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Golden Age


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A: Louis Nowra Pf: 1985, Melbourne Pb: 1985; rev. 1988 G: Drama in 2 acts; English with some patois S: Hobart, Collingwood, and south-west forests, Tasmania, and Berlin, 1939–45 C: 12m, 7fPeter Archer, a geologist and son of a Hobart doctor, sets out with his working-class friend Francis Morris, an engineer, to explore the wilderness of the south-west forests of Tasmania. They come across a tribe of curious individuals, descendants of 19th-century escaped convicts and failed colonists, left behind by modern civilization and speaking an odd patois of archaic British dialects and swearwords. Although their matriarch Ayre tries to explain, Peter and Francis remain bemused and rather frightened by these strange creatures. Francis begins to be attracted to the savage young Betsheb. When Ayre realizes that her tribe will die out, she asks to be brought to Hobart, where they become the objects of humane but supercilious curiosity. An MP insists that they must be hidden away in an asylum; otherwise their primitive behaviour will add weight to Nazi propaganda. Francis joins the army and is posted to Europe, taking leave of Betsheb, whom he now loves. Ayre dies, leaving Betsheb and her autistic son Stef as the only survivors. When Stef too dies, Betsheb becomes demented, and Peter's father feels so guilty about his role in destroying the tribe that he slits his throat. In the ruins of Berlin in 1945, Francis calmly kills a Nazi. He returns to Tasmania and, despite appeals by Peter, goes into the wilderness with Betsheb.

A: Louis Nowra Pf: 1985, Melbourne Pb: 1985; rev. 1988 G: Drama in 2 acts; English with some patois S: Hobart, Collingwood, and south-west forests, Tasmania, and Berlin, 1939–45 C: 12m, 7f

In this rich play, based on historical fact, Nowra, without sentimentalizing the primitives (‘Golden Age’ is ironic), explores the alienation of post-colonial society: ‘Their culture is more authentic than ours. We Australians have assumed the garb of a hand-me-down culture, but at our heart is a desert.’ So-called civilization, which produced Nazi death camps and Allied bombing of civilians, offers a poor alternative to living in the wilderness.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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