No Sugar Summary and Study Guide

Jack Davis

No Sugar

  • 33-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features an extended summary and 5 sections of expert analysis.
  • Written by a published author with a degree in English Literature
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No Sugar Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 33-page guide for “No Sugar” by Jack Davis includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Systematic Racism and The Importance of Family.

Plot Summary

No Sugar is a four act play written by Jack Davis, an Aboriginal Australian playwright and activist, which deals with an Aboriginal family’s struggle to survive during the Depression of the 1930s. In the opening scene we are introduced to Jimmy Munday, an Aboriginal man living in on an indigenous reserve in Government Well, and his family. These include his mother, Gran, his sister, Milly Millimurra, her husband, Sam, and their children, Joe, Cissie and David. Through simple conversations about the difficulty of washing cloths and hunting rabbits for food, Davis makes clear the difficult living conditions Jimmy and his family endure and also the discrimination they face. The theme of racial discrimination is returned to  in later scenes when, for example, Mr. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, discusses the need to “civilize” indigenous Australians, while at the same time cutting their rations and denying them soap.

In Act One, Scene Nine, we learn that the Aboriginal population at Government Well is to be moved to another settlement at Moore River. Mr. Neville reveals that while the reason given to the Aborigines for this move is that there has been an outbreak of scabies, it is really motivated by the local white community’s desire to have the Aboriginal settlement moved further away from town. Jimmy and the Millimurras’ distress at having to leave their home is exacerbated by an arduous journey. In fact, Jimmy’s heart condition means that he has to take a train rather than walk with his family.

Act Two opens at the new Settlement at Moore River. Jimmy and the Millimurras attempt to set up camp while they wait for the Matron to inspect them for scabies.  While fetching water with his siblings, Joe meets a young woman, Mary, for whom he feels an instant attraction. They meet again shortly afterwards when Mary accompanies the Matron when she inspects the Millimurra children for scabies. Joe’s embarrassment is exacerbated when his Gran, who delivered him, insists on showing the Matron the nice neat belly button she gave him. While this is a painful moment for Joe, it also highlights the medical knowledge the Aborigines possess and challenges perceptions of them as “savages”.

Act Two continues to highlight the ironies and hypocrisy of white people’s attitudes to Aborigines, notably in Mary’s revelation that the camp superintendent, Mr. Neal, among others, regularly sexually abuse Aboriginal women. This is particularly noteworthy given that one reason white residents of Government Well wanted the Aboriginal settlement moved was out of fear for the safety of white women.

We meet Mr. Neal in the next scene, when his wife, the Matron, informs him that only four of the eighty-nine arrivals from Government Well had scabies, proving that the motivation behind the displacement of the Aborigines was purely political.

In Act Two we are introduced to Billy Kimberly, an Aboriginal man who works for Mr. Neal to keep other Aborigines in line. Billy’s character raises interesting questions of complicity with the Australian government, particularly when he reveals that most of his tribe was killed in a massacre carried out by police in retaliation for the murder of a white farmer. While Jimmy Munday is an outspoken government opponent who is always fighting for his rights and the rights of his people, Billy’s character suggests that the traumatic effects of colonial violence can be much more complicated.

Mary is confronted with the threat of more imminent violence when she learns that Mr. Neal is having her transferred to the hospital, which is what he does with all the women he desires. She is terrified that he will rape her and, confiding her fears in Joe, the young couple decides to run away together. They manage to evade Billy, who is sent to retrieve them, and return to Joe’s home at Government Well. There, they find the settlement has been completely destroyed and they are subsequently arrested on Mr. Neville’s orders. That Joe could be put in prison for something so simple highlights the degree to which Aboriginal people are considered a threat and the lengths that the government will go to try and control them. Ironically, Act Three ends with Mr. Neville giving an address to the Australian Historical Society in which he emphasizes the need to treat indigenous people of Australia in a civilized way.

In Act Four, Mary has returned to the Moore River settlement while Joe remains in prison. Despite the fact that she is pregnant, Mary is brutally whipped by Mr. Neal for her continued refusal to work at the hospital. Her fear is so great that she begs to be allowed to give birth at the Millimurras’ camp instead of the hospital, as she worries that the Matron will take her baby away.

In this last section, the play is also concerned with the celebration of Australia Day, when Mr. Neville will address the camp. Australia Day represents the official version of the nation’s history; a colonial narrative of European triumph over adversity from which the indigenous Aborigines are excluded or play the role of the savage who must be conquered and civilized. Davis’s reference to Australia Day allows him to explicitly challenge that narrative and the parody song the Aborigines sing to Mr. Neville stands for their version of that history. Tragically, Jimmy suffers a fatal heart attack during a confrontation with Mr. Neal at the celebration and his death suggests both the danger and the urgent need for Aborigines to protest their position in the Australian nation and their treatment by the government.

The play ends on a suitably ambivalent note. Joe is not released from prison until after Jimmy’s funeral. He is reunited with his family and introduced to his son, whom he names Jimmy. Mary and Joe apply for permission to leave the settlement and it is granted on the condition that they don’t return to the Northam area. In the final scene, Gran sings an Aboriginal song to bid Joe and Mary farewell. Their future, like the future of Aborigines in Australia is unclear, but Davis’s play sends a clear message about the need for change.

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