Jack Davis AM BEM 1917-2000

Jack Davis

Jack Davis

Jack Davis’s next play, No Sugar, depicted the forcible relocation of 90 Aborigines to the Moore River Settlement during the Depression years.

In 1988 Davis was appointed artistic director of Marli Biyol Theatre Company in Perth.

Jack Davis’s later plays included In Our Town (Marli Biyol/WATC, 1990) which dealt with racial bigotry, and Wahngin Country (Black Swan Theatre for the Festival of Perth, 1992), a heart-wrenching monodrama of life on the fringe.

 

Jack Davis’s next play, No Sugar, depicted the forcible relocation of 90 Aborigines to the Moore River Settlement during the Depression years. Directed by Andrew Ross, it premiered on 18 February 1985 at The Maltings in North Perth in a production by the Western Australian Theatre Company for the Festival of Perth. The piece was presented as part of the World Theatre Festival at Expo ’86 in Vancouver; it was also seen in Ottawa and, in 1988, at Riverside Studios in London. There have been several notable Australian revivals. No Sugar received the Australian Writers’ Guild Awgie as Best Play of the Year and the Ruth Adney Koori Award.

In 1988 Davis was appointed artistic director of Marli Biyol Theatre Company in Perth. His next play, Barungin (Smell the Wind) premiered at the Playhouse in Perth on 10 February 1988 in a Marli Biyol Company production directed by Andrew Ross for the Perth and Adelaide Festivals. Though this was critical of white Australia’s attitudes, it did not shy away from depicting Aboriginals’ own weaknesses; it also made powerful statements about poverty, alcoholism and Aboriginal deaths in custody – all in the context of Australia’s bicentennial. Together, No Sugar, The Dreamers and Barungin formed The First-Born trilogy, first presented by the Marli Biyol Company at the Fitzroy Town Hall in Melbourne on 5 May 1988 in association with the Melbourne Theatre Company and the Western Australian Theatre Company. In The Australian, Dennis Davison welcomed the portrayal of what he called ‘the hidden side of Australia’:  ‘The main impression of the trilogy is an authentic portrayal of everyday living, acted so naturally that we are absorbed … Davis is neither sentimental nor didactic but an honest realist.’

Jack Davis’s later plays included In Our Town (Marli Biyol/WATC, 1990) which dealt with racial bigotry, and Wahngin Country (Black Swan Theatre for the Festival of Perth, 1992), a heart-wrenching monodrama of life on the fringe.

As well, Davis wrote two plays expressly for youngsters, Honey Spot (Come Out Festival, Adelaide and Next Wave Festival, Melbourne, 1988, and later in the United States, Canada, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and Moorli and the Leprechaun (WATC/Marli Biyol at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, 1989), and two for puppet groups, Rainmaker (Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Perth, 1990) and Widartji (Polyglot Puppet Theatre at the Athenaeum, Melbourne, 1990). Davis’s verse anthologies included John Pat and Other Poems (1988). Probably Davis’s most famous poem, ‘John Pat’, chronicled the death of a boy in Roebourne police lock-up in 1983 – an event that led to the royal commission on black deaths in custody. The poem was later set to music by Archie Roach. Davis’s memoir, A Boy’s Life, written with Keith Chesson, was published in 1991.

Media Gallery

Photograph courtesy Performing Lines

Biographical references

Maryrose Casey: Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre,University of Queensland Press, 2004
Keith Chesson: Jack Davis – A Life Story, Dent, 1988
Jack Davis: A Boy’s Life, Magabala Books, 1991
Adam Shoemaker: ‘Jack Davis’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995