Aboriginal Themes In Rainbow's End Essay

Length: 7 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Family and Marriage Type: Essay Paper: #63020083 Related Topics: Australian Aboriginals, Theme, Pastoral Care, Elder Interview
Excerpt from Essay :

Rainbow's End

Play Critique -- Rainbow's End

The story told in Rainbow's End is shared by three generations of Aboriginal women living in a ramshackle shanty located on the Goulburn River flats in regional Victoria in the 1950s. Nan Dear is the reserved elder, Gladys is the easy-going mother, and Dolly is the daughter of this self-contained tribe of women. The family portrait is chock-a-bloc with issues that are currently relevant: individual independence and familial duty; the important and foundational sense of belonging and home; and the enduring power of love and patience.

The women in the family undergo personal transformation and are elevated in the process. Gladys' struggle with illiteracy is matched by her struggle against the invisibility of being an indigenous Aboriginal woman. Gladys grows increasingly weary of being the last person to be waited on at the butcher shop, of seeing white people cross to the other side of the street when she passes, and enduring inappropriate treatment when applying for a job. Dolly moves past the physical violence and comes to grips with what it means to love a man from a different culture. Nan Dear overcomes her own prejudice and replaces her cynicism about her family's social position with hope.

The cultural clash in Jane Harrison's play Rainbow's End. How the Aboriginal culture is manifest in the play as a post colonial one?

The three generations of Aboriginal Koori women are left behind in the flats of Goulburn River to do what women in marginal cultures have always done -- hold the family together. The men of the family are away doing menial work or, as in Papa Dear's, case, carrying out itinerant pastoral services. The paternalism of the colonial period had the dual impact of emasculating the men while empowering the women to ensure culture and traditions endure, to strive to enrich family life, and to help put food on the table. It may be cliche to say that the small family of women did not have access to the material things of the larger society, but they did have each other. Yet the ability of the women to be of support to each other and to remain warmly connected as family members is a key theme in the story. Nan Dear's husband, Papa Dear, is never seen on the stage, but he serves as a sort of anchor to the family of women -- they refer to him often and his presence is felt if not actual. An outside masculine influence is inserted into the self-contained family when Errol, the encyclopedia salesman, comes to the river flats. Errol falls for Dolly and their relationship becomes a kind of journey in which each must find their new place within the transformed family.

As with most post-colonial societies, regional Victoria was stripped of raw materials, and educational and occupational opportunities were directed exclusively to the upper strata. The Aboriginal people living in the humpies along the river had basically become invisible to those who benefitted from the colonial days. Support such as might be available through a welfare structure was notably absent. In the 1950s, the Aboriginal people of the Goulburn River were left to themselves -- essentially left to take care of themselves in greatly constrained conditions. Except that, for decades, they had not been left to themselves. When groups of marginalized Aboriginal people moved to the river flats in search of employment, services, and better lives, the government responded with the creation of a housing development called Rumbalara -- a sort of half-way housing meant to be used temporarily as the Aboriginal people were rehoused in the larger communities.

In addition, there were the infamous and draconian Northern Territory interventions that stemmed from false reports by the branch manager for Mal Brough of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children. An actual army was sent into the territory ostensibly to protect the children and right the wrongs that were said to have occurred. Notably, no prosecutions for sexual abuse were accomplished during the seven years of the investigation and intervention -- no were any apologies forthcoming to falsely accused Aboriginal families.

The point of showing the tension between the indigenous Aborigines and the white people is to underscore that the racial and ethnic prejudice is still a factor in the post-colonial Victoria region -- just as it is still a factor today. And then, as now, the family stood as buffer from the prejudice,


The Koori women may have seemed like less of a threat to authority than the Aboriginal men, which might have given the women some leeway in the way they conducted themselves. Since the domain of the Koori women was the home and family, they assumed some matriarchal power and were able to influence family members and tribal relatives who were part of their domestic arena.

The self-determination that is even now a salient objective of the Aboriginal people may have been nurtured in the family units where -- away from the dominance of the white men -- the indigenous people could describe their own lives. In this regard, it is not at all surprising that Gladys desires a real home for her family, while Nan Dear sees the move to the flats as progress of a sort -- not exactly moving up, but moving forward and closer to the family's dreams.

The anti-hegemonic techniques used by the playwright to destabilize the western culture in a settler colonial society.

Colonialism is successful at a fundamental level because it enables the portrayal of one group of people as inferior to another group. The frame used by anthropologists to describe this phenomenon is the concept of The Other. Indeed, the "binary opposition is a child's first logical operation" (Jakobson & Halle 1956, 60 as cited in Chandler). This type of dualism is fundamental to human categorization, and at the most basic level, the ability to distinguish between one's own and the other is endemic to survival. The binary oppositions that people employ in their cultural practices enable structure and order to be overlaid on the "dynamic complexity of experience" (Chandler 2014). Those people who are deemed to be too different, strange, or foreign to the "true people," are viewed as being capable of all manner of debased and evil behavior. The Northern Territories intervention is a perfect example of a manifestation of hegemonic perceptions that preclude, enable, and maintain the colonial relations between disparate groups of people.

While Errol Fisher is a non-indigenous character in the play, he is not as remote in his perceptions of the family as his peers in the outside world. Yet, his lens is that of someone from another culture and he first inclination -- when he realizes he loves Dolly -- is to want to take her away from the flats to a better life in the city. Errol promises the world to Dolly, asking her to run away with him to a sweet little flat with running water and flowers on the balcony; but her rebuttal is: "Your world" (Currency Press 2013). Over time and through familiarity, Errol comes to see that Dolly's world is poor in material things but rich in loving family relationships. Taking the broader view, Errol's original stance favors a more Western mindset and lifestyle, which enable the playwright, Jane Harrison, to destabilize Western culture within the colonial society of settlers.

The character of Errol provided more than a love interest to Dolly. The fact that Errol is selling Encyclopedia Britannica and that Gladys -- who is intelligent but illiterate -- agrees to buy the volumes of the encyclopedia one-by-one, religiously making payments on time, is more than just a demonstration of affection. From Gladys' perspective, the encyclopedia represents a step up the social strata and is a manifestation of her ambitions. This transaction is made more poignant in the face of the Britannica's texts that indicate a less than rigorous exercise of citizenship by the Aborigines.

Juxtaposed against the Britannica's rewriting of history, the audience is shown Gladys' excitement and patriotic enthusiasm about the upcoming visit from the Queen Elizabeth II of England. There is also the reminder that Aborigines were called to give service during the war, and Gladys recounts this ironic bit of personal history when she mentions her husband's service during time of war. It is strongly ironic that Gladys' husband served as a soldier and went off to join with other soldier to fight a far-away war, yet the inspectors felt they needed to come to the town camps and figure out what to do about the Aboriginal problem.

Theatre semiotics is integral to the analysis that is to say the way the stage directions…

Sources Used in Documents:


Chandler, Daniel. (1994). Semiotics for Beginners. Paradigmatic Analysis. 3 July 2014.


McAlister, Jodi. Review of Rainbow's End, by Jane Harrison. 25 August 2011. Australian Stage. http://www.australianstage.com.au/201108254682/reviews/sydney/rainbow-s-end.html

Rainbow's End. Script. Australian Plays. https://australianplays.org/script/CP-1491/extract
Podcast. http://notinprint.podbean.com/e/interview-jane-harrison-rainbows-end-australian-plays-theatre/

Cite this Document:

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"Aboriginal Themes In Rainbow's End", 09 March 2015, Accessed.26 January. 2022,

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