Set in the fictional small town of Mukinupin, the play tells the story of Polly Perkins and her love for Jack Tuesday, the grocer's boy - a match seen as ‘most unsuitable' by her parents. The course of true love never does run smooth and Jack has a rival in Cecil Brunner, a much older travelling salesman who is infatuated with Polly and believes he would make her a much better husband! The whole proceedings are watched over by Clemmy and Clarrie Hummer, two elderly spinster sisters who are ‘not backward in coming forward' in their views about the town and its gossip.
The play was commissioned by Perth's National Theatre at the Playhouse as a festival occasional piece to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Western Australia. As Katherine Brisbane states in the preface to the Currency publication of the play: "Only Dorothy could conceive of such a harvest festival in a town where the orchards are dying, the salt is rising and it is 114 (F) degrees in the shade" (vii).
On the surface, this play suggests a light-hearted musical romp through only happy memories of ‘the good old days'. There are simple boy-meets-girl stories and happy-ever-after endings, all of which are never really united with the harsh rural landscape. This underlying contradiction is a formidable theme throughout the play as the mirroring and contrast between day and night, white and black, innocence and sin, celebration and hame, honesty and deceit are embodied in the several sets of identical twins in the characters. In all cases, one twin represents an upstanding member of the community (Polly, Jack and Eek) whilst their other twin belong to the ‘wrong end of town' or are considered derelict (Lily, Harry and Zeek). Hewett uses the sets of twins and other theatrical doubling to highlight the complex nature of personality: the surface and what lies beneath it (Hopkins 80-82). Hewett uses this metaphor to give the play a sense that Mukinupin has
a secret which everyone tries to avoid: the respectable Eek Perkins led a mass slaughter of Aboriginal locals in the creekbed, and this creates a fraudulent righteousness not only out
of Eek, but the rest of the ‘upstanding' members of the community. This may force the audience to squirm in recognition of the double-standards and the ‘secrets' that quite often inspire the myths that abound Australian country towns.
Hewett indeed tells it like it is, and this play and the director of this USQ production, Jennifer Flowers, has used a piece of Dorothy Hewett's poetry (for which she won the ABC National Poetry competition at the age of 22) entitled Legend of The Green Country as insight into the world of small town Western Australia.
…a dangerous month: but I count on an abacus as befits a shopkeeper's daughter.
I never could keep count by modern methods, the ring of the till
Is profit and loss, the ledger, hasped with gold, sits in its heavy dust
On the counter, out front of the shopkeeper's sign hangs loose and bangs in the wind,
The name is obliterated; the dog swells and stinks in the gutter,
The golden smell of the beer does not run in the one street, like water,
The windmill head hangs, broken-necked, flapping like a great plain turkey
As the wind rises … this was my country, here I go back for nurture
To the dry soaks, to the creeks running salt through the timber,
To the ghosts of the sandalwood cutters, and the blue breath of their fires,
To the navvies in dark blue singlets laying rails in the scrub. (Stanza I, 72)
There is no doubt to the autobiographical references that Hewett uses here, but what is most authentic and engaging is her description of the landscape which is harsh and intimidating, yet she refers to it as her country where she returns for ‘nurture'. The little town of Mukinupin is illustrated in this poem, so too is the life of the young Polly Perkins: the town's ‘beauty' and the shopkeeper's daughter.