Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-cnmwb Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-16T13:39:03.419Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Unspoken Indigenous History on the Stage: The Postcolonial Plays of Jack Davis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 October 2022


Literary scholars and linguists have argued extensively that language is not simply a purely representational vehicle of thought but its determining medium, whose ordering powers not only shape cognizance of reality but are also actively involved in processes of imperialism and cultural erasure. It is the determinative yet slippery quality of language, prompting the loss of meaning in attempts at translation, that colonial powers manipulated to violent effect and which, as enacted in the plays of Nyoongah Indigenous Australian playwright Jack Davis, continue to haunt history and the present. This article considers how a history and culture made unspeakable by colonialism through the erasure of Indigenous Australian oral traditions, languages, and historical perspectives is translated on to the Anglophone stage in the plays of Davis, one of the first Indigenous playwrights to be published and performed internationally, and how this was received by the witnessing audience. Davis achieves this theatrical translation not only through the negotiation and manipulation of colonial language and verbatim history alongside Indigenous languages, enacting a kind of linguistic double consciousness, but also through physical theatre and dance. The latter are the central means of communicating meaning and knowledge in Nyoongah culture. Jacqueline M. Brown is a graduate student at Worcester College, University of Oxford, studying for a Master of Studies in English (1900–present). This article received first prize in the 2022 TORCH Reimagining Performance Network Graduate Essay Prize competition run in collaboration between the University of Oxford and New Theatre Quarterly. For more information on the Reimagining Performance Network, see <>.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press, 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)