No Sugar Jack Davis Racism Essay From 8th

A series of essay plans for No Sugar, based on workshops with students (Dr Jennifer Minter, English Works Notes)

Topic: No Sugar is about the misuse of power

Jack Davis’s play No Sugar depicts the plight of the First Australians during the 1930s and their struggle for survival during the Great Depression in Western Australia. Set on an Aboriginal Reserve, the Munday and Millimurra families are forced to move from the Northam Shire to the Moore River Native Settlement in the 1930s. Using a variety of real-life incidents, Davis suggests this is a typical pattern of dispossession whereby those in a position of power have physically and psychologically abused the First Australians since the colonial settlement period. Not only do the law and order officials, politicians and councillors use false pretences to forcibly move the Northam residents but many of the Indigenous women are exploited by the men who control their employment.


In No Sugar, Mr Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines misuses his power by treating the First Australians as second-class citizens. He seeks to “civilise” them and help them “take their place in Australian society”.

  • they are treated disdainfully, and  on the same level as the birds and the beasts.
  • he forces the First Australians to assimilate
  • he controls them through the ration system that denies them a decent lifestyle


Misusing their power, Mr Neville, politicians and councillors plan the forced removal of the First Australians from Northam Shire to the Moore River Native Settlement. Davis suggests that this repeats the pattern of forcible removal and dispossession that completely disempower the First Australians . Mr Neville instigates the procedure to forcibly remove the First Australians from the Northam Shire to Moore River Settlement. In this case, the First Australians have no voice and must follow the officials’ orders. No one in Northam Shire wants to be living near the First Australians because they believe it will be unsafe to leave wives and children, despite the fact that many of the neighbours are getting drunk at the Shamrock Hotel “till stumps”. (For political reasons, the government fears that Bert Awkes may upseat Jimmy Mitchell in the forthcoming election. There are a lot of Chinamen working on his farm at Grass Valley which is very unpopular (45).) Jimmy asks Mr Neal if he voted for “Jimmy Mitchell’s lot”. He knows it is just a political stunt; he wishes to protect his power “so he could have a nice, white little town, white little fuckin’ town” (94). The excuse is that they will be moved until the “scabies are cleared up” . When the matron examines the natives, only 4 out of 89 have scabies. It is a complete farce. As Davis points out, the Indigenous are meant to be kept in the quarantine camp but there is no need for it. (58)


Law and order officials misuse their power through the (indiscriminate and gratuitous) use of violence and brutality. Davis refers to the Oombulgarri Massacre that took place during the colonial settlement period and that clearly shows how the policemen and those in a position of power killed Aboriginal families with impunity (without punishment). Davis suggests that this is a common occurrence and traumatises the First Australians who are unable to revisit this site. Billy relates the story of the massacre of his people at Oombulgarri which Davis suggests is typical of the settlement story whereby violence is used disproportionately to kill the Indigenous peoples. During this particular massacre, Mr George flogged an “old man”, almost to death, who in an act of retaliation, speared the “gudeeah” with his “chubel spear”. The police force returns to “shoot ‘em everybody mens, kooris, little yumbahs”. IN addition, contrary to the official version of history as narrated in Mr Neville’s Australia Day speech, the colonial government with its “big mob politjmans” are the ones to massacre the children and mothers and “chuck ‘em on a big fire”. (62) Davis suggests that this is the story of settlement that is not included in the early official narrative. Mr Neville refers to the first 70 days of Tasmanian settlement during which only one Indigenous person remained out of “some six thousand natives (who) disappeared”. (81)  Clearly, Davis suggests that those in a position of political power used violence to dispossess the First Australians. Their stories are not silenced and marginalised as the stories of the Pioneers take priority in the national conscience.


Davis depicts Mr Neal as a typical white official or employer/owner who exploits his position of authority and power and assaults the girls in his care. Davis suggests that many white people who own cattle stations or properties that employ an Indigenous “maid” often exploit the women. For example, one girl was assaulted by the “boss’s sons” who, “you know, force her” and eventually the trackers killed the baby and “buried it in the pine plantation” (57) Even Mr Neville notes in his official papers that 30 out of 80 girls who went into domestic service returned pregnant. Mr Neal is Superintendent of the Moore River Settlement and it soon becomes clear that he assaults many of the girls who work in the hospital which is why Mary is so adamant that she does not want to work there. Mr Neal not only intimidates the Indigenous and walks around with a “cat o nine tails”, but he is prepared to use it against the Indigenous women who defy his orders. Mary does not want to work on a farm because many girls are raped. Not only does Mary fear rape, but she is brutally assaulted when she refuses to work in the hospital which would expose her to Mr Neal’s advances. Neal whips Mary barbarically with a “cat o nine tail” over the bag of flour. After “Neal raises the cat o nine tails” there is a blackout. The audience hears Mary’s heart-rendering and pitiful scream that becomes a powerful symbol of aboriginal resistance in the face of the shameful misuse of violence.

Also law and order officials misuse power through the legal system and through the control of their rations. They policemen treat the Aboriginal Australians much more harshly than the White Australians and make it difficult for them to gain justice in a court system that consists of a foreign language. Also their rations are constantly reduced. In the Moore River Settlement Davis suggests that the Mr Neal unjustly denies the First Australians an education. He threatens to remove Sister Eileen from the Settlement if she insists on providing the First Australians with books (90)

Topic: No Sugar offers audiences an insight into what it meant to be Aboriginal in the 1930s in WA.

The First Australians  are forced to live in reserves and daily life becomes a constant struggle because of the racist attitudes of the white officials.  That life is a daily struggle for survival is evident in their “bush style” living, their lack of adequate resources, the lack of food and soap…  they are subject to the racist attitudes of the white members of the community. The girl is given the worst apple. …   Also the ration system is a product of the protection-style policies of the white government that seeks to control and humiliate the First Australians . The stage directions relating to the sign alert the audience to the fact that the First Australians  are treated like the Australian fauna and flora. Right from the opening of the play, Milly and Gran are preoccupied with cleanliness, as they are “[sorting] clothes for washing”, Milly then scolds her son to give his shirt to her because “it’s filthy” so that she can wash it. Davis does this to focus the audience’s attention on the view that Aboriginals … are … This constant reference towards to hygiene and the soap rations reinforce Davis’s point that white people typecasts the First Australians  as unclean and dirty. It also encourages readers to understand that First Australians  struggle with hygiene due to substandard living condition and constant reductions in their rations.

The First Australians are kept on the fringes of society and often forcibly removed from settlements because of the unfair racist views held by many white Australians. (Through the depiction of the Millimurra family, Davis shows how the First Australians are often forcibly removed from the land and herded into mission areas.)  (They are treated as political victims in the attempt to constantly dispossess them and move them to more remote areas. The Millimurra family is moved from the Northam Reserve to the Moore River Native Settlement.)  They are also expected to sing the praises of the pioneers and learn the biblical refrains that assisted the exploitation of the aboriginal population. Their own stories are minimalised and they have little access to education. In contrast to the myth of the pioneers, Billy presents the story of the massacre which reflects the trauma the First Australians  suffered because of the dispossession of their culture and land.

The First Australians  suffer greater hardship during the depression because of their inability to find work and to continue their lifestyle (lack of work)  The First Australians  suffer more than their white counterparts during the depression. This is shown through the comparison with the itinerant worker, frank Brown, who is typically paid at least double the unemployed subsidy of an aboriginal. When “soap is no longer included as a ration item”, the Sergeant tells Milly that she has got “three healthy men bludging off you, too lazy to work” , however it can be seen that it is not the First Australians  who do not want to work but rather is not paid money for it and instead the “cockies want ‘em to work for nothin’ ”. He uses Frank Brown as a comparison to insinuate that if a white man cannot find a decent job, what are the chances of an aborigine finding a job, let alone finding a job with pay.  When they do find work, they are typically exploited and underpaid.  For those who cannot find work, they are often forced to “snowdrop” and often end up as pawns in a legal system which they do not understand.

Davis shows how Aboriginal woman living on  reserves during the 1930s are very vulnerable to the abuse of power by the white officials. The girls are often exploited and sexually assaulted. Mary defiantly resists Mr Neal’s attempt to move her to the hospital to work because it is easier to rape her. At least one third of the girls who are sent into domestic service become pregnant.  Mary also fears the story of the baby who is killed. Include reference to the stage directions…

There is little access to education and the indigenous peoples experience language problems as they move between cultures.  (Joe reads “falteringly”). In contrast they often use their dialect to converse among themselves.  The indigenous people are forced to assimilate into the white society, demonstrated early in the play where Joe “falteringly” reads the Western Mail. The legal system and their relationship with the police also proves to be an alienating (strange and foreign) to experience for them. …. This also displays the aboriginals’ lack of education, in which it is believed that “a little knowledge is dangerous” suggesting that the aboriginals should not be trusted. Due to this they are forcefully moved to Moore River reserve, thus dispossessing them from their only source of dependence. Davis reminds us of the harsh discriminatory policies that the white authority Joe’s inability to read fluently when reading the Western Mail in the beginning of the play reflects the First Australians  struggle with the white dominant culture and shows their exclusion. When the Sister wants to start a library for the First Australians  Mr Neal states that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. His attitude reflects the views and values of white authorities who do not wish to empower the First Australians through education and knowledge. Davis implies that the authorities restrict their education as it is much easier to control them if they are uneducated.


Topic:  ‘Family, protest and identity are crucial for the survival of the individuals.’ How does No Sugar show this to be true?

In this plan below, include references to the problems, the discrimination, the misuse of power, the humiliating and degrading treatment.

In Davis’ play, family plays a vital role in the survival of Aboriginal people, their traditions and their values.

  • Gran is the backbone of Millimurra’s family. She is a strong traditional matriarchal figure whose humour, good will and courage help the family endure difficult times.
  • When Millimurra’s family is forcibly removed to Moore River Settlement, Sergeant Carrol asks Gran to take the train rather than walking to the new Settlement. However, Gran doesn’t want to be separated from her family and says ‘ I ain’t goin’ on no train. You can put me in gaol if you want to’.
  • Also when Gran delivers Mary’s baby, she relies on traditional medical techniques that ensure survival.  Gran has the natural skills of a midwife who helps Mary give birth to her baby and protect her from infection. She uses a “live” and burning firestick and “clean ashes”  to deal with the afterbirth. In many ways, Davis suggests that these natural techniques are more “civilised”, and superior than the use of Johnson’s baby powder in the natural Australian bush setting.
  • When Joe and Mary decide to return to Northam, the Millimurra family provides support, gives them “a bit of Merrang” and tells them to “…jump to rattler’bout half a mile”.  Even Billy helps.

Furthermore, Davis depicts the fierce determination of the First Australians to resist the unreasonable and often violent treatment they suffer by white officials. They protest , he suggests, because they are treated unjustly and exploited on a daily basis.  Jimmy’s forthright activism is critical to the survival of the Indigenous Australians. During the Australia Day celebrations, Jimmy argues with Mr.Neal and exposes the truth about their forced removal. It is “nothin’n to do with bloody scabies. And that’s why we got dragged’ere, so them wetjalas”.

  • Symbolically, Davis honours Jimmy’s voice of protest which he believes is critical for the First Australians in their fight for justice. This voice is evident in descendants such as Joe Millimurra.
  • Mary Dargurru’s defiance is also significant. She resists Mr Neal’s orders. When Mr.Neal asks Mary to work in the hospital at Moore River Settlement, Mary says, “you can belt me if you like, I’m not workin’ in the hospital.”  She is is beaten shamefully, but refuses to give in. Neal belts her with the “cat-o-nine tails”.  The scene ends in a “blackout” and “a scream”, which represents Mary’s suffering, but she does not yield. She leaves with Joe, full of hope as symbolised by the birth of the baby. So, protest is a significant way for Aboriginal to stand up for themselves and fight with the racism from the whites.

Furthermore, Davis suggests that the First Australians must fiercely protect their cultural and indigenous identity if they are to survive.

  • Jimmy is angry at the very violent act of dispossession which makes it difficult for his family to gain a living. He is angry also at the Indigenous Australians who are helping the white people in positions of authority.  He tries to remain fiercely independent and resists the attempts to control him.
  • Davis depicts how the two families are determined to remain true to their cultural identity and practice their language and cultural customs.
  • Culturally, Davis also suggests that the First Australians must remember the sacrifices made by their own ancestors.  (Hence the use of the North West Aboriginal language.)

Topic: Overall the play is about the strength of family, not the power of racism

Main contention: No Sugar is about the strength of the family, which is critical to survival of the First Australians, precisely because of institutionalised racism.  The First Australians suffer from discrimination and Davis suggests that those who do have strong family and cultural links are more likely to survive.

Paragraph 1: strength of the family and daily struggle for survival because of racist policies of government institutions  and discrimination. (The good will of the family stands them in good stead as they struggle to cope with injustice.)

Paragraph 2: strength of family and community with regards to cultural pride/history/ stories and survival of culture (despite racist attempts to denigrate the culture).

Paragraph 3: strength of family provides hope and the courage to resist. Despite policies that seek to dispossess and exploit the aborigines, Mary and Jim become a symbol of survival.


The play concerns both the strength of the family and racism. Davis suggests that the family needs to be strong and resilient to withstand the racist and patronising policies of those in power.

  • The family is stoic, proud and resilient in their attempt to withstand the racist policies that discriminate against the Aborigines on a daily basis.
  • Constant fight to maintain and preserve their dignity and fight against the unjust official attitudes that perpetuate the stereotypes of the unclean savage.
  • Struggles of daily life; ration system
  • Have to be resourceful and inventive; rely on their own bush skills and innovation and warmth and generosity to succeed
  • They constantly have to deal with the humiliation of a ration system that seeks to control them, undermine their rights and freedoms and make life difficult

As a family group, the aborigines must also be strong and resilient to maintain their cultural pride in the face of policies that lead to dispossession and forced dispersal.

  • Their cultural stories are ignored
  • Instead – the historical narrative relating to the pioneers / Christian songs of the

Ultimately Davis critiques the racist system that undermines the aborigines’ independence and seeks to dispossess and eradicate them. The strength of the family also emerges in their proud and rebellious spirit against the injustices of those in a position of power.

  • Mary and her resistance to rape/exploitation
  • Jimmy – comments against the policemen and the lawyers…
  •  Also degradation for those who are complicit in the system that works against them, Billy

Davis suggests that with strong reliance on family ties, however; one can manage to withstand adversity and survive.

The strength of a family is best captured in the incredible love and courage of Gran who serves as an admirable role model. It is her job to maintain peace within the household and to pass on traditional values. She takes pride in their ancestry. Gran’s capacity to survive, endure and thrive provides enormous strength and support for her family. Gran’s strong links to the family’s past allows her to pass on her knowledge of and, take pride in, Indigenous culture and traditions. This is evident in the attitudes of the Millimura and Munday families, where no one ever complained about being an Aborigine.

Gran comforts Mary by ensuring her that “nobody’s goin’ to take Baby” and then helps Mary give birth because she is terrified of the missionary hospital. Gran’s use of ashes instead of “Johnson’s baby powder” is a symbol of keeping the Indigenous culture alive despite of the racist society they live in. Similarly, Joe’s act of returning “back to Northam” shows a strong sense of family and place. Davis suggests that not even the constant threats by Neal can stop him from breaking the restriction order and returning.

Also, Frank Brown shows close family ties, despite the hardships that he has to endure. He is struggling with the depression but still sends whatever he can earn home to his “wife and two kids staying in … Leederville”. Although family ties enable individuals to survive hardships, losing it can have its repercussions.

Billy’s help: Billy’s tribe was massacred by “big mob gudeeah…big mob politjmans, and big mob from stations”, forcing him to work for the white people in order to survive. Although Billy works for Neal, Neal is still racist towards him by “[throwing] a stick of tobacco onto the floor” for him to pick up, treating him as a slave. Billy is also hated by other Aborigines, such as the children who call him “black crow” – a traitor. However, Billy tells Joe to “back sit down” in his country and gives Joe his whip as a parting gift to help him catch rabbits, snakes and “bungarra”. This symbolizes his connection to his race – his “family”, which even the power of racism cannot break.

In No Sugar, Davis shows that the bonds of family and community are necessary for survival.’ Discuss.

Paragraph 1: the immediate family

Paragraph 2: the wider aboriginal family/community (culture and history)

Paragraph 3: how some aborigines working for the whites undermine family and community

Paragraph 1:

Davis foregrounds the Millimurra’s daily fight for survival despite the adverse social, political and racial circumstances. Family bonds, based upon their shared cultural experiences, reinforce their cultural identity and help members of the family endure the physical hardship and social isolation.

Narrative devices/techniques/positives (first):

  • The family’s daily struggle… – opening scene/soap/humour/reading. (despite hardships)
  • Granny’s attitude and humour: she walks the three day trek to the mission rather than opt for the official transport
  • The family also extends their hospitality to other social outcasts such as Frank Brown
  • Joe and Mary’s baby symbolises the unbreakable family bonds: (despite the efforts of Mr Neal to literally whip Mary into submission) she remains faithful to Joe and Granny delivers their baby. (bush-medicine style): sense of hope and continuity despite deaths of other family members.
  • The obstacles: they are “booted out” from their cultural land

Link sentence: Through the depiction of the Millimura family, Davis conveys to the audience how their unbreakable family bond
helps them survive and conquer difficult times.

Paragraph 2:

Davis also suggests that, on a collective level, the aborigines must proudly cling to their cultural traditions and celebrate their heritage which, during these testing times of social and political upheaval, provides the best hope of survival.

Narrative devices… (about celebration/cultural differences)

  • Through the use of their “nyoongah” language and their strong connection to their culture and land, the playwright reinforces, proudly their cultural differences. (examples): source of celebration.
  • Billy’s story about the massacre contrast to the white historical narrative about pioneers (that seek to denigrate and marginalise the aborigines)
  • Collectively, the playwright suggests that they must band together to resist the official policies to dispossess the aborigines, eg. moving them from the land to the reserve (Joe : the pull of the land)
  • Jimmy’s fight for equality results in his death at the Australia Day celebrations while “clutching at the flagpole”, which reflects Davis’s criticism of the hypocritical and contradictory actions of government officials.

Link sentence: It is only when they have a sense of who they are through family and community bonds do they realise that they are not an inferior race. This knowledge, Davis suggests, fundamentally allows them to preserve their dignity and pride and therefore survive in a world that has turned against the “natives”.

Paragraph 3:

Davis suggests that those who work for the white officials become complicit in a system that degrades them and works towards their annihilation.

  • Davis compares characters such as Jimmy and Joe, refuse to stay silent, with characters such as Topsy and Billy, who subserviently let the “wetjala’s” control them, to show the importance of maintaining a strong stance. Mary also refuses to give into Mr Neal’s demands.
  • Jimmy’s comments about “dancing for ‘em”
  • The whites official treatment of the aborigines
  • Billy Kimberly is an example of such character who is “savage[ly]” and cruelly mistreated by Superintendent Neal, a white authority figure who repeatedly treats aborigines with disrespect and stereotypically defines them all as “trouble makers”.

Davis suggests to the audience that they may not have a family that can help them on their quest to survival. Due to this they create bonds with the white community hoping to grab that chance. Davis indicates to the audience that Billy ultimately has no choice but to fall into the hands of Neal. By conforming to Neal and thus white society, Davis represents Billy’s approach of trying to survive,

Davis repeatedly demonstrates throughout his play the hardship and difficulties faced by the aborigines. It is through Davis’ depiction of the reliance and support from members of family and the community does it show the greatest survival technique.

Topic: How does Davis show the affect of prejudice?

Paragraph 1: life is very difficult for the aborigines because of institutionalised racist policies  (daily life/struggle/ constant struggle with discrimination)

Paragraph 2:  alienation and isolation from mainstream society; the loss of pride and dignity – struggle with little education (struggle to maintain pride in their own cultural traditions)

Paragraph 3: humiliation and exploitation: the officials rape and exploit the indigenous with impunity because of their racist policies

Paragraph 1
The discriminatory policies perpetuated by the white government are based on the premise that the aborigines are an inferior race. Because of the extreme prejudice that is practiced at an official level the aborigines are constantly treated as “savages” which reinforces the stigma associated with aboriginality. They are culturally isolated and dehumanised which has humiliating consequences.

  •  Treated like “dog”… Billy by Mr Neal and Jimmy by Mr Neville – ticket
  • Symbolism of the hygiene: soap
  • The stereotypes evident in the white community

Paragraph 2
The discriminatory polices lead to a constant struggle for survival. The Mill family is controlled by the inadequate ration system that dehumanises them and treats them as a nuisance.

  • Ration system: Comparisons: the treatment of the aborigines with Frank Brown (during the depression) They suffer much more hardship during the depression than the white people and are constantly battling for basic resources, without which they are undernourished and often unhealthy. (physical deprivation)
  • Daily life: Cissie in hospital; jail – Davis shows how the aborigines often become criminals despite themselves; the daily struggle for survival often leads to criminal acts such as theft… snowdropping…
  • There are no rations for those who return to Northam from the Moore River Settlement which Davis believes becomes a deliberate attempt at dispersal.

Paragraph 3:

Davis shows how another consequence of the discrimination is the cultural degradation which overlooks and marginalises their cultural myths, which leads to a loss of pride.

  • Davis compares the historical narratives: indigenous versus white settlers
  • In the opening scene Joe reads a passage from the newspaper that depicts the priority of the history of white settlement; Davis shows throughout the play how this history takes priority and the aborigines’ culture is disregarded. Davis deliberately draws attention to the fact that they are speaking a “foreign” language that reinforces their exclusion from the mainstream culture.. .
  • The Happy Land parody on Australia Day

Paragraph 4

Another effect of prejudice is the degradation of the women who are treated contemptuously and exploited by the white officials. They are often raped and if they resist they are whipped.

  • Scene about Mary and the whipping
  • Injustice – exploit the girls in the mission… Mr Neal is typical of the superior white officials who exploit their position and take advantage of the girls. He believes …
  • Mary also is fearful of becoming pregnant in this situation… Ironically, Davis does show that in many ways it is the white man who is the savage, and who hides his bestiality and brutality behind his official superior views… abuse of power

Topic: “Overall, the play suggests that there is no hope for the Aborigines.” Discuss.

The aborigines appear to have no hope because of the official policies that discriminate against them and that seek to systematically dispossess them.

Paragraph 1:

Davis suggests that it is difficult to find hope in a society that legally and socially marginalises the aborigines and treats them as second class citizens. Legally and culturally they are estranged from the dominant society.

Pick and choose a variety of narrative devices:

Legal alienation: a cycle of despair
Davis deliberately structures the play so that events repeat themselves, symbolising that the struggle faced by Aborigines will continue regardless of resistance. Early in Act I, Gran and Milly argue with the Sergeant over rations cuts, and do so again later in Act I, suggesting that the rations will not improve, but lessen. Jimmy is sent to prison for three months in 1929 and is later depicted in Act II as leaving prison in 1932. Davis implying that he has been at least one more time since his 1929 prison visit. Joe gets supposedly arrested in Act III for “absconding with [a minor]” when he is really being sent to jail so that ‘no natives remain in the Northam area.’ Just like the Millimurra family, who get forced to move to the Moore River Settlement for “health reasons” when they are really being moved for political reasons, Joe is moved because of the ‘Royal Commission.” At the end of the play, Joe plans on disobeying Neal and returning the Northam with Mary and their baby, suggesting that he will be sent to jail again. Davis uses this cyclical pattern style within No Sugar to capture the feeling that there is no hope the Millimurras’ lives will change and improve, as highlighted by Gran’s song of ‘woe, woe, woe.’

Social alienation
The stereotypes that treat them as inferior savages (as perpetuated by those in a position of power)
Aborigines cannot “walk down the street after sundown” or be “under [the] influence of liquor,” the latter of which they can be arrested and imprisoned for by a “politjman” who drinks “down the Federal every night.” The Millimurras cannot live of the land like they used to, because the “wetjalas cut all the trees down.” Because of this, they are forced to rely on the Government for a meagre supply of rations every week, leaving them malnourished and in poverty. Constrictive rules such as these do no change throughout the play, so Davis is suggesting that they maybe never will and the Aborigines will continue to live their lives without the freedom to choose or freedom from poverty.

Paragraph 2:

The aborigines also suffer because of the attempt to marginalise their culture and traditions.

  • Cultural alienation: the stories of the pioneers are favoured.
  • Billy’s story of the massacre
  • Corroboree: Jimmy sings his “grandfather song”, showing his connection with land and the stories of his ancestors

Paragraph 3:

Jimmy’s death is a potent symbol of despair and shows the difficult of the voice of resistance.

  • Jimmy proudly resists the government’s attempt to control the family. He systematically exposes the hypocrisy of the Government, but his addiction to alcohol acutely captures their loss of faith, their soul and their degradation.
  • Jimmy’s willingness to stand up for himself is shown when Neville tries to dismiss him and he replies “I’m not wait’ ‘round here all day.” On Australia Day, he insightfully and courageously announces to the entire assembled company at the Moore River Settlement that the transfer of his family and other Aborigines to said settlement was “nothin’ to do with bloody scabies” but so “them wetjalas vote for [Jimmy Mitchell],” showing that he is a voice for the Aboriginal people.
  • When he dies of a heart attack after this outburst, it symbolically represents the death of the voice of protest amongst Aborigines and sense of loss of hope for the fight for Indigenous rights.
  • No blankets (no decent burial): symbolic of dehumanisation.

Paragraph 4:
Although Davis shows how disheartening life can be for the Aborigines, he also suggests there is hope. One symbol of hope is Joe and Mary’s baby which is named after Jimmy, suggesting that despite the difficulties, the aborigines do survive through sheer determination and cultural pride.

  • Cissie and David also represent the hope for Aborigines in ‘joining’ white society while maintaining their Indigenous heritage through use of English interspersed with Nyoongah words. Gran’s insistence on Cissie and David attending school shows that she understands the importance of and power that comes with learning the dominant language.
  • Sense of humour and fortitude (Gran) and attempt to assimilate as best they can (soap and hygiene/rations)
  • Humour and parody
    As Joe and Mary bid farewell to “each member” with the “fire [] burning” and a “magpie squawk[ing]”, Davis suggests that there is hope through reconnecting with their cultural land and origins/spirit (cultural identity through the land)
    As Billy “hands [Joe] his whip”, Billy seems to redeem himself through the help he offers. He subverts the white authorities attempts to dehumanise and control him.


Topic: How does Jack Davis use language/dramatic techniques to explore cultural differences? 

Think about:

  • the use of Aboriginal terms to relate to their own specific lifestyle and subsistence culture. North West Aboriginal language and Billy’s use of creole to relate the massacre.
  • the language of discrimination and prejudice used by white officials to humiliate the aborigines and make them feel inferior and to reinforce cultural superiority of the white society.
  • the language of power: the legal terms / words that reflect discrimination and differnece: These words show how the laws alienate the aborigines in their country. They do not understand many of the terms that are used to exclude them and shut them away.  Colloquial terms such as “give girl” are used in a derogatory way to refer to the patronising practice of “giving” aboriginal girls to elderly white men; they were used exploited virtually as sex slaves.

Symbols and dramatic techniques

Return to Summary Notes for No Sugar

Return to Blackburn High Study Page

No Sugar is a play written by Jack Davis set during the Great Depression, in Northam, Western Australia, Moore River Native Settlement and Perth. The play focuses on the Millimurras, an Australian Aboriginal family and their attempts at subsistence.

The play explores the marginalisation of Aborigines within 1920s and 1930s in Australia under the jurisdiction of a white government. The pivotal themes in the play include racism, white empowerment/superiority, Aboriginal disempowerment, the materialistic values held by the white Australians, Aboriginal dependency on whites and the value held by the Aborigines of family.

A. O. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines during the period in which the play is set, appears as a character.

The play was first performed by the Playhouse Company in association with the Australian Theatre Trust, for the Festival of Perth on 18 February 1985. It also was chosen as a contribution to Expo 86 in Canada [1][2]

No Sugar forms the first part of a trilogy, the First Born Trilogy, with The Dreamers and Barungin (Smell the Wind). The trilogy was first performed by the Melbourne Theatre Company during May 1988 at the Fitzroy Town Hall.[3]

The play won the 1987 Western Australian Premiers Award[4] and in 1992 the Kate Challis RAKA Award for Indigenous Playwrights.[5]

Perambulant model[edit]

The perambulant model is a technique used in drama to dislocate the audience involving multiple points of focus. Throughout No Sugar it is employed to convey a sense of displacement to the audience, representative of the isolation felt by the Aboriginal people unable and unwilling to assimilate to White Culture.


Jimmy Munday, the protagonist, is an Aboriginal man who despises the fact he is not equal in society and is not regarded as a 'person' by the government. He has a heart condition which leads to his death after arguing with Mr Neville at the Australia Day celebrations.

Gran Munday, Jimmy's mother, a traditional Aboriginal woman, she dislikes the new 'white mans' ways and strongly believes in the importance of family. She is the matriarch of the family and supports her son and daughter and grandchildren. Gran is a supporting character.

Milly Millimurra, Jimmy's sister, who has three children. She stands up for what she believes is right and does her best to care for her children. She dislikes being treated badly, but realises there is nothing she can do.

Sam Millimurra, Milly's husband. Frequently caught with Jimmy breaking the law but is not as outgoing and vocal as his brother-in-law. He understands that they are treated unequally, but really does nothing to try and stop it. He is a supporting character.

Joe Millimurra, Mary's love interest and Milly's eldest son.

Cissie Millimurra, Milly's daughter.

David Millimurra - Milly's youngest son.

A. O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines.

Miss Dunn, his secretary.

Mr Neal, Superintendent of Moore River Native Settlement. Abuses Indigenous people and is lecherous to Indigenous girls.

Matron Neal, his wife, Matron of the hospital.

Sister Eileen, a Catholicmissionary.

Sergeant Carrol, sergeant of the Northam Police.

Constable Kerr, member of the Northam Police.

Frank Brown, an unemployed farmer who befriends Jimmy Munday.

Mary Dargurru, Joe's love interest. An outspoken girl who is mistreated by Neal, works for the Matron at the settlement.

Billy Kimberley,Black tracker, an Aborigine working for Mr Neal. He enforces discipline against the other Aborigines and 'tracks' runaways. For this reason he is viewed by the Aborigines as something of a traitor or "black crow." Billy is caught between the white and Indigenous societies. His tribe was massacred by whites, and in order to survive he works under Mr Neal, but noticeably his police officer's uniform is "ill-fitting".

Bluey, a Black tracker.

Topsy, Mary's subservient and submissive friend who also works for the Matron.

Justice of the Peace, a farmer who sentences Frank Brown, Jimmy and Sam for alcohol abuse.


  1. ^[Jack Davis - No Sugar to be Australia's official contribution at Expo 86] Bulletin (Sydney, N.S.W.:1880) 22 April 1986, p.94
  2. ^[Jack Davis - play 'No Sugar' to open in Canada, details of play.] The West Australian, 1 May 1986, p.16
  3. ^"AusStage". Retrieved 2016-07-17. 
  4. ^"Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Archived from the original on 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  5. ^"Pandora Archive". 2006-08-23. Archived from the original on 2010-06-23. Retrieved 2012-06-18. 

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