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typical Aboriginal life from optimistic youth to disillusioned age, a life characterised by a succession of withheld or withdrawn basic human rights.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