Country Life in a Harsh Landscape
Hewett grew up ‘on the land', the daughter of a wealthy farming family, and this gave her a strong feeling for Australian regionalism, but also a respect for the harshness of the landscape. Throughout The Man from Mukinupin, all the characters are waiting for rain as the dust, flies and heat are oppressive and ever-present. There is a foreboding about the landscape: a warning that was ignored and so the white people seem to be punished for living there, although they are determined and proud. For Clemmy and Clarry who watch the daily events of Mukinupin from their porch, the town is a "living death, a place of exile, a cage" (Hopkins 94). Almost none of the women characters in this play have any rapport with the land – even though the landscape is viewed as a powerful ‘female' force: one that cannot be dominated. Mad Harry Perkins' quote in Act Two attests to this:
She is my bitter heritage,
She is my darling one
She drowns me in the winter
And breaks me in the sun. (102)
Harry is talking about the landscape, but he is also lamenting the wild Touch of Tar (Lily) who, like the landscape is at odds with the white settlers in the town. The first stanza of the poem Legend of the Green Country immediately reveals the way in which the landscape seems to undermine the presence of white people in its midst. The broken windmill, the dust encroaching in the shop, dry/wet creekbeds, and the ghosts of those who tried to ‘tame' the land are lamentable and yet indelible on the mind of Dorothy Hewett.
My father was a black-browed man who rode like an Abo [sic].
The neighbours gossiped, ‘A touch of the tarbrush there.'
He built the farm from his sweat, it lay in the elbow
Of two creeks, thick with wattle and white tea-tree. (Stanza III, 74)
Hewett recounts the harshness that got under people's skins: those who were sunburnt by the aching sun - touched by the untameable natural elements – were placed in the same category as the local black indigenous people. Of the twin patriarchs whom Hewett describes in this play, Eek Perkins represents the ‘daytime' characters who are metaphors for control, order, and who seem to impose themselves on the landscape yet fail to have effective communication with one another. The ‘daytime' world is delineated by commerce and courtship: the ‘light heartedness of musical comedy' (Williams, 339). While his brother Zeek Perkins represents the ‘night-time' characters who rely on instinct and psychic forces in the dark surreal dream-world of the night. Zeek is a water diviner and star gazer who allies himself to the black culture of the landscape. The sounds of Aboriginal tapping sticks and bullroarers accompany the night-time scenes which seem to be when the landscape is its most mischievous and the outcast characters clearly communicate about the ‘truths' of the town (Hopkins 94-95).
Even the liberal quoting from Shakespeare and Tennyson throughout the play, as well as the importation of Anglo rural traditions such as the hobby-horse and morris dancing are transplanted in the harsh Mukinupin setting in order to civilise the landscape. Again they seem oddly non-transferable from their Anglo roots. In doing so, Hewett asks the audience the question: is our Anglo literary heritage of any consequence to us at all in Australia? What are your thoughts after seeing this play?
Mukinupin is fictionally situated east of the rabbit-proof fence (see websites in reference list for information about the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence) and the landscape that surrounds the town
dominates: it is the strongest and most malevolent character in the play. How do you think the designer has used this in the production?