“Why is a play a significant work of literature? It is because the play presents enduring themes and ideas that continue to engage audiences.” The play Murra’s by Eva Johnson takes place between the late sixties and mid-seventies and focuses on one family and their struggle to come to grips with white Australia as they move from a fringe dwelling to life in the city
This play was set at the time of the stolen-generation, which was when Indigenous Australian children were taken away from their families by British settlers and were forced to forget what little of their Aboriginal identity they knew, and live like “white people”. The ancestors of those people who were subject to the stolen generation still exist today that is why the ideas and themes that are conveyed in the play about the stolen generation continue to engage an audience particularly in Australia because the discrimination they experienced is still going on today and it might not ever go away.
Throughout the play there are a number of themes and techniques showing and emphasising the treatment of Aboriginal people, how they lived, their thoughts and their opinions. The first theme displayed in the play is Gender. Gender is a social idea that creates roles and expectations based on people being either male or female. An example of gender is shown through the technique of characterisation. A significant character by the name of Wilba is characterised by the writer through dialogue and stage directions. He is seen as the dominant masculine figure of the family, greatly shown in scene one when he comes home carrying a bucket of water and food. The effect of the way Wilba is characterised emphasises the gender stereotypes that are very constant throughout the play.
Another technique showing gender is costume. The women in Murra’s wear traditionally feminine clothing. For example mother Ruby comes home with a bag of dresses for her sixteen year old daughter Jayda to wear, as this is typical female attire. The expectations of the female gender are maintained through costume because what the women wear is stereotypical. Gender at the time was a significant issue, particularly within Aboriginal culture.
Identity is a strong concept to most Indigenous Australians. It is a significant issue or theme in the play Murra’s. Identity is part of a link to culture. Due to government control at the time, Aboriginal identity was severely affected, illustrated by the families struggle to maintain it. Characterisation is used to show identity by the way Granny is characterised through her strong beliefs, shown in act one when she says; “Wudjella woman got different way to Gudjeri woman. They don’t have woman’s dreaming, special dance”. The effect of this is Granny is shown as a representation of the strong Aboriginal identity that the family cling to.
Granny’s dying scene is another example of identity; this is shown through the technique of sound and lighting. “This is done to the music of the Didjeridu and Clapping sticks. At the end of the dance the lights slowly fade until the stage is totally black.” This symbolises her return to the earth and the traditional preparation of her body to return to the spiritual world of her dreaming. Granny’s death results in the metaphorical death of Aboriginal identity.
Power is the ability to influence the behaviour of people and is a theme that is central to the play Murra’s. The characters within the play are very much affected by the power and authority that controls them, which essentially dictates the role of gender and identity of each character. One of the techniques used to show power in the play is setting. An example is “The year is 1970. The family have moved to the city.” This example shows that the government had the power to move them from the county where they were living to the city.
Dialogue is another technique used to show power. An example is when Wilba says “I’m sick to the gut of their false promises of self-determination. Sick of their shit lies, their corrupt laws, their diseases and their gaols… Yeah their chains, their chains.” The effect of dialogue within the play emphasises their strong opinions regarding the constant power struggle they are forced to deal with due to government control.
The play Murra’s is a significant work of literature because the themes, gender, identity and power, to this day engage audiences as the issues displayed have still not been rectified and are highly controversial topics. The themes displayed are always present in society and are something that may never go away