Our Country's Good, By Timberlake Wertenbaker

1834 words - 7 pages

Timberlake Wertenbaker's 1986 play Our Country's Good follows the first colony in Australia as they struggle to form a community. She uses both comedy and tragedy to illustrate how people adapt to new situations and overcome difficulties. The colonists adapt to their new home and the many changes, the officers adapt their views on punishment, and various characters devolve and evolve, this all leads to the evolution of hierarchy within the colony.

Comedy and tragedy in Our Country's Good are deeply intertwined, following the developments within the colony. The convicts, upon arriving, may have entertained brief hopes that their future may be somewhat brighter in this new and unknown world, that justice may be more humane, that it would not be a “human hell”; some convicts seem perfectly able to forget and forgive in order to move on, such as Sideway, who dismisses Ralph's allusion to having counted Sideway's lashes with “Different circumstances, Mr Clark, best forgotten.” (I.v.). Others seem more resigned to their fate; in-expectant of change, they believe that nothing has changed and that the officers will always be just as cold and cruel as before. This is illustrated when Phillip asks “Surely we don't have to hang an 82-year-old woman?” and Collins replies darkly “That will be unnecessary. She hanged herself this morning.” (I.iii.)
Sideway's more optimistic view on the situation is more characteristic of comedy whereas Dorothy Handland's suicide is much more tragic, however the black humour with which it is presented renders even this tragic news more comic. This is made easier by the fact that Dorothy Handland only appears at this point in the play, the news of her death is the only time we hear of her and so as a reader and as an audience we are not given the chance to form enough of an emotional bond with her character in order for the tragedy of her death to overcome the comedy of Collins' black humour. Concerning convicts, we are not given much information about their settling in to their new home, however what we are told is mostly positive.
As for the officers, Ralph at the beginning of the play seems determined to hate the place, he refers to it as “this dismal country” and “this iniquitous shore” (I.iv.), all the while expressing in his diary his discontentment at being separated from his wife for so long, and the sexual frustration that this causes him, as can be seen in Act One Scene Nine, in which it is implied that he does more than simply kiss his wife's portrait, he takes out his pent up sexual frustration: “Dreamt my beloved Betsey that I was with you. […] He goes down on his knees and brings the picture to himself”
While Ralph took the separation rather badly, others seemed more to enjoy it; the new landscapes, animals, and plants all fascinated them, and Australia's avian population was of particular interest to certain officers, none of whom seemed to be overly critical of hunting, indeed Collins remarked “You have...

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