Thursday, 30 July 1998

The Drover's Boy, July 30, 1998

The Drover's Boy by Ray Mooney
at Athenaeum 2 from July 29, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed July 1998

The wrongs done our aboriginal population by the English are myriad. We know about stolen land and children, murdered tribes and disease. Many other abuses go uncatalogued. Ray Mooney's play, The Drover's Boy, deals with one.

Last century, drovers travelled with flocks over vast tracts of the outback. It was illegal for black women to 'fraternise' with white men, so drovers who were attached to an aboriginal woman took her on the track dressed as a 'drover's boy'. Was this abuse or genuine attachment?

Mooney's play began in 1985 as a one-acter which director Peter Oyston combined with others by Jack Davis and Jennifer Playnter. Its characters appeared in Black Rabbit (Playbox 1988) but it has taken 13 years for The Drover's Boy to be staged.

Archie, the seasoned drover, (Jim Daly) travels with his flock accompanied by callow youth, Stanley (Wilde Mooney) and Jackey, an aboriginal 'boy' (Pauline Whyman) They cook, yarn and tease. Archie teaches Stanley about the wild and tells him stories of the tribes.

They listen to the wild life, stop mid-sentence to watch an owl, listen to a dingo, stare at a snake. Time is elastic. The night seems endless. The space is enormous, the light is startling and the land is dry and ominous.

Their quiet world changes radically when Macca, (John Brumpton) the racist violent drover hunting for a sheep thief, invades.

The Drover's Boy is a worthy work. The script, like a Bertholt Brecht play, is didactic, educating us without involving us in the victims' emotional torment. Mooney peppers the play with poetic language, snatches of drover's songs, rhymes and old Aussie slang.

My reservations are that the narrative leaves us craving more information about the 'boy' and there is a too sudden dramatic leap towards the end, although this does lift the level of dramatic tension.

Daly plays Archie with an edge of lunacy and as Jackey, Whyman is engaging. Brumpton brings a whiff of danger and Wilde Mooney, the writer's teenage son, makes a fine debut as the ingenuous Stanley.

Director, Greg Carroll, takes risks, sometimes unsuccessfully. The style is inconsistent with some awkward moments but the sense of the wildness of the environment is strong, enhanced by Joe Dolce's soundscape and the splashing of real rain through the old roof of the Athenaeum.

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