).
Men at Play 76
seem more positive about their future as Indigenous men if there were
a role model they could turn to for advice about how to live their lives.
Barbara Stellmach’s Dark Heritage (1973) picks up the problem of
paternity which Burst of Summer ignores.
It uses both the trope of the
absent father and the image of abjection on the ground, though in
some unexpected ways. The pivotal character is Neil Harrison, who is
described as being a “quarter-blood” Aboriginal (with a note to the
production to go easy on the make-up) but nevertheless as sufficiently
dark to suffer from racial prejudice. He was born on “a big property
up in the northwest” (Stellmach 1973: 58). The play is extremely
complex in terms of fatherhood. Neil’s birth father is a white man, the
brother of the owner of the property, “a good-looking, spoilt young
intellectual who used to visit the station occasionally”, who has
“rather cruelly seduced” his Indigenous mother (58–59). An old man
called Joe Harrison, who is hovering on the outskirts of the play, may
be Neil’s mother’s Indigenous husband. He is looking for the boy he
brought up as his own son for the first three years of his life, until the
child was taken away by the authorities to be brought up and educated
in white society. Neil’s history fits with the boy’s, and he may be the
old man’s lost son, but he refuses to have anything to do with Joe. He
is an early example of the stolen generation on stage, and it is clear
that Neil’s separation from his Indigenous father is something that has
damaged him in terms of his sense of identity, his “dark heritage”,
even while it has allowed him to achieve material success in white
Like Don in Burst of Summer, Neil is exceptionally well educated,
and is a qualified and successful doctor—successful to the extent that
the racial prejudice in the world of the play will permit. He is married
to a young white woman, Sue. Significantly, there are no directions
for Neil to sit, crouch, kneel or lie on the ground in the script; on the
contrary, the only such reference comes at the dramatic climax of the
play, at the end of act 3 (of four acts), when Neil, goaded into a state
of exasperation both by Sue’s racist mother and by the unsettling
proximity of the man who might be his Indigenous father, strikes his
wife (as Othello does Desdemona) and sends her sprawling onto the

Dark Heritage was first performed in Brisbane in 1964 by the Villanova Players,
directed by Kevin Ryan. It was produced by the Adelaide Repertory Theatre,
directed by Harold Minear, later the same year. By 1973 it had been produced in
every state in Australia and had been broadcast by ABC radio in 1966.
Black men, white men 77
floor. The shocking brutality of the domestic violence is here
aggravated by racial issues, including both the stereotypical resort to
incoherent violence by a “black” man towards his white wife, and
further because it places the white woman in the physical position that
in these plays is usually reserved for Indigenous characters.
In their time, Image in the Clay, Burst of Summer and Dark
Heritage were progressive plays; they sought to criticise prevailing
racial attitudes and promote concern for Indigenous people among a
presumably white audience. Yet they also indicate pervasive attitudes
towards Indigenous men at the time. The plays seem unable to present
on stage the image of a mature, competent and successful Indigenous
male character who acknowledges his Aboriginality and who
embodies traditional knowledge and cultural practices—a character
who has learned aspects of a specifically Indigenous masculinity from
his own father, and who is in a position, as father in his turn, to act as
a role model to future generations of Indigenous boys. This is
aggravated by the recurrent trope of “sittin’ on the dirt and sleepin’ on
the ground”, a move which is associated with the link between dark
skin and dirt and a failure of masculinity, at least in the white versions
of it. The success of a more recent play by a major playwright, Louis
Nowra’s Radiance (1993), where the three Indigenous characters, all
of them female, end up sitting in a tidal estuary covered in mud,
suggests that something of these tropes survives into the present.
One play by a white playwright which shows an awareness of this
trope is Katherine Thomson’s Wonderlands (2004).
This play
initially rehabilitates the idea of sleeping on the ground as something
nostalgically associated with youthful white rural masculinity. Lon, a
white farmer “in his 40s or 50s”, reminisces:
You think back to those stock camps. Sleeping on the bare ground.
I probably wouldn’t get up again these days […] Still it can feel like a
mattress when you’ve done a hard day’s work. Until about three o’clock
in the morning when the Bundy wears off. (Thomson 2004: 3)

For more detailed analyses of Radiance and Nicholas Parsons’s Dead Heart
(1994), see Kiernander (2003).
Wonderlands was commissioned by HotHouse Theatre in Albury Wodonga, and
produced by the company at the Butter Factory Theatre. The production was
directed by Marion Potts and opened on 13 June 2003. It subsequently played at
the Riverina Playhouse in Wagga Wagga from 25 June, and at the Stables Theatre
in Sydney from 16 July. Angela Chaplin directed a production for Deckchair
Theatre Company at the Victoria Hall, Fremantle, which opened on 7 June 2007.
Men at Play 78
The play is a collection of different relationships with the earth. For
the white characters, the land quickly becomes harsh and dangerous.
The racist Lon, who owns the property where much of the action takes
place, “kicks his heel into the soil” and declares it “hard as iron” (3).
His wife, Cathy, is conducting an extra-marital affair with the bank
manager; their assignations take place outdoors on the river bank, and
to avoid the dirty ground she carries a picnic rug (33). Alice, who
appears as part of a flashback sequence set in 1931 when she was the
owner of the property, is a more sympathetic character. She is
recording evidence of local Indigenous families, histories and culture
based on her own memory and her father’s journal, but she dies as a
result of a fall from a horse onto the hard ground (16). Between the
time of her accident and her death, she spends much of the play sitting
or lying helplessly on the earth (58). By contrast, an Indigenous
character, Jim, in the flashback scenes, is constantly inspecting the
earth with great care as he moves around—to him, it is not dirt but a
source of different kinds of ochre which he is trying to collect for his
uncle who fears being sent away to Palm Island (24). His relationship
with it is one of knowledge, nurture and concern. But he, too,
recognises that the days of traditional Indigenous masculinity are in
the past. He laments:
But you know what gets up my goat? Why they aren’t putting up a fight.
Yirralong used to be warriors. Blood should be flowing in the river, fight
to the death before we get taken away. (30)
The play finally stages a tenuous link back to traditional ways, and to
a history which has been almost forgotten, through the survival of
Alice’s notebook and her father’s journal into the present day. At the
end of the play they are entrusted to an Indigenous woman, Edie, by
Cathie. The books in the hands of the women provide what hope there
is for the future, but by this time Jim is long dead, Lon is incapacitated
by repeated heart attacks, and his would-be son-in-law, Tom, has had
his hand blown off in an explosion. If there is a hope for a more
harmonious future, it is one which will be worked out without much
input from the male characters.

Alison Lyssa (2006) sees the ending as utopian, and reads into the play an
underlying series of metaphors which, despite the script’s eloquently expressed
sympathies for the Indigenous cause, reveal that it is written from a non-
Black men, white men 79
Missing fathers
The absence of the father in much dramatic writing by Indigenous
playwrights may be a response to the lived realities of Indigenous life
in Australia, where disproportionate numbers of adult men are taken
away from their families by illness, early mortality, drugs, alcohol or
prison. The women are there, caring, nurturing, struggling, fighting
and surviving, but not the adult men. The trope features prominently
in Robert J. Merritt’s The Cake Man (1978), Box the Pony and
Radiance, and in Jack Davis’s The Dreamers (1982), Eva Johnson’s
Murras (1989) and What Do They Call Me? (1996), Jimmy Chi and
Kuckles’s Bran Nue Dae (1991), Wesley Enoch and Deborah
Mailman’s The 7 Stages of Grieving (1996) and Dallas Winmar’s
Aliwa (2002). It is also a feature of recent films such as Ivan Sen’s
Beneath Clouds (2002) and Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence
(2002). The absence of the father and husband throws a spotlight on
the role of motherhood within Indigenous society, and celebrates the
work of women in ensuring survival, at least in a material sense, as the
mothers cook, clean and keep house for their families—or in some
cases, like Box the Pony, fail to do this. But in many of the plays, the
absence of an older male is associated with a loss of leadership.
Consequently, there is a loss of a sense of specifically masculine
traditional knowledge and spirituality, ignorance about how to behave
in the world in order to prosper, and the absence of a sense of
continuity bringing important aspects of the past into the present and,
by implication, into a more successful future. No father, no future
seems to be the motif. Traditional images of Indigenous masculinity
are demeaned and denied.
One of the few remaining images of the traditional Indigenous man
as warrior and hunter in Australian culture is the familiar,
miniaturised, suburban garden ornament, reduced to harmless, if
offensive, decoration. Richard J. Frankland’s Conversations with the
Dead (2002)
deconstructs a significant detail of Australian life

Indigenous point of view. She points out that, unlike the white characters, the
Indigenous characters are not accorded the status of tragic heroes.
Conversations with the Dead was first performed in a co-production by the
Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre Cooperative, Playbox and
La Mama at the Carlton Courthouse, Melbourne, directed by Richard Frankland in
February 2002. It was given a second production in July of the following year at
Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, directed by Wesley Enoch.
Men at Play 80
which exposes these negative underlying attitudes toward Indigenous
UNCLE: But everywhere you go you have the label. (JACK looks at him.) Black
… like that two-dollar coin you talk about in your speeches. You know,
the 1860 Aboriginal Protection Act, where we were seen as sub-human.
Every coin […] has an animal or plant on them. On the $2 coin there is a
blackfellow, a plant or an animal? (Frankland 2002: 248)
This play elsewhere uses the images of the hunter and the passing on
of traditional knowledge as positive solutions to the problems that the
main character, Jack, is having as an isolated Indigenous man working
with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
recalls an old man who has given him advice based on traditional
JACK: He said […] to close my eyes and imagine a man throwing a spear: he
said the feet touch the ground for strength and balance; the legs for
balance; the hips to turn so the spear will travel fast; the lungs for air; the
arm and elbow for more leverage; the spear shaft so it will fly straight and
true; the woomera for distance and power; the eye to aim; and, the
spearhead to penetrate. (271)
Movements toward reconciliation between Indigenous and white
Australia may remain hampered until the emasculating link between
skin colour and failures of proper manliness is broken. We need to
accept the cultural significance of contact with the earth without
importing inappropriate connotations of dirt, animality, abjection or
gender trouble. In addition, we need to envisage widely agreed and
satisfactory versions of Indigenous masculinity, including the image
of the traditional hunter or warrior, who are able to perform
Aboriginality, and can take an equal place in our society as
individuals with rights and agency. One of the few places where
performance in Australia has attempted this was, to return to the
beginning of this chapter, in the opening ceremony of the 2000
Olympic Games, where Djakapurra Munyaryan played the part of a
traditional guide to the history of pre-European Australia. The
problem here is that the immediate beneficiary of this knowledge was

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was established in
1987 to investigate the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in
the custody of prison, police or juvenile detention institutions in Australia
(Johnston 1991).
Black men, white men 81
not future generations of Indigenous Australians but a blond girl in a
pink dress.
Yet sport is an interesting arena for considering enactments of
Indigenous masculinity in contemporary Australian theatre. The
sporting achievements of Indigenous men and women are celebrated
in public life. A moment of particular prominence was Cathy
Freeman’s role in lighting the flame at the 2000 Olympic Games
Opening Ceremony which anticipated her success in winning the 400
metres sprint. Another prominent Indigenous sportsperson is Anthony
Mundine, who announced in May 2000 that he was retiring from
rugby league to pursue a career in world title boxing. Mundine’s story
is of particular interest because it articulates a desire for generational
succession from father to son. “I told my dad when I was five years
old, ‘I want to get that title you didn’t’”, Mundine explained in an
interview on ABC television (“Mundine on his boxing future” 2000).
Anthony’s father, Tony Mundine, who was to become Anthony’s
boxing coach, is an Australian boxing champion himself and narrowly
missed winning a world boxing title in 1974. There is drama in this
story of Anthony ‘the Man’ Mundine turning away from a career in
rugby and turning towards his father, to follow and train with his
father, indeed to succeed his father, in pursuing a world title in boxing
(which, in fact, he achieved in 2003). A similar story is dramatised in
Roger Bennett’s play Up the Ladder, which had productions in
Adelaide in 1990, Melbourne in 1995 and Sydney in 1997.
Boxing from father to son
In Bennett’s play, the main character is Johnny, who becomes a
world-champion Indigenous boxer. He appears in flash-forward
scenes as Old Johnny, a coach and mentor for young Lionel who is
training for an upcoming fight. Young Lionel bears an unmistakable
resemblance to Lionel Rose, who in 1968 became the first Indigenous

Roger Bennett’s Up the Ladder opened at the East End Market in Adelaide on
28 February 1990 in a production directed by Bob Maza for Tandanya National
Aboriginal Cultural Institute. Susie Dee’s production for the Melbourne Workers
Theatre at Napier Street Theatre in Melbourne opened on 17 November 1995.
Wesley Enoch joined Dee as co-director for a Melbourne Workers Theatre and
Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing Arts co-production which opened at the
Seymour Centre in Sydney on 24 September 1997 as part of the Festival of the
Dreaming, the first of four cultural festivals held prior to the 2000 Olympic
Games in Sydney.
Men at Play 82
Australian to win a world boxing championship. While Johnny is a
fictional character, the play pays tribute to Bennett’s own father, Elley
Bennett, another Indigenous Australian boxing champion who toured
with Jimmy Sharman’s boxing tent show during the 1940s and 1950s.
According to Richard Broome, Indigenous men’s involvement in
boxing is a long tradition, dating as far back as the 1830s (1995: 173).
According to Richard Fotheringham, on the other hand, it is a tradition
largely overlooked by those dramatists who have sought to
incorporate aspects of Australian sporting life into their work. For
instance, race relations between white and Indigenous Australians are
not apparent in Jack Hibberd’s The Les Darcy Show (1976), which
celebrated the short-lived career of an Irish-Australian boxer with
productions in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth in 1974 and 1975.
Writing of the 1970s new wave of Australian playwrights and their
investment in sporting myths, Fotheringham indicates how an
articulation of racial difference could run counter to an ideological
function served in the dramatisation of sport:
The nationalistic function of sport was internalised to the extent that it could
be used as a symbol of the fundamental union of all Australian men and,
through the absence or easy assimilation of other groups, of an Australian
nation. In this communion of mates, where conflicts of class, race and politics
were thought to be transcended, sport by chauvinist self-projection became
the basis for a universal brotherhood of men. (Fotheringham 1992: 201)
Nor did Fotheringham, writing in the late 1980s, perceive much scope
for alternative articulations of sport in Australian drama: he concludes
that “black and multicultural writers have also chosen to ignore sport”
(1992: 208). Since that time, however, at least five new Australian
plays that incorporate aspects of Indigenous men’s participation in
boxing have been staged. In addition to Up the Ladder, there have
been productions of:
• Garrie Hutchinson’s Shadowboxing from 1989 in which the
African-American boxer Jack Johnson tours Australia in the 1900s
and fights, among others, an Indigenous man

Boxer Les Darcy is also the subject of a music theatre work: The Flight of Les
Darcy by librettist Robert Jarman and composer Raffaele Marcellino opened at
the Newtown Theatre in Sydney on 19 March 2001.
Black men, white men 83
• Owen Love’s No Shame from 1995 in which Jimmy, an Indigenous
man and former boxer, befriends a street kid (Harris 1995; O’Brien
• David Milroy and Geoffrey Narkle’s King Hit (2007) from 1997 in
which Geoffrey, forcibly removed from his Indigenous family,
leaves his adoptive home to join a boxing troupe (Townsend 1997;
Griffiths 1997) and
• Scott Rankin and Leah Purcell’s Box the Pony, also from 1997, in
which boxing serves as an enacted metaphor for the experience of
domestic violence.
These productions from Australia’s recent theatrical past recuperate
the tradition of Indigenous involvement in boxing and articulate
Indigenous desires for generational succession.
Relations between fathers and sons are also relations of race.
Between Tony Mundine and his son Anthony, between Elley Bennett
and his son Roger, are enacted familial relations in which oral history
and corporeal practice are transmitted between generations along the
bloodlines of race. Such a relation and transmission are also enacted
in Up the Ladder as Old Johnny trains young Lionel to box. Although
the two characters are not related as father and son, Lionel calls
Johnny “old man” in all three of their scenes together and, at the end
of their third scene, Johnny places his hand on Lionel’s shoulder and
says to him “Come on, son, let’s call it a day” (Bennett 1997: 70). As
sons turn to their fathers and learn how to box, and as fathers transmit
boxing as a practice of aspiration and desire to their sons, the scenario
of racial inheritance and generational succession is repaired. It was not
always this way. According to historian Richard Broome, relations
between white Australian bosses and Indigenous boxers in the troupes

Greg Carroll’s production of Shadowboxing for Melbourne Writers Theatre
opened at the Carlton Courthouse in Melbourne on 11 March 1989. Bob Maza’s
production of No Shame for Mainstreet Theatre opened at Tandanya Theatre in
Adelaide on 18 October 1995. David Milroy’s production of King Hit for Yirra
Yaakin Noongar Theatre opened at the Dolphin Theatre in Perth on 25 October
1997 and transferred to the Princess Theatre in Brisbane for the Energex Brisbane
Festival in September 1998. Sean Mee directed Purcell in the Performing Lines
production of Box the Pony, which opened at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse
on 12 September 1997 as part of the Festival of the Dreaming; Purcell has since
toured the work nationally and internationally.
Men at Play 84
which toured the country during the twentieth century were both
pedagogical and patriarchal:
The troupe owners had the power of bosses, but also the authority of ‘fathers’
and managers. They acted as daily guardians of the boxers under their care for
months on end, mostly out of concern for the needs of their business. The
boxers slept in, ate in, and fought in their tents, obeyed their rules, and asked
them for pocket money to see a show or attend a dance. […] The boxers both
respected and feared these men, and depended on them like fathers when
hundreds of kilometres from home. (Broome 1996: 11)
Johnny’s father in Up the Ladder is initially a presence of sorts in
the play, until Johnny leaves home to join the boxing troupe and
comes under the care of boxing promoter G.W. Sedan. In scene 6,
entitled “Family”, Johnny’s mum and his Indigenous girlfriend, Beryl,
have not been getting on well with each other, while Dad sits by
reading the newspaper. Johnny mentions that he’s “thinking of going
away for a while” (44), Mum accuses Beryl of “giving him ideas
about leavin home” and Beryl talks back at Mum (48):
MUM (looks at DAD for support): Dad you going to say anything … you going
to let her talk to me that way?
(DAD lowers the paper, looks at MUM, sighs, shakes his head then
quickly raises the paper again and starts to hum.)
MUM (angrily): If you don’t stop that bloody humming, I’ll put it right up
your you-know-where.
(DAD stops humming. MUM, getting out of her chair, causes DAD to
duck, thinking she was going to hit him, but MUM steps towards
BERYL, who steps back into a fighting stance.)
MUM: Just let me at her … I’ll teach her.
(BERYL shapes up to fight. JOHNNY jumps in between them.)
BERYL: Come on … come on … you always sticking your nose into other
people’s business.
MUM (to DAD): Are you going to do something?
BERYL: Johnny don’t need you.
MUM: Oh, don’t he now.
BERYL: Look, if he wants to join the tents and take me with him that’s his
MUM: What tents?
(JOHNNY looks at DAD. MUM looks at DAD.)
DAD: I think I’ll go and make that cup of tea now …
(DAD exits)
MUM: (to JOHNNY) What tents?
JOHNNY: The boxing tents, Mum.
MUM: So that’s what you gonna do. (Bennett 1997: 48–49)
Black men, white men 85
Whatever may be said about the role of Dad in this scene, his one
decisive action is to exit when Johnny’s plan to join the boxing tents is
announced—for Johnny’s announcement provokes the likelihood of a
family argument in which Dad might be forced to take a stand. Two
scenes later the boxing promoter G.W. Sedan arrives, introduces
himself and offers Johnny a contract which Johnny accepts. By scene
10, in which Johnny trains with his Indigenous mate, Sid, the terms of
address between Johnny, Sid and Sedan render the formation of a new
boxing family. Interrupting the scene, Sedan says to Johnny, “I wanna
talk to you, son”. Johnny keeps training, so Sid says to Sedan, “Hey
Unc, you gotta have an appointment to talk to this young fulla”, and
then to both Johnny and Sedan, “He gonna be the next world
champion, eh brother?” to which Johnny replies, “Not a worry, Siddy
boy, not a worry” (59). A father to Johnny and an uncle to Sid, Sedan
displaces Johnny’s own father and more or less usurps his role (60).
The displacement of Johnny’s father by Sedan suggests that the
absence of Indigenous fathers should be understood in relation to the
history of paternalism and protectionism that has determined racial
policy in Australia. In other words, the policies and practices which
absented Indigenous fathers from their families and usurped their roles
as providers were of a kind with those which resulted in the stolen
generation of Indigenous children who were forcibly removed from
their families.
Boxing black against white
The disenfranchisement of Indigenous fathers and their displacement
by white authority figures textured the everyday backdrop of race
relations against which the spectacle of Indigenous boxers fighting
white men stood out as remarkable. In discussing the history of the

Sedan’s own role as a paternal provider is itself partly usurped by the state.
Sedan’s news in this scene is that he’s “just come from a meeting with this bloke
from the Aborigine Department and … he says that all your money … both of
yah’s money’s gonna be handed over to them and they’ll dole it out to ya. Bit at a
time” (Bennett 1997: 60). State governments did withhold the earnings of
Indigenous boxers. In 2003 members of Roger Bennett’s family went to court in
an attempt to recover Elley Bennett’s sequestered earnings from the Queensland
government (“Boxer fights from grave” 2004). The application to proceed to trial
was refused by the Supreme Court of Queensland and subsequent applications to
appeal the decision were dismissed (John Dalungdalee Jones 2004, 2005).
Men at Play 86
boxing troupes, Broome is unequivocal on this point: “race infused all
aspects of boxing” (1996: 15).
For instance, it was an agreed practice in the game, that where possible you
matched black against white. It was claimed that two Aborigines would not
fight hard as they were mates. Even some Aboriginal boxers agreed with that
proposition despite the evidence of ‘ding-dong’ all-black battles to the
contrary. Ern McQuillan, the Sydney trainer of Jack Hassen, Tony Mundine
and many other Aboriginal fighters stated in 1978: “I’ve run a lot of fights, I
used to be match-maker at the Sydney Stadium for years, and I’ve never put
two Aboriginals together, they don’t try as hard, but put them with a white
man, you know, they show out more, plenty of fire”. (16)
Up the Ladder does, in fact, dramatise a fight between two black men;
so, too, does Garrie Hutchinson’s Shadowboxing. In Up the Ladder,
Johnny and his mate, Sid, fight the second fight of the play, coaxed
into the ring by a spruiker after an argument in which Sid expresses
his jealousy of Johnny’s relationship with Beryl (35). And they fight
again in a scene called “Gammon Fight” in which Sid, pretending to
be a member of the audience and masquerading as an Italian
immigrant, takes up the spruiker’s invitation and challenges Johnny,
now known as the “Black Bomber”, to a fight (53–55). In
Shadowboxing, a match between the African-American Jack Johnson
and an Indigenous boxer, Peter Felix, is described by the spruiker as
“the weirdest fight of the century” (23).
However, in both plays, the main fights—those which advance the
narrative of each play and build the careers of Johnny and Johnson—
are those which successfully pitch black man against white. In a
television review of the original production of Up the Ladder, Bennett
and director Bob Maza addressed the racial significance of Indigenous
boxers winning fights against whites. The boxing tents, according to
Maza, were “a place where a black could stand up and be king”: “You
didn’t have the money to get into the golf clubs or the tennis clubs. All
you needed to get into the boxing ring were a pair of shorts and you
were on” (“Up the Ladder” 1990). Success in the boxing ring could
overcome racial discrimination, as Bennett explained:
When you became a champion, no matter whether you were white or black,
you’re accepted. It doesn’t matter who you are. So if you become a champion,
and you’re black, and you get accepted, I mean, you know, and you get
idolised by people. Well that’s it. You break the barriers and you’re treated
differently. Champions always get treated differently, no matter what. Race,
Black men, white men 87
colour, religion, no matter what. A champion is a champion and that’s how
you see them, eh? (“Up the Ladder” 1990)
As Bennett and Maza are interviewed, the review presents archival
film of a fight in a boxing tent between a young Indigenous boxer and
a young white Australian, which then dissolves onto a segment from
the performance of Up the Ladder in which the actors playing Johnny
and his white opponent fight. In a later segment, we see Johnny’s
opponent knocked out for the count and the white umpire declaring
Johnny the winner by holding his gloved fist high.
The spectacle of a black man fighting a white man—in particular,
the spectacle of a black man standing up as a “king” of the ring after
defeating a white man—may conjure from the past cultural anxieties
about racial competition in the midst of a multicultural present.
Interviewed by Maryrose Casey in 1997, Maza recalled a more critical
aspect of Bennett’s interest in boxing:
According to Maza, Bennett wanted to show that ‘if anything it destroyed the
lives of Aboriginal people. This is what they offer us. We belt shit out of
ourselves for other people’s entertainment. That’s how we make our living.
First the bastardisation of our culture, now the bastardisation of our lives, our
bodies’. (Casey 2004: 240)
Maza told Casey that the first draft of Up the Ladder included a
critique of boxing’s violence in which, as Casey writes, “the play
ended with the lead character Johnny celebrating his win, jumping up
and down in the strobe light, then realising with horror that the other
man was dead” (240). This action is not included in the published
Boxing’s implication in masculinist violence is explicitly
addressed in Box the Pony, Leah Purcell’s solo work co-written with
Scott Rankin (1999). Central to the design and staging of this work is
a punching bag: Purcell’s boxing interaction with the bag enacts her
experience of growing up with violence in an interracial milieu.
Purcell grew up in south-east Queensland, daughter to an Indigenous
mother and a white father—a butcher and a boxing trainer who had
another family, a white family, “so he sort of wasn’t around”. Her
teenage years, from age fourteen, were characterised by violence: “the
beatings just became a normal process of the relationship”, Purcell
explains (“Queen Leah” 2002). On stage, the punching bag becomes
both the source of violence in Purcell’s life and a target for its
Men at Play 88
catharsis. Purcell’s fight with the punching bag enacts a critical
encounter with the interracial history of boxing in Australia.
Performing Indigenous masculinity
Australian theatre is still finding ways to present images and
narratives of Indigenous masculinity which draw upon the authenticity
of Indigenous cultures and reflect the lived experiences of Indigenous
men. This has become particularly apparent since the mid-1990s with
the success of Indigenous women’s monodramas—such as Purcell’s
Box the Pony, Deborah Mailman’s The 7 Stages of Grieving, Deborah
Cheatham’s White Baptist Abba Fan and Ningali Lawford’s Ningali—
which were brought together in 1997 for the Wimmin’s Business
season of the Festival of the Dreaming (see Casey 2004: 251, 253,
257; Rankin and Purcell 1999; Enoch and Mailman 1996).
Indigenous masculinity is being explored in dance and physical
theatre. The involvement of Djakapurra Munyaryan in the practice of
the Bangarra Dance Theatre, where he has been both a performer and
a consultant on traditional dance forms and cultural knowledge, is
important. So, too, is the involvement of Indigenous men such as elder
Thompson Yulidjirri in the development of Marrugeku’s Mimi from
1996, and performer Trevor Jamieson in Marrugeku’s Crying Baby
from 2000 and Burning Daylight from 2005. These physical theatre
works, which draw on Indigenous cultural traditions and con-
temporary experience, have toured widely in Australia and overseas.
In 2004 the Life Times Three season at Belvoir Street Theatre in
Sydney brought to the stage three autobiographical monodramas by
Indigenous men: Noel Tovey in Little Black Bastard, David Gulpilil
in Gulpilil and David Page in Page 8. Tovey’s production was first
seen in Melbourne and Darwin in 2003; its season in Sydney followed
the publication of his autobiography (Tovey 2004). Gulpilil had its
premiere at the Adelaide Festival in 2004 and, with Page 8, was also
presented at the Brisbane Festival that year. Page 8 has been touring
since 2004, with seasons in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne during
2005 and an overseas tour to New Zealand, England and Scotland, as
well as to Canberra and regional towns in New South Wales and
Victoria during 2006. Trevor Jamieson’s Ngapartji Ngapartji, a
performance in the Pitjantjatjara language, was developed with Scott
Rankin and Alex Kelly for the 2005 Melbourne International Arts
Black men, white men 89
Festival and has since been presented in Alice Springs, Sydney, Perth,
Brisbane and Adelaide in 2006 and 2007.
The recent success of these works in the theatre, alongside that of
the film Ten Canoes (2006) which features Gulpilil as narrator and his
son Jamie in the lead role, are indicative of an emerging repertoire of
creative roles and dramatic characters for Indigenous men in
Australian theatre.
Figure 4.1 Burst of Summer
Max Bruch as Joe (left), Eric Colladetti as Merv and Denis Jones as Eddie
in a scene from Oriel Gray’s Burst of Summer for the Melbourne Little
Theatre Guild, February1960. (Reproduced from the Australian Women’s
Weekly, 17 February 1960 by courtesy of Australian Consolidated Press
and the Arts Centre, Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne.)
Chapter 5
In the theatre of war
Memories of men at war are prevalent in Australian theatrical
production after the Second World War. From Sumner Locke Elliot’s
1948 recollections of war-time homosociality in Rusty Bugles (1980)
and Russell Braddon’s depiction of Australian prisoners of war in
Naked Island (1960) to critical reflections on war memorialisation and
suburban repatriation in Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year
(1961) and Patrick White’s The Season at Sarsaparilla (1965), an
array of post-war theatrical productions sought to articulate men’s
experiences at war and back home. Surveying these and other
productions like the 1946 all-male Kiwis revue company, Beth Dean’s
television ballet G’day Digger (1958) and John Cameron’s television
play Outpost (1959), this chapter explores the propagation of gender
anxieties in performance during the post-war period of suburban
expansion when the lives of Australian men were tending inward to
marriage, family and domesticity (see chapter 1).
In contrast with more recent productions which have sought to
celebrate the survival, ingenuity and achievements of Australian men
at war, productions from the post-war period were less overtly
nationalist and less assertively masculinist. Remembering men’s war-
time experiences of disarticulation from the comforts of suburban
domesticity and heterosexual desire, post-war productions celebrated
less the heroism of men at war than the nostalgia of their returning
home. Turning to Vance Palmer’s Prisoners’ Country (1960), the
chapter concludes by considering how the experiences of Australian
soldiers imprisoned by the Japanese during the war have been
dramatised to complicate the convergence of masculinity, nationality
and whiteness at home.
In the theatre of war 91
Gender, memory and war
In introducing their anthology, Gender and War: Australians at War
in the Twentieth Century, Marilyn Lake and Joy Damousi observe
how “despite the rhetoric which claimed that masculinity found its
best expression in war, war engendered a crisis in masculinity” (1995:
11). War presented men with challenges to prove their manhood
through feats of bravery, fortitude and determination amid life-
threatening adversity. Yet physical injuries and psychological trauma
were manifest forms of masculinity in crisis both in the theatre of war
and when soldiers returned home. Underlying these observations on
the gendered dimension of men’s experiences at war and back home
are a series of conceptual oppositions. Lake and Damousi contend that
these oppositions have structured the gendered meanings of warfare,
such that relations between “home front/battle front, passivity/activity,
weakness/strength, private/public, staying/departing, [and] defended/
defenders” become self-evidently aligned with an opposition between
femininity and masculinity (3). As Stephen Garton explains at the
outset of his contribution to Lake and Damousi’s anthology:
War represented the attainment of an ideal manliness, physical action,
bravery, self-control, courage and, more importantly for many, male
comradeship. […] The point of contrast, of otherness, that helped define this
masculine world was home, the place of women, domesticity, constrained
masculinity and ‘the shirker’—the non-man. (1995: 191)
Working from this gendered perspective located between war and
home, we seek to assess the contribution of Australian theatrical
production to the task of remembering men’s experience of war and
its aftermath during the two decades from the end of the Second
World War in 1945. Surveying an array of theatrical productions
across various genres of performances, we will see how prevalent and
pertinent was this task of remembering the war in Australian culture
of the period. To see how particular was the contribution of theatrical
production we must distinguish the task of remembering from the
more evident task of memorialisation. Whereas memorialisation
sought to consolidate and perpetuate historical significance through
the erection of war memorials and monuments and through the
annualisation of ceremonies and parades, the task of remembering as
taken up in theatrical production seems more contingent, more attuned
to present circumstance and to the propagation of gender anxieties of
the time.
Men at Play 92
We must also distinguish theatrical depictions of men’s experience
of war and its aftermath in productions of the post-war period from
those in more recent productions. Julia Mant (2000) foregrounds the
task of memorialisation in considering “how memory is enacted on
stage” in productions like Nigel Triffit’s The Fall of Singapore from
1987 and Richard Davey’s A Bright and Crimson Flower (1994) from
1992, which were both revived in association with the fiftieth
anniversary of the end of the Second World War in 1995.
This is
particularly evident in Mant’s analysis of The Fall of Singapore where
she saw the performers’ bodies actually enacting the mythologisation
of the prisoner of war: “as the bodies are put through torture and hard
labour, they become mythical figures of survival and strength” (100).
Mant concludes that “what is enacted by Triffit […] is not the history
of prisoners, or the fact of the historical past, but the memory of that
past” (101).
The memorialisation of Australian prisoners of war in terms of
their spirit, strength and survival enrols them in the project of “digger-
nationalism” wherein the militarism of white masculinity has come to
embody the face and figure of the national character (Nicoll 2001).
Theatrical production during the post-war period took part in a
different project. For instance, Fiona Nicoll’s historical analysis of
“digger-nationalism” affords a prominent place to The One Day of the
Year as the first of two events which “illustrate the increasingly
contested status of the digger since the 1960s” (Nicoll 2001: 2–3).
But whereas Mant overlooks earlier treatments of the prisoner of war
experience on the Australian stage,
the prominence that Nicoll

The Fall of Singapore opened at the Melbourne Town Hall on 10 September
1987. It also played at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide, from 5 May 1988. Triffit
revived the production in conjunction with the STC for a season at the Footbridge
Theatre, Sydney, from 8 November 1995. A Bright and Crimson Flower was first
performed at Princes Wharf No. 1, Hobart, on 15 October 1992, where it played
for two weeks before transferring to the Launceston Showgrounds from 30
October 1992. The production toured during 1993, playing in Adelaide,
Melbourne, and the regional Victorian towns of Echuca, Hamilton and Bendigo. It
was revived at the Mt Nelson Theatre, Hobart College, in August 1995. Both
productions were videorecorded (The Fall of Singapore 1995; A Bright and
Crimson Flower 1995).
The other event contesting the status of the digger was a debate triggered by the
publication of Inglis (1965).
Mant refers to the British productions of Naked Island but omits mention of its
five Australian productions (see footnote 5).
In the theatre of war 93
affords The One Day of the Year and its critique of the Anzac tradition
only perpetuates the significance of that play. The contributions of
earlier theatrical productions in depicting the experience and after-
effects of the Second World War thereby recede from view. Not that
these earlier productions were much engaged by the project of
“digger-nationalism”, in either celebration or critique. Rather, these
productions were engaged as much if not more by the project of
repatriating soldiers into suburban life back home.
Garton describes the process of soldier repatriation as “cultural
work aimed at ensuring the recovery of manhood in all its
connotations”, although he notes how repatriation after the Second
World War became more “a problem of individual psychology”
(1995: 200–201):
Instead of a direct challenge to be independent, the World War II repatriation
information was full of warnings that there would “be problems in civvy
street”. It warned of the potential dangers of depression, loneliness, disillusion
and apathy, acknowledged that soldiers would inevitably be different and
alienated from civilians, advised of the potential for marital discord and the
difficulties of relating to women who now had different expectations of life
after their own war effort, and it forewarned of the psychological difficulties
of re-entering the workforce, the family, the club and old friendships. (196)
If these were the psychological warnings addressed to individual
soldiers on their return to civilian life, they were also among the
anxieties animating the cultural work of post-war theatrical production
in Australia. For whatever meanings were being generated elsewhere
during the post-war period, it seems clear that Australian theatrical
production of the period was not participating at that point in the task
of war memorialisation. The performances we survey here were not
celebratory events, glorifying warfare and the attainment of manhood
through feats of bravery, fortitude and determination amid life-
threatening adversity. Rather, they partook in a more subtle task of
remembering with affection the complexities of disarticulation
between men’s experiences at war and their longing for home.
Remembering the war in post-war theatrical production
We begin our survey with the Kiwis Revue Company, a New Zealand
Army entertainment unit which formed during the war and toured
major cities in Australia and New Zealand for eight years from 1946
(Capern 1995). The Kiwis featured female impersonators among their
all-male cast of trained soldiers and their revue recalled the glamour
Men at Play 94
and comedy of variety performance from before the war. A program
for a season at Sydney’s Empire Theatre commencing in July 1949
includes an item called “Back to the Twenties” in which female
impersonators John Hunter and Ralph Dyer played “The Flappers”,
while the ensemble played their “Boy Friends”. Other items
reminiscent of a pre-war European past include “Robin Hood”,
“Songs of Scotland”, “Neapolitan Serenade”, “A Memory of
Schubert” and “Primrose, or A Simple Village Maid”. In the same
program, gender transitivity rendered domesticity strangely humorous
in items such as “Soldier For Tea” with Dyer as “The Hostess”,
“Children’s Hour at 2NBG” with Dyer as “Auntie May” and a solo
performance from Hunter simply entitled “Home—An Impression”
(Tripoli 1949). In this regard, the Kiwis Revue might best be
described as engaged in the task of forgetting the war, as a diversion
from the memory of life during the war.
That task—remembering the mundane actuality of the experience
of war—was taken up by Locke Elliot in Rusty Bugles, which he
described as a “documentary” and “not strictly a play” (1980: vii).
With its all-male cast, khaki costumes and knockabout characters,
Rusty Bugles was first staged in October 1948 at the Independent
Theatre in Sydney where it was initially banned on account of its
robust language. With some expletives deleted, it subsequently toured
Australia and New Zealand until 1952, playing for six months in
Melbourne from April 1949 just months after the Kiwis had
transferred their show to Sydney (Brisbane 1995). During the decade
from the end of war in 1945 the Kiwis Revue Company, promoted by
J.C. Williamson’s, and Rusty Bugles, promoted by entrepreneurs Kenn
Brodziak and Garnet H. Carroll, represented the memory of war for
Australian audiences on the popular stage. Nevertheless it is important
to record that neither play actually staged the experience of being at
war: the Kiwis Revue skipped between before-the-war glamour and
comedy back home, while the soldiers in Rusty Bugles, stuck at a
remote ordnance depot in the Northern Territory, were neither at war
nor at home.
In the years after the Kiwis Revue and Rusty Bugles stopped
touring and prior to the revival of Rusty Bugles at the Independent
Theatre in 1964 and its adaptation for television in 1965, other plays
with all-male, or predominantly male, casts sought to present in
documentary-like realism the experiences of men in the armed forces
In the theatre of war 95
up north. Outpost, a television play by John Cameron about five
Australian men holed up in a remote outpost in New Guinea in
September 1943, was broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting
Commission (later Corporation) (ABC) in November 1959.
Island, one of three Australian plays chosen for the inaugural season
of a short-lived venture at the University of Sydney, was presented in
January 1962, after British premiere seasons in Liverpool and London
during 1960 (see figure 5.1).
And Willis Hall’s The Long and the
Short and the Tall (1959), a British male-cast play set in the Malayan
jungle during the Japanese advance on Singapore in 1942, was given
localised productions in Sydney and in Adelaide in 1960, after seasons
in Edinburgh and London in 1958 and 1959.
Other playwrights of the time turned their attention to civilian life
in the post-war period, seeking dramatic potential and narrative
complications in the legacy of war-time experience and the return of
servicemen. Ru Pullan’s Curly on the Rack (1958), set in post-war
Rabaul, animated the anxieties of a war cripple reliant on others to
retrieve buried treasure hidden during the war.
Anthony Coburn’s
The Bastard Country (1963) played out a revenge narrative with its
origins in a war-time atrocity committed by an Australian soldier in
Greece (see chapter 3). John Hepworth’s The Beast in View (1959;
1961) drew drunken humour and bittersweet cynicism from Pren, a
former prisoner of war (see chapters 2 and 7). Vance Palmer’s
Prisoners’ Country (1960) diverted the lines of a farming family’s
inheritance through the son’s post-war malaise and miscegenation.

Outpost may be the earliest extant television play in the film archives at the ABC.
We are grateful to Jeremy Gadd for bringing to our attention Outpost and G’day
Digger (discussed below).
Braddon’s Naked Island, initially known as You’ll Never Get Off the Island, was
first performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in England on 1 March 1960. It was
also performed at the Arts Theatre in London in September and November 1960
and at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry in May 1961. Its first Australian
performance was on 15 January 1962 at the University of Sydney’s Union Theatre
in a production by the AETT. It was subsequently performed in Canberra by the
Canberra Repertory Society at the Canberra Repertory Theatre in November
1962; in Melbourne by the Independent Players at the National Theatrette in
November 1963 and at St Martin’s Theatre in March 1964; in Perth by the
National Theatre at the Playhouse in June 1964; and in Adelaide by the Adelaide
Repertory Theatre at the Arts Theatre in April 1966.
Curly on the Rack was directed by Nigel Lovell for the AETT at the Elizabethan
Theatre, Sydney, in a production which opened on 3 September 1958.
Men at Play 96
White’s The Season at Sarsaparilla generated sexual scandal out of
suburban repatriation when a mate from the war intrudes on the Boyle
household. And marking an end to this series with a shift in focus
from remembering the war to critiquing its memorialisation is
Seymour’s The One Day of the Year, which was presented at over
sixty venues around Australia in the decade after its premiere in
Adelaide in 1960 (see chapter 8).
Between war and home
Considering this array of theatrical productions and how it remembers
men’s experiences at war and back home, we propose that the
theatrical contribution to the propagation of gender anxieties in the
post-war period was a drama that animated narrative arcs of masculine
memory and heterosexual desire between here-and-now and there-
and-then. What this means is that, in the context of theatrical
production, those traditional alignments of war with masculinity and
home with femininity became convoluted and intertwined. For what
seems distinctive about the capacity of theatrical production to
rearticulate the gender relations of war-time experience is the
invocation of homely desires in the midst of war and the eruption of
war memories among the comforts of home.
An invocation of home memories amid the actuality of war is
evident in Braddon’s stage directions for the opening scene of Naked
The entire action of the play takes place in a small courtyard leading
down from the cell block at Changi Jail, Singapore. The year is 1945.
[…] A small jail courtyard with steps from the cell block behind it.
Five men are about their routine jail chores: JACKO sits shaving, MUM
is knitting, KEN is busy rolling a cigarette, OSCAR marks up another
day on his impressive tally of days spent in jail and MAGPIE studies an
Italian grammar. (Braddon 1960: 127)
Mum, as he is known throughout the play (and we never do learn his
proper name), is characterised as “a stolid, out-back type” with a
“most improbable talent for knitting” (124). Brek, in his review of the
production for Nation, recalled “a fatherly soldier (‘Mum’) fussing
over the youngsters’ welfare” (1962). Yet, beyond a joke about Mum
stealing a sweater from a Japanese guard, unravelling it and then
selling it back to him knitted up as socks (132), there is not much
more to Mum’s knitting; nor is much made of his name. To mess with
In the theatre of war 97
a metaphor, we could say that Mum’s name and his knitting were
inventions of the sort to which necessity is the mother. Practical
ingenuity in the face of necessity is demonstrably valued by Jacko,
Ken, Oscar, Magpie and Mum—the five prisoners of war who, at this
point in the play, have just assembled a makeshift radio out of a
clothes line, an aerial flown in from the fly-tower, and various
components kept hidden in the lavatory.
A capacity for making-do amid deprivation and hardship was a
recognisable aspect of the national character, that configuration of
qualities and capacities that at the time were regarded as distinctly
Australian and resolutely masculine. In that well-known passage,
historian Russel Ward described the “typical Australian” as “a
practical man” and “a great improviser, ever willing to ‘have a go’ at
anything, but willing too to be content with a task done in a way that
is ‘near enough’” (1958: 1). Noting “the inordinately high value set
upon practical unimaginative activity” in Australia, critic Max Harris
continued the theme by explaining that “making-and-doing and
improvising are the essential tasks that confront a new nation” and
“this practical materialism survives as an inborn interest in the male
Australian” (1962: 60).
From this perspective on masculine practicality, Mum’s name may
be taken as an indicator of the way his knitting traverses a gendered
division of labour. Yet as an instance of making-do, of making the
most under difficult circumstances of a “most improbable talent”,
Mum’s knitting may be accommodated within the “practical
materialism” with which Harris characterised “the masculinity of
Australian life” (60). If we do not see in Mum’s knitting a subversion
of normative gender roles, we may see instead how the motherly
connotations of the character’s actions and name could have engaged
memories, both on stage and beyond, of the relational warmth and
habitual comforts of home.
John Cameron’s Outpost from 1959 offers a more troubling
example of the way gendered memories of home were invoked amid
war. In an early scene, Steve McCudden, a flight sergeant from the air
force played by Paul Karo, shows photographs of his girlfriends to
soldiers in the army outpost to which he has just been assigned (see
figure 5.2). The photographs facilitate talk of women back in
Australia and establish a contrast of locale with the all-male camp
sorely lacking in the comforts and desires of home. “What a dump!”
Men at Play 98
exclaims McCudden when he first arrives on the scene, upsetting the
soldiers by reminding them of what they’re missing—for the soldiers
have worked hard at making themselves feel at home in this place
(Outpost 1959). In the opening scene prior to McCudden’s arrival, we
see Signaller “Tiger” Lyons (Sydney Conabere) lashing the frame of
his makeshift camp bed, as Corporal “Mitch” Mitchell (Dennis Miller)
wanders over to help out. Mitch wonders whether they should “knock
up a bed for the air force bloke” since “he’s coming straight from the
mainland” and will “probably expect to be issued with all mod cons”.
Tiger declines, reckoning that “it’ll do him good to sleep on the
ground for a while the same as we had to”. Of course, when Tiger
returns from his watch to find McCudden lying on his bed, the scene
is well set for confrontation.
Later on, after McCudden’s murdered body is found, the drama
reveals how goings-on back home intrude upon the soldiers’ home-
away-from-home to complicate the relations between men. Mitch
reads in a newspaper that a Brisbane woman has died. The woman is
the wife of Sergeant “Happy” Adams (Keith Eden) and, at this point,
Happy shares with the men the contents of a letter he received in the
mail McCudden brought. The letter informed Happy of his wife’s
suicide and the circumstances of her death: she had been having a
relationship with another man and, when relatives found out and
threatened to write to Happy, she committed suicide. As with the
photographs of McCudden’s girlfriends—one of which, Happy later
confesses, was a picture of his wife—the newspaper and letter are
indicators of home. They mediate arcs of heterosexual desire that
incorporate what has happened back home into the action that is
unfolding here—or as Tiger puts it, collapsing the distance between
the two: “If we hadn’t been stuck up in this god-forsaken hole all of
this might never have happened.”
At the time that Outpost was broadcast in 1959, the ABC had been
producing television plays for just on three years. In doing so, it drew,
to a large extent, upon the genres and skills of local theatrical
production. It is indicative of the derivation of Outpost from theatrical
genres of playwriting that the plot is entirely set in New Guinea—for
playwrights of the time usually observed the economy of a single
setting. Ballet, on the other hand, may have offered a more flexible
performance genre for representing different places and times. Beth
Dean’s G’day Digger, a made-for-television ballet with music by John
In the theatre of war 99
Antill, premiered as a television broadcast by the ABC in February
1958. It tells the story of two Australian soldiers, initially during the
war in a bunker in Egypt and then later back home at a pub in Sydney.
In some respects, G’day Digger conforms to the conventional
alignments of the men going to war while the women—and a couple
of unsoldierly men—stay at home. Indeed, the two unsoldierly, stay-
at-home men are clearly differentiated in their style of movement from
the two diggers. The “Elegant Inebriate” is a drunk who stumbles and
totters around, while the “Bodgie” is an excessively stylish young man
who preens his appearance and prances about. What is more
interesting about G’day Digger is the way in which the choreography
performed by the soldiers, firstly at war and later at home, convolutes
the two locations. It is home as recalled when at war and the war as
recalled when home that comprise the central choreographic concerns
of each locale. When the soldiers are at the front, the actions of war
are temporarily displaced by a friendly encounter and recollections of
home. Swimming at the beach, drinking beer and dancing with
women are among the actions mimed by the two dancers to recall life
back home, before the war reasserts its presence in the choreography
and the dancers dive and tumble in response to an attack (see figure
Back home in Sydney, the soldiers meet up at a pub and,
predictably enough, fall in love with the barmaid and her friend. In
publicity for the ballet in the Sydney Morning Herald, G’day Digger
was described as “a light-hearted fantasy” (“Antill Ballet” 1958). But
at certain moments the choreography of romance is disrupted by
untimely recollections of war, making the memory of war an ongoing
presence in ways which the soldiers did not anticipate in their war-
time evocation of the good life back home. Disruptive and disturbing
memories of war are clearly evoked in a sequence danced by Alex
Crethar, the Digger’s Mate who has just been knocked out in a fight
with the Bodgie. At this point, Antill scores some twenty-two taped
sound effects of urban and industrial noise into an interlude of
“concrete music”, while Crethar’s movements become abstract. His
actions are off-balance and repetitions are disrupted in a dance which
the Heral d described as “representing the workings of his
subconscious mind” (“Antill Ballet” 1958). Elsewhere, the
choreography enacts the soldier’s shattered nerves: at one point, when
Men at Play 100
the Inebriate accidentally drops his bottles of beer, Crethar jumps into
a fighting stance, startled by the noise and rigid with fear.
The disarticulation between men’s experiences at war and their
longing for home is fondly remembered in The Season at Sarsaparilla
when Ernie and Nola Boyle’s suburban routine is disrupted with the
arrival of Rowley “Digger” Masson, Ernie’s mate from the war.
Welcoming Digger into the kitchen, Ernie “suddenly and shyly,
touches an invisible object”, a talisman of suburban living and
domestic convenience: “That’s the Mixmaster”, says Ernie, “Got
everythink now”. But Digger is unimpressed: “Somehow I never
thought of you in a set-up like this”. Ernie explains how “You gotta
make a place decent for the missus”, but Digger is soon lost in his
memories of their time together in the war: “Blokes were close to each
other then”, he says to Ernie. Then, after a silence, “I reckon you
forgot all that. You got sold on the bloody Mixmasters” (White 1965:
111). Digger’s accusation is that in embracing the feminised
modernity of suburban living, Ernie has forgotten the masculine
homosociality of war. Ernie rejects the accusation but later insists that
Digger accommodate his bodily functions to the convenience of
suburban sanitation: “‘Ere, you don’t ’ave to go outside, not in my
place. I’m not emptyin’ the cans for nothun. We’re a septic area ’ere”
Memories of war and anxieties about gender also circulated around
other satirical treatments of post-war suburban life in the theatre. “I
did not know it then”, writes Barry Humphries about his first
performance as Sandy Stone in 1958, “but with this tribute on the altar
of Mnemosyne Australian Nostalgia was born” (1981: 15). It is an
audacious claim, quite characteristic of Humphries, but one worth
taking seriously—especially if we recall that nostalgia is another
name for ‘homesickness’. For Sandy Stone is so ensconced in his
suburban home at 36 Gallipoli Crescent, Glen Iris, that he could never
suffer from feeling homesick again. Not that it is certain he did go to
war or to which war it was if he went (195–196). All we may know is

John Tasker directed the premiere production of The Season at Sarsaparilla
which opened at the Union Hall, University of Adelaide, on 14 September 1962.
John Sumner’s production for the UTRC opened at Russell Street Theatre,
Melbourne, on 16 October 1962. Tasker restaged the play in Sydney in a co-
production between the AETT and J.C. Williamson’s, opening at the Theatre
Royal on 22 May 1963.
In the theatre of war 101
that a “nice night’s entertainment” at the local Returned Services
League club figured prominently in Sandy’s suburban routine
(14–18), that he had an extensive collection of war pictorial books,
one for each year of the war (49–55), and that visits to the
Repatriation hospital were to become more common as his health
began to deteriorate (109–113).
Two images of Humphries in performance from the early 1960s
clearly contextualise his critique of Australian suburbia within the
period of post-war reconstruction (26–27). On one side we have
Sandy Stone, a faded man in striped pyjamas, indoors in an armchair
clutching a hot-water bottle for comfort, and on the other side is Edna
Everage, the good neighbour of Moonee Ponds, standing proudly on
Humoresque Street beneath a sign that proclaims “THIS IS A WAR
SAVINGS STREET”. Taken together, these images suggest that the
entire project of post-war reconstruction and suburban expansion was
motivated by a masculine aversion to feeling homesick. At the very
least, this is what motivates Mum and the boys back in Changi, who,
in the closing scene of Naked Island, conjure visions of a return to
home, hygiene and hot water at the end of the war—to “a nice big hot
bath” with “soap that stinks of perfume” and “real toothpaste” instead
of charcoal for cleaning their teeth (Braddon 1960: 210–211).
“The stimulus of failure”
When Australian audiences were attending productions of Naked
Island in the 1960s, the post-war project of soldier repatriation and
suburban expansion was progressing into its second decade. With
such wistful reveries to the conveniences of suburban modernity
characterising their homecoming, the psychological traumas of
returning Australian soldiers and prisoners of war may have seemed
less appetising to audiences at the time. Displacing the experience of
repatriation by a generation, Ric Throssell’s For Valour (1976)
reflected the life and death of his father, who fought in the First World
War and returned a war hero with a Victoria Cross, but who struggled
with the transition to civilian work, suffered financially during the
Depression years, and took his own life in 1934. The Canberra
Repertory Society gave For Valour its premiere production in August
1960; to our knowledge, the play has not been revived. The play script
was published with a commentary, entitled “The Hero in Defeat”, by
historian Manning Clark. “One of the paradoxes in the history of
Men at Play 102
Australia”, writes Clark, “is the stimulus of failure to the creative
imagination” (1976: v).
The “stimulus of failure” is certainly apparent in Vance Palmer’s
Prisoners’ Country. This play was given its premiere production by
the UTRC in 1960.
A reviewer for the Bulletin attributed the play to a
persistent theme in Palmer’s writing: “Time and again in his novels he
shows us men […] vainly exhausting their energies in battle against
the inescapable confines of their lives” (A.S.J. 1960: 23). Palmer died
in 1959. The posthumous production was not judged a success. Like
For Valour, the play has not been revived. The Bulletin lamented that
Palmer had not had the opportunity to revise the play during rehearsal
and that, “due to a natural reluctance to tamper with the last words of
a man who has meant so much to Australian letters”, director John
Sumner “allowed the script to speak more-or-less for itself; and where
it sags the production sags with it” (A.S.J. 1960: 24). Geoffrey Hutton
of the Age attended sympathetically to the structural problems of a
“novelist’s play”, diagnosing “an overabundance of ideas which are
too profuse to be resolved” yet recognising the play’s significance.
“This is a large and intensely serious play”, writes Hutton, noting
parenthetically that it offered “no comic relief” and commending the
play to the nation: “In the history of the Australian play, I think
Prisoners’ Country will be remembered” (1960).
The play is set at a homestead in the remote north-west and opens
with the return of a son from the war. An aging Indigenous stockman,
Duggan, is sitting on the veranda tending his ingrown eyelashes with
tweezers and a broken piece of mirror. It is evening and “from the
blacks’ camp across the creek comes the faint rhythmical chant of a
corroboree” (Palmer 1960: 1). When Duggan’s wife enters, we learn
that the corroboree is to celebrate the return from the war of “young
Floyd”, the son of Bart Cunningham, the white owner of the property.
Cunningham had “thought the Japs had done in young Floyd” (1),
and, with no son to take over, there had been talk of selling the
property (4). However, Floyd survived as a prisoner of war for four
years in Java. “D’you think I’d want to throw in the towel when my
boy’s just come home to run the place?”, objects Cunningham when a
neighbour enquires about his intention to sell (4). Thus the corroboree
celebrates not only Floyd’s survival and return home, but also the

John Sumner’s production of Prisoners’ Country opened at the Union Theatre,
University of Melbourne, on 18 January 1960.
In the theatre of war 103
future in which he will take over the station. The “fellas from sandhill
country” have good reason to celebrate. Floyd was “brought up among
them” after his mother died when he was three (6): “My father and I
were never very close to one another”, explains Floyd to his step-
mother Thea; “an old gin named Ruby was more of a mother to me”
Floyd is thus close to the Indigenous characters and has
enlightened ideas about race which differ from those of the neighbour
who enquired about buying the property (7). But Floyd is no longer
the man who went off to war, as Cunningham explains:
They gave him the works, those Nips in the camps they made in Java. Fed
him on nothing but muck; bashed him if he turned a look on them like
they couldn’t bash the fellows in Changi. Got him, the Nips did, when he
was on special mission, running in planes for the Dutch. And cut off all
those years from his mates in Malaya. Records all balled up and no one to
know whether he was alive or dead. Easy to understand if he finds it a bit
hard to shake down now he’s come back. (7)
Floyd is “different since he came back”, he has a “look in his eyes”
and a “mind a thousand miles away” (6). He is moody and rude to the
neighbour and his vision of the future is bleak (7–8). He was married
before the war, but has now fallen out with his wife, who had once
thought him dead (1, 12). He also expresses strong reservations about
the plan that he inherit the property: “My inheritance, eh? Spinifex,
sandhills, cattle—a handful of human beings black and not so black
… It’s a responsibility I don’t want” (12). For the most part, the
characters are reticent to discuss Floyd’s experience as a prisoner of
war and they are taciturn when they do. When Thea wants to “go in
and see what’s upset him” and “try to jolly him up a bit”, Cunningham
orders her to “leave him alone” (7). Floyd himself “won’t talk about
it” (4) and likes to be alone (21).
When Cunningham injures himself in a contest of strength which
he loses to Duggan (11), Floyd has no choice but to take control of the
property. While Cunningham convalesces in a hospital on the coast
and goes on a holiday with Thea to Java and Singapore, Floyd
institutes some managerial changes on the property. He prioritises
trust by refusing to lock up the office (23) and he strikes Duggan’s
debts from the property’s accounts (31). Floyd’s experience of
humiliation as a prisoner of war has given him insight into the
experience of Indigenous men; he claims to understand how
Men at Play 104
humiliation “can ride a man” (24). When Cunningham returns, Floyd
discusses the property and its Indigenous workers with him:
FLOYD: Well, then, let’s look at it with a cold eye, Dad. You’ve built a little
world here for yourself. Not many men could have done it; you can take
pride in that. But the making of Karoola and the running of it was your
idea of a free and satisfying life—it wasn’t Duggan’s.
CUNNINGHAM: Don’t tell me that old no-hoper had a better one.
FLOYD: Perhaps not. But we all have different ideas of what a free life is.
Duggan’s may have been cock-eyed, but it was his own part of his pride
in being a man. (34)
Drawing moral insight for the future from his psychological trauma,
Floyd’s war-engendered appreciation of “pride in being a man”
provides a basis for reconfiguring race relations on the property. At
this point, Floyd announces his intention to accept the inheritance and
take over the property (34). Responding in turn, Cunningham
acknowledges how “Floyd sees life more easily through the eyes of an
old camp black than he does through mine” (37). Indeed, Floyd and
Duggan’s daughter Warrie have quietly grown close, creating tension
for Cooney, the station overseer. Floyd is injured in an accident,
fatally as it turns out, when the horse that he is riding—selected and
saddled by the jealous overseer—falls while they are working in the
cattle yards (38). Lying on a bed, “feeling nothing” and waiting for
the Flying Doctor to arrive, Floyd reveals that Warrie is pregnant with
his child (40). In the final act, Warrie gives birth to a boy of mixed
race, although, since Floyd has died, the future for race relations on
the property remains uncertain. The boy’s grandfathers, Cunningham
and Duggan, find reconciliation as they retire, while the neighbour,
moving in to take over the property, complains about the blacks
behaving “as if they owned the country” (45).
Prisoners’ Country is worth remembering for the way it charts,
however sketchily, the psychology of Floyd’s humiliation as a
prisoner of war. Palmer’s insight was to discover in that psychology
some leverage for dislodging the monopoly that white men have held
over the future of the nation. Early in the play Floyd challenges the
neighbour, asking “What does the future mean to you? How do you
see the world when you look ahead?” (8). The neighbour talks of
“new country being opened up, new sources of wealth tapped” and
“progress, scientific advance on all fronts” leading to “a big
improvement on the world we know now”, but Floyd is scathing of
such “newspaper-talk about the white man and his glorious future”
In the theatre of war 105
(8). Floyd’s counter discourse anticipates an indigenising process
whereby white Australians seek to synthesise a postcolonial
specificity by hybridising elements from Indigenous and Asian
cultures (Tiffin 1984; Gilbert 1998: 205). This indigenising process is
emergent in Prisoners’ Country, embodied by the mixed-race baby
boy but compromised as long as white men own the land. As for Asia,
“it wasn’t any good”, says Thea of the trip she took with Cunningham
to Java and Singapore, “the only thing that interested him was finding
the camp where Floyd had been imprisoned by the Japs” (Palmer
1960: 29).
The whiteness of humiliation
Since the time of Prisoners’ Country, the psychological trauma of
those Australians who were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese
has been well rehearsed. Helen Gilbert’s comparative analysis of John
Romeril’s The Floating World (1975) and Jill Shearer’s Shimada
(1989) reveals how playwrights have deployed memories of the
humiliations, deprivations and indignities suffered by prisoners of war
and gender anxieties about bodily violation, sexual submission,
feminisation and castration to dramatise the character psychology of
those Australian men who were affected by the war (Gilbert 1998:
Shimada opens with a striking image of submission. Eric and
Clive, who team up after the war to run a bicycle factory, are first seen
in a jungle clearing in 1945, kneeling “face to face, barechested, in
tattered shorts” (Shearer 1989: 1).
A Japanese soldier, Shimada,
“stands upstage”, “looking down” at them, and orders them to lower
their heads as he unsheathes his sword (1). Shimada is characterised
as particularly sadistic. In one scene, he repeatedly kicks Clive who is
trying to explain the meaning of “humane” (27–28). In another scene,
Shimada kills the prison’s transvestite entertainer with a single blow
to the neck, then takes the “combpin” from the entertainer’s headdress
and drives it into Clive’s stomach and orders him to sing (41–42).
Such violence feminises the prisoners of war and renders them

Simon Phillips’s premiere production of Shimada for the MTC opened at the
Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne, on 25 April 1987. David Bell directed a
production for the Queensland Theatre Company (QTC) which opened at the
Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, on 5 July 1990. Phillips revived his production at the
Broadhurst Theatre, New York, in April 1992 (see Shearer 2002).
Men at Play 106
impotent. Shimada’s accusation that haunts Eric to his death is “You
Australian soldiers soft” (47). These images of the Japanese soldiers
committing war-time violations of Australian men resonated in the
1980s with anxieties about Japanese business interests and property
acquisitions in Australia (Radic 1987; Thomson 1987). The play
alternates scenes of the prisoners of war from the past with scenes
from the present at the bicycle factory, which is about to be taken over
by a Japanese firm. The actor who plays Shimada in the war scenes
doubles as Toshio, the Japanese businessman negotiating the takeover
of the factory.
Similar images and anxieties have re-appeared in other productions
since. In a scene from Nigel Triffit’s spectacle The Fall of Singapore,
an Australian prisoner kneels centre stage while a Japanese soldier
lifts a sword behind him and strikes him down. The Australian
prisoner, who is naked except for a slouch hat, is then tied with ropes
and strung up by his feet (The Fall of Singapore 1995). In A Bright
and Crimson Flower, Davey’s epic work of documentary theatre, the
prisoners of war are from the outset victims of repeated physical
abuse. The violence of the Japanese guards is evoked through voice-
over and the prisoners’ physical reactions (A Bright and Crimson
Flower 1995). Such scenes of young Australian men being taken as
prisoners of war and cruelly treated by Japanese soldiers were also
dramatised in John Doyle’s ABC Television mini-series Changi
(2001; see Garton 2002).
In the two decades after the end of the Second World War, men’s
experiences at war were remembered in performance with warmth and
affection that suffused their return to the comforts and cleanliness of
suburban life. The home to which Mum and the boys in Naked Island
longed to return from their imprisonment was clean, sweet-smelling
and well-lit at night. Like the toothpaste that Magpie knew would
taste so much better than the charcoal he had been using to clean his
teeth, home in their nostalgic imagination was luminously white. Only
in Prisoners’ Country, where Palmer sought to channel the prisoner of
war experience into an indigenising transformation in which the white
man would disappear, did the Australia of the post-war future appear
as anything but white.
Susan Robinson describes the emergence since the 1960s of
strategies whereby white men in America have come to mark
themselves as visible, as particular and embodied subjects. One such
In the theatre of war 107
strategy that Robinson identifies is the exhibition of the injuries and
woundings that white male bodies have sustained. Robinson explains
the significance of white men becoming visible in this way:
Invisibility is a privilege enjoyed by social groups who do not, thus, attract
modes of surveillance and discipline; but it can also be felt as a burden in a
culture that appears to organize itself around the visibility of differences and
the symbolic currency of identity politics. (2002: 4)
The recent circulation of so many quasi-ritualistic images of white
Australian men suffering prisoner of war abuse in productions like
Shimada, The Fall of Singapore, A Bright and Crimson Flower and
Changi is designed, it seems, to honour an Australia that is passing or
has passed. Yet in the face of the indigenising relations with the
nation’s Asian neighbours that are now programmed onto arts
festivals stages, this is an Australia that was once but is no longer
indicatively masculine and white.

For example, Sandakan Threnody, a collaboration between Singaporean director
Ong Keng Sen and Australian composer Jonathan Mills, used international cross-
cultural collaboration to complicate the telling of a story about Australian
prisoners of war who died on a forced march from Sandarkan in Borneo. The
production premiered at the Singapore Festival in July 2004 and was subsequently
presented at the Brisbane and Melbourne Festivals (Grehan 2006).
Figure 5.1 Naked Island
Jon Dennis (left) as Magpie, Alan Tobin as Yamomota and Ron Haddrick
as Jack in Russell Braddon’s Naked Island directed by Ronald Denson at
the Union Theatre, University of Sydney, in January 1962. (Reproduced
by courtesy of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust from F.R. Harvey,
Theatre, Arts in Australia series, Melbourne: Longmans Green, 1965.)
Figure 5.2 Outpost
Paul Karo (left) as Flight Sergeant Steve McCudden and Keith Eden as
Sergeant ‘Happy’ Adams in John Cameron’s television play Outpost,
transmitted on ABC Television in Sydney on 18 November 1959.
(Reproduced by courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: Australian
Broadcasting Corporation, series SP1426/4, control 163, 1956-1969.)
Figure 5.3 G’day Digger
Colin Fitzgerald (left) as the Digger and Alex Crethar as the Digger’s
mate in Beth Dean’s ballet G’day Digger, transmitted on ABC Television
in Sydney on 11 February 1958. (Reproduced by courtesy of the National
Archives of Australia: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, series
SP1426/4, control 99, 1958.)
Chapter 6
“Wog boy” moves
Since the mid-1980s, Greek-Australian actors have led the cultivation
of a transnational style of masculinity in the theatre and on the screen.
This transnational masculinity is recognisable in performance as an
energetically assertive style of wog boy attitudes and expressions. The
style draws on the experience of men born in Australia to parents who
migrated from Greece and other parts of southern Europe. We trace its
emergence to the period of post-war migration and to concerns about
migrant men disrupting the gender order of Anglo-Australian life.
Indeed, performances on screen by actors such as Alex Dimitriades in
The Heartbreak Kid (1993), Head On (1998) and La Spagnola (2001),
Nick Giannopoulos and Vince Colossimo in The Wog Boy (2000) and
Paul Fenech, Paul Nakad and Tahir Bilgic in Fat Pizza (2003) are
only the most recent mediations of a masculinity which has been
cultivated in contexts of live performance for some time.
On the stage, the wog boy style came to prominence in comedy
shows like Giannopoulos’s Wogs Out of Work from 1987 and its
sequels, and in plays like Richard Barrett’s The Heartbreak Kid
(1988) and Greg Andreas’s Milk and Honey (1992). Yet even in the
1960s, concerns about the transnational masculinity of migrant men
were animating the performance of some new Australian plays such as
Richard Beynon’s The Shifting Heart (1960), Theodore Patrikareas’s
The Promised Woman (2000) and David Martin’s The Young Wife
(1966). In exploring the emergence of a wog boy style of masculinity
in Australia, we trace its migratory departure from the patriarchal
masculinity of the homeland. We also consider how an erotic interest
in the masculinity of migrant men from Mediterranean Europe
encountered an Anglo-Australian investment in the classical aesthetics
of Greco-Roman culture.
In Australian vernacular, the term wog was once—and, in certain
circumstances, still is—a denigrating term of ethnic designation used
“Wog boy” moves 109
by Anglo-Celtic Australians to mark migrants’ cultural difference
from the hitherto predominantly Anglo-Celtic mores of Australian
life. Initially the term applied to migrants of non-Anglo-Celtic origin,
although in the post-war period its usage focused in particular on
those migrating from Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. Following a
pattern which saw the transformation of other terms of denigration
into identifiers of difference, the term was subject to strategic
reclamation in the 1980s. Researching the cultural politics of
Australian comedy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tony Mitchell
describes the transformation of the term wog into a “defiantly
positive” term of “self-description” (1992: 130). Mitchell cites Hilary
Glow’s review of Wogs Out of Work as pivotal to this transformation:
“It is no small part of this show’s success that ‘wogs’ become the
subject of celebration rather than denigration” (quoted in Mitchell
1992: 131). Indeed, Jane Warren, conducting research into the socio-
linguistic phenomenon of wogspeak in Melbourne in the 1990s,
attributes this reclamation in large part to “the success of stage shows
such as Wogs Out of Work, Wogarama and […] Wogboys” and the
work of “wog comedy” performers Giannopoulos, Mary Coustas
(“Effie”) and George Kapiniaris (1999: 89–91). Likewise Pieter
Aquilia, in an essay on the “exploitation of ethnic elements” in
Australian film and television drama, observes how Alex
successful career switch from film heart-throb [in The Heartbreak Kid] to
prime-time commercial television [in the spin-off series Heartbreak High]
had a significant impact on teenage attitudes to non-Anglo protagonists, and
his popularity saw a new breed of adolescent take up the banner of ‘wog’
pride. (2001: 105)
The sociology of the term reveals a more complex pattern of usage
than the notion of proud reclamation implies. Scott Poynting, Greg
Noble and Paul Tabar conducted a study of masculinity and ethnicity
among young men and women living in suburban south-western
Sydney in the 1990s. A group of young men of Lebanese background
interviewed in the study reported that wog was simultaneously active
in their social world as a term of solidarity and abuse—as is evident in
one young man’s claim: “if anyone called me a wog, they wouldn’t be
speaking to me alone” (1998: 79). For these young men, “wogs” was
what they had “in common” with an extended group of friends which
included others from Lebanese, Greek, Italian and Arabic back-
Men at Play 110
grounds (79–80). But they also experienced wog as a term of insult
and abuse, used against them by “Aussies”, particularly at school (84).
It is evident that both the history of the term and its current usage
were active in shaping the young men’s experience of masculinity,
especially in defining the tone of their relations with young Anglo-
Celtic Australian men. These young Lebanese-Australian men
experienced racism not so much as an “offence to their humanity” but
as “an affront to their manhood” (88).
Some commentators have drawn comparisons between the style of
masculinity in The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza and the Anglo-Celtic
Australian ocker masculinity evident from the late 1960s in works like
Jack Hibberd’s White with Wire Wheels (1970), David Williamson’s
The Coming of Stork (1974) and Don’s Party (1974), and the films,
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972) and Barry McKenzie Holds
His Own (1974) (Pulford 2002; Speed 2005). Lesley Speed lists the
commonalities that wog boy masculinity shares with the ocker style:
the use of the broad Australian vernacular with its sexist vocabulary
(mates, chicks) and outspoken profanities, its “self-satisfied vulgarity,
uncouthness, bigotry and male chauvinism”; an “inordinate
attachment” to cars; the sexual objectification of women; a “utopian
re-modelling” of mateship across ethnic division; and “a linking of
vulgarity with social class” (141–142). Speed recognises that “the
behaviour of protagonists in wog comedy films has clear affinities
with ocker masculinity” (141), yet overlooks one crucial difference in
gender style: unlike ockers, wog boys can dance.
Wog boy style at speed
Our first observation about the masculinity of wog boy style is its
physical energy, its mobility and speed. Wog boy performances are
energised through the characters’ interactions with the technologies of
dance music, fast cars and illicit drugs. Speed, of course, is a
colloquial term for amphetamines, a group of illicit drugs which
stimulate the central nervous system and generate effects of increased
alertness, confidence and energy. The drug features prominently in the
comedy of The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza. In The Wog Boy, Dominic is a
thirty-eight-year-old chemist who lives with his mother and sets up a
speed lab beneath his shop to help pay off gambling debts, but the
plan backfires when the speed lab explodes. In Fat Pizza, two
Lebanese men, Sleek and Habib, are driving down the street when
“Wog boy” moves 111
they are stopped by police; Habib panics and, fumbling with plastic
bags full of drugs, ends up spraying white powder over Sleek’s face.
Later in the film, Davo, a dope-smoking Anglo-Australian pizza
delivery boy, discovers a backyard speed lab run by a gang of bikers
and, as in The Wog Boy, the speed lab accidentally explodes.
Speed is even more prominent in the film Head On, where
depictions of its usage fuel the film’s narrative drive. Ari is an
unemployed young man born to Greek parents living in Melbourne.
Over the course of the film’s twenty-four-hour narrative, we see Ari
buying speed from a kitchen hand at a kafenion, injecting it into his
arm, selling a bag of it to his cousin Joe, and snorting it on several
occasions with his cousin Betty—once in her bedroom at home, a
second time in a toilet cubicle at a Greek club and a third time off a
table at a gay club. Amphetamine usage in the film serves to
accelerate and intensify the energy with which Ari moves, as he walks
the streets, travels in cars, listens to music and dances in clubs
(McMahon 2001). Importantly, Ari’s amphetamine-fuelled mobility
out and about on the streets of the city inscribes an orbit which
threatens to exceed the gravitational inertia of his family’s home and
its Greek cultural heritage. It is this orbit, in particular, which traces
the trajectory of earlier wog boy performances on stage.
Alex Dimitriades, who plays Ari in Head On, first came to
prominence in The Heartbreak Kid, a film adaptation of the stage play
first performed in Sydney in 1987.
Written by Anglo-Australian
playwright Richard Barrett, The Heartbreak Kid tells the story of
Nicky, a Greek-Australian teenager who falls in love with a Papa, a
young Greek-Australian woman who teaches him at school. Set in a
high school and written with a school-age audience in mind, the play’s
scripting of mobility and speed is achieved without recourse to illicit
drugs. Rather, for Nicky and his mate Con, it is their school-yard
bravado, boisterous classroom behaviour and high-energy soccer
routines that energise their embodiment of wog boy style beyond the
confines of the classroom and their homes (see figure 6.1).
The opening scene of the play establishes a tension between the
physicality of soccer and the requirements of study at school. Con is
playing with the soccer ball, while Nicky

The premiere production of The Heartbreak Kid, directed by Peter Kingston,
opened at the Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst, on 29 July 1987.
Men at Play 112
crouches over pen and paper, working something out. He
concentrates, ignoring CON. CON aims the ball, and heads it into
NICKY’S lap.
NICKY: What the …
Nicky grabs the ball, tosses it away and immediately goes back to his
work. Con chases the ball and dribbles it around.
CON: (imitating a commentator) Patikas passes it to Katholos. Katholos is
within striking distance. What’s he going to do with it?
CON runs into NICKY, pretending to have been tackled.
Oh! Oh!
He falls to the ground melodramatically.
That must be a penalty! That must be!
NICKY: Are you going to help me? Or piss off?
CON: (holding his ankle) He’s hurt! He’s definitely hurt!
NICKY: Get up!
CON: (appealing) Well, what is it, ref? Is it a penalty or what?
NICKY: You heard me!
CON jumps up smiling. (Barrett 1988: 1–2)
But our initial impression that Nicky is trying to concentrate on school
work is mistaken. Nicky is drawing up plans and enlisting players to
convince the Anglo-Australian sports teacher to set up a competition
for the boys who would rather play soccer than rugby (3–5). The
choice of sport is ethnically marked—Anglo-Australian boys play
rugby; the Greek-Australian boys want to play soccer—and the
distinction is embodied by the actor playing Nicky.
Three scenes later, after we have learnt that Nicky is not doing well
with his homework (19–21), Papa is talking with another teacher,
Graham, as they watch Nicky play soccer. She wonders aloud: “It’s
strange, you know. They sit there day after day, and you just don’t
realise”. And then, after a pause, “But look at him move” (29). Papa’s
appreciation of the way Nicky moves when playing soccer is
immediately recognised by Graham and eroticised for the audience in
the conversation that follows:
GRAHAM: Look at you. Your eyes are nearly dropping out of your head.
PAPA: I just like the look of him.
GRAHAM: You can say that again.
PAPA: Well? Don’t you?
GRAHAM takes another look at NICKY.
GRAHAM: Mmm. I see what you mean. But he’s not my type. (29)
The erotic attention given to Nicky’s body and the way that he moves
is replayed in the following scene. Nicky, Con and Steve are in their
respective bedrooms, in front of imaginary mirrors, getting dressed to
“Wog boy” moves 113
go out for the evening. The manner in which the boys get ready
differentiates the three along a gradient of self-confidence in their
They take off their shirts. They look again in the mirror. They reach
over and put on aftershave. CON starts tentatively, dabbing a bit here
and there, eventually covering himself with it. NICKY is extravagant.
STEVE thinks about putting some on but decides against it. (33)
It is a set piece, recognisable as an adaptation of a well-known scene
in Saturday Night Fever (1977) in which John Travolta dresses for a
night out at the disco, although, in this instance, it is “rock music” that
is playing, “perhaps AC/DC” (Barrett 1988: 33).
Instead of going to
Orbit, their regular night spot, the boys are heading out to the
Exchange, a pub on Oxford Street in inner-city Darlinghurst. It is a bit
of an adventure: “Try something new for a change”, says Nicky, who
thinks it “sophisticated” and “different” (34). The pub is playing disco
music when they enter. But it’s too much for Steve: “I told you. Wall-
to-wall poofters.” Nicky points out a woman but Steve isn’t staying:
“I’m getting out of here before some guy kisses me” (34). Nicky and
Con persist, although the night is not a success. They are outclassed
by the inner-city sophisticates they encounter (37). Nicky almost starts
a fight and Con thinks they “would’ve been better off at Orbit” (38).
Their night out, however, is indicative of the self-confidence, social
mobility and sexual agency which characterise the wog boy trajectory
away from family, home and heritage.
Tracing a trajectory …
The Heartbreak Kid provides an interesting point of convergence in
the history of wog boy masculinity. Nick Giannopoulos, the lead actor
and script-writer for the film The Wog Boy, once directed and played
the role of Nicky in a production of The Heartbreak Kid. This was in
Melbourne in 1989 following the hugely successful stage show Wogs
Out of Work which launched Giannopoulos’s career in 1988. Since
that time, Giannopoulos has worked on a series of stage shows—
including Wogarama from 1993, Wogboys from 1996 and Wog Story
from 2001—where he has appeared alongside actors like Alex
Dimitriades, Vince Colossimo and Paul Nakad who have since gone

A disco scene in The Wog Boy also makes explicit reference to Saturday Night
Men at Play 114
on to appear in films like Head On, The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza.
Indeed, to look across the cast lists of these stage productions, feature
films and related television shows such as Acropolis Now (1989–
1992), Heartbreak High (1994–1999) and Pizza (2000–2005) is to
trace almost two decades of interaction and collaboration between
male performers in cultivating and disseminating the wog boy style.
Arguably, however, the history of the style is older than this. The
1966 film They’re a Weird Mob offered what was, in its time, perhaps
the most prominent of early images of wog boy style. Based on the
1957 novel by John O’Grady (who published pseudonymously as
Nino Culotta), the film tells the story of Nino, an Italian immigrant
who arrives in Sydney to discover that the job as a sports writer he
had lined up with his cousin has fallen through. He takes a labouring
job instead, building houses in the suburbs. The building site affords
director Michael Powell an opportunity to put actor Walter Chiari’s
body on display in a manic montage of energetic labour. However, as
the film progresses, the distinctive qualities of Chiari’s gestural style
are subject to modification and diminution as his character learns on
the job to mimic the behaviours of Anglo-Australian working-class
Richard Beynon’s The Shifting Heart, first produced on stage in
1957 and later adapted for television in 1968, offers another
antecedent of wog boy masculinity (see also chapters 2 and 8). It tells
the story of an Italian migrant family living in a working-class suburb
of Melbourne. The dramatic action of the play centres on Gino, the
youngest and only son of the family, who is first described by Leila,
the Anglo-Australian next-door neighbour, as “the big boy” and a
“lover boy, too, from what I hear. Collingwood’s Casanova” (Beynon
1960: 11). When Gino comes home from work, he invites the married
next-door neighbour out to the dance with him. But she declines:
“Don’t think me old pins’d stand up to it, Gino” (13–14). As in The
Heartbreak Kid, Gino goes to get changed. Appearing at the upstairs
window, he asks his mother:
GINO: […] Momma, you gonna change?
MOMMA. Change? What for?
GINO: For Christmas, Momma…
MOMMA: So’s Christmas; we still gotta eat.
GINO [cajoling]: Come on; for today, that’s all … make yourself beautiful,
MOMMA: You make yourself beautiful if you like … (17)
“Wog boy” moves 115
Gino goes to take a shower despite his father’s protestations that he
had already “washed this morning” (24). Gino is insistent: “Poppa, I
work since this morning. I smell. I STINK! I gotta have a shower” (25).
While Gino is in the bathroom, his brother-in-law Clarry arrives on
the scene. Clarry has been talking to his wife, Maria (Gino’s sister),
and has some questions for Gino who answers from the upstairs
bathroom window. We learn from Clarry that Gino got into a fight at
the dance last weekend (26). We also learn what going out dancing
means for Gino’s movements in the future:
CLARRY: […] what else did you tell Maria?
GINO: Nothing. Like I say … ?
CLARRY: About Collingwood. You told her you hated it. You wanted to move.
Go somewhere else.
GINO: Me? No—I don’t tell her that. Why should I tell her that? ’Cos I don’t
want to move. I like Collingwood. I like it, plenty. Ooooh … maybe I say
I don’t stay here for always. Maybe someday I meet up with a nice girl,
and … [He grins.] I don’t wanna be an uncle all my life. Someday I be a
poppa, like you, Clarry … and teach my boy English; real fair-dinkum,
like you teach me. (28)
But the conversation ends there. “I got a lot to do”, says Gino. “Like
dolling up for the dance?”, jibes Clarry. Gino “nods enthusiastically”:
“But tonight’s no dance; tonight’s something big; something special.
Something REAL special. [He grins.] I gotta look pretty” (28). Such
talk about looking “beautiful” and “pretty” and such high spirits—
Gino “laughs” (13), speaks “gaily” (13), “nods enthusiastically” and
“grins” (28)—mark the pleasure of Gino’s appearances at the upstairs
window, and interruptions to his plan to shower provide opportunities
for the actor playing Gino to appear undressed (13, 17, 24, 36). These
opportunities are taken in the television adaptation where the role of
Gino is played by Allen Bickford. Instead of Gino coming down to the
veranda, perhaps in a towel, as would be necessary on stage, the
conversation with Clarry takes place in the bathroom itself as Gino
has his shower. Some tight framing as the camera pans up Bickford’s
body, some careful work from Bickford with a towel, and some
averted eyes from Tom Oliver who plays Clarry enable the viewer to
imagine that Bickford is fully naked as he takes his shower.
On the stage, the audience is left to imagine what happens when
Gino goes out to the dance. In the first scene of the second act, Gino
initially returns home unexpectedly early (51). He “moves
disconsolately”, “dropping on to the stool” down stage (52). At first
Men at Play 116
Clarry asks, “What’s she playing hard-to-get, is she?” but he then
realises that Gino has again been in a fight and “indicates [Gino’s]
injured cheek” (53). Gino, “with a vague, lost smile”, replies, “I guess
I … ran into another door” (53). But Clarry does not appreciate the
joke. Gino is defiant, “I’m just as good as you … or anybody else”,
and Clarry threatens to “settle” Gino “right bloody smart”. “Go ahead,
hit” is Gino’s challenge to Clarry, but the moment is defused as “the
fist comes slowly down” (54). Maria enters and offers Gino a Coca-
Cola, but Gino “shakes his head”, and says “Good night” to Poppa.
“Ooh, Gino, you don’t be sad”, says Poppa, “She turn you down
tonight … [Naughtily.] ‘S always tomorrow”. “Tomorrow’s too late”,
says Gino, exiting from the scene and heading back to the dance, “I
got to catch up with today” (54).
At the end of the scene, Gino returns home once again:
[…] staggering into the light comes GINO. Clothes torn … clutching
the fence for support … his eyes seek out MOMMA. His head slowly
turns, and it is only then that we see the red, bloody damage to the
upstage side of his face. Stunned almost beyond comprehension, an
animal moan is forced deep from MOMMA’S stomach. He staggers and
falls … but before she reaches him … THE CURTAIN HAS FALLEN. (64)
In the next scene, we learn that a fight had broken out when Gino was
refused entrance to the dance on account of his ethnicity. Policeman
Lukie, who arrives to check some facts, explains to Clarry how “New
Australians” “like to dance” and “some of them’re not bad”, but the
“trouble is, they don’t get their way, they go all temperamental” and
“start breaking things up” (71):
Rules are rules. They explained nice and peaceful; they told him the first
time, and he was sensible; bit of a skirmish … but he went away. When he
came back again he wasn’t so sensible, they tell me. Tried to hack his way
in with a knife. (71–72)
With his mobility out of the family home and into the world off-
stage and with his keen interest in pursuing the pleasures of dancing,
Gino’s narrative trajectory inscribes an orbit which anticipates that
which the camera traces in tracking Ari’s trajectory in the film Head
On. Indeed, the television adaptation of The Shifting Heart includes
scenes shot at and outside a discotheque. As young Anglo-Australians
dance excitedly inside and Gino’s Anglo-Australian girlfriend waits
for him outside, the bouncer refuses Gino permission to enter,
claiming there are no tickets. When Gino objects, three blond Anglo-
“Wog boy” moves 117
Australian men surround him and the bouncer repeats, “No tickets.
That’s final”. The violence itself is not shown, but the menace of
violence and its ethnic basis are clear.
… beyond patriarchal authority
Gino and Ari retrace on an urban scale a trajectory of their family’s
migration. Leaving the family home behind, they head out into the
city. In both the play and the film, the father is located at home and
aligned with the homeland in a manner which contrasts with the urban
mobility of the son. In The Shifting Heart, Poppa plays songs from the
homeland on his harmonica. When he tries to play the Australian
folksong “Waltzing Matilda”, his “playing has a plaintive sadness
about it; an error of adjustment” (Beynon 1960: 8). Like Poppa, Ari’s
father in Head On is first seen in the backyard. He is working in the
garden. It is the morning and Ari has come home after a night out. His
father is angry and wants to know where Ari has been. Later, when
Ari is dancing to an old rock and roll song in the kitchen with his
mother, Ari’s father comes into the kitchen, changes the music to a
traditional Greek song and challenges Ari to dance a tsiftiteli. The
choreography of the dance conveys something of the power dynamic
of their relation: Ari’s father kneels while Ari dances. In dancing for
his father, Ari recognises his father’s authority to command
participation in the traditions of Greek culture, but the image of his
father kneeling (when recalled alongside images of men kneeling for
sex) indicates how, in Australia, the life that Ari lives beyond the
family home threatens to exceed the patriarch’s authority.
Noting differences in parents’ attitudes to the sexuality of teenage
girls among Italian, Greek and Lebanese parents, Poynting, Noble and
Tabar suggest that the “traditional disciplining of the sexual activity of
adolescents, brought with the culture of the homeland, cannot be
sustained much beyond one generation of immigration” (1998: 90).
This has consequences for ethnic masculinity and immigrant fathers,
in particular:
We conjecture that their senses of themselves as men—as providers, as heads
of families—undergo critical changes in the processes of immigration and
settlement, as the effects of the labour market and the commodity society
drastically impinge on traditional familial relations, disrupting the family
balance of forces and rearranging identities. (90)
Men at Play 118
Greek-Australian playwright Greg Andreas illustrates the trans-
formation of masculinity from immigrant patriarch to wayward son in
his absurdist farce, Milk and Honey (1994).
According to Andreas,
the play “deals with the collapse of the Australian dream for a
particular migrant family” and is to be performed at a cracking pace
with characteristic energy. “When the characters speak to each other,
they must speak as if there is an exclamation after almost every
word”, instructs Andreas in a note to the director; “they must respond
to each other almost immediately” so that “the language almost
overlaps itself” (Andreas 1992: ii).
Pivotal to the collapse of the family is the fact that the father is
dead. His ashes (or what we are led to believe are his ashes) sit in an
urn on the mantelpiece. The father’s migration to Australia is an
auspicious story of self-sacrifice and hard work, but it has been told to
the son Georgie so often that it no longer generates the intended
appreciation and respect:
MOTHER (bitter and angry): Your father … your father came to this
GEORGIE: I’ve heard all this crap before—
MOTHER: And I’m going to tell you again! Your father worked like a dog in
this country. Do you know what a dog is Georgie?! (Andreas 1992: 5)
The circumstances of the father’s death are suspicious. For Mother,
her husband was killed in the line of patriarchal duty: “he worked his
fingers to the bone, right down to the bone until that day of judgement
when that tragic accident took his life” (5). However, Georgie, who
identified the body, harbours suspicions: “I don’t call six bullet holes
and two stab wounds to the heart a tragic accident, do you?” (5). The
father apparently made a portion of his fortune less than honourably.
Georgie wants to take over his father’s business empire, but his
Mother is refusing to hand over control. Georgie had a car accident
and the “violent part” of his brain is “playing up” (5). According to
Mother, the doctor says Georgie “react[s] spontaneously without any
clear thought or direction” (5). Mother tells Georgie: “you need time
to recover and settle down and become the man you once were” (5).
But Georgie wants to speed up: “I got out of hospital and I said I’m

Take Away Theatre’s premiere production of Milk and Honey, directed by
Nicholas Papademetriou, opened at the Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst, on 27
January 1994. Christina Totos directed a production at La Boite Theatre,
Brisbane, which opened on 29 June 1996.
“Wog boy” moves 119
going to live hard and fast ’cause I’ve been given a second chance at
life!” (7)
As the conversation unfolds, Georgie is packing a suitcase with
“fifty thou” for a drug deal. Mother is disapproving: she is trying to
marry off her daughter to a man who has recently migrated from
Greece and is concerned that “illegalities” in her house will create an
unfavourable impression. But Daughter, as she is named, falls
pregnant well before marriage and her suitor is less than desirable.
First he tells lies about the wealth of his father and then cons Daughter
into giving him large sums of money; later we learn that he already
has a wife back home in Greece who has just given birth to a son. The
play lurches from one out-of-control scene to the next. Along with the
marriage plans, Georgie’s drug deals go awry. “I think I’m losing
control”, he confesses at one point. “Don’t lose control” is Mother’s
futile reply (44). In the final scene, Georgie announces that he is about
to marry Pepsi, a Filippino bargirl he has brought back to his room
(55). Mother is outraged, Georgie exasperated. He issues a threat,
“I’m going and then when I come back I’m going to kill the whole lot
of you”, then exits never to return (56).
Georgie is a caricature of wog boy masculinity (see figure 6.2). His
manic speed and hyperactivity are palpable; his speech is littered with
exclamations and expletives. In his first scene, “he wears a silk white
shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, a pair of navy blue pleat trousers,
a gold ring of Alexander the Great and a thick gold chain” (4). In later
scenes, he appears in states of undress: with no pants after a drug deal
has gone wrong (39) and then, as Daughter is introducing her fiancé to
Mother, Georgie enters wearing underpants, carrying a gun in a
holster, and “freaks out a little” (50). Milk and Honey anticipates the
madcap comedy of Fat Pizza, in which the boys, likewise, have
anxious mothers, but no apparent fathers. Seeking to articulate the
play’s relation to the experience of Greek immigrants and their
children, the director of the play’s premiere production, Nicholas
Papademetriou, drew a generational distinction that marked the play’s
departure from the values of traditional Greek families:
We have a need to be our own people, a need to express ourself and do our
own thing, rather than adhere to older values that have been brought over and
held onto more steadfastly than their contemporaries (in Greece). They’ve
come to this isolated environment and they haven’t progressed. (Quoted in
Buchanan 1994)
Men at Play 120
Milk and Honey generates much of its comedy from the way the
energy, speed and mobility of Georgie’s wog boy masculinity exceeds
the limits of the family home whose patriarch has passed away.
Sexual agency, gendered ethnic
Our final observation about the wog boy style of masculinity concerns
its overtly assertive sexuality. In their depiction of sexual acts, the
films Head On, The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza are remarkably explicit
and characteristically energetic. That the sexual acts performed by Ari
in Head On are with both men and women should avert us from too
readily imposing a gendered analysis of heterosexual masculinity and
its propensity for sexual violence. For the most part, sexual agency in
these films is gendered masculine, but it is also gendered ethnic, if we
may describe it that way.
Sexual desire in The Wog Boy is energised by ethnic difference
between Anglo-Australian women (Lucy Bell, Abi Tucker and
Geraldine Turner) and the wog boy men (Giannopoulos and
Colossimo). During the course of the film two Asian-Australian men
(Hung Le and Trent Huen) adopt the wog boy style to increase their
sex appeal. In the world of Fat Pizza, there are two kinds of “chicks”:
“hot chicks”, who are typically Anglo-Australian, blond and the
willing recipients of sex; and then “ethnic chicks”, who are depicted
as undesirable yet active in desiring the men. Indeed, three “ethnic
chicks” whom Sleek ignores at the dance club later exact their revenge
by spiking his drink, taking him home, drugging him with Viagra and
having sex with him all night. For Ari in Head On, it is sex with the
Anglo-Australian man Sean at the end of the film that generates the
film’s most intensely violent depiction of sexual agency as an act of
defiance in the face of romantic affection.
However, this energetic and excessive sexual agency of wog boy
masculinity does not simply act out contemporary relations of gender
and sexuality. The men in Head On, The Wog Boy and Fat Pizza,
roaming the streets of the city in search of sex, are activating anxieties
which first emerged during the period of post-war migration. The
problem of ‘lonely migrant men’ in the mid-1950s is one indicator of
the extent to which the process of migration and its marking of ethnic
difference exposed heterosexual desire to unprecedented levels of
public anxiety and governmental administration. “Migrants without
girls” announced the headline for a newspaper article about the
“Wog boy” moves 121
troubles young migrant men were having in finding girlfriends in
Australia (“Migrants without girls” 1955).
Such was the perceived
problem that by 1956 the Australian immigration authorities had
established programs of assisted passage for single women from Italy
and Greece to address the gender imbalance (Murphy 2000: 165). A
related phenomenon was marriage by proxy, whereby young migrant
men arranged to marry women from back home, meeting their bride
for the first time when she arrived in Australia. Two Greek-Australian
plays from the 1960s told stories about migrant men and their so-
called proxy brides. The Promised Woman from 1963 and The Young
Wife from 1966 both demonstrate how migration exposed hetero-
sexual desire to public scrutiny, and both plays fail to resolve
persistent erotic anxieties about young migrant men.
The Promised Woman by Theodore Patrikareas was first performed
in Greek in 1963, under its original title Peta tee Fyssarmonica,
Pepino (Throw Away Your Harmonica). In 1974, it was translated and
adapted for film as The Promised Woman (1975) and since 2000 it has
had several successful seasons in a new English translation by
Sydney’s Sidetrack Performance Group.
The play is set in a boarding
house, run by a Greek couple in Newtown, an inner-city suburb of
Sydney. The most recent resident is Tellis, a smartly dressed thirty-
year-old Greek man who has contracted a marriage agreement with
Antigone, a woman from Greece whom he has never met. When
Antigone arrives, Tellis is disappointed that she is older and less
attractive than she appeared in the touched-up photo her sisters sent.
He wants to send her back to Greece, but she decides to stay. Three
months later, in act 3, Antigone has made a home for herself in the
boarding house and made friends with the boarders, while Tellis
skulks in the background, jealous of Antigone’s new-found

The same edition of the Sun also carried the headline “Afraid of Italian husband:
Australian woman and her Italian-born husband.
Similar stories of migration from Greece and marriage have been staged in more
recent works, in Tes Lyssiotis’s The Forty Lounge Cafe (1996) and Andreas
Litras’s Odyssey (1998).
Chris Mantourides directed the Hellenic Theatrical Group’s premiere Greek-
language production of Patrikareas’s play at the Anzac Auditorium, Sydney, in
1963. It was later staged in Melbourne and Adelaide, and in South Africa and
Greece. Don Mamouney’s English-language production opened at Sidetrack
Theatre, Marrickville, on 21 March 2000.
wife is told to return” for an article about a court case between an Anglo-
Men at Play 122
independence and friends. The play climaxes in act 4 with a fight
between Tellis and Antigone, in which he tries to strangle her but is
prevented by other boarders. The play ends with Antigone leaving the
boarding house to start a new life. But there is no real ending for
Tellis. With the fight over and Ken, the Anglo-Australian boarder,
threatening to ring the police, Tellis “runs to the front door and exits,
with a groan”. Ken yells after him: “Run away, you bloody wog. It
won’t be long before they catch you and send you back where you’ve
come from” (Patrikareas 2000: 272).
The Young Wife was first performed in Melbourne in 1966, David
Martin having adapted it from his 1962 novel of the same name.
Martin was born Ludwig Detsinyi in Budapest and migrated to
Australia at the age of thirty-four in 1949. Set in an inner-city suburb
of Melbourne, The Young Wife tells the story of Yannis Joannides, a
Greek man in his forties, who runs a fruit stall and owns a club. The
play opens on the morning after the wedding of Yannis and Anna, the
young wife of the title whom he brought out to Australia to marry. A
delivery boy from Cyprus, Criton Evangelides, calls in to deliver the
wedding photos and Anna recognises him: they had met on the ship to
Australia. Criton is young, attractive and before long he is very much
in demand—among Yannis’s friends at the club as a soccer-player, as
a scenic artist, as an English tutor for Anna, and as a romantic young
man with a mysterious past (as a student in Cyprus, he was a member
of EOKA, the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston or National
Organisation of Cypriot Fighters). Anna and Criton soon become
close friends and the plot slowly circles in on Yannis’s growing
jealousy of their friendship. Discovering one of Criton’s paintings and
assuming incorrectly that Anna has modelled nude, Yannis confronts
Criton and, in the fight that follows, Criton is shot and killed (see
figure 6.3).
Like Tellis in The Promised Woman who is described as a
“carefully, almost foppishly, dressed man [whose] movements are
carefully studied” (Patrikareas 2000: 223), Criton’s appearance and
kinaesthetic qualities are clearly marked in the script of The Young
Wi f e. Criton is described as “reasonably good-looking, with a
sensitive, intelligent face. His movements are nervous but controlled.
[And] he wears a suit that is too warm for the season” (Martin 1966:

John Sumner’s production of The Young Wife for the UTRC opened on 12 April
1966 at the Russell Street Theatre, Melbourne.
“Wog boy” moves 123
9). Criton catches Anna’s eyes when he first arrives on the scene and
Yannis’s brother Alexis draws attention to his good looks (18), but it
is his seduction by Patricia that draws most attention to Criton’s
appearance and erotic energy. Patricia is an Anglo-Australian woman
in her late thirties or early forties. Formerly an actress, she is now a
producer of amateur theatre and she soon finds roles for Criton and
Anna in her upcoming production of Euripides’ Alcestis. In fact,
Patricia’s love of Greek culture ranges well beyond the theatre. Before
taking Criton as her lover, Patricia was the lover of Yannis’s brother
Alexis. She was also once married to an Englishman, a Greek scholar,
with whom she lived in Athens and the Greek islands, prior to his
taking a chair at the University of Sydney and leaving her for one of
his students. As Elena, Alexis’s wife, dryly observes, “she’s very keen
on Greeks and Greek things” (57).
Described by one reviewer as a “man-hungry divorcee” (Standish
1966), Patricia at one point “takes [Criton’s] hand, kisses it and lays it
against her breast”, exclaiming “I want you to take me away. […]
We’ll go to Greece. Or to Cyprus—to Famagusta. We’re there now.
We’re walking through those narrow lanes by the Cathedral. It’s
night—no one knows us” (28–29). But Patricia’s romantic evocation
is lost on Criton. “They know me in Famagusta”, he quickly reminds
her. “I have only just to come to Australia. I’m not leaving again.
Certainly not to go to Cyprus” (29). In this conversation between
Patricia and Criton—or rather, in this confrontation between the
neoclassical romance of Patricia’s love for all things Greek and the
brutal realities of Criton’s experience of war in Cyprus—we can see
how young men from the Mediterranean could unwittingly become
repositories for misplaced Anglo-Australian erotic fantasies.
Patricia’s plight records how a theatrical passion for the classics of
ancient Greece once afforded educated Anglo-Australians an oppor-
tunity to transcend the ordinary of Australian life. It was, for instance,
with this theatrical sense of ancient Greek culture that the city of
Adelaide imagined itself an “Athens of the South” when it hosted
Australia’s first international Festival of Arts in 1960 (Harris 1960c).
In the next chapter, we discuss C.R. Jury’s The Administrator (1961),
a curious experiment in neoclassicism produced in Adelaide in 1955.
Photographs of the production show actors in Grecian robes arranged
on a set featuring elements of classical architecture. The script, written
in semi-metrical verse like a nineteenth-century English translation of
Men at Play 124
ancient Greek drama, discretely treats with erotic interest a story of
friendship between Damon and Pythias, two young men from the
Mediterranean world. We also discuss Michael Gow’s Live Acts on
Stage (1996a), “a witty 90-minute romp through the mythology of the
Greeks” (Hoad 1996), which first played during the 1996 Sydney Gay
and Lesbian Mardi Gras arts festival with a homoerotic image of a
near-naked Greek warrior on the program cover.
As Australian theatre-makers continue to invest their evocations of
ancient Greek culture with erotic interest, we may wonder whether
taking pleasure in a play like Gow’s perpetuates the Grecophilia of
Anglo-Australian high culture without confronting that culture’s erotic
investment in the transnational masculinity of wog boy style. On this
point, we conclude this chapter with a scene from Fat Pizza where
Sleek is seen dancing at a night club. Described earlier in the film as
“one of them bothosexuals” (i.e. bisexual), Sleek is momentarily
transfixed by a blond, Anglo-Australian man who is dancing on a
podium and showing off a muscular, gym-toned torso of the kind
modelled on classical Greek sculpture. In this brief moment, as Sleek
gestures lewdly across the dance floor signalling sexual interest in the
man, Anglo-Australian gay culture, in its own way Grecophilic,
almost gets the wog boy loving it deserves. It serves to remind us how
the trajectories that young migrant men have been tracing in
performance extend well beyond traditional, patriarchal patterns of
masculinity and are continuing to transform the gender order of
Australian life.
Figure 6.1 The Heartbreak Kid
Toni Poli as Nicky, Franco Serafn as Steve and Arky Michael as Con in
the premiere production of The Heartbreak Kid by Richard Barrett at the
Stables Theatre, Sydney, in July 1987. (Photograph by Stuart Campbell,
reproduced with permission and by courtesy of Currency Press.)
Figure 6.2 Milk and Honey
Dimitrius Piliouras as Georgie in Milk and Honey by Greg Andreas at La
Boite Theatre, Brisbane, in June 1996. (Reproduced by courtesy of La
Boite Theatre and the QPAC Museum Heritage Collection, Queensland
Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane.)
Figure 6.3 The Young Wife
Brian James (top) as Yiannis, Jan Leeming as Anna and Dennis Miller as
Criton in The Young Wife by David Martin at the Russell Street Theatre,
Melbourne, in April 1966. (Reproduced from The Herald, Melbourne, 13
April 1966, by courtesy of News Ltd.)
Chapter 7
Representing gay masculinities
This chapter examines the issues circulating around the representation
of non-heterosexual masculinities in Australian (mainstream) theatre
since the 1950s, including the nature of the material presented, and the
location of, and restrictions on, its presentation. Recalling the 1950s
and 1960s, Indigenous elder and actor Noel Tovey found Adelaide
“not the straight and conservative city most people had expected it to
be. I went to some pretty wild parties up in the hills” (2004: 154).
Philip Jones, the late obituarist, states that in the same period “[u]ltra-
respectable” Adelaide’s leading theatrical director, “married with a
family, fell in love with most of his male leads, and had affairs with
some” (2004: 130–131). Although this may well apply to many of
Australia’s capital cities at the time,
it is theatre in Adelaide in the
1950s where we begin an exploration of sexually non-traditional
Barry Pree’s A Fox in the Night (1960) and John Hepworth’s The
Beast in View (1961), both produced in Adelaide in 1959, together
constitute the focal point of this chapter. These works, like Nick
Enright’s construction of masculinities in such 1990s plays as
Mongrels (1994), Good Works (1995) and Playgrounds (1996a), can
usefully be aligned with the concept of queer, offering “a host of
sexual possibilities that play havoc with the conventional distinction
between normal and pathological, heterosexual and homosexual,
masculine and feminine” (Hanson 1995: 56).
Enright’s greatest mainstream success was ironically for his book
of the hit musical, The Boy from Oz (1996b; 1998).
He was

For an account of a homosexual subculture in theatre in Hobart in the 1950s and
Perth in the 1960s and 1970s, see Tweed Harris (2002).
Mainstream is a contested term which is used here to denote a range of theatre
companies—from subsidised state companies and their commercial equivalents to
Men at Play 126
nevertheless constrained in his efforts to introduce gay masculinities
to a large audience through the Peter Allen “bioconcert” (Fitzpatrick
2001: 17). Operating at present in the mainstream theatre is a form of
self-censorship not totally unlike that which prevailed fifty years ago.
Coded indicators of non-traditional sexuality have been replaced by
the sanitising of texts because of the potential for alienating main-
stream audiences. The Boy from Oz and David Stevens’s The Sum of
Us (1990) will be discussed as examples of safe mainstream
productions. This is not to say that degrees of sexual explicitness are
not being written and produced, as will be demonstrated in such plays
as Michael Gow’s Live Acts on Stage (1996a) and Tony Ayres’s The
Fat Boy (2003).
Our intention here is primarily to highlight the contrast between
elliptical and elusive references to non-heterosexual masculinities in
Australian theatre before the gay liberation movement of the 1970s
and the unapologetic (homo)sexual frankness of more recent times.
We examine how queer masculinities and situations arising from them
were represented at a time when prohibitions against the portrayal of
non-straight sexuality were strictly enforced through the spectre of
Past and present
During times when it was not respectable to write openly of
homosexuality, authors often used the cover of classical Greek or
Roman legends to introduce same-sex relationships into their work.
They thereby deflected criticism of their subject matter by focusing on
the unimpeachable works of the ancients. Referring to the nineteenth
century, Chris White writes:
This speaking and naming [of homosexuality] occurs in code, in private,
under guise of scientific truth written for experts and specialists, but also
breaks out into the public domains of high art, historical certainty, social
hygiene and responsibility to the empire. (1999a: 1–2)
C.R. (Charles) Jury’s verse drama, The Administrator or Damon and
Pythias (1961), presented in Adelaide in 1955, is an example of the

medium-sized and smaller companies such as Griffin Theatre Company in
Representing gay masculinities 127
discourse of homosexuality protected by its incorporation in high art.
The Administrator is King Dionysius of Syracuse. Damon describes
Dionysius disparagingly as an administrator to suggest that the king is
more a pragmatic politician than an admirable ruler (Jury 1961: 87).
The relationship between Damon and Pythias, both willing to die for
the other, has long been celebrated as epitomising true male friend-
ship. Jury may be drawing on the nineteenth-century use of the myth
as a “marker of intense same-sex friendship between males”, a code
for homosexuality at a time prior to late-Victorian medical science’s
constitution of it as a discrete category. Similarly, it draws also on
“fin-de-siècle aestheticism’s recuperation of classical mythology as an
idealised realm of homoerotic male camaraderie” (Kaye 2002: 65).
White notes that the
same pairings of famous lovers are cited again and again as evidence of how
beneficial and healthy homosexual relationships can be: Pythias and Damon,
Achilles and Patroclus, Orestes and Pylades, Heracles and Hylas. (1999b:
Jury’s version of the legend is revealing in that Pythias is an
adolescent, Damon a mature adult, and their relationship could be
understood as that of paiderastia, ‘the eroticised socialisation of an
adolescent boy’ (erômenes, ‘the beloved’) into Greek male society by
an adult man (erastês, ‘the lover’) (Younger 2005: 91). Before his
appearance, Pythias of Rhegium is constructed as a monstrous spy and
danger to the state of Syracuse, deserving the sentence of death. When
he appears, however, his beauty is celebrated, in the words of the poet,
Philoxenus, as “Cerberus got up as golden Ganymede / Or young
Apollo” (Jury 1961: 14). Those in the know in the 1950s (including
those who knew Shakespeare’s As You Like It) would have
immediately recognised the reference to Zeus’s cupbearer and
adolescent lover, Ganymede.
But Jury does not leave it there. He offers an explanation for the
pederastic relationship, perhaps also its justification. In relation to
Pythias, Philoxenus describes Zeus as:

The Administrator was performed by the Company of Players, founded in 1955 to
perform the blank-verse plays by various Adelaide poets. C.R. Jury (1893–1958)
was Jury Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of
Adelaide from 1946 to 1949, occupying a chair endowed by his mother.
Men at Play 128
[…] work[ing] into the masculine babies
A strange capacity of growth, to grow
Beautiful in youth, the sweet and dangerous season. (51)
In relation to Damon, Zeus “then a scruple of love towards beauty
dropped / Into those elder males” (51). Occasionally Zeus erred and
too much of that “scruple of love towards beauty” was dropped; some
mature men
[…] destiny coerced
Into equivocal, sad loves, of beauty
Not shaped for him. (52)
Interrupting Philoxenus, Dionysius’s mistress Galatea is appalled:
“That’s nasty! That’s unnatural, / And I am sure, not true” (52). She
undoubtedly speaks for many of Jury’s 1950s audience, with the
author thereby protecting himself from any accusation of having
endorsed pederasty. Nevertheless, the play does not condemn it—in
fact, Philoxenus argues: “As for nature, / She often is unnatural”
(52)—and true to the myth, the lovers’ relationship, euphemistically
described as “friendship” (92), endures.
Leaping forward forty years, it is instructive to compare Jury’s
careful, coded approach with Gow’s bawdy, explicit treatment in Live
Acts on Stage of the first encounter between Ganymede and Zeus as
part of his adaptation of the mythical feud between Hera and Zeus:
ZEUS: be not afraid / for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy / that’s a
nice piece of meat you’ve got there / need any help son
GANYMEDE: well sure
ZEUS: you’re big
GANYMEDE: I get bigger
ZEUS: you’re right
GANYMEDE: that’s great / ooh yeah / pull that thing man / yeah oh man I’m
gunna cum / wow that was great (1995: 3)
Zeus’s affair with the youth Ganymede is the starting point for Gow’s
exploration of the role of the artist in society represented by Orpheus,
utilising a degree of explicitness alien to Jury’s classical decorum of
the 1950s.

Live Acts on Stage, directed by Michael Gow, opened at the Stables Theatre,
Sydney, on 5 January 1996.
Gow is also sexually explicit in Furious (1996b), first performed by the STC in
1991. See Parr (1996a: 30–32).
Representing gay masculinities 129
The campy misfit male body in a straight setting
Critics and doubtless audiences recognised the influence of American
drama and film on both A Fox in the Night and The Beast in View.
C.G. Kerr noted unfairly of the latter: “most often than not they talk
American” (1959). Max Harris (1959a) saw the former’s debt to
Eugene O’Neill, and the critic H.T. complained of “an attempt to out-
shock Tennessee Williams with cruelty, violence and passion” (1959).
In one respect, however, both plays mirrored those particular films
that featured bare-chested leading men and thus the erotic display of
young male bodies, specifically the landmark A Streetcar Named
Desire (1951) starring Marlon Brando. In the published text of A Fox
in the Night, Michael Turney spends much of the play shirtless, and
Bodge in The Beast in View is bare-chested in the first scene
immediately before being seduced by his landlady, Elli, who
provocatively lusts after his attractive body. Harris describes Michael
as a “sensitive and feminine youth” (1959a), with the implication,
given the 1950s timeframe and the coded usage of that era, that
Michael may be homosexual, even if unknowingly. Both he and
Bodge are misfit characters, uncomfortable in their surroundings,
trying to manage the controlling forces and derision of their elders. No
doubt is placed on Bodge’s heterosexuality, but he seems isolated in a
milieu of campy, theatrical performers who take erotic interest in his
body. A Fox in the Night is also not without its campiness, owing to
the manners, tone and roguishness of its leading man. In the end,
Michael fails to escape his wretched rural environment, while Bodge
resorts to horrendous violence with gaol—or, given the time setting,
execution—as his only future. Although markedly different, both
characters provide plentiful material for insight into the complexities
of young men’s masculinities during times of enforced gender
A Fox in the Night is set in the kitchen of an isolated, run-down
farmhouse near an unspecified small country town during a severe
1913–1914 drought. Clarence Turney, described in chapter 3 as a
monstrously masculine bullying father, is physically similar to Big
Daddy in Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1956) and, in terms of
patriarchal powers, John Willy in Coburn’s The Bastard Country
(1963), also from 1959 (see chapter 3). He has been driven to the
brink of despair and madness watching his sheep die, and spends his
nights unsuccessfully hunting a fox responsible for killing his
Men at Play 130
chickens. He lives on the farm with his long-suffering wife, Margaret,
and his nineteen-year-old son Michael. Ironically, it is the detested
son who, in clear repudiation of his father’s accusations of him as a
“puking sop” (Pree 1960: 37), succeeds in killing the fox and hanging
it up as a trophy to taunt his father. The fox of the title also refers
metaphorically to a visitor, Angela West, a young barmaid rescued
and brought to the farm through the kindness of Margaret Turney (see
figure 7.1). Angela skilfully manipulates and outfoxes both Clarence
and Michael in order to get her hands on the father’s stash of cash
savings. Pree’s play was, for its time, outrageously confronting in
much the same way that Michael confounds normative expectations of
a brutish farmer’s son.
Michael is
tall, thin and wiry. His face is pale, and rather feverish, but clearcut. It is a
deliberately aggressive face, with a sharp nose, inquisitive eyes, jutting
chin. He carries himself with an air of bravado and assumed indifference.
To some extent, Pree also specifies Michael’s appearance in the
spoken text. When Angela tries to ingratiate herself with Margaret by
describing Michael as “very good looking”, his mother tartly replies,
“Well not in a healthy way” (32). Whatever his appearance, Michael
stands in sharp contrast to his father who is huge and strong and, at
first, seemingly invincible. When in a drunken frenzy Clarence
discovers the dead fox hung up to humiliate him, he attacks Michael
leaving him “writhing in pain and bleeding from the mouth” (32). The
father claims he “want[s] the boy to be a man” (27) but yet remain
subservient to him. Clearly, Michael cannot compete on his father’s
terms. His response is to deride his father with taunts and playfully
extravagant, haughty language. When Clarence threatens to “beat
[him] to a pulp with [his] bare hands”, Michael responds: “Go ahead.
Maybe I’ll weep buckets. Maybe I’ll drown myself in tears. Then
again, maybe I’ll spit in your eye” (27). Michael projects seemingly
inexplicably arch, campy qualities. For Clarence, the explanation
cannot be genetic or environmental:
That’s our son Maggie. That’s the boy that came out of you and me! I’m
ashamed to admit it. Our son! I mean—take a look at you—take a look at
me. It just doesn’t make sense. He’s a mistake. (27)
Representing gay masculinities 131
Clarence regards himself as an appropriate masculine model whom
Michael both disregards and disdains. His response is to label his son
as weak and girlish:
He’ll never grow up … be like a blasted girl all his life! […] He’s
frightened of getting his pretty fingers dirty. […] just let him get near a
bull when you’re branding and he vomits. (27)
Michael’s actions in both killing the fox and physically struggling
with his father in their rivalry for Angela’s affections, leading to
Clarence’s shooting in the leg, contradict his father’s estimation of
him as unmasculine. Margaret’s description of her son as “gentle”
(32) would seem to be appropriate, but limited. Michael’s expression
of, and search for, his own version of masculinity is a mystery to his
parents, who have no way of understanding the complexities of their
son’s makeup. The Turneys may, in varying degrees, love and care for
their son, but he remains to them an alien figure. Clarence’s fierce
competition with Michael for his “daughter’s” (42) love leads to the
father’s conflation of gender and sexual behaviour. When Angela
arrives at the farmhouse, Clarence challenges his son:
CLARENCE: […] Now just what do you feel when you see a girl like that, eh?
MICHAEL: Nothing at all.
CLARENCE: Where’s the man in you? You wear trousers don’t you? You
feeling a bit weak about the loins, eh? (31)
Michael’s evasive response in refusing to play up to his father’s
lecherous teasing allows Clarence to question further his son’s
masculinity, now referring to his seeming lack of sexual potency.
When he later believes that Michael and Angela have consummated
their relationship, his accusations against Michael take a different
turn—one in which his son becomes a degenerate sexual predator:
“He’s dirty and low. You can always tell with his type. The way he
sneaks about—just waiting to pounce” (38). He continues to accuse
Michael of being “dirty” (38, 40). Michael has progressed in his
father’s judgment from gender dysfunctionality to sexual dysfunc-
tionality and finally to sexual deviance. The “type” that Clarence
describes is a construction of a degenerate, undiscriminating monster,
a type especially familiar from homophobic discourses following the
Oscar Wilde trials and certainly up to the time Pree was writing.
Michael is a “sexually confused gender misfit” (Haggerty 1999:
45), a characterisation with further implications for his homosexual
Men at Play 132
potential. Three months before the play begins, believing Angela to be
“easy game” (38), Michael attempted to rape her but, according to his
own testimony, he “was unable to complete [his] conquest when [he]
saw—her eyes” (34). He may have been trying to prove his manhood,
perhaps his heterosexuality, to himself and others, but the attempt
ended in humiliation. Although the incident is described by one gossip
as “that terrifying business at the Crown Hotel” (36), Angela displays
no fear of Michael. On the contrary, when she moves into the
farmhouse, she sets about persuading him of her affection in an
attempt to encourage him to steal his father’s savings, supposedly to
enable both of them to escape to the city. Clarence’s envy of
Michael’s seeming conquest leads to the shooting, after which the son
takes possession of the father’s gun, described in the stage instructions
as “Michael’s shining, powerful triumph” (41). This overwrought
phallic symbolism suggests that Michael finally masters the house-
hold, including Angela, but he is thwarted when she persuades the
wounded Clarence that she “can’t love [Michael]. He’s not like you”
(42). Believing that he has finally triumphed over Michael, Clarence
directs her to his savings with which she leaves for the city alone.
Before her departure, however, she humiliates Michael even further.
Emphasising simultaneously her power over him together with his
heterosexual weakness, she challenges him:
All you need, all you want is to press your lips into my belly. Shall I
unbutton my dress? Shall I? Then we’d see how brave you are—(she is
laughing openly into his face). (44)
According to Harris, in attempting “to work out a sexual normalcy”
(1959a), the sexually confused Michael has clearly failed.
With Clarence absent in hospital having his leg amputated,
Michael appears in the final scene “wearing a collar and tie, which he
tugs at as if in pain” (43). He is clearly uncomfortable and
unconvincing assuming a patriarchal role. The playwright has care-
fully prepared this vestimentary sign of uneasiness, because for most
of the previous scenes, Michael is seen dressed in trousers and boots
only. Indeed, Michael’s preferred mode of dress appears to be
shirtless. Stage directions consistently refer to his lack of a shirt, and
he also “rips off his shirt and wipes the perspiration from his body”
(30) when he returns from killing the fox. The young man’s bodily
display emphasises both the searing heat of the Australian summer
and the sexual desires and frustrations underpinning the plot. It also
Representing gay masculinities 133
represents Michael’s reaction against conformity, and his refusal to
accept the responsibility of managing the farm, his parents’
expectation of him, symbolised by the collar and tie. His shirtlessness
also represents his desire to escape to the city for all its possibilities,
including the (homo)sexual, which the play’s ending denies him.
The non-camp misfit body in a queer setting
The misfit male body was again on display when The Beast in View
opened with a bare-chested leading man, Bodge, also known as Joey
the Slaught[erman], descending a staircase in a boarding house in
Darlinghurst in Sydney. Described as “a big well-muscled lad—
twentyish, crew-cut and vigorous” (Hepworth 1961: 1.1.1), Bodge,
one of the “she’ll-be-right” blokes of the realist plays discussed in
chapter 2, is searching for a favourite shirt which, he later learns, has
been borrowed by one of the other boarders, his landlady’s present
lover. His state of undress is pivotal to the unfolding plot. The
landlady, Elli, twice Bodge’s age, pointedly remarks, “My God, what
is this? […] A strip tease?” (3), and takes the opportunity at one stage
to “lightly caress his bare shoulders” (4). When Bodge leaves to put
on a shirt, Elli “watches him up the stairs” (5), again drawing the
audience’s gaze to the young man’s torso as she has done no doubt
repeatedly to that point. Unsurprisingly, she seduces him at the end of
the scene, with his ready compliance. Described as “a dark handsome
woman in her early forties, vibrant, witty, mercurial” (3), and twice
married, Elli’s seduction of Bodge is precipitated at least partly by his
bodily display. And the display continues. Smoothing her palms down
each side of his neck and slipping her hands under the collar of his
shirt, Elli purrs her appreciation of his “[s]mooth, strong neck” and his
“lovely shoulders” before performing a scene finale worthy of Norma
Desmond (Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950). With
sudden wildness […] she rips the front of his shirt open to the waist.
Both freeze for a moment with the shock of the action. The crucifix
swings on the chain around his neck. ELLI reaches out her
hands—arms length—and gently takes the crucifix. Still holding it, she
moves slowly close to him—head back. Blackout. (11)

This scene finale appears to have been cut from the original performance. See
Hepworth (1959: 19). Lines are drawn through the scene and ‘Cut out all sex’ is
handwritten in the margin. Thanks to Graham Seaman who pointed out the
existence of the typescript in the Adelaide University archives.
Men at Play 134
Even fully clothed, Bodge’s body continues to be an object of
attention and attraction for the other characters. His physical appeal is
perhaps enhanced by his seeming unawareness of it and he does not
use it overtly to attract attention. He is far too consumed by the
dilemma of handling the two women in his life: Elli and the eighteen-
year-old homeless Kathie whom he brings back to share his room,
much to Elli’s intense jealousy. Arguments with both women drive
him to a café where he sits “hunched in [a] chair, staring ahead, his
face set, both forearms resting on the table” (3.1.1). During this scene
consisting of a page and a half of monologue, Bodge does not move or
talk while the proprietor, Stubbs, natters incessantly. Hepworth
intends our gaze to focus uninterruptedly on the troubled Bodge, who
finally cracks explosively. In a moment of frustrated rage and
destructive futility, he “suddenly lifts his fists and smashes them again
and again on the table” before rushing out (2; see chapter 2).
The attractive male body is a staple of stage and screen, but no
Australian playwright before Hepworth had, in all probability, so
overtly exposed a male character, clothed or unclothed, to such
concentrated voyeurism. Hepworth’s dramaturgy all but demands that
the viewer’s eye focuses on the young man’s body. This emphasis on
Bodge’s body becomes more meaningful when placed in the context
of the play’s use of camp, which, according to Susan Sontag, “sees
everything in quotation marks. […] Camp […] is the farthest
extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater” (1966:
280). The boarding house is populated by performers, those like
Honest John, the stage comic who is literally so, or those who perform
their erudition, sophistication, moods and tragedies for the amusement
or sympathy of others. Elli herself is an arch-camp performer, “witty”
and “mercurial”, as the stage directions indicate, the sort of role at
which Bette Davis excelled.
The play opens on a “tallish good-looking, amiable young man in
his early twenties”, a law student, Hal, who is discovered “reclining
on the couch, reading the droll stories of Balzac” (1.1.1). Hal and the
bare-chested Bodge, about the same age, comprise an odd
juxtaposition; Bodge shouting, “Who the hell took my clean shirt?”,
Hal replying to this perceived injustice in the manner of Oscar Wilde
or Noël Coward, “My dear boy, I am merely a student of the law—
how would I know what was Justice?” (1). Bodge “savagely” pulls
away the rug under Hal who “tosses lightly off the couch and lands in
Representing gay masculinities 135
a squatting position on the floor. Still with the book in hand, he makes
out to go on reading” (2). The play thus opens with two contrasting
masculinities—one aggressive, potentially violent, the other passive
and performative, indeed theatrical. This early inter-action between
Hal and Bodge, between the camp and the non-camp, is metonymic of
the play itself. Try as he may, the sober Bodge cannot convincingly
camp it up, cannot play at a theatrical level, while the others typically
camp around for one another’s delight. Hepworth also allows his
audience to entertain the probability that the occupants of the boarding
house could well express a range of sexualities. According to Garry
Wotherspoon, offering “the anonymity, the freedom, the lack of
neighbourhood pressure to conform”, “Darlinghurst and Woolloo-
mooloo were [traditionally] suburbs where homosexuals could live
more openly than in other more conformist suburbs” (1991: 70, 72).
While the script does not openly declare its homosexual possibilities,
its camp elements insinuate them. It is also notable that arch-camp
icons (and homosexuals), Oscar Wilde and Liberace, are mentioned in
the text (1.1.10; 1.3.5).
After the seduction, and Kathie’s arrival on the scene, Bodge’s
mood darkens, as he gradually realises that his world has changed
irrevocably for the worse. Hepworth here sets himself a task of
significant dramatic risk. He must retain audience sympathy for
Bodge while his leading man embarks on a downward spiral which
leads ultimately to his strangulation of Kathie. The pressure leading to
the murder is gradually accumulated throughout the action, and in
retrospect the crime seems inevitable. Part of Hepworth’s achievement
is to shock us, not only by Bodge’s capacity to kill but also by the
manipulated complicity of the audience in the crime and its aftermath.
Bodge’s anti-social behaviour appears almost pardonable until his
final horrifying act. Even then, Elli supports his release before the
police arrive. We as audience are perhaps more concerned with
analysing his motives and behaviour, excusing his crime, than seeing
him as the “slaughterman” he becomes. Alarming, too, is the
callousness with which the residents of the boarding house, and
perhaps we as readers and audience, consider the murder of an
innocent, if unsympathetic, young woman. Harris wrote in his review
that the
cunning in the playwright’s conception comes from the feeling that the
bloodstained killer has done no violence, but rather that he has been the victim
Men at Play 136
of a non-physical violence, the violence of the human jungle. (1959b
emphasis added)
As stated in chapter 2, Bodge’s abdication of agency is consistent with
the way inarticulate enactments of violence are made both sympa-
thetic to an audience and symptomatic of masculinity in Australian
realist theatre of the 1950s. Hepworth cajoles us to accept Bodge’s
inadequacies, even to desire him, and then proceeds to demonstrate
that this most non-camp of men, this seeming icon of young, virile,
Australian masculinity, is of all the flawed misfit characters, the most
terrifying and socially undesirable.
The disguised and the explicit
The queer undercurrents in both A Fox in the Night and The Beast in
View result from the imperatives of their time, the necessity of
disguising what were considered abnormal sexual behaviours by
entwining homoerotic “fragrances” with heterosexual surfaces
(Wertheim 2002: 204). Even the theatre, traditionally a queer-friendly
site, could not always ensure a safe haven for homosexuals. It was
1954 when, ironically, a “bunch of sissy ballet boys” tried
unsuccessfully to have Noel Tovey sacked from a production of the
American musical Paint Your Wagon in Melbourne, by exposing him
as “a notorious homosexual” who had served time in gaol (Tovey
2004: 150). With evidence that the policing of theatre by moral
guardians continued after the advent of the gay liberation movement,
Reg Livermore recounts that in 1976 his solo show, Wonderwoman,
was attacked by “one twaddling weekend tabloid” as “a foul mouthed
sex and homo show” (2003: 181). It was very different in the 1990s
when Nick Enright successfully incorporated queer (and in the case of
Playgrounds ethnically diverse) masculinities into a number of his
plays produced by mainstream theatres.
In 1990, in Blood and
Honour (1996), Alex Harding uncovered an analogous relationship
between racism directed at Asians and discrimination against people
with AIDS.
At its core lies an uncontrollable rage against those with

For discussions of queer masculinities in Enright’s Mongrels, Good Works and
Playgrounds, see Parr (1996c; 2001).
Blood and Honour, directed by Margaret Davis, was first performed at the Belvoir
Street Theatre on 8 February 1990. It was a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
Association production. The play received the first Australian Human Rights
Representing gay masculinities 137
political and financial clout and influence in the media who respond to
a virulent epidemic with apathy and inaction. Michael Yang, who is
Asian and gay, is forceful and articulate, “tough, ballsy and fiery, not
at all what most people would expect from a gay Asian man”
(Machon 1993). Harding uncomfortably discerns the diabolical
connection between racist attitudes to supposed Asian lack of
cleanliness and the AIDS virus itself. The irony is that Michael is
HIV-negative; yet Colin, his white Australian HIV-positive lover,
suspects that it is commonly believed that Michael infected him.
Twenty-five years earlier, Hal Porter in The Professor (1966)
dramatised a very different relationship between an Australian and a
Japanese, in this case a “striking young man of twenty-one with a
quality of radiance” (Porter 1966: 53).
Toda Inagaki is totally under
the spell of the “charming” (44) Professor Medlin, such that when the
Professor accuses him of lying, Toda cuts out his tongue and offers it
to his idol in a small box. Mary Lord, Porter’s biographer who was
present at the first performance, was not alone in recognising a
homosexual relationship, “whether consummated or not” (1993: 199).
James Roose-Evans of the Hampstead Theatre Club discerned such a
possibility and was direct in a letter to Porter: “The beautiful Toda-san
recalls the beautiful Edwin,
both destroyers […] Are you the
Professor?” (quoted in Lord 1993: 195). Lord notes that “[p]ubescent
or pre-pubescent boys figure prominently in all of Porter’s plays”
(295), although, at twenty-one, Toda is unlikely to be pubescent. It is
possible, however, that his race and comparative youth (and
appearance on stage) lead to his being infantilised in a setting where
the Japanese characters are subservient to their apparent post-Second
World War colonial masters.
In Porter’s works for the stage, like Jury’s The Administrator a
decade earlier, we can see “a kind of disguised homosexual fantasy” at
play (Lang 2002: 122). In discussing the film noir, Kiss Me Deadly
(1955), Robert Lang asserts that “story is less important than

Award for Drama, presented by the Australian Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission.
For more detailed discussions of Blood and Honour, see Parr (1996a; 1998).
The Professor, directed by Hal Porter, was first produced under the title, Toda-
San, by the AUTG, on 24 February 1965.
The boy in Porter’s The Tower (1994), first produced in 1964.
Porter had been a schoolmaster in Japan during the Occupation. See Lord (1993:
Men at Play 138
iconography, gesture, the play of signs within a sexual logic” which
points towards the homoerotic (122). To some extent the same might
be said for the works of Jury, Porter, Pree and Hepworth discussed
above. Without the explicit representations of non-heterosexual
masculinities that liberated the works of Gow, Enright and Harding in
the 1990s, the earlier playwrights developed their own camouflaged
forms of queerness, in the process offering viewing pleasures for those
to whom they were accessible.
Sanitising the gay man
The mainstream theatre today remains a site where gay masculinities
have to be presented with the utmost care. The fear of offending
audiences with (even innocuous) representations of gay men’s
sexuality continues to be uppermost in the minds of those producing
theatre for a mass market. Producers of such mainstream works can
appear anxious if their productions include homosexual explicitness.
Two popularly successful Australian stage works featuring openly gay
characters provide a means of evaluating how gay masculinities have
been represented to mainstream theatre audiences. The film The Sum
of Us (1994), starring Russell Crowe as the plumber Jeff, was based
on David Stevens’s stage play which had a long run in New York in
1990–1991, followed by many subsequent productions in Australia
and overseas. The comments on the play which follow could equally
apply to the film. Many people who saw the musical The Boy from Oz
(Enright 1996b; 1998), which opened in 1998 and played successfully
throughout Australia, would have known beforehand that Peter Allen
was gay and had died from an AIDS-related illness in 1992. Allen’s
talent and campy flamboyance had attracted a huge following during
his lifetime, and these qualities were successfully transferred to the
staging of The Boy from Oz (see figure 7.2).
Jeff in The Sum of Us (1990) seems to lead a charmed life. He
plays football in a team which is accepting of his homosexuality, as is
his father, Harry (to say the least).
Despite telling the audience that
he is just an ordinary fellow, perhaps even “a bit—dull” (Stevens

The Sum of Us, directed by Kevin Dowling, opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre,
New York, on 5 October 1990. It had previously been produced at the
Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1989 and at A Director’s Theatre in Los
Angeles. The STC production, directed by Adam Cook, opened at the Wharf
Studio on 1 February 1992.
Representing gay masculinities 139
1990: 18), Jeff is attractive enough to command the attention of other
gay men. His main problem seems to be his difficulty, because of his
declared shyness (41), in finding a long-term partner, one who is not
obsessed with “treat[ing] sex like they’re going twenty-seven rounds
with Bruce Lee” (18). A large part of Jeff’s appeal to mainstream
audiences is probably that he is as uncomplicated as the proverbial
boy-next-door—a very straight-acting gay man. Angela Bennie writes
of the play’s “determined effort to be so straight about being gay”
(1992), while in fact Harry is portrayed as rather gay about being
straight. Referring to the uncomplicated central father–son relation-
ship, one critic had the “initial reaction that it must be taking place on
some other planet” (quoted in McDonnell 1990). Commenting
generally on some filmic representations of gay men, Michael
Cunningham describes Jeff as a
new kind of gay character … He’s masculine but not macho. He’s
unassuming, decently dressed, devoted to his work. He’s a regular guy …
about as threatening as a game-show host. (Quoted in Sinfield 1998: 168)
In Jeff and his eventual partner, the gardener, Greg, mainstream
audiences are faced with positive imaging of gay men, not confronted
with what Anna Marie Smith refers to as the “dangerous queer”
(1994: 204). Adding to the play’s mainstream appeal may be Jeff’s
and Greg’s working-class status, so removed from the common
(mis)perception of gay men as middle or upper-middle class;
although, ironically, in creating a romance between a plumber and a
gardener, Stevens shrewdly conjures a familiar (middle-class) gay
man’s sexual fantasy.
Whereas a large part of the mainstream success of The Sum of Us
may have resulted from the straight-acting and straight-looking
representations of gay men, Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz is
immediately presented as a smart, wise-cracking, atypical Australian
First day at high school, they asked me what sport I was going to try out
for. I said: what are my options? They said football or boxing. I said, I’ll
take tap-dancing. (Enright 1998: 2)

The Boy from Oz, with music by Peter Allen and his collaborators, directed by
Gale Edwards, starring Todd McKenney, opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre,
Sydney, on 5 March 1998. A production starring Hugh Jackman opened at the
Imperial Theatre, New York, on 16 September 2003. A scaled-back arena
Men at Play 140
He is initially coy about revealing his (homo)sexuality: “What do you
think? Is he or isn’t he? And I tell them: ‘Yes, it’s true, I am an
Australian’” (1998: 3). The double entendre supports the conclusion,
for those not already in the know, that he is gay. The question
becomes, how gay? Quoted after the show had opened to critical
acclaim, the producer, Ben Gannon, indicates the imperative of
making Allen not too gay:
[W]e had to be sure [homosexuality] was done in such a way we wouldn’t
alienate an audience. You can’t put on a $5 million musical just for the gay
market. […] The [gay] relationship is presented in an honest and sincere way,
and because it’s like that, it doesn’t offend or frighten people. (Quoted in
Holgate 1998)
What might have frightened people can perhaps be gauged by a
comparison of Enright’s first draft of The Boy from Oz in 1996 with
the 1998 performed version. Absent from the performed text, among
much else, are Allen’s flirting with Mark Herron, Judy Garland’s
younger escort; the drag queens so essential to the Stonewall riots of
1969; a 1972 scene set in the Continental Steambaths in New York
with some men lounging in towels; and an early signifier of Allen’s
effeminacy and by extension his homosexuality: how he uses his
hands in performance. He is told by a television producer in a scene
set in 1960: “I’m saying butch it up. Watch the hands” (Enright
1996b: 16). Lest Allen is considered too promiscuous, two “tricks” in
the 1996 version are reduced to one in the performed text. Although
the 1996 draft was extensively reworked, it was also sanitised to meet
Gannon’s non-“alienating” requirements. In the first draft, Allen’s use
of sexual innuendo is apparent from the outset: “I love Australia. I go
down as often as I can. And I fly to Australia quite a lot too” (1996b:
1). While of course retaining Allen’s campiness, the performed
version has no comparable sexual innuendo. The 1996 first draft
opens in 1990 with Allen already showing signs of illness related to
HIV/AIDS, although the script does not relate symptoms to cause. In
the 1998 performed text, however, Allen’s illness is mentioned only
briefly in the closing moments as the cause of his death.
Alan Sinfield suggests that the “problem with positive imaging is
that it tends to deploy cleaned-up versions of [gay people]” (1998:

production, also starring Jackman, opened at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on
3 August 2006.
Representing gay masculinities 141
168). It is ironic that the material which was “cleaned-up” in The Boy
from Oz was initially innocuous and served to create a more complex
character, better suited to the times he inhabited, than the “good
homosexual” emerging from the 1998 performed text (Smith 1994:
The sanitising continued in the 2006 Australian arena-style
production of The Boy from Oz. A kiss shared between Allen and his
partner Greg Connell in the Broadway production was omitted,
leading to accusations that “the Australian show had been
‘Disneyfied’ for mainstream audiences” (Sams 2006). In representing
gay masculinities in The Sum of Us and The Boy from Oz, writers and
producers ensured that few risks were taken. As David Savran
describes an outed character in the successful mainstream film In and
Out (1997), the gay men in these works are “exemplary citizen[s]
whom even the Pope could love” (2003: 182).
The elusive “dangerous queer” in mainstream theatre
By way of contrast, Tony Ayres’s black comedy The Fat Boy (2003),
in its only mainstream production to date, pulled no punches in its
representation of gay masculinities.
The play is ‘gay’ in several
senses. Written by a gay man, The Fat Boy has a gay man as its
central character and is steeped in recognisable subcultural features
such as effeminacy and camp. The play is also direct in its treatment
of (homo)sex, lacking the coyness of The Sum of Us and The Boy from
Oz. Trevor, the fat boy of the title, is a virginal twenty-four-year-old
from Richmond, Melbourne, thoroughly immersed in gay (popular)
culture. He longs to participate in gay sex. “I’ve never been touched”
is his poignant cry late in the play, although this is not from lack of
trying (Ayres 2003: 48).
Ayres describes Trevor as “fat, stupid, working class, effeminate,
cowardly” and as bringing “chaos to the nice middle-class lives
around [him]” (v). The playwright refers to affluent professionals,
Samantha and Darren (the reference to Bewitched, the television
program is presumably no accident), whose infant, Nina, dies while

Sinfield (1998: 168): “Anna Marie Smith shows how New Right discourse has
begun to invoke the ‘good homosexual’—the kind who, unlike the ‘dangerous
queer’, makes him- or herself indistinguishable from heterosexuals”.
Playbox Theatre’s production of The Fat Boy, in association with the Melbourne
International Comedy Festival, directed by Tom Healey, opened at the Malthouse
on 9 April 2003.
Men at Play 142
Trevor inattentively babysits her. Trevor is also involved in the break-
up of young couple James and Megan. Through Trevor’s influence,
James reveals his homosexuality and, later, while working as a
prostitute, James becomes Trevor’s close friend and paid part-time
lover. Trevor’s irresponsibility partially leads to James’s death while
he is being treated in hospital for anal warts, the virus originally
contracted from Trevor. Tragedy and comedy, the serious and the
absurd, continually intermix in situations invariably with a campy
edge. Trevor’s “slaggy” (v) mother, Hope, beginning with very poor
eyesight, is finally blinded by contact lens solution which Trevor has
not carefully checked. Later he discovers: “It’s two years out of date
… Whoops” (37).
Although Trevor registers very low in terms of conventional
masculine capital, his sexuality is not seen as a problem. His weight
and hence his unattractiveness (as conventionally understood) are the
chief causes of any abuse he suffers. The play does not construct gay
masculinity as a significant issue; body weight is the major cause of
Trevor’s outsider status. Ayres’s achievement lies in creating a
believable, ordinary and flawed gay character who reaches heroic
heights not by overcoming self-hatred and wrestling with new-found
desires but in his dogged determination to “feel love” (68), something
that he once thought impossible. Trevor’s declaration of love is
rewarded with a kiss from James, who clearly appreciates their
intimacy. Trevor’s love leads him to beg God to spare James’s life,
even at the cost of his own happiness. In his quixotic quest, he is of
course deluded, a quality which serves only to enhance his heroic
status. The richness and inventiveness of Ayres’s creation is a
reminder of how lacking in depth are many other mainstream
representations of gay masculinities in theatre. Ayres sees gay men
not as a problem but as different, while examining gay masculinities
in all their human complexities and contradictions. The same qualities
are evident in Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between (2006), which
charts the journey of a naïve sixteen-year-old gay boy from country
New South Wales to Kings Cross in Sydney, where he encounters
experiences both destructive and enriching. The play includes
Representing gay masculinities 143
examinations of the complexities of brotherly relationships and
intergenerational friendship and sexuality in a gay context.
Anxieties and audiences
Although gay masculinities are currently a frequent subject of enquiry
in mainstream theatre, some recent representations indicate that
Ayres’s normalising approach is unusual, that gay masculinities more
often than not provoke anxieties. The following are some recent
examples. Hannie Rayson’s Inheritance (2003) presents an older gay
man who is progressively revealed as lacking redeeming masculine
qualities. David Williamson’s Amigos (2004) elicits audience amuse-
ment at the machinations of two mature mates as they confront the
effects on their masculinity of their youthful interactions with their
deceased former team-mate who was gay. Williamson has the straight
characters looking foolish because of homophobia and masculine
insecurities, but only at the expense of omitting the gay amigo from
the play altogether. Ian Wilding’s Torrez (2004) captures the
confusion and irrationality in many straight men’s understandings of
gay masculinities, reflecting the problem of their representation in
mainstream theatre. In this theatre, a tension exists between the
disavowal of homophobia and the idea of homosexuality as a problem,
a type of disability (a view which is itself homophobic). Whereas gay
men do not actually appear in Amigos and Torrez, we are not sure if
one of the characters in David Brown’s Eating Ice Cream with Your
Eyes Closed (2004) is gay or straight. The problem with homo-
sexuality here is exemplified by its unspeakability, as is the question
of race.
By refusing to represent gay masculinities as problematic, The Fat
Boy breaks all the unspoken rules of representing gay masculinities in

Strangers in Between, directed by David Berthold, was first produced by the
Griffin Theatre Company at the Stables Theatre, Sydney, on 11 February 2005.
MTC’s production of Inheritance, directed by Simon Phillips, opened at the
Victorian Arts Centre on 5 March 2003. STC’s production of Amigos, directed by
Jennifer Flowers, opened at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, on 8 April
2004. The Griffin Theatre Company and Black Swan Theatre Company
production of Torrez, in collaboration with Playbox Theatre, directed by David
Berthold, opened at the Stables Theatre, Sydney, on 29 April 2004. Eating Ice
Cream with Your Eyes Closed, presented by the QTC and Hothouse Theatre,
directed by Jean-Marc Russ, opened at the Cremorne Theatre, Brisbane, on
5 August 2004.
Men at Play 144
mainstream theatre. Its gay characters are not desexualised and its gay
scenes are not de-eroticised It is not discreet or timid in dealing with
gay sex, and its leading character exuberantly flaunts his effeminacy.
But therein lies the problem with presenting unsanitised gay
masculinities on the mainstream stage. Will such a production attract
audiences? The 2003 production of The Fat Boy at Playbox played to
19% capacity, with a total paid attendance figure of 1,802 (Meyrick
2005: 69). From 1998 to 2003, the average number of tickets sold per
Playbox production was 3,000–4,000. New work by new writers, a
category which includes The Fat Boy, attracted fewer audiences, and a
“number of individual shows perform[ed] badly even by Playbox’s
low standards [of attracting audiences]” (Meyrick 2005: 47). Can this
production be considered to have drawn smaller numbers because of
its uncensored representations of gay masculinities? It is reasonable to
assume so. In a mainstream publicity profile, with a warning in its title
“Going beyond the pale”, Ayres leaves prospective audiences in no
doubt of the play’s non-mainstream nature, and its potential to shock:
The Fat Boy is both a reaction to “predictable, middle-class Australian
theatre” and, he laughs, an outlet for his own perverse pleasure. “I’d have a
giggle and say ‘what’s the most awful thing that could happen now?’” Trevor,
the fat boy, is effeminate, gay, cowardly and trailer trash, “everything you’re
not meant to be”. His mother, Hope, is a slag. Their relationship is “a kind of
Benny Hill meets Oedipus Rex”. (Crawford 2003)
In contrast, as The Boy from Oz and The Sum of Us respectively
demonstrate, gay masculinities have succeeded (commercially) on the
mainstream stage when they are as conventionally masculine as
possible and not too gay. Creating gay masculinities for mainstream
consumption means negotiating a minefield that playwrights and
theatre companies penetrate at considerable risk. The risk was quite
different for Pree and Hepworth half a century ago, pioneering what
we now recognise as queer masculinities in an era of harsh censorship
and a prohibition on the openly homoerotic. Interestingly, Hepworth’s
later play The Last of the Rainbow (1962) includes an implied
homosexual character in an environment devoid of the sexual
innuendo and homoerotics of The Beast in View.
Here the “poor
little pederast” (Hepworth 1962: 47) is one among an assortment of

The Last of the Rainbow premiered at Sheridan Theatre, Adelaide, in 1963, and
productions followed at Emerald Hill Theatre, South Melbourne, in 1963 and
Studio 228, Sydney, in 1967.
Representing gay masculinities 145
eccentrics, a figure of mockery and a type of effeminate clown-figure,
the acceptable means of portraying deviant sexuality at the time (see
figure 7.3).
Major changes in Western society since then have allowed the
homosexual explicitness in the plays of Enright, Harding, Gow and
Ayres detailed above, and in Christos Tsiolkas’s Viewing Blue Poles
(1998), discussed in the next chapter along with plays by Louis Nowra
and Richard Barrett. However, writing gay/queer masculinities for
major mainstream theatres remains problematical, as the example of
The Boy from Oz attests. The representation of sexually non-
traditional masculinities in mainstream theatre continues to be
tempered by perceptions of the degree of public acceptance. It was
argued a decade ago that Enright and Gow “stretch boundaries, but
one wonders how far they could go in matters homosexual before
incurring the wrath of general audiences upon whom major theatre
companies depend” (Parr 1996a: 33). To playwrights exploring gay
masculinities today, this reflection continues to apply.

For an account of the sissy equivalent in cinema history, see Russo (1981).
Figure 7.1 A Fox in the Night
At far left, Ian Willshire as Michael and Dawn Klingberg as Angela
in Barry Pree’s A Fox in the Night at Willard Hall, Adelaide, May
1959. (Photograph by Colin Ballantyne, reproduced by courtesy of the
Performing Arts Collection of South Australia, Adelaide Festival Centre.)
Figure 7.2 The Boy from Oz
Todd McKenney as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz at Her Majesty’s
Theatre, Sydney, in March 1998. (Photograph by Newspix / Frank Violi,
reproduced with permission.)
Figure 7.3 The Last of the Rainbow
Clancy, the “poor little pederast” in John Hepworth’s The Last of the
Rainbow, produced by the Emerald Hill Theatre, Melbourne, in October
1963. (Reproduced by courtesy of the Arts Centre, Performing Arts
Collection, Melbourne.)
Chapter 8
From father to son
With the popularity of books like Steve Biddulph’s Manhood: An
Action Plan for Changing Men’s Lives (1994) and with the
proliferation of research on masculinity reported in R.W. Connell’s
The Men and the Boys (2000), it has become evident that our culture
is anxious about fatherhood and the task of bringing up boys. In the
theatre, characters such as Dan in Stephen Sewell’s The Father We
Loved on a Beach by the Sea (1980) have also been anxious about the
legacy sons are inheriting from fathers. Trying to explain his concern,
Dan says to his brother:
Yeah, I’m just feeling a bit whacko at the moment. A profound sense of
boredom. The strange and terrible legacy that has been passed from father
to son along with other miseries of influenza, cancer, coronary occlusions,
and events of world importance. Our father must have been the most
bored man on earth. Have you ever thought of that? (Sewell 1980: 81)
Focusing on plays which create drama by staging conflicts between
fathers and their sons, we examine how theatre in Australia has long
offered venues for propagating anxieties about the reproduction of
masculinity from father to son. Such anxieties are evident in scenes
from a series of plays spanning four decades, including Alan
Seymour’s The One Day of the Year (1961), The Father We Loved on
a Beach by the Sea, Tim Gooding’s King of Country (1992), Richard
Barrett’s Words of One Syllable (1990), Louis Nowra’s The Jungle
(1998) and Christos Tsiolkas’s Viewing Blue Poles (1998). In this
chapter, we draw on economic concepts of labour, productivity and
reproduction to examine how scenes of father–son conflict have arisen
in response to global shifts in productive and reproductive capacity,
apparent in Australia since the 1950s.
In abstract terms, there has been a shift in productive capacity from
the material productivity of rural and industrial labour towards “labour
From father to son 147
that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, a cultural
product, knowledge, or communication”, as Marxist philosophers
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri put it (2000: 290). A related shift in
reproductive capacity is associated with the emergence of gender
politics and sexual diversity, with the dissociation of sexual desire
from reproduction and its integration into networks of affective
exchange that extend beyond the heterosexuality of family life
(D’Emilio 1983; Weeks 1985). That these shifts are related becomes
evident when we consider the way labour is sexualised.
Australian sociologist Mike Donaldson has written how young
working-class men may associate manual labour with masculinity,
with “strength, activity, hardness, danger, difficulty [and] courage”,
whereas mental labour is associated with femininity, with “weakness,
passivity, softness, timidity [and] domesticity”. Donaldson also
explains how “most non-manual work is regarded as effeminate,
‘sissy’ and […] performed by ‘poofters’ and ‘wankers’” (1991: 10).
Others have written more recently of the feminisation experienced by
young men negotiating working lives in a new post-industrial
economy where they no longer find opportunities, as their fathers once
did, of pursuing a masculinity defined by hard work in heavy industry
and “the musculatures of the labouring body” (Cohen and Ainley
2000: 83).
Hence the idea explored in this chapter is that broad socio-
economic shifts—associated with the displacement of labour from
rural and industrial sectors, with deregulation, corporatisation and
globalisation, and with expansions in higher education and the
emergence of an information-based service economy—have recon-
figured the reproduction of heterosexual masculinity in family
narratives and effected new ways of enacting father–son relations on
stage. We find that Australian theatre has offered audiences occasions
to experience anxieties about the failings of fathers and the
inadequacies of their sons.
In his father’s footsteps
As a point of departure in charting these shifts, we may take the
traditional ideal of a son growing up into working life by following in
the footsteps of his father, by learning and labouring to become what

This evocative phrase for the embodied masculinity of men’s labour practices is
quoted in several studies of the changing gendered nature of work, including Weis
(2003: 115), Walkerdine, Lucey and Melody (2001: 21) and Breugel (2000).
Men at Play 148
his father has been. The ideal is clearly valorised in The Shifting Heart
(1960; see chapters 2 and 6), Richard Beynon’s play about the
Bianchis, the family of migrants from Italy who live in Collingwood,
the working-class suburb near the city centre of Melbourne. Maria
Bianchi, the daughter, is married to Clarry Fowler, a young Anglo-
Australian, and the two are expecting a child. Clarry, the eager father-
to-be, grins at the prospect of his wife giving birth to a boy and of
running his scrap metal business as “Fowler & Son”. However, he is
reticent at the suggestion of his Italian-born wife that he go into
partnership with her brother as “Fowler & Bianchi” (Beynon 1960:
76–77). Thus, at the end of the play, when Maria gives birth to a boy
and Clarry names him Gino—in memory of Maria’s brother who has
died from injuries sustained in a fight inflamed by racial
prejudice—the shift in Clarry’s heart towards tolerance and
acceptance is conditional upon the reproductive trajectory he has
envisaged for his son.
In other plays, tensions arising from transitions
between rural, industrial and service economies, from the way work
practices alienate men from their families, and from the way education
alienates sons from their fathers, are dramatised to compromise the
succession of masculinity from father to son.
The One Day of the Year, first staged amid controversy in Adelaide
in 1960, marked a breach in the reproduction of masculinity from
father to son.
The events of the play take place around Anzac Day,
“the one day” of the title, which is celebrated by Alf, the father, but
scorned by Hughie, the son. The play was selected for production by a
panel set up to advise the executive committee of the first Adelaide
Festival of Arts, but the committee determined that the play was “too
controversial” and declined to program a production. It was first
presented in an amateur production by the Adelaide Theatre Group
later that year. Deflecting attention from the particular controversy the
play had aroused, the reviewers of the premiere production recognised

The promise of a son’s birth provides resolution in Vance Palmer’s Prisoners’
Country (1960; see chapter 5). It is also a feature in some recent Australian
plays—in Gordon Graham’s The Boys (1991; chapter 3) and Debra Oswald’s
Gary’s House (1996; chapter 2).
Jean Marshall directed the premiere of The One Day of the Year for the Adelaide
Theatre Group in a production which opened at Willard Hall, Adelaide, on 20 July
1960. Alrene Sykes’s Australian Drama Productions 1950–1969 lists productions
at some 63 different venues around Australia, as well as productions in the United
Kingdom, France and Japan (1984).
From father to son 149
the play’s conflict in universal terms. “A problem as old as man”,
writes Mark Taylor of the Advertiser, “is that which arises when the
youth of one generation finds it difficult or impossible to understand
why its elders should feel so deeply about longstanding institutions”
(1960). Laurence Collinson notes “the irreconcilable conflict between
parent and child, between the older and the younger generation,
emerging from the particular struggle of the play” (1960). Max
Harris’s diagnosis is that “the play stems from the idea of Oedipal
fixation” and “creates [a] setting for one of the most universal of
human experiences, the revolt of the child against the parent” (1960a;
Harris also recognised a more particular theme, that of “the shame
which the educated young feel towards their semi-educated working
class parents”. “In the post-war Welfare State”, writes Harris, “this
has become more or less the classic theme of the provincial Angries
… the educated and déclassé proletarians” (1960a; also 1960b).
Framing Seymour’s play within a post-war context of broad cultural
and socio-economic changes, Harris refers here to the so-called
‘Angry Young Men’ of Britain in the 1950s. These were an
educationally enfranchised, anti-establishment generation of young
male writers from working-class backgrounds which coalesced in the
wake of John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (1957). Thus
Seymour himself, speaking to the press just prior to the play’s first
professional production in Sydney in 1961, drew on the discourse of
generational change:
Australia is going through a transitional phase, and young Hughie, the
university student of this play, sums up the new generation’s distaste for old
customs and new institutions when he attacks his father about Anzac Day,
which Hughie believes has become a ‘boozy, meaningless ritual’. The conflict
which breaks out could happen in any family, between any father and son; the
disagreement over Anzac Day crystallising the conflict between two
generations. (Quoted in “Theatrical Bonanzac” 1961)
The conflict between father and son is physically enacted at the
climax of the play (see figure 8.1). Alf hits Hughie—“backhand[ing]
his son viciously across the face”—for disrespecting the ex-
servicemen who march on Anzac Day: “That’s men like my father
he’s talking about”, exclaims Alf to his wife in justifying his violence
(Seymour 1961: 42). Yet earlier in the play, Alf’s investment in
facilitating his son’s social mobility beyond a working-class milieu is
Men at Play 150
also physicalised. Alf kneels to remove Hughie’s shoes and clean
them, as Hughie studies statistics for a university degree in economics
(32). H.G. Kippax, writing for Nation as “Brek”, recalled the scene in
a review of the play’s Sydney production:
The gap between them is movingly defined at the end of the first act. Late at
night the troubled boy is trying to study at the kitchen table while Alf moons
about him trying to re-establish the ‘mateship’ they used to share. He picks up
a book, asks a question about it, helplessly puts it down. Finally, at a loss for
words, he cleans his son’s shoes. It is a beautiful curtain. (Brek 1961: 19)
The effects of socio-economic change are thus plotted at the end of act
1 in an exchange of sentiment between father and son as Hughie’s
emotional tenor shifts from objection to acquiescence, from
protestation to gratitude. “I don’t like you doing that, Dad”, says
Hughie as Alf cleans his shoes. “It’s all right, it’s all right,” says Alf,
“you get on with yr work” (Seymour 1961: 32). The stage direction at
this point instructs Hughie to do so, “but after a few seconds he looks
up and watches his father at work. Gradually, he smiles”. “Ay Dad”,
says Hughie. Alf looks up. “Thanks for doing them” (32).
Alf’s act of service in this scene—on his knees, cleaning his son’s
shoes—echoes his position in the labour market. Alf operates a lift in
a city department store and resents the polite subservience that the job
requires of him, especially when it comes to “jumped-up little clerks”
who “think they’re God Almighty” (25). “You dunno what it’s like”,
Alf complains to his mate Wacka, “shut up in that thing, it’s like a
bloody cage, being polite to every nohoper every day, all day” (25).
Alf’s job thereby displaces him from the productivity of industrial
labour or life on the land. Alf tells us, at one point, that he once
wanted to be an engineer and spent hours, during the Depression,
reading “technical books” from the Municipal Library: “Fat lot of
good they did me”, he concludes, “Never had a decent job in my life”
(32). We also learn that Alf may have prospects of a better job at “a
new plant, out of town”. “Kind of an executive position”, he explains
to Hughie’s girlfriend, Jan, leaving Mum and Hughie “half-
embarrassed, half-astonished” until Mum reminds him, with a
question delivered “flatly”, that “There’s nothing definite, is there?”
From father to son 151
Sons of suburbia longing for lost fatherlands
Joe, a labourer and father of two sons in Sewell’s The Father We
Loved on a Beach by the Sea, is similarly alienated from the
productivity of his labour.
Joe longs to escape the city and buy a
farm. “I was gonna be a farmer” (1980: 49), he soliloquises in the
third scene of the play. To “live off the fat of the land” as a farmer is
Joe’s dream of freedom from the servitude of a working man’s life
and the tyranny of the commodity economy (49–50). But while Joe
dreams out loud of life on the land, his wife, Mary, is crying, “her
sobs growing slowly audible” during the scene. “You don’t know the
first thing about farmin’”, she protests. “It won’t work, Joe” and, more
to the point, “Farmers are goin’ broke just like everyone else” (51).
The reality is that Joe and Mary live out their lives in grimy
suburbia—the wall in their kitchen, “though not dirty, is greasy above
the level one can reach with an arm” (47)—and Joe has no choice but
to seek casual employment as a factory hand and suffer the suspicions
of an unemployed man’s paranoia about communists in the unions
“takin’ over the country […] so the Russians can invade” (64). Joe is
also anxious about his sons Dan and Mikey and how they are growing
up. “Do you reckon any of ’em are like me?”, he asks Mary at one
point. Mary’s deferral in response is not reassuring:
MARY: Barbara reckoned Dan’s like you.
JOE: Did she?
MARY: Yeah. Same nose, she said. Does look a bit like you, too.
JOE: Wonder what they’ll be like when they grow up.
MARY: S’pose they’ll have their own worries.
JOE: Why can’t life be simple? (62)
In act 2, Joe’s fear about the future and frustration with his life are
expressed as sexual dysfunction in a conversation with his brother at a
bar (72–73), and later, when they return home, in a confrontation with
his wife (76–80). Mary complains to Joe, “You haven’t touched me
for months”, and Joe excuses himself, “I haven’t been feeling too
good, that’s all” (86). Mary has found a magazine “with pictures of

Jeremy Ridgman’s premiere production of The Father We Loved on a Beach by
the Sea opened at La Boite Theatre, Brisbane, on 21 July 1978. The play had
productions at the Stables Theatre, Sydney (March 1981), Universal Theatre,
Fitzroy (August 1983), and the Little Theatre, Adelaide (November 1985). It was
revived by the New Theatre, Sydney, in January 1996.
Men at Play 152
girls in it” in the garage the other day (87). At first Joe denies that it is
his but then confesses to Mary that he is impotent (88).
The scenes between Joe and Mary are set in the past. In the present
of the play, Joe lives on in the family home after Mary’s death, a
widower in pyjamas, drinking heavily and eating tinned food. The
sons are now grown up, university educated and politically emanci-
pated. In scene 1 of the play, Dan and his younger brother Mikey are
drinking heavily and talking revolutionary politics, tough stuff.
“How’s the old man?”, Dan asks Mikey. “He’s fucked”, Mikey replies
(46). Later in the play, Dan delivers a scathing political analysis of his
father who had “spent his whole fucking life copping shit in the
factories”, yet still maintained that “the Communists are destroyin’ the
country” (59).
It is not until the end of the play that Sewell stages a dialogue
between Joe and Dan, who has failed to come home in time for his
mother’s funeral. The drama of the father–son relationship is not
strongly physicalised in this scene—the two sit opposite each other in
armchairs, their dialogue littered with faltering pauses—but the
estrangement between father and son is palpable. In their only
dialogue in the play, Joe provokes his father with a series of questions
and accusations: “What’s the matter with you? […] You never
understood, did you? What did you want me to do?” (95) Joe’s
response, after another pause, embodies the bitter resentment of a
working man who gave his life in labour for his family:
I could never think of anything. You kids were better educated. It was like
you was livin’ in a different world. You knew the names of countries I
never even heard of. I felt stupid. You with all your high-falutin’ ideas
’bout how things should be. I couldn’t understand. If we ever talked you’d
twist things around so a man wouldn’t know up from down. An’ you’d
sneer at me, like I was nothin’. I worked all me life for you kids, doin’
things a man shouldn’t have to do, an’ did you ever thank me? Did you
ever do the things I asked you? No, you just slapped us in the face. You
treated us like dirt. All the time talkin’ ’bout the workers. What about me?
I was a worker. You wouldn’t even pass the time of day with us. Trottin’
off with all your university friends to talk about things you didn’t know
the first thing about. Oh, you knew the theories all right, but you never
had to live it day in day out without no hope an’ no future. You thought
you was gonna change the world. Well you made a fine mess of it, didn’t
you? (96)
Such are the trauma and resentment that educational advancement,
social mobility, political emancipation and changing patterns of
From father to son 153
employment may wreak upon relations between a father and his son.
As Donaldson explains, there are significant contradictions in the
patriarchal model of “the breadwinner who gives himself to his family
through his wage”. On the one hand, “the working-class patriarch is
sacrificing himself so that his children will not be like him”, while, on
the other, “supporting the family-household can both create resent-
ments and justify, usually retrospectively, the missing of (real or
imagined) opportunities” (1991: 21–22). But critics of the premiere
production in 1978 did not respond with sympathy to Sewell’s
portrayal of Joe’s predicament in the play. David Rowbotham in the
Courier Mail denounced the production, claiming that “La Boite
Theatre is doing the playwright, the players, and itself, a disservice”
because the play “lacks dramatic formulation and the players’
inexperience is pronounced by awkward dialogue” (1978). Colin
Robertson, indicating his displeasure by adopting impotence as his
metaphor, writes for the Australian:
Just as it is difficult to imagine a beach which is not by the sea so it is difficult
to imagine that the father (Sam [sic]) in this play would arouse much love in
his offspring. Or in fact that he would arouse much of anything except
incredulity, popping around as he does saying things like: “where have we
gone wrong?” and “What’s happening to us, Mary?”. (1978)
Reviewers of subsequent productions were more receptive to the play
and more sympathetic to the character of Joe.
By 1996, when the
New Theatre in Sydney staged a revised version of the play, Stephen
Dunne describes “this excellent and important play” as “a fascinating
study of disillusionment with utopias”. Referring with evident
sympathy to “Joe’s desperate search for work and troubles with his
wife”, Dunne proclaims the play “a panorama of Australian social
history” (1996b).
Tim Gooding’s musical play King of Country also dramatises
conflict between a father longing for a lost life on the land and a son
ensconced and rendered inert by suburban life.
It tells the story of

See Le Moignan (1981) on the 1981 Griffin Company production at the Stables
Theatre, Sydney; Hutton (1983) and Radic (1983) on the 1983 Playbox
production at the Universal Theatre, Melbourne.
Peter Barclay’s premiere production of King of Country opened at the Australian
National University Arts Centre, Canberra, on 24 August 1984. It was
subsequently produced by the STC at the Wharf Theatre from 29 November 1986
Men at Play 154
Chook, a country and western singer from the New South Wales
country town of Tamworth, who moved to Sydney to record covers of
American country and western songs. Having left his duet partner,
Pearl, back in Tamworth, Chook fell in love with Norma, the typist at
the record company, and settled down to raise a family in suburban
Sydney, all but giving up singing to work as a television repairman.
“Chook now dresses like a typical suburban ‘dad’”, Gooding notes,
“there is no sign of a Country and Western past in his external
appearance” (1992: n.p.). It is Chook’s aging father, Horace, who
provides the play’s first link to the country and the past. First
appearing confined to a wheelchair yet moving “at top speed”, Horace
wants to go back to Tamworth to scatter his late wife’s ashes (3), far
from the retirement homes (“a prewash for the crematorium”) and the
“lovely spot” that Chook has “set aside for mum at Rookwood
[cemetery]” (5). As in The Father We Loved, suburbia in Gooding’s
play is a space of entrapment and stagnation, of impotence and even
death. Chook has lost his wife as well. Norma left him three months
ago—which is why the backyard is a mess and Chook has to clean it
before his daughter Vikki comes to stay with her new American
husband, country and western singer Hank Henderson, “the Oklahoma
Outlaw” (3). Vikki and Hank, as it turns out, are passing through
Sydney on their way to the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Thus
the plot is set for Chook to travel with Horace, Vikki and Hank on a
return trip to Tamworth, to the land of country music—Hank calls it
“Nashville South” (20)—and to an encounter with Pearl, the woman
from Chook’s past.
Chook, it should be noted, is not much of a man, at least not when
judged from the perspective of other characters. As a father-in-law,
Chook initially scores a few jokes about Australian placenames,
native wildlife, insects and the outback at Hank’s expense (11–13,
47–48). But when Chook fails to show for his appearance in Hank and
Vikki’s show, it is Hank’s turn for some vernacular wordplay: “I
oughta bust his ass, honey. […] Only I shoulda knowed you’d turn
chicken, Chook” (62–63). As a son, Chook is a disappointment to his
father: “You could make a comeback” (6) and “You should’ve
married Pearl” (11) are Horace’s refrains. On discovering Chook’s no-
show Horace explains, “He’s done a runner. He’s a bastard, Pearl”

and by Playbox Theatre Company at the Malthouse, Melbourne, from 24 July
From father to son 155
(60). As a husband, Chook evidently became a disappointment to
Norma. Norma does not appear on stage, but a photograph of her
accidentally appears on the screen during a backyard slide night. She
is described by Gooding as “more upmarket than Chook” standing in
front of her newly renovated inner-city terrace house (18). And, as a
father to Vikki, Chook’s suburban inertia is cause of much concern:
“You need to DO something”, she admonishes, “You need to get away
from this house” (14).
But it is Pearl’s judgement of Chook which is
most damaging to the man.
In a song called “Town and Country Waltz”, Pearl sings of the
“man who can’t make up his mind”, who bought a purple car “the
colour of Patterson’s Curse”, and who moved to the city and “became
a man with a mortgage and a car and a kid” and “cut himself loose
from the past” (15–16). Chook’s betrayal of the authentically
Australian in local country music is to cover songs written by
Americans, “dead foreigners” as Pearl calls them (25). Gooding
intensifies the national dimension of Chook’s betrayal by enriching
the national authenticity of Chook’s father. Gooding articulates
Horace’s life story to historical events of national significance. Horace
may be old and incapacitated, he may be suffering from deafness,
senility and incontinence (8, 28), but he was a digger in the First
World War. Also, he was a soldier-settler on a farm near Tamworth
where he survived a rabbit plague, the drought of 1919 and the Great
Depression, though he lost the farm between the wars owing money to
the bank (5, 35, 46).
Horace is also the play’s great doer, achieving the objectives he
announces at the outset (3). He gets to Tamworth (32), walks to the
Oxley lookout (34), arrives at the site of his lost farm (45) and scatters
his wife Enid’s ashes (46). By placing two cryptic love song
dedications on the local country music radio station (35, 37), Horace
also orchestrates the play’s hoped-for romantic reunion of Chook and
Pearl to open act 2 (42). However, the romance doesn’t go quite right:
Pearl is planning to get married and to live with her husband in
Western Australia (54). She turns down Chook’s invitation to sing

Chook may also have a son. When Vikki and Hank arrive, Chook first asks after
Norma and then asks, “More to the point, how’s our Cliff?” (11). Changing the
subject, Vikki doesn’t answer Chook’s question and Cliff is not referred to
elsewhere in the play. It is unclear whether Cliff is Chook and Norma’s son or
perhaps Norma’s new partner.
Men at Play 156
with him at Hank and Vikki’s show (57). In the final scene, Chook is
heading back to Sydney with Horace. Chook is non-committal about
the future: “I might sell the house. Buy a new car and a caravan. […]
But not just yet.” “Him? Or Norma?”, asks Pearl, identifying Chook’s
ties to suburban life as either his father in the car or his estranged
wife. Chook just shrugs, “Unfinished business” (65). Pearl and Chook
agree to write songs long distance by letter and audiocassette. Then
they embrace and sing the play’s closing duet.
For a country and western musical play, the ending is suitably
bittersweet. But, like the character of Joe in The Father We Loved, the
character of Chook proved troublesome for critics, even though it
attracted well-known television actors Rob Steele, Terence Donovan
and John Wood to the role. While the reviews of the 1984 premiere
production for Theatre ACT in Canberra were sanguine, Terence
Donovan’s performance playing Chook in the 1986 STC production
was the target of critique. “Gooding’s Chook Fowler […] is a failure,
a man without stature or talent”, writes Bob Evans for the Sydney
Morning Herald:
Worse, he lacks ambition which Terence Donovan’s portrayal is unable to
supply. It is a catastrophic combination in which Gooding’s irresolute
characterisation is compounded by Donovan’s utterly lifeless performance
which leaves a wooden lump at the heart of the play. (Evans 1986)
For Barry Oakley in the National Times, “Terence Donovan’s Chook
Fowler is meant to be pivotal, but he’s an empty, diffident figure, who
needs to be played with more roughness and bile; at the moment, the
centre doesn’t hold” (1986). Other critics were more generous to the
actor but criticised the character. For Andrew Urban in the Australian,
“Terence Donovan plays Chook, a character that seems almost
pathetic and a bit shallow despite Donovan’s efforts to fill him out”,
and “if it were not for the two women […] King of Country would be
weak to the point of tedium” (1986). According to Brian Hoad in the
Bulletin (1986), “Terence Donovan manages to make something
endearing out of the rather spineless Chook”. Frank Gauntlett in the
Daily Mirror concurs: “Terence Donovan attempts to introduce some
depth into Chook by refusing to present the character as the Aussie
stereotype that it is. It’s a commendable effort” (1986). John Wood
fared little better playing Chook in the 1992 Playbox production in
Melbourne. Peter Weiniger describes him in the Age as “a dour but
one-dimensional Chook” (1992). Helen Thomson observes for the
From father to son 157
Australian that “John Wood as Chook makes an art form of
ordinariness and manages to sing creditably” (1992). For Sonia
Harford of the Sunday Herald Sun, Wood was “alternately gruff and
exasperated” but “doesn’t appear to explore fully the character of
Chook” (1992).
How should we account for such consistency of critique? Clearly,
the critics found something wrong with the character of Chook. But
was it the actors’ performances or Gooding’s writing that was at fault?
Or was the character of a man who is a “failure, a man without stature
or talent” or who “lacks ambition” improbable for an actor to perform
convincingly on stage and intolerable for critics to contemplate with
Like Joe, the father in Sewell’s The Father We Loved on
a Beach by the Sea, there is an air of disappointment around Chuck,
the son in Gooding’s King of Country, the disappointment of a
masculinity inadequately reproduced from a father to his son.
Dead ends: homosexual sons and dying fathers
It is sexuality, however, which emerges as the most disruptive
impediment to the familial reproduction of masculinity. Richard
Barrett’s Words of One Syllable (1990), Elizabeth Coleman’s It’s My
Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To) (1997) and Tim Conigrave’s
Thieving Boy (1997) each stage dramatic confrontations between a
homosexual son and his dying father. In Louis Nowra’s The Jungle
(1998) an estranged father murders his homosexual son. Only in
David Stevens’s The Sum of Us (1990), where the son reproduces the
values of his working-class father and cares for his father after his
stroke, is homosexuality cheerfully incorporated into the successions
of family life (see chapter 7). In the other plays, the difference of the
homosexual son’s positioning within a reconfigured labour field
compounds the sexual difference from his father. Homosexuality—or
the confrontation between a homosexual son and his father—is
deployed in these plays to dramatise socio-economic changes that
divert the patrilineal reproduction of working-class masculinity and
estrange father from son.

A performance of Chook may be more favourably received today, given the
recent success of Australian plays sympathetically championing masculine
inadequacies, such as Brendan Cowell’s Bed (2004) and Ian Wilding’s Torrez
(2004). But we are unaware of any recent productions of King of Country with
which to test our expectation.
Men at Play 158
Reviewing the 1990 Belvoir Street production, Frank Gauntlett
recognises this metonymic deployment of homosexuality in digesting
the plot of Barrett’s Words of One Syllable for readers of the Daily
The Father—beautifully played by Max Phipps—is dying and clutching his
fettered emotions, his solidly working-class paternalism, his courage, sense of
duty and affection must provide for his wife’s future. Excellent Steven Vidler
is the Son on whom his plan rests. Father wants the educated, intelligent,
successful and happy young man to give up the life he has forged elsewhere
and move back with mum. The lure is the inheritance of the family home. In
many ways the fact that the son is homosexual is incidental to the substance of
the play. This ‘difference’ is one of many points of variance, but it stands as
the extreme of diversion, the pivot of guilt and, curiously, the stimulus of the
ultimate affirmation of love. (Gauntlett 1990)
Like The One Day of the Year, Words of One Syllable is set in a
suburban family home and the plot pivots around an outing—although
this time it is the son, Robert, who goes out and comes home drunk.
Before he goes out, his mother entreats him not to tell his dying
father: “If you had any feeling”, she pleads, “you’d spare him the
whole sordid story!” (Barrett 1990: 39). He doesn’t, of course, and the
next morning, recounting a night of drinking and casual sex, Robert
reveals his homosexuality to his father: “Do you want to insult me?”
is the father’s reply (39). Yet these moments of truth-telling may be
less pivotal to the emotional score of the play than moments of
physical interaction which, as in The One Day of the Year,
choreograph flows of power and desire, shame and pride between
father and son.
At one point before his night out, Robert sees his father, Frank,
trying to adjust the pressure bandages on his legs. Frank is seated in
an armchair and Robert kneels in front and tries to help. Frank’s
reaction is unexpectedly explosive; the stage direction reads: “Frank
kicks him out of the way. Robert looks at him, shocked. Frank kicks
him again, and again”. “Never do that again!” (69) yells Frank,
reacting in an apparent “fit of homophobic rage” (Neill 1990), at his
implication in an act of homosexual supplication: “Never kneel
in front of me like that” (Barrett 1990: 69). Yet later in the play, after
Robert’s return from his night out, that particular relational

Peter Kingston’s premiere production of Words of One Syllable for Belvoir Street
Theatre Company opened at Belvoir Street, Sydney, on 3 October 1990.
From father to son 159
configuration—the son kneeling at the feet of the father—is staged
again in a quiet moment, somewhat like Alf’s cleaning Hughie’s
shoes, when Frank bathes a cut on Robert’s forehead (80; see figure
Robert is an upwardly mobile high school drama teacher, a
member of the educationally enfranchised class. He arrives home to
his working-class parents with his bag full of books, a pair of
fashionable sneakers, and stories to tell about Europe’s cultural highs.
By contrast, Owen, the homosexual son in Nowra’s The Jungle,
occupies a very different social milieu.
Owen’s father is a successful
businessman, but Owen is a waiter in a Sydney restaurant—or rather,
before his hospitalisation with AIDS, he was a waiter, as well as an
adventurous young man on Sydney’s gay sex scene. “When I left
home boy oh boy! Brave new world. Dance parties, amyl nitrate,
ecstasy, and clubs”, exclaims Owen (Nowra 1998: 205), charting a
social trajectory from suburban middle-class upbringing to homo-
sexual service industry position. When Owen’s father, Mark, pays a
rare visit to his son in hospital, Owen conjures explicit memories of
homosexual sex from a life of pleasure and excess lived as both
labourer and consumer amid the service industries of the gay scene: “I
wander around the restaurant the next day in a daze as I wait on
people”, recalls Owen, “and all I want is a cock inside me” (205).
The scene between Owen and his father escalates with hatred and
disgust, until the father grabs a pillow and suffocates his wheelchair-
bound son (see figure 8.3). It is a shocking and unusual scene: we
know of no other mainstream Australian play in which a father
murders his son on stage. Yet critical response was curiously muted:
John McCallum in the Australian recalls a “dying gay slut and his
uncomprehending father” (1995); James Waites in the Sydney
Morning Herald: “a successful businessman roaring at his son, dying
of AIDS” (1995); and Brian Hoad for the Bulletin: “a father […] and
his son dying of AIDS stage a terrifying outburst of mutual hate and
loathing” (1995). In each review the agency of death is attributed to
AIDS, not to the father. Writing for Sydney’s gay newspaper, the
Sydney Star Observer, Steve McLeod omits mention of the scene,
claiming merely that he “hadn’t really been offended” by the play

David Berthold’s premiere production of The Jungle opened at the STC’s Wharf 2
on 25 October 1995.
Men at Play 160
What would draw the views of these reviewers into alignment with
those of Owen’s father Mark; in alignment, that is, with those of a
murderer? In some ways, Mark’s complaint about his son is that of
any father: “You selfish bastard! [...] You’ve never sacrificed
anything. I’ve worked hard. All you’ve done is have a good time and
this is the result” (Nowra 1998: 205). But we learn later that his
complaint is more particular than that:
You see, he’s left me with nothing. No wife, no grandchildren, just an
emptiness. [...] He was dying anyway. Maybe they thought he died in his
sleep after I left the hospital. It’s strange to think you spend all your life
working, buying a nice house like this, loving your wife, [...] and then
realising that your own flesh and blood will not give birth to their flesh
and blood, that they’re a dead end. (238–239)
Owen’s memory of waiting on tables and wanting cock compounds
the immateriality of unproductive service labour with the reproductive
failure of homosexual sex. Dead-end jobs and dead-end lives—such
are the anxieties of fathers who have invested, perhaps overly, in the
erotic and economic productivity of their sons. And perhaps the
incapacity of a father to tolerate the erotic economy of the life lived by
a son like Owen is indicative of how much patriarchal projections of
masculinity have yet to accommodate the actualities of growing up to
live and work as a man in contemporary Australia.
“Everything smells like Macdonalds [sic] and semen”
Owen is not Australian theatre’s most disappointing, most wayward,
most unruly homosexual son. That honour goes to Kennett Boy from
“Suit”, Christos Tsiolkas’s contribution to the Melbourne Workers
Theatre’s production Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? (Bovell et
al. 2000).
Sixteen-year-old Kennett Boy, son of “little Sammy
Destanzo” (14), is most remembered for his outrageous erotic fantasy
about Jeff Kennett, who was the Premier of Victoria from 1992 to
1999. The fantasy is Kennett Boy’s “favourite wank dream”, so much
so he wants to share it with his father:
I wish I could tell my father about this dream. Maybe that would get the
cunt alive. Poofter son, father, you’ve got a poofter son who wants to fuck

Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? was written by Andrew Bovell, Patricia
Cornelius, Melissa Reeves, Christos Tsiolkas and Irine Vela. The premiere
production, directed by Julian Meyrick, opened at the Victorian Trades Hall,
Melbourne, on 1 May 1998.
From father to son 161
a real bloke like Kennett, not some boring working stiff like you. He’d
crack, I know he’d crack it. How to tell his mates on the job? ‘My son’s a
faggot’. Gutless cunt. He could never do that. (Bovell et al. 2000: 12)
Kennett Boy’s father, Sammy, is a disappointment to his son. Like
Seymour’s Alf, Sewell’s Joe and Gooding’s Chook, Sammy’s position
in the labour market alienates the productivity of his labour. “My old
man is one of those guys who’s wasted his whole fucking life”,
Kennett Boy explains, “He works a shit job, has for thirty fucking
years” (11). Consequently, Kennett Boy has little intention of
following in his father’s footsteps: “He wants me to work on a
building site, he wants me to be like him. I’d rather sell my body for
twenty bucks in St Kilda, I’d rather be a fucking whore” (14). The
future that Kennett Boy forges for himself is nothing like the future
that fathers used to imagine for their sons. No longer is masculinity to
be secured through productivity, through industry or construction, or
through labouring on the land. Instead, Kennett Boy imagines that the
future of his masculinity will be secured through access to money,
power and style:
One day I’m going to have lots of money. I’ll steal it, I’ll beg for it. Fuck,
to get out of here, I’d kill for it. I’ll get style, I’ll learn about the coolest
places to be, I’ll have all the best-looking guys hanging on me, begging to
have a go at sucking my dick. (14)
Fathers, sons and sexuality are more explicitly the subject of
Tsiolkas’s Viewing Blue Poles (1998).
A male security guard stands
alone in the room at the National Gallery of Australia, where the
painting by Jackson Pollock hangs.
A man and a woman, a couple
who were discussing the future of their relationship in front of the
painting, have just left the room. The woman is pregnant but now
loves another man. She is considering an abortion. The man offers to
be a father—“You are the father” (Tsiolkas 1998: 5), she reminds
him—but he, too, is in love with another man. The woman asks, “Will

Lauren Taylor’s premiere production of Viewing Blue Poles opened at the Fitzroy
Gallery, Fitzroy, on 24 June 1999. The production had a season at the Downstairs
Theatre at Belvoir Street Theatre, Sydney, which opened on 22 June 2000.
The acquisition of Blue Poles by the National Gallery of Australia was
controversial. Purchased in 1973 at the record-breaking cost of $1.3 million, its
abstract expressionism was publicly reviled by some as indicating how the
aesthetic extravagance of the Whitlam Labor government exceeded the ordinary
tastes of working-class Australians (“Jackson Pollock painting” 1973).
Men at Play 162
you marry me?” The man is silent in response. “Then we terminate”,
she announces softly (6). They kiss with passion in front of the
painting and it is the woman who breaks the kiss and pulls away. They
leave to see Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair in another room.
Left alone, the security guard slowly undresses, taking off his
jacket, his shirt and his trousers. In t-shirt and boxer shorts, he sits and
addresses the audience. He could still be at work or he may now be at
home. He, too, talks about sex, love, marriage and children. He talks
about having sex with a married man at a sex club—a man with a
wedding ring who smelt like “Macdonalds” (sic) and wore a condom
for oral sex. “I don’t like that”, says the security guard, “I prefer to
taste skin not plastic, but I figured he was married and just being
careful” (8). He talks about coming home from the sex club smelling
of “Macdonalds” and semen, coming home to a married man who
visits him most nights but returns home to his wife. At one point he
expresses a queerly conservative respect for his lover’s fatherhood:
Should I leave her? he asks me and I say do you want to? And he says,
dunno. Is it her or the kid, I ask. The kid, he says, it’s really about the kid.
I understand that. I respect that. That’s why I don’t push it. That’s why I
don’t tell him I love him. I’m not going to make someone give up their
kid, no way am I going to do that. Yeah, I’d like it if we could be together,
live together. Shop together, that’s what I most envy married people for,
shopping together. Yeah, that would be good. But it’s not going to be with
Jack. He’s married, he’s a father and I won’t fuck that up. (Tsiolkas 1998:
The play forges intricate relations between homosexuality and
fatherhood. In the world that Tsiolkas stages, fatherhood is not a
domain of experience from which homosexuality has been excluded.
Nor is it a domain which homosexuality now seeks to occupy or
annex to itself; such as it is in Campion Decent’s Baby X (2000) in
which a gay man becomes a father by donating sperm to a lesbian
couple. Rather, in Tsiolkas’s play, fatherhood remains implicated in
acts of heterosexual desire: men become fathers after having sex with
women. Yet their fatherhood does not preclude men from becoming
objects or agents of homosexual desire. As the man says to the woman
who carries their child: “I love you and I want to suck off the security
guard. They’re not mutually exclusive” (1998: 3). Or as the security
guard says to the audience: “The safest men to go with are married
men. […] A married man cares for his wife and his children, he isn’t
going to put them at risk” (9).
From father to son 163
Tsiolkas explained his interest in forging intricate relations
between homosexual desire and the heterosexuality of fatherhood in
an interview about the play with one of Sydney’s gay newspapers:
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a long while”, said
Tsiolkas. “As lesbians and gay men we don’t talk about our repressed
heterosexuality” (Jones 2000). If Tsiolkas attributes a cathartic
function to his play—that the play may have a purging effect on its
audience by acting out feelings or desires which have been
repressed—then the play’s cathartic trigger may be that strange
olfactory sense-image with which the security guard characterises his
experience at the sex club and later recalls as he sniffs at his t-shirt at
the end of the play: “Macdonalds and semen. Everything smells like
Macdonalds and semen” (1998: 10).
That a man might leave a sex club smelling of semen is obvious
enough. That a man he encounters there should smell of
“Macdonalds”, and so strongly that it lingers—this invites drama-
turgical explanation. “Macdonalds” is marketed as a family restaurant,
so that is one connotation: the man who smells of it may have been to
the restaurant as a family man. “Macdonalds” is also associated with
its critique as an icon of American capitalism and corporate
globalisation, as an exploiter of cheap labour and a purveyor of fast
food. In fact, the security guard’s attitude to the sex club invokes a
similar critique: when the security guard first encounters the married
man he is “watching some dumb fuck vid[eo] with two American
dudes sucking each other off” (8). Tsiolkas’s sensation mixes
economics and erotics, productivity and desire. Much as Wilhelm
Reich and Herbert Marcuse sought to infuse a Marxist politics of
production with a Freudian psychoanalysis of desire (see Weeks 1985:
160–170), this strange sensation mingles in our nostrils, as it were, an
icon of the globalised service economy with the seminal expenditure
of homosexual sex. Deployed in the vicinity of the ejaculatory splatter
of Pollock’s painting and in conjunction with the security guard’s
queerly conservative respect for fatherhood, it may serve to crystallise
anxieties about the labour of reproducing masculinity from father to
son in a changing world.
Figure 8.1 The One Day of the Year
Tony Ogier (left) as Hughie, Terry Stapleton as Alf, Patsy Flanagan as
Mum and Francis Flannagan as Wacka in the premiere production of
Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year, Willard Hall, Adelaide, in July
1960. (Photograph by Colin Ballantyne, reproduced by courtesy of the
Performing Arts Collection of South Australia, Adelaide Festival Centre.)
Figure 8.2 Words of One Syllable
Steve Vidler (left) as Robert and Max Phipps as Frank in the premiere
production of Richard Barrett’s Words of One Syllable at Belvoir Street
Theatre, Sydney, in October 1990. (Photograph by Branco Gaica,
reproduced with permission.)
Figure 8.3 The Jungle
Simon Bossell as Owen and Anthony Phelan as Mark in The Jungle by
Louis Nowra at Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company, in October 1995.
(Photograph by Tracey Schramm, reproduced with permission and by
courtesy of the STC Archives.)
Chapter 9
Between the sea and the sky
In the Australian literary tradition, the bush was long the distinctive
setting for dramatising the actions of white men in this land.
Representing the expanse of the bush on stage was once regarded as a
necessary challenge for the playwrights and producers of an emerging
national drama. The bush continues to figure in Australian theatre,
notably as a setting for the history of colonisation, rural decline and
Indigenous land rights in such plays as Andrew Bovell’s Holy Day
(2001), Katherine Thomson’s Wonderlands (2004; see chapter 4) and
Hannie Rayson’s Inheritance (2003). But, as we argue in this chapter,
the bush is no longer the primary locale for dramatising the actions of
white men. Rather, to countenance and critique contemporary
projections of white masculinity into the future, we must look to the
beach, to horizons of sea and sky, and to elemental exposures of
masculinity in such practices as swimming, surfing, fishing, boating
and flying. Surveying Australian theatre since the 1950s, though with
a view to plays which premiered since the mid-1980s, this chapter
describes three kinds of scene where the actions of white men are
exposed between the sea and the sky. We have called the scenes: ‘on
the beach’, ‘gone fishing’, and ‘swallowed by the sky’.
On the beach
The sites of Australianness, those representational spaces where our
culture has imagined the unfolding of Australian life—the bush, for
instance, the backyard and the beach—are not evenly distributed
across the history of Australian cultural production. There was a time,
in the first half of the twentieth century, when Australian drama
turned to the bush, when Australian dramatists Louis Esson and
Katharine Susannah Prichard addressed themselves to the task of
framing the landscape of the bush as a setting upon which and against
which to stage the actions of white men and women in colonising the
Between the sea and the sky 165
land (Makeham 1993). By the 1950s and 1960s, however, attention
had turned elsewhere. Plays such as Ray Lawler’s Summer of the
Seventeenth Doll (1957), Richard Beynon’s The Shifting Heart
(1958), Barbara Vernon’s The Multi-Coloured Umbrella (1961), Peter
Kenna’s The Slaughter of St Teresa’s Day (1972), John Hepworth’s
The Beast in View (1959) and Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the
Year (1961) were described at the time by the director of the AETT,
Hugh Hunt, as belonging to a “slice-of-life school” which he dubbed
“backyard” realism (1960: 17; see chapter 2). That the backyard is
represented on stage in just one of these plays—The Shifting
Heart—or that its significance would soon be satirised in Patrick
White’s The Season at Sarsaparilla (1965) in 1962, only serves to
underscore its imaginary status, indicative, if not always apparent, as a
site of everyday Australian life (see chapter 5).
At the same time—that is, across the middle decades of the
twentieth century—creators working in other areas of cultural
production, in the visual arts and advertising, in television and film,
were turning their attention to the beach. This turn to the beach is
evident in the photography of Max Dupain, for instance, or in tourism
advertising and campaigns to encourage migration to Australia
(Dupain 1948; Follow the Sun 2000). It is also apparent in Stanley
Kramer’s feature film On the Beach from 1959, based on Neville
Shute’s 1957 novel of the same name. Indeed, the legacy of Australian
cultural production and critique has itself been structured by such a
turn to the beach. We may associate the bush, for instance, with the
literary nationalism of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson and with the
high-art romanticism of the Heidelberg school of landscape painting.
But our apprehension of the beach has evolved through more popular,
more realist, more widely mediated modes such as photography,
television and film and through the critical understandings of
contemporary cultural studies (Fiske, Hodge and Turner 1987; Gibson
2001; Grace 2001). For this reason, it is interesting to consider how
the beach is depicted as a setting when two of those backyard realist
plays from the 1950s were adapted for the screen.
Leslie Norman’s feature film of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
from 1957 was retitled Season of Passion for distribution overseas.
The film relocates the story from Melbourne to Sydney and key
sequences were shot on location. When Barney and Roo arrive in
Sydney from up north, the first thing they do with Olive and Pearl is
Men at Play 166
to head off for a day at the beach. We see them embark on a ferry
from Circular Quay, heading out into the harbour, under the harbour
bridge, to arrive at Bondi Beach for a scene in a licensed club, with
panoramic views overlooking the beach. The imaginary geography of
this ferry trip may indicate something of the attitude of the film’s
producers to its local consumption. Whereas the play had been
celebrated for representing Australians to themselves, the film’s
representational vector, with its Hollywood actors and tourist-
brochure cinematography, was made to appeal to a broader, pan-
Pacific audience (McCallum 1985: 34–35). The screenplay’s
elaboration of the romance between the young lovers Bubba and
Johnnie Dowd, depicted on a lobby card for the film, clearly rendered
the beach a site for heterosexual passion.
Vernon’s The Multi-Coloured Umbrella was also adapted for the
screen. After successful productions in regional New South Wales,
Melbourne and Sydney during 1957, ABC Television broadcast a live
studio production to Sydney viewers on 29 January 1958.
The setting
for the play is the rooftop sundeck of a house at Bondi Beach:
“Beyond the parapet”, instructs Vernon, “we see a headland, closely
built over, and below the curve of the sand, where the creaming waves
ignore the many sunbathers” (1961: 27). John Truscott’s meticulously
realistic set for the Melbourne Little Theatre production depicted a
stylish outdoor living area referencing elements from both the
backyard and the beach. A large, fringed, multi-coloured beach
umbrella shelters the drinks table upstage centre.
The play depicts the Donnellys, an upwardly mobile family who
run a successful bookmaking business at Randwick Racecourse. The
main action plays out on the sundeck: brothers Joe and Ben fight,
inflamed by alcohol, money concerns and sexual jealousy over Kate,
Joe’s middle-class wife. As an off-stage locale, the beach really only
figures at the end of the play, although the ABC production for
television may have given the beach a more prominent role. While the
play’s scripted action on the sundeck was broadcast live from the
ABC’s television studio and was not recorded, the broadcast also

The Multi-Coloured Umbrella opened at the Inverell Town Hall on 9 April 1957.
A production at the Little Theatre in Melbourne, which opened on 5 October
1957, was picked up by J.C. Williamson’s and played at the Theatre Royal,
Sydney, and Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, in November and December of that
Between the sea and the sky 167
incorporated some film inserts, shot on location at Bondi Beach, and
these inserts have survived (“Multi-Coloured Umbrella” 1958). One
shot depicts a man and woman, presumably Joe and Kate, walking
hand in hand along the beach. In a subsequent shot, a tussle breaks out
between the couple: the woman runs into the waves and the man
chases after her, with much playful splashing about. The action in this
insert is not actually staged in the play; it was specifically created for
the television adaptation. It may have been preceded by the following
dialogue from the final scene of the play:
JOE: […] Couldn’t you see that I love you—that I want you as you are—
KATE: No. If you see me as I am I’ll lose—
JOE: See you as you are … I’m seeing you as you are now. Young, and lovely
and warm. Katey, I don’t want to worship you like a saint in a church. I
want you out in the sun and air with me.
KATE: But you—if you don’t respect me—if I can’t rouse you—
JOE: Respect you? Rouse me? I was so jealous you nearly killed me—and
Ben. I can’t kiss you with Ben here looking on. Come down on the beach
with me.
KATE: It’s going to rain—my dress—my hair—I’ll look terrible if my hair—
JOE: Katey, your hair don’t matter, and if you wear that Goddam dress again
I’ll tear it off you. Right on the race track. And if you look at another man,
ever, I—I’ll belt the living daylights out of you. Not out of the man—out
of you! And we’ll have kids, see, and a big house, and we’ll fill it with
friends, and we’ll know and trust each other. Now, do you want that or
KATE: I don’t know if I can. I’m not like you … I can’t let go all of a minute, I
JOE: It’s now or never.
(He goes to the steps, waits a moment then turns to go.)
KATE: Joe—don’t leave me—Joe—wait for me Joe …
(She runs after him and trips on the steps falling into his arms. JOE
sweeps her up triumphantly, and they go together into the darkness.)
(Vernon 1961: 41–42)
In the play script, a summer storm is breaking as Joe and Kate head
down on to the beach. Joe’s mother, Gloria, is concerned: “Those
kids’ll get soaked. Did they take coats or umbrellas or anything?” she
asks her other son, Ben. “No coats. No umbrellas”, Ben observes in
the final speech of the play, “But don’t worry—maybe that’s what this
marriage needed. A little bit of sun and rain on it” (42). The beach, in
Vernon’s play, is an off-stage location where the elements—the sun,
the wind and the rain—restore passion to everyday life and
reinvigorate sexual relations between a man and his wife.
Men at Play 168
Lawler’s second play, The Piccadilly Bushman (1961), was not
adapted for screen, although it was afforded a panoramic photo-spread
in Australian Theatre Year 1959/1960 (Harvey 1960). Desmonde
Downing’s set for the J.C. Williamson’s production depicts the
interior of an eastern-suburbs mansion in Sydney with views of the
harbour and the bridge which recall the locations featured in the film
of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Perhaps Lawler’s second play,
which underwhelmed critics in its 1959 theatre production, might
have worked better on film; certainly, the play marked Lawler’s
transition from the concerns of backyard realism towards a more
affluent, leisure-class milieu.
Like The Multi-Coloured Umbrella,
Lawler’s play features sunshine, fresh air and a beach off-stage, which
provides for some leisurely distraction and dishevelment—although,
somewhat sadly, it fails to restore vigour to those jaded by married
In The Piccadilly Bushman the beach is associated with Meg, the
wife of expatriate actor Alec Ritchie, the “Piccadilly Bushman” of the
title. Meg’s life is described in one review as “further complicated by
drink, nymphomania and a son in the bush” (Bennett 1959). When
Meg first enters, she’s been down “watching the sea with the sun on
it”, she is suffering somewhat from “a touch of the sun” and, as the
playwright informs us, “her present mood of strained gaiety is a cover
up for the fact that she is rather drunk, nervous and very much on the
defensive” (Lawler 1961: 17–18). Alone with her husband, she recalls
how, on “a little beach” by the harbour, she asked Alec to marry her,
“with my shoes full of sand and a broken brassiere strap” (48). Later,
Meg and the rugged Douglas O’Shea, “a forty-year-old lump of a
man” with “a larrikin grin” (33), are missing and her husband is
waiting at home for her return and making references to his wife’s
“casual sort of lust” which “doesn’t need a dignified time to satisfy”
(90). Perhaps we are meant to assume that she and O’Shea are lying
romantically entwined on some beach. However, as it turns out, they
just went for a drive to the Blue Mountains where, according to Meg,
“it was talk and nothing else” (101).

John McCallum’s premiere production of The Piccadilly Bushman opened at J.C.
Williamson’s Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, on 12 September 1959 and went on to
seasons in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. The play was revived by director
Aubrey Mellor in a version revised by the playwright. Mellor’s production for
Playbox Theatre opened at the CUB Malthouse on 17 November 1998.
Between the sea and the sky 169
Although the beach has not figured as prominently as the bush and
the backyard on the Australian stage, recognition of its significance is
The passionately sexualised, potentially violent yet
somehow restorative characterisation of the beach—evident in The
Multi-Coloured Umbrella and The Piccadilly Bushman—is also
deployed in Michael Gow’s Away (1986) and Nick Enright’s
Blackrock (1996c). For many, Gow’s well-loved and oft-performed
play is a nostalgic celebration of the culture of do-it-yourself beach
holidays in 1960s Australia.
But for the characters in the play, their
beach exposure to the sun, the sea and the storm brings emotional
connection, theatrical communion and sexual sublimation. After the
storm that sees the holidaying families washed up on the beach, Tom,
the sickly teenager, is walking with his school friend Meg along the
beach. Tom wants to have sex with Meg, but she refuses, finding him
too skinny (1986: 49, 51). Choosing to get creative with an older
woman instead, Tom fronts up for the holidaymakers’ amateur night,
performing an imaginative mermaid romance called “Stranger on the
Shore” with Coral, the headmaster’s wife (53–55).
Sex and teenage boys and girls converge more bleakly on the
beach in Blackrock (see chapters 2 and 3). The beach is claimed as
territory by teenage boys, as are the waves and rocks along the shore.
In the opening scene, seventeen-year-old Jared is staring out to sea,
and Cherie, his younger cousin by two years, asks him to help her “get
out there” and surf the waves. “Give me one good reason” is Jared’s
challenge in reply, “Cause any other guy’d smack you in the mouth”
(Enright 1996c: 1). When Jared’s mate Ricko pulls up in a car, Jared
tells Cherie to “piss off” (1). Another “Blacko boy”, Ricko recites a
list of beach names which mark the coastline as his territory. “I done it
all, mate”, he claims, “And I seen some waves. Kangaroo Island,
going off! Streaky Bay. Round to Kalbarri, Jake’s Point […] Then I

Joanne Tompkins discusses the beach as a place and setting in Enright’s
Blackrock (1996), Nowra’s Radiance (1993), Gow’s Away (1986) and
Williamson’s Travelling North (1980) (2006: 29–32). Other Australian plays with
beach or near-beach settings include Janis Balodis’s Wet and Dry (1991),
Rayson’s Hotel Sorrento (1992), Gow’s On Top of the World (1987) and
Williamson’s Money and Friends (1982).
Peter Kingston’s premiere production of Away for Griffin Theatre Company
opened at the Stables Theatre, Sydney, on 7 January 1986. The play has had many
productions since. A twentieth anniversary production, directed by Gow for the
QTC and Griffin, played in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra in 2006.
Men at Play 170
got all the way up to Flat Rocks” (2). A little later, after Scott arrives
with Davo, and Toby “from over town” approaches, Ricko makes the
local territorial claim, “Blackrock for the Blackos” (3). Ricko’s
territorial claim is confirmed when Toby announces that he’s
organising a party “down the surf-club” at Blackrock and Jared
decides to “make it a welcome home for Ricko” (3). When the party is
raging outside the surf-club, the beach serves as a back-area for the
party, a place where the boys go to vomit after drinking too much (25)
and where the party disperses with boys and girls “pairing up, going
off down the beach and that” for sex (27). The beach is where Toby
tells his sister Rachel, “Get out of here. Go home!” (25) and where
Cherie goes looking for her friend Tracey who has disappeared (27).
But instead of Tracey, Cherie finds Rachel “dishevelled, stunned,
trying to speak, pointing towards the beach” (28). Thus, pivotally for
the plot, the beach is the off-stage setting for the rape and murder of
Tracey by one of the Blackrock boys (by Ricko, as it turns out) (28,
44–45). Yet the beach is also the setting for the play’s conditional
reconstruction of gender relations. In the closing scene, Jared allows
his younger cousin Cherie to borrow his surfboard and learn how to
CHERIE: You going back out? Give us a go on your board? Please?
JARED: You ding it you’re dead meat. (68)
Gone fishing
A second scene set between the sea and the sky is the domain of
homosocial masculinity that men create when they go fishing. This
scene is prefigured in The Piccadilly Bushman when a fishing trip on
the harbour disrupts plans for a film production meeting, the outdoor
“exhilaration of sun, sea and air”, as Lawler puts it, intruding upon the
indoor business of cultural production (1961: 67). In more recent
plays, fishing—or a failure to go fishing together—is indicative of the
communicative capacity of relations between a father and his son, as it
is between mates. In Stephen Sewell’s The Father We Loved on a
Beach by the Sea, Joe, the father of two sons, tells his wife: “I’m
gonna be a better man for you, Mary, I promise you. I’ll make you
happy. And I’ll be a good father. We’ll all go fishin’ together or
somethin’, ay?” (1980: 63; see chapter 8). But at the end of the play
we see Joe in the scene from which the play is named. Dressed in
bathing trunks and carrying a plastic bucket, he looks blankly out to
Between the sea and the sky 171
sea. There is the sound of the surf and of children playing, but the
father is immobile and unresponsive. Fathers who, having failed to go
fishing, are incapacitated and all but incapable of communicating with
their sons also feature in several plays from the 1990s, including Tony
McNamara’s The John Wayne Principle (1997: 53; see chapter 3) and
Tim Conigrave’s Thieving Boy (1997: 30).
The dramatic possibilities of putting men in a boat to go fishing are
literally staged in Noel Hodda’s Half Safe (1998), in Scott Rankin and
Glynn Nicholas’s Certified Male (2003), and in Margery and Michael
Forde’s James and Johnno (2004). In Certified Male, three
businessmen are away with their boss for a weekend retreat. When
they go out fishing for marlin, one of them falls overboard and almost
drowns. The fishing trip and near-drowning are mimed by Nicholas
and his fellow actors with much hilarity and the usual fishing jokes
about size: “Last month they caught a marlin the size of a Tarago”,
says Jarrad. “I’d be happy with a Hyundai”, replies Howard (Rankin
and Nicholas 2003: 69–70). Indeed, the experience of catching fish is
curiously sexualised: as they mime baiting hooks with live fish,
“Alex’s fish gets away and flops around the deck. He grabs it, looks
like he’s holding a moving dick” (69). When a marlin takes the bait,
Howard exclaims “Strike! Strap me in! Strap me in!”, and as he
mimes the fishing rod action, “Ooohoo. I’m getting a hard-on!” (73).
Opening at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 1999, Certified
Male subsequently toured to capital cities and regional centres around
Australia during 2000, 2001 and 2003, spreading a popular discourse
on men’s issues.
Nicholas acknowledged the influence of Steve
Biddulph’s book in developing the show and joked that the working
title was Manhood—the Musical (Strickland 1999: R22; Biddulph
1994). Critic Fiona Scott-Norman (1999) welcomes Certified Male as
“inherently endearing”, “a timely production with integrity and much
to offer” which “overtly and unashamedly explores what it means to
be a man in 1999”. Stephen Dunne (2000) describes the production at
Sydney’s Star City Showroom as “an exploration of some of the

Other Australian plays from the 1990s with incapacitated fathers who are
uncommunicative with their sons include Richard Barrett’s Words of One Syllable
(1990; see chapter 8), David Stevens’s The Sum of Us (1990; see chapter 7) and
Elizabeth Coleman’s It’s My Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To) (1997).
The premiere production of Certified Male, directed by Terry O’Connell, opened
at the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, on 19 October 1999.
Men at Play 172
depths and difficulties that come along with being a straight bloke”,
observing that “the wives, girlfriends, partners and companions
laughed harder and longer than the men they were with”.
The play’s sentiments about men in a boat are rendered serious by
the story of the raft of the Medusa, a French ship wrecked off the west
coast of Africa in 1816. The story is episodically retold in Certified
Male as a contemporary myth about masculinity in crisis, about men
cut adrift from relationships with women, children and the world, their
raft drifting aimlessly and endlessly on. As the story goes, the ship
Medusa is sinking; the women and officers escape in the lifeboats,
with one lifeboat towing a makeshift raft, hastily built to carry the
The wind and seas are rising, the lifeboats struggle to make headway, and
fearing for their own lives, those in the lifeboats sever the tow rope. With no
sail, rudder, or compass the men on the raft realize they’ve been abandoned
and left to die. The next day, the storm batters the raft. The men tire, some
lose their grip and are swept away. Others, sensing the inevitable, throw
themselves into the sea. As the storm abates, those left begin to hallucinate.
Some see visions of beautiful young mermaids, half their age, in tight-fitting
tops coming to rescue them from the misery of their middle age. Others think
they see “men’s movement weekends”, where they can learn to rescue
themselves. And as self-delusion sets in, they hear the siren call of feminists
and academics “We’re just borrowing the life boats for a while, don’t worry
about it though, I’m sure your new mermaid slut will look after you.” And the
raft drifts on. (Rankin and Nicholas 2003: 24)
Fishing and boating enable communicative encounters between
men and narrative reckonings with life and death which are seemingly
only possible under conditions of removal from women, family and
work. In Half Safe, Ken and Les, two mates in their sixties, are out
fishing on a man-made lake (see figure 9.1).
It is a week since the
funeral of Edie, Les’s wife, and they’ve gone fishing, as Ken puts it,
“to forget”: “Best thing you could do, come out there” (Hodda 1998:
25). The joy of fishing supplies metaphors for indirect expressions of
love and affection: “I came out here the week Cath died”, says Ken,
recalling his late wife, “Caught a redfin, he would have been, oh, yea
big. (He indicates.) Beautiful fish he was. Cooked up a treat” (7). But

Des James directed the premiere of Half Safe for Riverina Theatre Company and
Griffin Theatre Company. The play opened at the Riverina Playhouse on 15
September 1990 and then transferred to the Stables Theatre, Sydney, where it
played from 10 October 1990.
Between the sea and the sky 173
such moments of reflection are relatively brief; the brutality of fishing
swiftly intrudes:
LES: You don’t mention Cath much.
KEN: Don’t really think about it.
LES: A good woman that one.
A sugar bag in the bottom of the boat contains some fish they have
already caught. They flap around.
KEN: Shut up you mongrels.
He thumps the bag with the butt of his knife.
Lie down and die. (7)
When the motor on their boat fails to start, Ken and Les are set adrift.
At first, to give the motor “a bit of rest” from their frustrated attempts
to restart it, they open a bottle of scotch and have a drink (17). “Not
bad this”, says Ken. “A bloke wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Look at it. Bloody Beautiful. Everything a man needs in life. All
here”. But then he realises, “Not much breeze. None at all really.
We’re not moving”, and Les agrees: “We’re not going anywhere”
Adrift in their boat and going nowhere, their conversation turns on
more sombre concerns which surface from the past: how Ken’s son
shot himself (26), how Cath left Ken for a while (30), how Cath died
trying to change a light bulb (35), and how a group of teenagers
drowned in the lake when their canoe capsized: “They could be right
under us now”, Ken thinks aloud, “sitting on the bottom of the lake,
all white and soft and young” (48). As memories stir, emotions are
held at bay at first. When Les asks Ken, “What about that boy of
yours? […] That must have made you think?”, Ken’s answer is
simply, “No”. When Les persists, Ken cuts him short: “What in God’s
name are you going on about? He shot himself. So what? He was half
mad anyway. No loss” (26). Later on Ken will exclaim:
I cared! I cared that my boy shot himself! No, I didn’t cry at the funeral.
There were enough people around doing that. There were two of me there.
One to take part, and one to watch, and the one that watches, he decides
how the other should behave, and he decided not to cry! (51)
Les’s thoughts repeatedly return to death, but Ken refuses to be
LES: I’m glad you’re here. I’d hate to die alone.
KEN: Who’s talking about dying?
Men at Play 174
LES: It’d be awful to be out here by myself, just sitting here, knowing I was
going to die.
KEN: No-one’s dying.
LES: No-one to see it happen. I think you have to see it happen to really
believe it. Do you think that’s true?
KEN: Shut up. You’re giving me the willies. (46)
As they drift on into the night, Ken is tormented by nightmares and
angry voices from his past, while Les quietly dies in his sleep of
exposure, sadness or both. Alone and adrift upon the water, Ken
“breaks down and cries openly, with great release” (56). The final
moving image, as Bob Evans (1990) recalled in a review for the
Sydney Morning Herald, is of Ken “praying tearfully for the dawn
breeze to blow the boat and Les’s dead body to shore”.
A comparable scenario develops in Margery and Michael Forde’s
James and Johnno, when two middle-aged brothers set out to scatter
their father’s ashes on Moreton Bay, where the three once used to fish
(see figure 9.2).
Johnno has rediscovered their father’s old boat and
convinces James to come with him on one last trip. Johnno has also
found their father’s diary in the boat’s hold and reads of their last
fishing trip with their father in 1962 at the time of the Cuban Missile
Crisis. “World War Three could begin any old tick of the clock”,
wrote their father. “If it’s the end—this is where I want to be. Out on
the bay with my sons” (Forde and Forde 2004: 7). With the world in
crisis, Dad had given up hope: with the boys asleep in the hold he
planned to set the boat adrift and send them “over the bar”—but
James woke up to discover Dad in tears and the boat drifting
dangerously. He restarted the boat’s engine and turned them around,
saving the boat from wreckage and the three of them from drowning.
“Don’t tell Johnno. Promise you’ll never tell Johnno”, his father
implored and James has kept the secret from Johnno until now (47).
At the end of the play, having scattered their father’s ashes, James
tries to start the boat but the ignition lock breaks. The two brothers
drift again, without an anchor or engine, towards Jumpinpin, the
narrow channel of fast-moving water between North and South
Stradbroke Islands:
JOHNNO: We’re going to go over, aren’t we, James?
JAMES: Looks like it.

Michael Futcher’s premiere production of James and Johnno opened at La Boite
Theatre, Brisbane, on 27 July 2004.
Between the sea and the sky 175
JOHNNO: We’re gone, aren’t we?
JAMES: We’re gone.
The roar of Jumpinpin swells. They shout above the din. […]
JAMES: […] Hey Johnno!
JAMES: Magic night, isn’t it?
JOHNNO: An absolute piss cutter! (Brief pause) Hey, this is not too bad. I’ve
had worse than this at ‘Wet and Wild.’
JAMES and JOHNNO scream as Jumpinpin thunders down on them.
Change of lighting state. They are floating in calm waters. The boat is
like a little planet … floating in space. JAMES and JOHNNO are solitary
figures—suspended between the sea and stars. (51–52)
“Swallowed by the sky”
Men in boats, fishing and talking (or not), set adrift on the water,
beyond reach of land and relations, exposed to the elements, to the
sun, the sea and the sky—such images of men “suspended between
the sea and the stars” are increasingly apparent in Australian theatre.
Perhaps the most widely disseminated, most recognisable and
appealing image of this kind is from Nick Enright and Justin Monjo’s
adaptation of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (1999). There dreams about
water, sky and stars and images of boats, beds and bathtubs create a
richly fluid and immersive world for brothers Quick and Fish Lamb
(see figure 9.3). Cloudstreet may also serve to introduce a third scene:
one where masculinity is exposed between sea and sky under
conditions of incapacity, disability and loss.
Cloudstreet is an epic play which takes some five hours to
perform. It tells the story of two families, the Pickles and the Lambs,
who live together in one big house on Cloud Street in suburban Perth.
The play was remarkably successful in Neil Armfield’s premiere
It opened in Sydney and transferred to Fremantle in 1998,
then toured to Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney in 1999,
and to London, Dublin, Zurich, New York and Washington DC in
2001, with lavish praise from critics and full houses all the way. At
the time and since, the play has also been the subject of close analysis
and critique, as has Winton’s novel. Many critics read the house in
Cloudstreet as a metaphor for Australia and diagnose a theme of
national reconciliation (Bennie 1998; Burvill 2000; Fallon 1999;

Armfield’s production of Cloudstreet for Company B Belvoir and Black Swan
Theatre Company opened at Berth 9, Darling Harbour, Sydney, on 6 January
Men at Play 176
Tiewes 2006). We focus here on the imagery of boating instead—for
it is not the house but images of men and boys, of fathers, sons and
brothers, in a boat that are recorded in photographs and video from the
production (“Armfield” 1997; “Cloudstreet” 1998).
In the opening scene of Cloudstreet, the Lamb family is prawning
in the river at night, when Fish gets tangled in the net and almost
drowns in the dark. His mother, Oriel, revives him, but as “Quick
holds his brother’s head in his hands, he knows it isn’t quite right
[b]ecause not all of Fish Lamb has come back” (Enright and Monjo
1999: 5). Fish, at the outset, is “the handsome kid, the smart kid who
makes people laugh” (3), but the damage he sustains in almost
drowning transforms his nature and shapes his trajectory through the
play. Fish often expresses his desire for “the water”, a desire to return,
particularly when he is sad (7, 15, 16, 20–21, 45). Fish’s trans-
formation forges a bond between him, his father and his brother
Quick, from which his mother, Oriel, is excluded (15, 21, 46).
Fish’s desire to return to the water is soon realised. His father,
Lester, buys the boys a boat when the family is on a fishing trip at
Fremantle wharf. The boat is too big to be carried on their truck, so
Lester charges Quick with the task of rowing it home up the river to
Perth. Quick chooses Fish as his “first mate” for the trip and, as they
set off, “all but Oriel wave goodbye” (30). The trip is long and the
boys row on. As the Black Man watches on and narrates their journey,
their reality starts to slide.
A stage direction reads, “Fish stands and
spreads his arms wide” and then, “The boat flies through the sky”
QUICK: Are we in the sky, Fish?
FISH: Yes, it’s the water.
QUICK: What do you mean?
FISH: The water. The water. I fly. (32)
But Lester thinks the boys are lost. He runs along the shore calling out
to them and doubting his capacity as a father: “Quick! Quick! Fish!
Quick! Lord, what a fool I am. You’re right, Oriel! I’m not fit to have
kids” (32). And when Lester finds the boys: “I’m a blinking, useless
idiot, son. I’m sorry” (33). Later, when Fish is sitting in the bath and

The Black Man, played by Indigenous actor Kevin Smith in the premiere
production, is a spiritual guide and chorus-like character, created specifically for
the play.
Between the sea and the sky 177
Quick has gone away for work, Fish recalls the boating trip: “We seed
the stars. Up in the water. […] I want the water, Lestah. […] Up in the
boat. Up in the water” (45). Lester offers Fish a boat to play in, in the
yard, but Fish is silent in response. Lester is reluctant when Fish asks
for more water in the bath: “Can only give you a little bit, Fish.
’Cause when it’s deeper, you try and get under it” (46). Then Lester
tells a story at Fish’s request. The story is Lester’s earliest memory as
a young boy being carried by his father across a flooded creek at
night. However, in the telling, he calls the young boy Fish (47).
There are other fishing scenes later in the play. Quick goes out
fishing in his boss’s boat after he has an accident at work. Out in the
boat, he remembers experiences on the water from his past and hears
the voices of his father and Fish. As Quick fishes, the Black Man
narrates a dream of catching fish to excess (76). Returning home to
the river, Quick finds the old boat and becomes a fisherman. Fish
watches Quick mend the nets and asks him twice if he can go out
fishing (85, 87). “Mum says no, Fish” Quick replies, “She doesn’t
want you goin’ on the river” (87). Fish is persistent and Quick relents
and once more they go out on the river (89). “I like the water”, says
Fish (89). In the end, it is to the water that Fish Lamb returns with this
closing speech:
I know my story for just long enough to see how we’ve come, how we’ve
all battled in the same corridor that time makes for us, and I’m Fish Lamb
for those seconds it takes to die, as long as it takes to drink the river, as
long as it took to tell you all this, and then my walls are tipping and I burst
into the moon, sun and stars of who I truly am. Being Fish Lamb.
Perfectly. Always. Everyplace. Me. (122)
At which point the stage direction reads, “He’s gone into the water.
QUICK lets him go” (122). In the Sydney production, staged in a
warehouse on a wharf at Darling Harbour, the doors behind the acting
area were opened onto the harbour at the end and Fish ran out into the
darkness and jumped into the water with a splash.
The sky and the sea, fishing and flying, mourning and melancholia,
disability and death—these elements are deployed in other Australian
plays to generate a similar sense of dissolution, of masculinity
dissolving between the sea and the sky. In John Misto’s monodrama
Sky (1992), a father mourns the loss of his son who disappeared while
Men at Play 178
flying solo over the sea.
One explanation for the disappearance is
that the pilot suffered from “the twilight syndrome” where sea and sky
look so alike that a pilot becomes disorientated and loses control of
the plane. The play begins with Rocco Betoni, the father, standing on
top of a cliff, staring into the wind and holding a red rose. The sounds
are of the sea crashing on rocks below and of a light plane flying
overhead. Rocco recalls taking his son Frankie on a joy flight as a
surprise present for his twelfth birthday. Frankie had shocked Rocco
with a precocious knowledge of sex. “If you’re old enough to know
about sex, [then] you’re old enough to fly” (Misto 1992: 2). “Five
years later”, Rocco recalls:
Frankie raced home from Bankstown airport. “Look, Dad. Look!” And he
held out a pamphlet … (with) three words which chilled my heart. Learn
To Fly. “I belong up there, Dad! I want to be a pilot”—that’s what he said
… and he had that look and I knew he was a man … My little son. (3)
A man disappears between the sea and the sky in Hannie Rayson’s
Life After George (2000) as well.
The title character of the play is an
academic, a professor of Australian history, but also a keen fisherman
and an amateur pilot. George dies, spectacularly, in a plane crash, in
the very first scene of the play, while flying his plane to Flinders
Island in Bass Strait. Later his best mate, Duffy, recalls their trips
away fishing and flying and his ex-wives Beatrix and Lindsay recite
his favourite poem “High Flight” (“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds
of earth / And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings”) by John
Gillespie Magee, the Second World War fighter pilot (Rayson 2000:
23–25, 41).
In other plays, an exposure of fathers and their sons between the
sea and the sky induces generational consolation for the future
through an encounter with finitude. In Neil Cole’s Alive at
Williamstown Pier (1999), Dave, a politician and father of two boys,

Denny Lawrence directed Henri Szeps in the premiere of Sky, which opened at the
Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, 17 July 1992. The production toured to Melbourne,
playing at the Universal Theatre, Fitzroy, from 9 September 1992, and then to the
Playhouse in Perth from 24 November. It returned to Sydney in 1993 for seasons
at the Glen Street Theatre, Frenchs Forest, from 3 March, and the Q Theatre,
Penrith, from 23 April.
Kate Cherry’s premiere production of Life After George for the MTC opened at
Fairfax Theatre, Melbourne, on 1 January 2000.
Between the sea and the sky 179
suffers throughout the play from manic-depression.
He returns
repeatedly to the pier, to a place on the edge of the land, between the
sea and the sky, where he finds balance and feels at one with the
Can I say that I’m standing at the end of the pier looking out over the
water with yachts moored on the left and right of me, cargo ships sailing
slowly in front of me. [...] I know I see all this, it feels like my two young
boys alongside of me, and that I am alive. When you think of your
existence, the reason can lie to the left and right of you, to those alongside
of you. It is with me that the challenge to my existence, its reason and its
purpose, are to the left and the right of me and they are, my boys. Two
boys who stand between me, and the call of death’s inevitability. As I
stand here aware of them, and without depression, I finally know I am
Alive, At Williamstown Pier. (Cole 1999: 55)
And, in a scene from Daniel Keene’s To Whom It May Concern
(2000b), a sixty-year-old father, at a loss what to do with his mentally
disabled forty-year-old son, takes him to the beach.
With his son
standing “naked and shivering clutching his clothes”, the father
encourages him to go swimming:
I want you to go in the water you’ll feel good it’s peaceful in the water
you’ll feel the tide pulling you all that blue so big it’s all so big you’ll feel
safe Leo out there in something so big it covers the earth just floating you
know how to float don’t be scared put your trunks on don’t stand there
naked like that you look so Leo you look so please Leo go in the water let
the water take you please Leo. (2000: 19)
But “the son starts to whimper covering himself with his hands” and
the father relents with an apology, “Put your clothes on put your
clothes back on we’ll go home it’s too cold today I’m sorry Leo” (19).
The plays we have examined in this chapter envisage a different
relation between masculinity and environment from those plays set in
the backyard and the bush. This new relation is one in which an
exposure to the sea and the sky has a resolutive effect on men who are
somehow incapacitated or incomplete. Importantly, these are white
Australian fathers and white Australian sons, so these scenes of

Alive at Williamstown Pier was first performed at La Mama, Melbourne, on 23
October 1996. The play draws on Cole’s experience working as a member of the
Victorian State Parliament and living with a mental illness.
To Whom It May Concern was first performed for Season 3 of The Keene/Taylor
Project at the Brotherhood of St Laurence Warehouse in the Melbourne inner-city
suburb of Fitzroy in June 1998; Ariette Taylor directed.
Men at Play 180
dissolution are, in many ways, white men’s wet dreams. As we argued
in chapter 4, relations between fathers and sons are also relations of
race, of racial transmission, inheritance and succession. White men in
Australia may look to the sea and sky, for across that horizon is
whence their fathers came. Yet these are plays which, in various ways,
worry about the future: they worry that the past is somehow
insufficient or inadequate, somehow not up to the task of encountering
the future. Anxieties, inadequacies and incapacities structure relations
between generations of men, as fathers face or fear an uneasy future
for their sons. These anxieties white men have about the future are
evident in the lyrics of a song from Certified Male. The title of the
song is “Swallowed by the Sky”:
Well the changes can be subtle
Or hit you right between the eyes
Sometimes you see them coming
And you get to step aside
But mostly they will catch you
And hit you where you cry
Every warning is like a whistle
Swallowed by the sky (Rankin and Nicholas 2003: 71)
In looking to horizons of sea and sky to resolve a future for white
masculinity, the men in these plays we have examined inevitably turn
their back on the land, thereby eliding their involvement, their
implication in the inter-race relations that indelibly score the land.
Cloudstreet renders this elision apparent through the Black Man’s
ghostly presence. Yet Cloudstreet shares the whiteness of its vision of
Australian masculinity with many other plays.
Dissolving gender
If these plays about men, sea and sky tend towards a nostalgia for a
lost golden age of gender adequacy which may never have really
existed, and look uncertainly toward a future where masculinity no
longer has a secure place, Meryl Tankard’s dance work Inuk from
1997 envisioned a remote past, and possibly a future, where the
absence of gender distinctions was seen in a more positive light as an
alternative to the strongly gendered present.
Earlier we discussed

Inuk premiered at the Playhouse in the Adelaide Festival Centre on 25 June 1997
and was not otherwise performed in Australia. It later toured to Germany and the
Between the sea and the sky 181
Alma De Groen’s The Rivers of China (1988) as an experiment with
alternative gender arrangements, contrasting an unsatisfactory
patriarchal past with a differently problematic future (or alternative
present) in which gender inequalities are simply inverted. Inuk was a
similar and complementary experiment, but one which looked at the
possibility of disarticulating gender from sex and imagining a world
without masculinity or femininity. It used images of sky and water to
hint at the possibility of more fluid genders in other, fictional versions
of the world we live in. Inuk is an Inuit word, not gender-specific,
meaning ‘human being’, and the work explored what has been lost in
the move of our society away from a focus on ungendered human
beings operating within a real concept of home, and toward a
dehumanised and gendered society of men and women who are
frustratedly seeking identity while lacking a homeland.
The main section of the work, from almost the start until well over
halfway through, performed the life of a fictitious tribe-like group
whose activities were enacted in the form of quasi-ritualistic move-
ment patterns. There were two basic types of movement activity. First,
there were group sequences which were highly athletic and which
demanded a considerable degree of muscular strength and agility from
both male and female performers. Much of this ritualistic movement
was competitive and ostentatious, and was performed within a circular
formation: the dancers sat in a ring on the stage, leaving a central area
for whoever was performing at the time. These group sequences were
interspersed with solo sections, performed almost exclusively by the
female dancers. Here the movements were based on everyday tasks,
and were mostly played on a bare stage with the dancers highly self-
absorbed in ritualistic transformations of the daily activities necessary
for life. These could be seen as representations of successful and
competent femininity, but the sequences were not contrasted with
others depicting masculinity.
During the course of the performance, the initial absence of gender
differentiation gave way to extended sequences where the male and
female dancers formed separate groups. The increasingly masculine
movement of the male dancers was characterised by full, straight-line
extensions of the limbs and jerky changes in direction, whereas the
women began to perform with softer, fluid curves, and arms
increasingly pulled back into the torso. This was emphasised with the
first extended sequence to focus on a male dancer, Shaun Parker, who
Men at Play 182
performed a lengthy sequence based on the idea of loneliness and
inadequacy. This was the only section performed to a song in English,
the words of “Billy Boy” offering a challenge to the masculinity of the
addressee. This was also the first section which included movement
using objects created by modern technology, as Parker obsessively
exercised with a chest expander and a flexibar in the way that insecure
men have been exhorted to do in order to build up their musculature as
a prerequisite for the achievement of manliness.
As the work moved, according to a fictional chronology, from a
utopian past to a more alienated present, the communal sociality
which was so strong and appealing in the early sections was replaced
by isolation and aggression. In addition, the early image of an
apparently carefree utopia was framed by performances of all-too-
recognisable real-world masculinities. The work opened with a very
short, aggressive Maori wero, or greeting challenge, performed by
Peter Sears, a New Zealand Maori by birth, in a demonstration of
extreme conventional manhood—this is a ceremony which can only
be performed by men. This aggressive form of masculinity was picked
up and distorted towards the end when he performed an enactment of
domestic violence. He played a drunk and abusive man, lurching,
spilling his drink on the stage, and hurling abuse at the suddenly
victimised form of one of the female dancers who was so physically
incapacitated that she was barely able to stand up. She continually
slipped and fell down onto a stage wet with spilled liquid while he
shouted abuse at her. Part of the familiarity of this sequence was that
it mirrors the inarticulate and often drunken violence which has been
such a recurrent feature of masculinity as depicted in Australian
theatre (see chapter 2). The violence here was explicitly marked as an
undesirable feature of traditional masculine behaviour, and made to
seem less spontaneously natural than is sometimes the case, partly
because it was sustained for an almost unbearably long time.
The sequence was powerful and climactic but it threatened to
conclude the work in an unpalatable gendered present. This ending
would have been very pessimistic, on a theatrical level and as an
exploration of an alternative to gender-specific alienation and
frustration. So the work kept going, trying over and over to find a
more satisfactory ending. In one attempt at a more positive
conclusion, out of the darkness at the end of the domestic violence
sequence came live music, the unaccompanied voices of two of the
Between the sea and the sky 183
dancers, one male and one female, singing in a plea for harmony,
“Dona nobis pacem” or ‘Grant us peace’. What was striking about this
was that both voices were pitched high, the male singer using a strong
but very unmasculine counter-tenor. This was followed by the curtain
calls and the work appeared to be over.
But Tankard needed to make one further attempt to explore the
possibilities of a gender-free society, this time in the context of
contemporary Australia. This was only possible outside the frame of
the performance. As the audience started to leave at the end of the
curtain-calls, the stage manager appeared on stage and in a quasi-
parental mode took the cast to task for leaving various items of
clothing scattered around backstage, and for wasting precious water.
This led into a further lengthy and elaborated sequence, placed after
the curtain-call, where the dancers returned as carnivalesque children,
now cross-dressed in each other’s costumes, and staged an excessive
and ecologically irresponsible front-yard water fight on an orange
tarpaulin whose colour was reminiscent of the Australian desert. Here
they poured and spat water all over themselves and each other, in a
childish baptism, with recklessly unhygienic abandon, and then took
turns to slide across the stage on the wet plastic sheet. It was as if, at
that point in history, the only plausible image of an Australian society
free of the tensions of gender was the carefree irresponsibility of pre-
adolescent suburbia.
Exploring the possibilities of an androgynous but nevertheless
sexualised genderlessness within an Australian context is the
challenge that Tankard has taken up in Inuk, a work which, like The
Rivers of China, operates by contrasting images of familiar and
imaginative worlds. The idea of a future genderless society has been
raised in recent years in, for example, the work of sociologist John
MacInnes who predicts, and advocates, the end of any significant
social differences between men and women (1998: 77). On the basis
of our study of masculinity in Australian theatre in the second half of
the twentieth century, it would be a great exaggeration to report the
death of gender. Nevertheless, there have been considerable changes,
and the dominant, and domineering, images of masculinity which
were current at the middle of the century have largely been discredited
and have all but disappeared from the Australian stage. Theatre has
not only recorded this change but has, in interesting ways, taken an
active part in it. Whether the changes which have been noted are
Men at Play 184
permanent developments in Western society, or represent merely one
swing of a pendulum, will be the subject for ongoing research, in
Australian theatre and beyond.
Figure 9.1 Half Safe
Ron Graham as Ken and David Netthein as Les in Half Safe by Noel
Hodda at the Stables Theatre, Sydney, in October 1990. (Photograph by
Noelene Dawson, reproduced by courtesy of Griffn Theatre Company,
Figure 9.2 James and Johnno
Michael Forde as James and Sean Mee as Johnno in rehearsal for James
and Johnno by Margery and Michael Forde at La Boite Theatre, Brisbane,
in July 2004. (Photograph by Newspix / Suzanna Clark, reproduced with
Figure 9.3 Cloudstreet
Daniel Wylie as Fish Lamb and Chris Pitman as Quick Lamb in the
Company B Belvoir and Black Swan Theatre Company co-production
of Cloudstreet, adapted from Tim Winton`s novel by Nick Enright and
Justin Monjo. (Photograph by Newspix / Nathan Richter,
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ABC. See Australian Broadcasting
ABC Radio, 76
ABC Television, 42, 75, 106, 166
Aboriginal. See Indigenous
abuse, 60, 61, 66, 68, 106, 107, 109,
110, 142, 182
Acropolis Now (television), 114
Actor’s Studio (New York), 39
Adelaide, 123, 125
Adelaide Company of Players, 3
Adelaide Festival, 3, 88, 148
Adelaide Repertory Theatre, 42, 75, 76,
Adelaide Theatre Group, 57, 148
Adelaide University Theatre Guild
(AUTG), 42, 133, 137
Administrator, The (Jury), 123,
126–128, 137
Adventures of Barry McKenzie, The
(film), 110
AETT. See Australian Elizabethan
Theatre Trust
affection, 26, 27, 28, 43, 44, 47, 52, 57,
58, 106, 120, 131, 132, 172
age, 9
older, 21, 58, 72, 79, 149
younger, 27, 49, 56, 58, 149. See
also youth
Ainley, Pat, 147
Alexander the Great, 119
alienation, 148, 150, 151, 161
Alive at Williamstown Pier (Cole),
Aliwa (Winmar), 79
Allen, Peter, 126, 138–141
Allen, Stuart, 2
Alsop, Rachel, 8
American/America, 61, 155
Amigos (Williamson), 143
Andreas, Greg, 108, 118
Anglo-Australian, 42, 108, 111, 112,
114, 116, 120, 121, 122, 123–124,
Antill, John, 99
anxieties, 8, 28, 87, 90, 91, 93, 95, 96,
100, 105, 106, 120, 121, 143, 146,
147, 151, 160, 163, 180
Anzac Auditorium (Sydney), 121
Anzac Day, 35, 148, 149
Aquilia, Pieter, 109
Arabic, 109
Arlen, Albert, 15, 24, 25
Armfield, Jack, 175
Armfield, Neil, 13, 66, 175
Armstrong, John, 20
Arrow, Michelle, 6
Arts Theatre (Adelaide), 75, 95
Arts Theatre (London), 95
Arts Theatre (Richmond, Melbourne),
Asian/Asia, 8, 107, 136
ASIO. See Australian Security
Intelligence Organisation
Athenaeum Theatre (Melbourne), 171
audiences, 2, 16, 17, 48, 57, 71, 126,
138, 139, 141, 144, 145, 166, 183
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
(ABC), 42, 75, 76, 81, 95, 98, 99,
106, 166
Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
(AETT), 3, 16, 27, 28, 32, 38, 40, 47,
95, 100, 165
Australian Labor Party, 13
Australian National University Arts
Centre, 153
Australian Performing Group, 3
Men at Play 202
Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation (ASIO), 17
AUTG. See Adelaide University Theatre
Guild (AUTG)
Away (Gow), 169
Ayres, Tony, 126, 141, 144, 145
Baby X (Decent), 162
Bachelor, Don, 3
back yard, 32, 38, 46, 111, 117, 154,
155, 164, 165
Bakkhai, The (Euripides), 1
Ballarat, 27–29
ballet, 98–100, 136
Balodis, Janis, 169
Bangarra Dance Theatre, 88
Barclay, Peter, 153
Barrett, Richard, 108, 111, 145, 146,
157, 158, 171
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (film),
Bartlett, Francesca, 71
Bastard Country, The (Coburn), 9, 10,
12, 41, 42, 54–57, 62, 67, 95, 129
bathing, 72, 101, 115, 176
beach, 99, 164–171, 179. See also sea;
Beast in View, The (Hepworth), 33, 42,
43, 46, 95, 125, 129, 133–136, 144,
Belgrade Theatre (Coventry), 95
Bell, David, 105
Bell, Lucy, 120
Belvoir Street Theatre (Sydney), 8, 13,
72, 79, 88, 136, 158, 161
Beneath Clouds (film), 79
Benjamin, Peter, 15, 26
Bennelong, 72
Bennett, Elley, 82, 83, 85
Bennett, Roger, 9, 70, 81, 83, 85, 86–87
Bennetto, Casey, 13
Bennie, Angela, 139, 175
Berth 9 (Darling Harbour, Sydney), 175
Berthold, David, 67, 143, 159
Bewitched (television), 141
Beynon, John, 5
Beynon, Richard, 8, 33, 35, 41, 47, 108,
114, 148, 165
BHP Pty Ltd, 63, 64, 65
Bickford, Allen, 115
Biddulph, Steve, 146, 171
Bilgic, Tahir, 108
Bird with a Medal (Pullan), 33, 42,
birth, 46, 50, 104, 161
Black Swan Theatre Company, 72, 143,
Blackrock (Enright), 11, 49, 54, 169
Blood and Honour (Harding), 136–137
Blood Links (Yang), 8
Blue Poles (painting), 161
boating, 164, 171–177
Boddy, Michael, 72
Bollen, Jonathan, 71
Bondi Beach, 166
Bovell, Andrew, 160, 164
Bowers, Raymond, 19, 20
Box the Pony (Rankin and Purcell), 71,
79, 83, 87, 88
boxing, 70, 71, 81–88
Boy from Oz, The (Enright), 125, 126,
138, 139–141, 144, 145
Boyd, Robin, 33
Boys, The (Graham), 49, 59–60, 148
Bracewell, Michael, 39
Braddon, Russell, 96, 101
Bradley Smith, Susan, 6
Bran Nue Dae (Chi and Kuckles), 79
Brando, Marlon, 39, 129
Braudy, Leo, 39
Brek. See Kippax, H.G.
Breugel, Irene, 147
Bright and Crimson Flower, A (Davey),
92, 106, 107
Brisbane, 98
Brisbane Festival, 83, 88, 107
Brisbane, Katharine, 94
Britain, 19, 54, 149
Broadhurst Theatre (New York), 105
Brodziak, Kenn, 94
Broome, 72
Broome, Richard, 82, 83, 84, 86
Brotherhood of St Laurence Warehouse
(Fitzroy), 179
brothers, 41, 59, 60, 166, 174, 175, 176
Brown, David, 143
Index 203
Brown, Nancy, 15, 24, 25
Brumby, Colin, 54
brutality, 11, 12, 54, 57, 63, 64, 67, 77,
130, 173
Buchanan, Dominic, 119
Buchholz, Horst, 23
bullying, 9, 52–69, 129
Burgess, Guy, 19
Burke, Alan, 15, 26, 42
Burning Daylight (Marrugeku), 88
Burst of Summer (Gray), 42, 70, 75–76,
Burvill, Tom, 175
bush, 18, 49, 164, 165. See also land
bushfires, 55, 56
business, 62, 64, 66–69, 106, 118, 148,
businessmen, 62–69, 106, 159, 171
Butler, Judith, 1, 5
Butter Factory Theatre (Albury
Wodonga), 77
Butterss, Phillip, 49
Buzo, Alex, 36, 58
Cake Man, The (Merritt), 9, 79
Cameron, John, 90, 95, 97
camp, 15, 28, 30, 129, 130, 134, 135,
138, 140, 141, 142
Canberra Repertory Society, 95, 101
Canberra Repertory Theatre, 95
Capern, Alwyn, 93
Capsis, Paul, 1
Carlton Courthouse, 60, 79, 83
Carroll, Dennis, 35
Carroll, Garnet H., 94
Carroll, Greg, 83
Carroll, Peter, 1
cars, 59, 110, 111, 118, 155, 156, 169
Casey, Maryrose, 87, 88
castration, 105
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Williams), 129
celibacy, 11, 21
censorship, 126, 144
Certified Male (Rankin and Nicholas),
171–172, 180
Changi (television), 106, 107
Chaplin, Angela, 77
Charitable Intent (Williamson), 52, 67
charivari, 53–54, 67, 69
Cheatham, Deborah, 88
Cherry Lane Theatre (New York), 138
Cherry, Kate, 178
Cherry, Wal, 38
Chi, Jimmy, 79
Chiari, Walter, 114
choreography, 99, 117
Cinesound, 40
city, 18, 74, 111, 117, 132
Civic Playhouse (Newcastle), 62
Clark, Manning, 101
class, 9
middle class, 59, 139, 141, 144, 159,
working class, 13, 17, 20, 34, 114,
139, 141, 149–153, 157, 158,
159, 161
climax, 29, 40–42, 46, 49, 67, 76, 122,
Cloudstreet (Enright and Monjo), 175,
176, 180
Clum, John M., 15
Coad, David, 17
Coburn, Anthony, 9, 41, 54, 55, 57, 95,
Cohen, Phil, 147
Cole, Neil, 178, 179
Coleman, Elizabeth, 157, 171
Coleman, Peter, 33
Collingwood (Melbourne), 114, 115,
Collinson, Laurence, 149
Colossimo, Vince, 108, 113
comedy, 31, 94, 108, 109, 110, 119,
120, 141, 142
Comedy Theatre (Melbourne), 24, 40,
166, 168
Coming of Stork, The (Williamson), 110
communism, 17, 19, 30, 151, 152
Communist Party, 17
Company B, 13, 72, 175
Company of Players, 127
Conabere, Sydney, 98
confidence, 110, 113
conflict, 22, 24, 32, 38, 41, 59, 146, 149,
151, 153
confusion, 42, 43, 51, 143
Men at Play 204
Conigrave, Tim, 157, 171
Connell, Greg, 141
Connell, R.W., 5, 146
Conversations with the Dead
(Frankland), 70, 79
Cook, Adam, 138
Cornelius, Patricia, 160
Corporate Vibes (Williamson), 62, 66
courage, 7, 91, 147, 158
Coustas, Mary, 109
Coward, Noël, 134
Cowell, Brendan, 157
Cradle of Hercules (Boddy), 72
Cramphorn, Rex, 8
Crawford, Anne, 144
Cremorne Theatre (Brisbane), 105, 143
Crethar, Alex, 99, 100
cross-dressing, 1, 13, 94, 105
Crowe, Russell, 138
crying, 48, 50, 63, 151, 174
Culotta, Nino. See O’Grady, John
Cunningham, Michael, 139
Curly on the Rack (Pullan), 41, 95
D’Emilio, John, 147
Damousi, Joy, 91
dancing, 114, 115, 116, 117, 124, 180
Darcy, Les, 82
Dark Heritage (Stellmach), 70, 76, 77
Darlinghurst (Sydney), 113, 133, 135
Darlington, Dorothy, 20
daughters, 55, 68, 87, 104, 119, 148,
Davey, Richard, 92, 106
Davis, Bette, 134
Davis, Jack, 79
Davis, Margaret, 136
Davis, Natalie Zemon, 53
Davison, P.H., 35, 36
Day of Glory (Mann), 71
De Groen, Alma, 12, 181
Dead Heart (Parsons), 77
Dean, Beth, 90, 98
Dean, James, 39
death, 72, 78, 87, 103, 118, 142,
157–160, 172–175, 177–178
Decent, Campion, 162
Deckchair Theatre Company, 77
Dee, Susie, 81
Dennis, C.J., 24
Depression, the, 101, 150, 155
Devlin, Law Lord Patrick, 19
Diamond, Dick, 5, 15, 16, 18, 19
Dimitriades, Alex, 108, 109, 111, 113
Director’s Theatre, A (Los Angeles),
dirt, 71–73, 74, 77, 78, 80
disability, 143, 175, 177, 179
Djakapurra Munyaryan, 80, 88
Dollimore, Jonathan, 19
Dolphin Theatre (Perth), 83
domesticity, 24, 26, 27, 28, 90, 91, 94,
100, 147
Don’s Party (Williamson), 110
Donaldson, Mike, 147, 153
Donovan, Terence, 156
Dowling, Kevin, 138
Downer, Alexander, 13
Downing, Desmonde, 168
Doyle, John, 106
Drama Theatre (Sydney Opera House),
66, 72, 143
Dreamers, The (Davis), 79
drifting, 13, 172, 173, 174, 175
drinking, 7, 10, 21, 22, 41, 42, 55, 57,
73, 79, 99, 152, 158, 166, 168, 170,
173, 182
drought, 55, 56, 129, 155
drowning, 171, 173, 174, 176
drugs, 79, 110, 111, 119, 120
Duffield, Michael, 39
Dunne, Stephen, 67, 153, 171
Dupain, Max, 165
Durban, Kim, 49
Dyer, Ralph, 94
dying. See death
East End Market (Adelaide), 81
Eating Ice Cream with Your Eyes
Closed (Brown), 143
economic change, 65, 146, 147, 149,
150, 157
Eden, Keith, 98
Edmund, John, 42
education, 4, 61, 74, 75, 76, 147, 148,
149, 152, 159
Index 205
Edwards, Gale, 139
effeminacy, 25, 57, 58, 63, 140, 141,
144, 145, 147
Egypt, 99
Eliot, T.S., 38
Elizabethan Theatre (Sydney), 40, 42,
47, 54, 95
Emerald Hill Theatre (South
Melbourne), 144
emotions, 9, 12, 21, 32, 37–40, 45,
47–51, 63, 134, 158, 169, 173
Empire Theatre (Sydney), 94
energy, 7, 38, 47, 110, 111, 114, 118,
119, 120, 123
English/England, 38, 39, 121, 123, 127
Enoch, Wesley, 79, 81, 88
Enright, Nick, 11, 49, 54, 125, 136, 138,
139, 140, 145, 169, 175, 176
Ensemble Theatre (Sydney), 39, 67, 178
erotic, 28, 108, 112, 121, 123, 124, 129,
160, 163. See also homoerotic
Essington Lewis: I Am Work
(O’Donoghue), 62–65, 67
Esson, Louis, 164
Euripides, 1, 38, 123
Evans, Bob, 156, 174
Everage, Edna, 101
Fairfax Theatre (Melbourne), 178
Fall of Singapore, The (Triffit), 92, 106,
Fallon, Kathleen Mary, 175
Far North Queensland/Far North, 68
Fat Boy, The (Ayres), 126, 141–144
Fat Pizza (film), 108, 110, 114, 119,
120, 124
Father We Loved on a Beach by the Sea,
The (Sewell), 146, 151–153, 157,
fathers, 49, 50, 54–58, 62, 67–69, 70,
81, 83, 87, 117, 118, 129–131, 138,
146–163, 170, 177–180
absent, 74, 75, 76, 79, 85
father–son relations, 9, 62, 70, 139,
146–163, 170, 177–180
fear, 55, 84, 100, 132, 151, 172, 180
female masculinity, 1, 12, 28–29
feminisation, 12, 28, 100, 105, 147
feminism, 6, 15
Fenech, Paul, 108
Fensham, Rachel, 6
Festival of the Dreaming, 81, 83, 88
Festival Theatre (Adelaide), 92
fighting, 26, 40, 41, 58, 61, 75, 86, 87,
115, 116, 122
film, 3, 33, 38, 39, 40, 61, 75, 79, 87,
89, 109, 110, 111, 113, 114, 116,
117, 120, 121, 124, 129, 137, 138,
139, 141, 165, 166, 167, 168, 170
Fire on the Wind (Coburn). See Bastard
Country, The (Coburn)
fishing, 13, 164, 170–178
Fiske, John, 165
fists, 25, 32, 38, 46, 134
Fitzpatrick, Brian, 37
Fitzpatrick, Peter, 8, 35, 37, 126
Fitzroy Gallery (Melbourne), 161
Fitzsimons, Annette, 8
Flinders Island, Bass Strait, 178
Floating World, The (Romeril), 105
Flowers, Jennifer, 143
flying, 164, 176, 177–178
Footbridge Theatre (Sydney), 92
For Valour (Throssell), 101
Forde, Margery and Michael, 171, 174
Forty Lounge Cafe, The (Lyssiotis), 121
Fotheringham, Richard, 82
Fox in the Night, A (Pree), 9, 11, 57–58,
67, 68, 125, 129–133, 136
Frankland, Richard J., 70, 80, 79–80
freedom, 18, 22, 135, 151
Freeman, Cathy, 81
Friends of Dorothy (Yang), 8
Front Room Boys, The (Buzo), 36
Furious (Gow), 128
Futcher, Michael, 174
future, 2, 26, 70, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 103,
104, 106, 115, 129, 151, 156, 161,
164, 178, 180, 181, 183
G’day Digger (television), 90, 95,
Gaden, John, 1
Galleazzi, Alex, 59
Gannon, Ben, 140
gaol. See prison
Men at Play 206
Garland, Judy, 140
Garton, Stephen, 91, 93, 106
Gary’s House (Oswald), 33, 49–51, 148
Gauntlett, Frank, 156, 158
gay culture, 124, 141, 159
gay masculinities, 125–145
sanitised, 138–141
straight-acting, 139
norms, 19, 53, 54, 69, 97
policing, 54, 58, 59, 67, 69
relations, 47, 49, 50, 51, 68, 96, 170
ungendered, 180, 181, 183
generations, 9, 70, 71, 81, 83, 149, 178
George, Murray, 75
Giannopoulos, Nick, 108, 109, 113, 120
Gibson, Mark, 165
Gilbert, Helen, 6, 105
Glen Iris, 100
Glen Street Theatre (Frenchs Forest),
Glow, Hilary, 109
Goffman, Erving, 4
Gold Coast Arts Centre, 49
Good Works (Enright), 125, 136
Gooding, Tim, 146, 153, 157, 153–157,
Gordon, Hayes, 39
Gow, Michael, 72, 124, 126, 128, 138,
145, 169
Grace, Helen, 165
Graham, Gordon, 49, 59, 148
Gray, Oriel, 42, 70, 75
Greek/Greece, 8, 12, 41, 56, 108–114,
ancient Greece, 123–124, 126–128
Grehan, Helena, 107
Griffin Theatre Company, 59, 125, 143,
153, 169, 172
ground, 71, 72, 73, 75, 76, 77, 78
growing up, 56, 63, 64, 87, 147, 151,
Guide to Virile Manhood, The, 6–7,
Gulpilil (Gulpilil), 88
Gulpilil, David, 88, 89
Gulpilil, Jamie, 89
guns, 42, 58, 68, 73, 119, 132
Gutteridge, Tom, 67
H.T. See Tideman, Harold
Haggerty, George E., 131
Halberstam, Judith, 1
Half Safe (Hodda), 171, 172–174
Hall, Willis, 95
Hamlet (Shakespeare), 38
Hampstead Theatre Club, 137
Hanson, Ellis, 125
Harding, Alex, 136–137, 138, 145
Hardt, Michael, 147
Harford, Sonia, 157
Harris, Max, 34, 35, 42, 43, 51, 57, 97,
123, 129, 132, 149
Harris, Tweed, 125
Harvey, F.R., 168
Hawke, Bob, 13
Head On (film), 108, 111, 114, 116,
117, 120
Healey, Tom, 141
Heartbreak High (television), 109, 114
Heartbreak Kid, The (Barrett), 108,
111–113, 114
Heartbreak Kid, The (film), 108, 109
Hellenic Theatrical Group, 121
Hepworth, John, 33, 42, 44, 46, 95, 125,
135, 133–136, 138, 144, 165
Her Majesty’s Theatre (Sydney), 139
Herron, Mark, 140
heterosexuality, 11, 20, 28, 90, 96, 98,
120, 132, 147
Hewson, John, 13
Hibberd, Jack, 36, 58, 60, 61, 82, 110
HIV/AIDS, 136–137, 138, 140, 159
Hoad, Brian, 124, 156, 159
Hoch, Paul, 11–12
Hodda, Noel, 171, 172
Hodge, Bob, 165
Hole in the Wall Theatre Company, 3
Holgate, Ben, 140
Holledge, Julie, 6
Hollinworth, May, 47
Holy Day (Bovell), 164
home, 10, 11, 22, 24, 54, 74, 75,
90–101, 102, 106, 111, 113,
114–120, 152, 158, 162, 168, 181
leaving, 84, 159
Index 207
homeland, 108, 117, 181
homesickness, 100, 101
homoerotic, 124, 127, 144
homophobia, 11, 54, 66, 131, 143, 158
homosexuality, 10, 11, 15, 19, 54, 61,
113, 145, 157–161, 162–163
and fatherhood, 162–163
same-sex friendship, 127, 128
homosociality, 10, 15, 25, 90, 100, 170.
See also mateship
Horne, Donald, 33
hospitals, 69, 101, 103, 118, 132, 142,
159, 160
Hotel Sorrento (Rayson), 169
HotHouse Theatre, 77, 143
Howard, John, 13–14
Huen, Trent, 120
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission, 136
Hume, Fergus, 57
humiliation, 53, 61, 68, 69, 75, 103–105,
130, 132. See also shame
Humphries, Barry, 100
Hunt, Hugh, 32, 38, 165
Hunter Valley Theatre Company, 62
Hunter, John, 94
husbands, 22–26, 53, 58, 76, 79, 118,
121, 154, 155, 168
Hutchinson, Garrie, 82, 86
Hutton, Geoffrey, 48, 102, 153
Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Theatre Cooperative, 79
Image in the Clay (Ireland), 9, 70,
73–75, 77
Imperial Theatre (New York), 139
impotence, 106, 151, 153, 154
In and Out (film), 141
inarticulacy, 21, 32, 33, 37–39, 43, 45,
47–51, 136, 182
incapacity, 58, 68, 78, 155, 171, 175,
179, 180
Independent Players, The (Melbourne),
Independent Theatre (Sydney), 94
Indigenous, 8, 21, 66, 70–89, 102, 103,
industrial relations, 18, 64
Inglis, Ken, 92
inheritance, 83, 95, 103, 104, 158, 180
Inheritance (Rayson), 143, 164
injury, 27, 41, 46, 58, 65, 78, 91, 104,
107, 116, 132, 137, 159, 176
intimacy, 47, 142
Inuk (Tankard), 180–183
Inverell Town Hall, 166
Ireland, David, 9, 70, 73
Irish, Ireland, 27, 82
It’s My Party (And I’ll Die If I Want To)
(Coleman), 157, 171
Italian/Italy, 8, 86, 109, 114–117, 121,
J.C. Williamson’s, 24, 94, 100, 166, 168
Jackman, Hugh, 139–140
James and Johnno (Forde and Forde),
171, 174–175
James, Des, 172
Jamieson, Trevor, 88
Japanese, Japan, 90, 95, 96, 102, 105,
106, 137
Jarman, Robert, 82
Java, 102, 103, 105
jealousy, 122, 134, 166
John Wayne Principle, The
(McNamara), 9, 62, 67–69, 171
Johnson, Eva, 79
Johnson, Jack, 86
Jones, Philip, 125
Journeys of William Yang, The (Yang),
Jungle, The (Nowra), 146, 157, 159–160
Jury, C.R., 123, 126–128, 137, 138
Kapiniaris, George, 109
Karo, Paul, 97
Kaye, Richard A., 127
Kazan, Elia, 39, 40
Keating! (Bennetto), 13–14
Keating, Paul, 13
Keene, Daniel, 49, 179
Keene/Taylor Project, The, 179
Kelly, Alex, 88
Kelly, Veronica, 4, 6
Kenna, Peter, 42, 165
Kennett, Jeff, 160
Men at Play 208
Kerr, C.G., 129
Kiernander, Adrian, 11, 77
killing, 129, 131. See also murder
Kimmel, Michael S., 2, 4
King Hit (Milroy and Narkle), 83
King of Country (Gooding), 146,
Kings Cross (Sydney), 142
Kingston, Peter, 111, 158, 169
Kippax, H.G. ‘Brek’, 35, 36, 56, 96, 150
Kiss Me Deadly (film), 137
kissing, 113, 123, 141, 142, 162
Kiwis Revue Company, The, 90, 93, 94
kneeling, 41, 75, 105, 106, 117, 150,
158, 159
knitting, 96, 97
Kooemba Jdarra Indigenous Performing
Arts, 81
Kosky, Barrie, 1
Kramer, Stanley, 165
Kuckles, 79
La Boite Theatre (Brisbane), 118, 151,
153, 174
La Mama (Melbourne), 3, 67, 79, 179
La Spagnola (film), 108
labour, 20, 21, 22, 64, 65, 92, 114, 117,
146, 147, 150, 151, 152, 157, 160,
161, 163
Lake, Marilyn, 91
land, 9, 22, 49, 56, 57, 58, 78, 105, 150,
151, 153, 165, 180
Lang, Robert, 137–138
Last of the Rainbow, The (Hepworth),
Launceston Showgrounds, 92
Lawford, Ningali, 88
Lawler, Ray, 3, 32, 38–40, 47, 48, 165,
168, 170
Lawrence, Denny, 178
Lawson, Henry, 165
Le Moignan, Michael, 153
Le, Hung, 120
Lebanese, Lebanon, 109, 117
Lee, Bruce, 139
Legend of King O’Malley, The (Boddy
and Ellis), 8
Lennon, Kathleen, 8
lesbian, 16, 162
Lewington, Susan L., 39
Lewis, Essington, 62, 63, 65, 67
Liberace, 135
Liberal Party, 13
Life After George (Rayson), 178
Litras, Andreas, 121
Little Black Bastard (Tovey), 88
Little Theatre (Adelaide), 151
Live Acts on Stage (Gow), 124, 126, 128
Livermore, Reg, 136
Liverpool Playhouse (UK), 95
Locke Elliot, Sumner, 90, 94
Lola Montez (Stannard, Benjamin and
Burke), 15, 16, 26–30, 31
Long and the Short and the Tall, The
(Hall), 95
Look Back in Anger (Osborne), 149
Lord, Mary, 137
Lost Echo, The (Kosky and Wright), 1–2
love, 25, 26, 27, 99, 111, 123, 125, 128,
131, 132, 142, 154, 158, 161, 162,
Love, Owen, 83
Lovejoy, Robin, 42, 54
Lucey, Helen, 147
Ludwig II of Bavaria, 27
Lyric Theatre (Hammersmith, UK), 66
Lyssa, Alison, 78
Lyssiotis, Tes, 121
Machon, Kirsty, 137
MacInnes, John, 183
Maclean, Donald, 19
Magnificent Seven, The (film), 23
Mailman, Deborah, 1, 79, 88
mainstream theatre, 16, 125, 138, 139,
Mainstreet Theatre, 83
Makeham, Paul, 165
male bodies, displayed, 112, 115, 119,
124, 129, 132, 133, 134, 162
Malthouse Theatre (Melbourne), 141,
153, 168
Mamouney, Don, 121
Mangan, Michael, 3, 6
Mann, Phillip Grenville, 71, 72
Mant, Julia, 92
Index 209
Mantourides, Chris, 121
Maori, 182
Marcellino, Raffaele, 82
Marcuse, Herbert, 163
marriage, 22–26, 121, 122, 162, 168
Marrugeku, 88
Marshall, Jean, 148
Martin, David, 108, 122
changing, 13, 14
competing, 12, 13, 22, 26, 56
aggressive, 60, 61, 62, 65, 66, 70,
135, 182
authentic, 18, 19
crisis, 91, 172
definitions, 4–6
dissolving, 177
inadequate, 61, 68, 74, 75, 77, 80,
131, 147, 154–157, 161, 180, 182
normative, 18–19, 30
reproduction of, 146–148, 157, 161,
theatrical, 2, 30–31, 135
transnational, 108, 124
unmasculine, 8, 54, 131, 183
mateship, 10, 17, 20, 22–25, 34, 100,
110, 143, 172. See also
Maza, Bob, 81, 83, 86–87
McCallum, John (director), 168
McCallum, John (reviewer), 159, 166
McCarthy, Joseph, 17, 19
McCarthy, Paul, 52
McCarthyism, 17
McDonnell, Dan, 139
McDonough, Carla J., 3
McKenney, Todd, 139
McLeod, Steve, 159
McMahon, Elizabeth, 111
McNamara, Tony, 9, 62, 67, 68, 171
McVicker, Norman, 73
Medea (Euripides), 38
Mee, Sean, 83
Melbourne, 25, 109, 111, 114, 122, 141,
148, 165
Melbourne Comedy Festival, 141, 171
Melbourne International Arts Festival,
89, 107
Melbourne Little Theatre, 42, 45, 75,
Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC), 3,
71, 105, 178
Melbourne Town Hall, 92
Melbourne Workers Theatre, 81
Melbourne Writers Theatre, 83
Mellick, Richard, 70, 72
Mellor, Aubrey, 168
Melody, June, 147
memory, 96, 99, 106
men’s issues, 171
Menzies, Robert, 17, 31
Merritt, Robert J., 9, 79
Metamorphosis (Ovid), 1
method acting, 39, 40
Meyrick, Julian, 144, 160
migrants/migration, 8, 12, 56, 86,
108–124, 148, 165
Milk and Honey (Andreas), 108,
Miller, D.A., 16
Miller, Dennis, 39, 98
Mills, Jonathan, 107
Milroy, David, 83
Mimi (Marrugeku), 88
Minear, Harold, 76
misogyny, 59
Misto, John, 177
Misummer Night’s Dream, A
(Shakespeare), 52
Mitchell, Irene, 75
Mitchell, Tony, 109
mobility, 59, 110, 111, 116, 117, 120.
See also movement; social mobility
Money and Friends (Williamson), 169
Mongrels (Enright), 125, 136
Monjo, Justin, 175, 176
monodramas, 88
Moonee Ponds, 101
Moreton Bay, 174
mothers, 35, 61, 63, 76, 87, 97, 103,
110, 114, 117, 127, 130, 142, 144,
152, 158, 167, 176
movement, 11, 59, 99, 112, 114, 122,
181. See also mobility
Men at Play 210
Mt Nelson Theatre (Hobart College), 92
MTC. See Melbourne Theatre Company
Multi-Coloured Umbrella, The
(Vernon), 41, 165, 166–167, 169
Mundine, Anthony, 81, 83
Mundine, Tony, 81, 83
murder, 41, 55, 59, 61, 98, 122, 135,
159, 160, 170
Murder in the Cathedral (Eliot), 38
Murphy, John, 121
Murphy, Tommy, 142
Murras (Johnson), 79
country, 154, 156
disco, 113
folk, 16, 18, 117
Greek, 117
rock, 61, 113, 117
musicals, 15–31, 153–157
Mystery of a Hansom Cab, The (Pree),
Nakad, Paul, 108, 113
Naked Island (Braddon), 90, 92, 95,
96–97, 101, 106
nakedness, 28, 72, 106, 124, 179
Napier Street Theatre, 60, 81
Narkle, Geoffrey, 83
national character, 4, 7, 33–37, 49, 61,
62, 92, 97, 155
National Gallery of Australia, 161
National Institute of Dramatic Art
(NIDA), 8
National Theatre Company (Perth), 3,
National Theatrette, The (Melbourne),
nationalism, 14, 92, 165
Neeme, Aarne, 62
Negri, Antonio, 147
Neill, Rosemary, 158
Nevin, Robyn, 66
New Guinea, 95, 98
New Theatre, 16, 17, 20, 151, 153
New York, 140
New Zealand, 182
Newcastle, 64, 65
Newtown (Sydney), 121
Newtown Theatre, 82
Ngapartji Ngapartji (Jameison, Rankin
and Kelly), 88
Nicholas, Glynn, 171, 172
Nicoll, Fiona, 92
NIDA. See National Institute of
Dramatic Art
Ningali (Lawford), 88
No Shame (Love), 83
Noble, Greg, 109, 117
noise, 59
Norm and Ahmed (Buzo), 58, 60
Norman, Leslie, 165
North America, 19
North, The (Yang), 8
Northern Territory, 94
nostalgia, 65, 90, 100, 180
Nowra, Louis, 77, 145, 146, 157, 159,
160, 169
Noyce, Phillip, 79
O’Connell, Terry, 171
O’Donoghue, John, 62
O’Grady, John (‘Nino Culotta’), 114
O’Neill, Eugene, 129
O’Regan, Tom, 38, 39
Oakley, Barry, 156
ocker, 37, 110
Odyssey, 121
Old Tote Company, The, 3
Oliver, Tom, 115
Olympic Games, The (Sydney 2000),
71, 80, 81
On the Waterfront (film), 39
On Top of the World (Gow), 169
One Day of the Year, The (Seymour), 9,
10, 35, 90, 92, 93, 96, 146, 148–150,
158, 165
Ong Keng Sen, 107
Osborne, John, 149
Oswald, Debra, 33, 49, 50, 148
Othello (Shakespeare), 76
Outpost (television), 90, 95, 97–98
outside, 22
Ovid, 1
Oyston, Peter, 45
Page 8 (Page), 88
Index 211
Page, David, 88
Paint Your Wagon (Lerner and Loewe),
Palm Island, 78
Palmer, Vance, 73, 90, 95, 102–105,
106, 148
Papademetriou, Nicholas, 118, 119
Parker, Shaun, 181, 182
Parr, Bruce, 128, 136, 137, 145
Parsons, Nicholas, 77
Parsons, Philip, 39
Paterson, A.B. ‘Banjo’, 18, 165
Patrikareas, Theodore, 108, 121, 122
pederasty, 127–128
Performance Syndicate, 8
Performing Lines, 83
Perkins, Charles, 75
Perth, 175, 176
Perth Theatre Company, 67
phallic, 29, 54, 132
Phillip, Governor Arthur, 72
Phillips, A.A., 33, 34, 36, 37
Phillips, Simon, 105, 143
Phipps, Max, 158
photography, 3, 33, 43, 45, 57, 97, 121,
123, 155, 165, 176
Piccadilly Bushman, The (Lawler), 168,
169, 170
Pickett, Carolyn, 6
Pizza (television), 110, 114
Playbox Theatre, 49, 79, 141, 143, 144,
153, 168
Playgrounds (Enright), 125, 136
Playhouse, The (Adelaide), 66, 180
Playhouse, The (Perth), 95, 178
Playhouse, The (Sydney Opera House),
Pocket Playhouse (Sydenham), 42, 73
politicians, 13, 178
Pollock, Jackson, 161, 163
Porter, Hal, 137, 138
Potts, Marion, 77
Powell, Michael, 114
Poynting, Scott, 109, 117
practicality, 34, 49, 97
Pree, Barry, 9, 57, 58, 125, 130, 131,
138, 144
Prichard, Katharine Susannah, 164
pride, 57, 69, 104, 109
Princes Wharf No. 1 (Hobart), 92
Princess Theatre (Brisbane), 83
Pringle, J.D., 33
prison, 18, 22, 23, 59, 79, 129, 136
prisoners of war, 90, 92, 95, 96–97,
Prisoners’ Country (Palmer), 73, 90, 95,
102–105, 106, 148
Professor, The (Porter), 137
Promised Woman, The (Patrikareas),
108, 121–122
pubs, 20, 22, 99, 113
Pulford, Donald, 110
Pullan, Ru, 33, 41, 42, 45, 46, 95
punching, 11, 40, 47, 50, 60
Purcell, Leah, 71, 83, 87, 88
Q Theatre (Penrith), 49, 178
QTC. See Queensland Theatre Company
Queensland Government, 85
Queensland Theatre Company (QTC),
105, 143, 169
queer, 11, 26, 28–29, 30, 54, 125, 126,
136, 138, 139, 144, 145, 162, 163.
See also gay; homosexuality
Rabaul, 41, 95
Rabbit Proof Fence (film), 79
race, 7
relations, 70, 75, 82, 85–88, 103,
104, 180
racism, 72–73, 75–78, 110, 116, 136.
See also xenophobia
Radiance (Nowra), 77, 79, 169
Radic, Leonard, 153
Randall, Peter, 45, 52
Rankin, Scott, 71, 83, 87, 88, 171, 172
rape, 1, 41, 59, 132, 170
Rayson, Hannie, 143, 164, 169, 178
realism, 32, 40, 42, 94
backyard realism, 32, 38, 168
Rebel Without a Cause (film), 39
reconciliation, 73, 80, 104, 175
Redfern Town Hall, 17
Reedy River (Diamond), 5, 11, 15,
16–24, 26, 27, 28, 30
Rees, Leslie, 35, 72
Men at Play 212
Reeves, Melissa, 160
Reich, Wilhelm, 163
Removalists, The (Williamson), 58
repatriation, 10, 93, 96, 101
revue, 93
Richmond (Melbourne), 141
Ridgman, Jeremy, 151
Riverina Playhouse (Wagga Wagga),
77, 172
Riverina Theatre Company, 172
Rivers of China, The (De Groen), 12,
181, 183
Robertson, Colin, 153
Robinson, Susan, 106, 107
romance, 10, 25, 27, 43, 44, 47, 99, 123,
155, 166
Romeril, John, 105
Roose-Evans, James, 137
Rose, Lionel, 81
Rowbotham, David, 153
Royal Commission into Aboriginal
Deaths in Custody, 80
rugby, 81, 112
rural. See bush; land
Russ, Jean-Marc, 143
Russell Street Theatre (Melbourne), 71,
100, 105, 122
Russo, Vito, 145
Rusty Bugles (Locke Elliot), 90, 94
Ryan, Kevin, 76
sacrifice, 22, 65, 118
Sadness (Yang), 8
Sams, Christine, 141
Sandakan Threnody (Mills and Ong),
Saturday Night Fever (film), 113
Savran, David, 3, 141
Schafer, Elizabeth, 6
Schlusser, Daniel, 60
schools, 22, 63, 111, 139, 159
Scott-Norman, Fiona, 171
sea, 153, 164, 168–172, 175, 177–180.
See also beach; water
Sears, Peter, 182
Season at Sarsaparilla, The (White), 10,
90, 96, 100, 165
Season of Passion (film), 165
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, 1, 5, 29
seduction, 43, 76, 123, 129, 133, 135
Segal, Lynne, 8, 19
Selby, B., 56, 57
semen, 162, 163
Sen, Ivan, 79
Sentimental Bloke, The (Brown, Arlen
and Thomson), 15, 24–26, 27, 30, 31
Serio, Terry, 13
service economy, 65, 147, 159, 160, 163
7 Stages of Grieving, The (Enoch and
Mailman), 79, 88
Sewell, Stephen, 62, 66, 146, 151, 152,
153, 157, 161, 170
agency, 113, 120
desire, 28, 30, 42, 63, 120, 132, 147,
deviance, 131
diversity, 147
explicitness, 126, 128, 138, 141, 144,
innuendo, 140, 144
sexual acts, 120
heterosexual, 64, 169, 170
homosexual, 158, 159, 160, 162, 163
oral, 1, 68
Seymour Centre (Sydney), 81
Seymour, Alan, 9, 35, 57, 90, 146, 149,
150, 161, 165
Shadowboxing (Hutchinson), 82, 83, 86
Shadows (Yang), 8
Shakespeare, William, 38, 52, 127
shame, 57, 130, 149. See also
Sharman, Jimmy, 70, 82
Shearer, Jill, 105
shearers, 18–19
Shearers’ Trade Union, 17, 18
Sheehan, Michael, 52
Sheridan Theatre (Adelaide), 144
Shifting Heart, The (Beynon), 8, 33, 35,
41, 42, 46, 47, 50, 108, 114–117,
148, 165
Shimada (Shearer), 105–106, 107
shooting, 50, 61, 68, 132
Shute, Neville, 165
Sidetrack Performance Group, 121
Index 213
Sidetrack Theatre (Marrickville), 121
Sinfield, Alan, 139, 140
Singapore, 95, 96, 103, 105
Singapore Festival, 107
singing, 16, 20, 21, 105, 154, 155, 156,
157, 183
sissy, 63, 136, 145, 147
size, 57, 130, 171
skin colour, 72, 74, 76, 77, 80
sky, 164, 170, 175–180
Sky (Misto), 177–178, 180
Slam Dunk (Hibberd), 60
Slaughter of St Teresa’s Day, The
(Kenna), 42, 165
smell, 115, 163
Smith, Anna Marie, 139, 141
Smith, Gary, 17
Smith, Kevin, 176
smoking, 10, 21, 55, 57, 111
soccer, 111–112, 122
social mobility, 59, 113, 149, 152, 159,
Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (Dennis),
sons, 54–58, 62, 68, 69, 76, 81, 83, 102,
104, 114, 117, 130, 131, 139,
146–163, 170, 177–180
Sons of Cain (Williamson), 62
Sontag, Susan, 134
sophistication, 43, 113, 134
Soviet Union, 19
speed, 110, 111, 118, 119, 120
Speed, Lesley, 110
Spence, W.C., 17
sport, 4, 7, 14, 61, 81, 82, 139. See also
boxing; rugby; soccer
St Kilda (Melbourne), 161
St Martin’s Theatre (Melbourne), 95
Stables Theatre (Sydney), 59, 77, 111,
118, 128, 143, 151, 153, 169, 172
stage directions, 39, 44, 48, 96
Standish, H.A., 123
Stannard, Peter, 15, 26
Star City Showroom (Sydney), 171
State Theatre Company of South
Australia, 66
STC. See Sydney Theatre Company
Steele, Rob, 156
Stellmach, Barbara, 70, 76
stereotypes, 2, 5, 7, 8, 30, 32, 33–37, 57,
69, 73, 156
Sterling, William, 75
Stevens, David, 126, 138, 139, 157, 171
stolen generation, 85
Stone, Sandy, 100–101
Strangers in Between (Murphy),
Strasburg, Lee, 39
Streetcar Named Desire, A (film), 39,
strength, 6, 9, 21, 22, 24, 36, 38, 55, 57,
91, 92, 103, 130, 147, 181
Strickland, Katrina, 171
Studio 228 (Sydney), 144
submission, 105, 158
suburbia, 10, 93, 100, 101, 106, 151,
153, 154, 155, 158, 183
subversion, 30, 31
suicide, 50, 58, 98, 101, 173
Sum of Us, The (film), 138
Sum of Us, The (Stevens), 126,
138–139, 141, 144, 157, 171
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (film),
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
(Lawler), 3, 10, 32, 35, 36, 38, 39,
40, 38–41, 42, 47–49, 165, 168
Sumner, John, 39, 40, 57, 100, 102, 122
Sunset Boulevard (film), 133
Supreme Court of Queensland, 85
surfing, 169–170
Swanson, Gloria, 133
Sydney, 12, 75, 99, 109, 114, 121, 133,
142, 154, 156, 159, 165, 168
Sydney Entertainment Centre, 139
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras,
124, 136
Sydney Theatre Company (STC), 1, 54,
66, 67, 92, 128, 138, 143, 153, 156,
Sydney Theatre, The, 1
Sykes, Alrene, 148
Szeps, Henri, 178
Tabar, Paul, 109, 117
Taft, Ronald, 7, 34, 35
Men at Play 214
Tait, Peta, 6, 33
Take Away Theatre, 118
Tamworth, 154, 155
Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural
Institute, 81
Tandanya Theatre (Adelaide), 83
Tankard, Meryl, 180, 183
Tasker, John, 100
Taylor, Ariette, 179
Taylor, Grant, 56
Taylor, Lauren, 161
Taylor, Mark, 149
teachers, 64, 69, 112, 159
television, 4, 20, 38, 40, 61, 81, 86, 90,
94, 95, 98, 99, 106, 109, 114, 115,
116, 140, 142, 154, 156, 165, 166,
Ten Canoes (film), 89
Theatre Royal (Adelaide), 48
Theatre Royal (Sydney), 100, 166
They’re a Weird Mob (film), 114
Thieving Boy (Conigrave), 157, 171
Thompson Yulidjirri, 88
Thompson, William, 48
Thomson, Helen, 156
Thomson, Katherine, 70, 77, 164
Thomson, Lloyd, 15, 24, 25
Throssell, Ric, 101
Tideman, Harold (H.T.), 129
Tiewes, Jack, 176
Tiffin, Helen, 105
To Whom It May Concern (Keene), 179
Tompkins, Joanne, 6, 169
Torrez (Wilding), 143, 157
Totos, Christina, 118
Tovey, Noel, 88, 125, 136
Tower, The (Porter), 137
trauma, 91, 101, 104, 105, 152
Travelling North (Williamson), 169
Travolta, John, 113
Triffit, Nigel, 92, 106
Truscott, John, 166
Tsiolkas, Christos, 145, 146, 160–163
Tucker, Abi, 120
Turner, Geraldine, 120
Turner, Graeme, 165
Turner, Ian, 18
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare), 38
unemployment, 25, 49, 151
Union Hall (University of Adelaide), 42,
union movement, 17
Union Theatre (University of
Melbourne), 40, 102
Union Theatre (University of Sydney),
Union Theatre Repertory Company
(UTRC), 3, 39, 40, 57, 100, 102, 122
United States, 17, 19
Universal Theatre (Fitzroy), 151, 153,
University of Adelaide, 127
University of Sydney, 95, 123
Untitled Monologue (Keene), 49
Up the Ladder (Bennett), 9, 70, 81–87
Urban, Andrew, 156
UTRC. See Union Theatre Repertory
Varney, Denise, 6
Vela, Irine, 160
Vernon, Barbara, 41, 165, 166, 167
Victoria Hall (Fremantle), 77
Victoria, outback, 41
Victorian Arts Centre (Melbourne), 143
Victorian Trades Hall (Melbourne), 160
Vidler, Steven, 158
Viewing Blue Poles (Tsiolkas), 145,
146, 161–163
Villanova Players, 76
violence, 21, 26, 32, 37–50, 54, 57, 58,
60, 61, 66, 71, 77, 87, 105, 106, 117,
129, 136, 169, 182
virility, 6, 16, 20, 21, 28, 30, 136
Vorlicky, Robert, 3
Waites, James, 159
Walkerdine, Valerie, 147
war, 10, 90–107, 123
Cold War, 16, 17, 174
Crimean War, 27
First World War, 101, 155
Second World War, 8, 90–93, 106,
137, 178
Ward, Russel, 7, 24, 33, 34, 35, 37, 97
Warren, Jane, 109
Index 215
Warren, Jane, 109
Warren, Kenneth, 48
water, 174–177, 179, 181, 183. See also
beach; sea
Wayne, John, 67
weakness, 55, 91, 132, 147
Webster, Nikki, 71
Weeks, Jeffrey, 147, 163
weight, 57, 142
Weiniger, Peter, 156
Weis, Lois, 147
Welcome to Broome (Mellick), 70,
Wertheim, Albert, 136
Western Australia/North-West, 102
Wet and Dry (Balodis), 169
Whaley, George, 72
Wharf 2 (Sydney), 159
Wharf Studio (Sydney), 138
Wharf Theatre (Sydney), 54, 153
What Do They Call Me? (Johnson), 79
White Baptist Abba Fan (Cheatham), 88
White with Wire Wheels (Hibberd), 36,
58, 110
White, Chris, 126
White, Graham, 48
White, Patrick, 10, 90, 165
whiteness, 20, 55, 70, 71, 72, 77, 85, 92,
104, 106, 179, 180
Whitlam, Gough, 161
Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?
(Bovell et al.), 160
Wilde, Oscar, 131, 134, 135
Wilding, Ian, 143, 157
Wilkie, William, 52
Willard Hall (Adelaide), 57, 148
Williams, Margaret, 36, 37
Williams, Tennessee, 39, 129
Williamson, David, 58, 62, 66, 67, 110,
143, 169
Williamson’s, J.C. See J.C.
Williamstown (Melbourne), 178
Williamstown Theatre Festival, 138
Winmar, Dallas, 79
Winton, Tim, 175
wives, 9, 18, 22–26, 41, 46, 50, 55, 64,
65, 68, 73, 74, 76, 77, 78, 98, 102,
103, 115, 119, 122, 123, 130, 148,
149, 151–156, 158, 160, 162,
166–169, 170, 172
Wog Boy, The (film), 108, 110, 111,
113, 114, 120
Wog Story (Giannopoulos et al.), 113
wog, definition, 110
Wogarama (Giannopoulos et al.), 109,
Wogboys (Giannopoulos et al.), 109,
Wogs Out of Work (Giannopoulos et
al.), 108, 109, 113
Wolf, Stacy, 16
Wonderlands (Thomson), 70, 77–78,
Wonderwoman (Livermore), 136
Wood, John, 156
Words of One Syllable (Barrett), 146,
157, 158–159, 171
work. See labour
Wotherspoon, Garry, 135
Wright, Tom, 1
xenophobia, 28, 55. See also racism
Yang, William, 8
Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre, 83
Young Wife, The (Martin), 108, 121,
Young, Willie. See Yang, William
Younger, John G., 127
youth, 42, 61, 128, 129, 137, 149

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