Essay on Jack Davis: Australian Poet, Playwright, and Activist

Submitted By dxz394746389
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Pages: 4

(1917-2000) born Perth, into the Nyoongah people of the south-west of WA and into a large family, was brought up at Yarloop. His mother, who had been forcibly removed from her own family to be brought up by White people, never received an education and her tribal roots were only discovered belatedly and fortuitously by Davis. At 14 Davis went to the Moore River Native Settlement, ostensibly to learn farming, but the Settlement, which subsequently became the basis of two of his plays, The Dreamers and No Sugar, had more resemblance to a prison camp than to an educational institution. After nine months he returned home, but his father's death shortly afterwards resulted in the family's break-up and Davis left to embark on varied experiences as a stockman, boxer and horse-breeder. He first began to learn the language and culture of his people while living on the Brookton Aboriginal Reserve, and later became an activist for the Aboriginal people. From 1967 to 1971 he was director of the Aboriginal Centre in Perth, first chairman of the Aboriginal Lands Trust in WA in 1971 and managing editor of the Aboriginal Publications Foundation 1972-77. He was also joint editor of Identity 1973-79.

Davis's first book of poetry, The First-Born and Other Poems (1970), contains an introductory autobiographical sketch and an appendix of Bibbulmun tribal words. The title poem, a nostalgic cri de coeur for the 'dark proud race', indicates in its opening line, 'Where are my first-born said the brown land, sighing', the innate Aboriginal gentleness and melancholy. Other poems that reveal Davis's yearning for the past include 'The Drifters' and 'Desolation', the latter echoing the sense of loss so predominant in Aboriginal verse. His strongest protest poem, 'Whither?', portrays the typical Aboriginal life from optimistic youth to disillusioned age, a life characterised by a succession of withheld or withdrawn basic human rights. His best-known individual poem is possibly 'Yadabooka', the story of a tribal Aborigine who was sentenced by White law to life imprisonment for a ritual killing that was sanctioned by Aboriginal law. 'Integration', with its message 'This is ours together/ This nation', is a plea for Black-White union in attempting to resolve racial problems. Davis's other volumes of verse are Jagardoo: Poems from Aboriginal Australia (1978), John Pat and Other Poems (1988) and Black Life (1992).

He has also written short stories and acquired a reputation as a leading playwright. His first play, Kullark (1979), written to mark the sesquicentenary celebrations in WA and successfully staged there, focuses upon three episodes in the race-relations history of that State - the Nungar (Nyoongah) tribe during the years 1829-30, a Black family in the Moore River district of the 1930s, and a contemporary Aboriginal family. The same treatment of the Aborigine by White society, repeated at the three intervals during a century and a half, creates a cyclical effect of injustice that leads to a fatalistic pessimism. That pessimism and despondency can only be broken, the play indicates, by a change in Aboriginal cultural self-perception. His next play, The Dreamers (1982), narrates the story of a family cut off from its tribal and cultural past and consigned to Perth's lowest social level. The most authoritative character, Old Worrun, based on an influential individual in Davis's youth and played by himself in the first performance of The Dreamers, relates his memories of his own and his people's maltreatment. Meanwhile the realistic surface of the play is disrupted by the intrusion of different time-levels, reminding the audience of the earlier rich culture which White settlement had nearly extinguished. No Sugar (1985), Davis's next