1790 - A Tale Not Often Told by Pete Malicki


This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author’s PRIOR consent

ACT ONE - Scene 1


      James Freeman sits on a plain wooden chair as if sleeping. He
      converses with two offstage voices, and while he does not fully open
      his eyes or look up, he moves around in an agitated manner.

      PROSECUT: Mister James Freeman, you are charged with stealing the
      property of Michael Dennison, Robert Abel and William Waterhouse to
      the sum of seven pounds of flour, value of fifteen pence. The court
      finds you guilty of this charge and sentences you to death by
      execution. God rest your soul.

      FREEMAN: No. I am innocent!

      PROSECUT: William Shearman, your accomplice who attempted to cook the
      flour, has also been found guilty and will receive three hundred

      FREEMAN: It was not theft. I found the flour in the woods and gave it
      to Shearman.

      PROSECUT: The Governor has considered your plea for clemency but the
      verdict of this court has not been altered.

      PARSON: Mr Freeman, have you prepared yourself for the next world?
      Unless you wish to bathe in an eternity of hellfire and brimstone you
      must repent your sins now.

      FREEMAN: No. Have mercy on me.

      PARSON: This court has already found you guilty. You can only hope for
      mercy in the next world.

      FREEMAN: I will repent, but please spare me.

      PARSON: The verdict cannot and will not be changed. Are you ready to

      FREEMAN: (moaning) No.

      PARSON: Say after me: Almighty God, please forgive me my sins before I
      leave this world. (pause) Mr James Freeman, I suggest you repeat these
      words if you wish to receive God’s mercy. Say after me: Almighty

      PROSECUT: (urgently)/Parson, a message just received from the

      PARSON: What is it?

      PROSECUT: Hear these words penned by his Excellency, the Governor:
      “It is my decree that so long as James Freeman fulfils the role of
      hangman in this settlement, his execution is deferred.”

      Guard enters, leading Davis and holding a rope. He wakes Freeman and
      hands him the rope.

      GUARD: Hangman, wake up. It is time.

      FREEMAN: (Groggily; waking) Time?

      GUARD: To hang convict Davis.

      FREEMAN:I told you, I cannot hang a woman.

      GUARD: If you refuse, you will be hanged yourself.

      FREEMAN: But Davis said she is with child.

      GUARD: That was false testimony.

      FREEMAN: (to guard) How can you be sure?

      GUARD: Twelve Matrons have determined it. Come now. We begin.

      DAVIS: What if they are wrong?

      GUARD: Your former friends condemn you as an incorrigible thief. Have
      you anything to say?

      DAVIS: I have nothing to repent, curse you!

      Guard bustles Davis offstage, Freeman following.

      GUARD: Hangman, perform your duty.

      We hear muffled activity, then Davis shrieks “No” from offstage.
      Lights down.

      VO 3: From George the Third, to our trusty and well-beloved Captain
      Arthur Phillip. With trust and confidence in your loyalty, courage,
      and experience in military affairs,  we constitute and appoint you to
      be Governor of our territory called New South Wales, extending from
      the northern cape or extremity of the coast called Cape York, in the
      latitude of 10o37’ South… (fade out)

      Lights slowly come up on Phillip, centre stage, during this voice
      over. He is pacing slowly.

      PHILLIP: (reading from a letter) Lord Sydney. My instructions did not
      permit me to examine the coast to any considerable distance. It was
      absolutely necessary to be certain of a sufficient quantity of fresh
      water situated where the ships might approach within a reasonable
      distance for the convenience of landing the stores and provisions.

      There are parts of this harbour where the trees stand at a
      considerable distance from each other and where there are small runs
      of water, which shall be cultivated by the officers for raising a
      little corn for their stock. I have endeavoured to promote them doing
      this as much as possible, for I greatly fear the consequences if a
      ship is lost whilst carrying provisions.

      The laws of our Mother country will, of course, be introduced in New
      South Wales and there is one that I would wish to take place from the
      moment his Majesty’s forces take possession of the country: That
      there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves.

      Phillip nods to himself and paces off stage.

      SCENE 2

      Part 1 - Harbourside
      Benelong followed by Colby simulate wading out to get fish, crossing
      the stage.

      BRADLEY: (offstage) Come share these fish with us, men!

      Bennelong and Colby look at each other, clearly favourable towards the
      prospect. They near the side of the stage.

      BRADLEY: (offstage) We caught plenty today so you are most welcome to
      have these.

      Suddenly, the men are seized and pulled offstage. Major commotion.

      Part 2 - Settlement

      BRADLEY: It gave me no pleasure Collins, but the Governor advised me
      he could see no other way. He said, “Somehow the barriers separating
      us have to be broken down.”

      COLLINS: You do not doubt the Governor’s judgement, I trust?

      BRADLEY: No Sir. We captured two of the men as he ordered, but it was
      by far the most unpleasant service I was ever ordered to execute.

      COLLINS: He will be pleased.

      BRADLEY: Young Nanbarry was there when we got ashore. He says they are
      both well known and named them as Bennelong and Colby. The latter has
      quite a high status.

      COLLINS: Where are they now? Perhaps that girl…

      BRADLEY: Boorong.

      COLLINS: Yes, Boorong. She can be sent to help Nanbarry persuade them
      to settle in. She has recovered well enough from the sickness to be of
      some use.

      BRADLEY: They are with their minders. Nanbarry is staying to

      Bradley and Collins start walking off.

      COLLINS: Tell me more about how you captured the two men, Bradley. I
      would quite like to hear the finer details…

      Part 3

      Bennelong and Colby. Bennelong is submissive to Colby. They sit in
      silence before Colby spits out:

      COLBY: Gullible.

      BENNELNG: What?

      COLBY: You let them fool you.

      BENNELNG: So did you. You followed me!

      COLBY: I was telling you to be careful. You forgot about Arabanoo
      being seized.

      BENNELNG: No, I did not.

      COLBY: But… our Mob back on shore were pathetic. Too slow to get
      their spears ready and they abandoned us before we were out of sight.
      Did you see them picking up the fishes we left behind?

      BENNELNG: We can’t do much about it now. Nanbarry says they are
      going to feed us well here.

      COLBY: (calling) Nanbarry, when is food ready?

      NANBARRY: (offstage) It won’t be long.

      Boorong bursts into the room.

      BOORONG: Uncle Colby, Bennelong, I am so excited to see you.

      COLBY: Boorong, we are not excited. We were captured – look at these

      BOORONG: I am sure they will take them off once you have settled in.

      COLBY: If they wanted us to settle in they would not have taken us by

      BOORONG: Wait and see how well they look after you. Bennelong, how are
      Barangaroo and your sister?

      BENNELNG: They are well. They survived the sickness when so many did

      BOORONG: Arabanoo helped look after me when I was brought here. But he
      got the sickness too and died.

      COLBY: So few of us are left.

      BOORONG: Who of my people are still alive?

      BENNELNG: Your father, Bolaroo, Imaree and a few others.

      BOORONG: What about Deedora and Milba? And Daringa?

      COLBY: Deedora and Milba are dead but Daringa and her father are

      Boorong looks down, saddened. Bennelong talks to her to try to regain
      her focus.

      BENNELNG: Yesterday there was a corroboree, the first since the
      sickness came. Most of the survivors from around the harbour were

      BOORONG: I wish I had been there. What was it for?

      COLBY: Our elders called on the spirits to drive away the sickness.
      They asked to have the presence of these newcomers explained, but the
      result was unclear.

      BOORONG: The newcomers have their own medicine man. He did his very
      best to save those who had the sickness but Nanbarry and I were the
      only survivors. Nanbarry lives with him now.

      Gong sounds off stage.

      NANBARRY: (offstage) Bennelong, Colby, come. Your tucker is ready.

      BOORONG: I will see you tomorrow. There is so much more I want to ask

      Boorong bounds offstage, followed by a cautious Colby and Bennelong.

      VO 4 (Tench): Repeated accounts brought by our boats of finding bodies
      of the Indians in all the coves and inlets of the harbour caused the
      gentlemen of our hospital to procure some of them for the purposes of
      examination and anatomy. On inspection it appeared that all the
      parties had died a natural death: pustules, similar to those
      occasioned by the small pox, were thickly spread on the bodies.

      SCENE 3

      Nightwatchman (NWATCHM), Joseph Elliott, followed by Guard House
      Officer (GUARD) and Voice off stage conveying authority of court of
      law. Barangaroo appears, hidden in the foreground.

      The stage is dark. An intruder creeps around, gathers up growth from
      the ground. Nightwatchman enters.

      NWATCHM: Who goes there? Stop, thief!

      Both dash across stage. Nightwatchman catches intruder and takes a
      dirty potato from his hand.

      NWATCHM: Caught you red handed.

      ELLIOTT: I was just passing by.

      NWATCHM: Oh really? Why did you run away?

      ELLIOTT: I was afraid.

      NWATCHM: Of being caught?

      ELLIOTT: Afraid you would shoot me.

      NWATCHM: Probably better for you if I had. What’s your name?

      ELLIOTT: Joseph Elliott.

      NWATCHM: Shame on you, thief. Not only did you steal our precious food
      supplies, but you stole from the parson’s garden. You know the
      parson shares with those sick in hospital?

      ELLIOTT: I didn’t take anything.

      NWATCHM: Let the Guard House Officer decide. Pick up that fork and

      Nightwatchman calls out and the guard house officer enters carrying a

      GUARD:  Who goes there?

      NWATCHM: I apprehended this man in the parson’s garden with these

      ELLIOTT: I was just taking some night air.

      GUARD: This is a matter to be dealt with by a duly convened court. You
      will be reported to the Judge Advocate.

      NWATCHM: Come on, Mister Elliott.

      ELLIOTT: Please, have mercy. I did nothing wrong!

      The guard leaves. Nightwatchman drags a reluctant Elliott offstage.

      SCENE 4

      William and Roger, the two convict minders of Colby and Bennelong, are
      on one side of the stage. Colby and Bennelong on the other side, tied
      together by ropes. Attendant has a silent role.


      WILLIAM: Wish I could understand what they are saying.

      ROGER: Captain Tench translated a few words for me but not enough that
      I can follow their conversation. But it’s not your job to understand
      them. Just make sure they do not escape.

      WILLIAM: I don’t think they could. They’re tied up good.

      ROGER: Ropes or not, William, do you want to be responsible if they
      get away? The guard was late waking us yesterday and they don’t always
      look in during the night, so you’d better stay awake.


      COLBY: They get sleepy after their meal.

      Bennelong nods and grunts. Coby slides Bennelong a sharpened shell,
      which he uses to saw at his ropes.

      COLBY: We can outrun them if we head towards the bay.

      BENNELNG: There is no moon tonight.

      COLBY: That will work in our favour.


      ROGER: What do you think they made of our visit to the brick kiln

      WILLIAM: I’m not sure. Their way of life is so different to ours. So
      primitive and unsophisticated. But I tell you one thing: they know
      where to fish.

      ROGER: True. Nanbarry says the older one, Colby, is a very good

      WILLIAM: Not a bad thing that they are. Will Bryant has been sneaking
      out to watch where their women go fishing in their canoes.

      ROGER: Ah yes, poor Bryant. I was glad not to be involved when he got
      caught selling fish on the side. He didn’t like those hundred lashes.


      BENNELNG: They have many strange customs, Colby, but there are some I
      like. Having my beard cut off was great.

      COLBY: You’re as quick to abandon our customs as our mob was to
      abandon us at the beach, Bennelong.

      BENNELNG: It is not that simple. Their leader is very friendly. Our
      tribe would become very powerful if we had an alliance with them. We
      could raid the Cameragal and capture women to replace those who have
      died. They would be scared of us.

      COLBY: We are not free here.


      Attendant appears with two mugs for minders. They sip gratefully on
      some rum.

      ROGER: (to attendant) Thank you.

      WILLIAM: What do you think they’re talking about?

      ROGER: Probably no more than what they ate for their dinner. This rum
      hits the spot.

      WILLIAM: Maybe we should offer some to them. It might put them to

      ROGER: Are you…? (looks back and forth between rum and William) Are
      you serious?

      WILLIAM: (considers) No?

      Colby yawns and surreptitiously passes shell to Bennelong as moves
      close to back edge of stage. Appears to settle down.

      BENNELNG: Almost there. Just a little more time.


      ROGER: What do you make of the Governor?

      WILLIAM: (cautiously) I don’t really think I know what I think of

      ROGER: Well I know. We are practically starving to death here and he
      wants us to waste our time and energy with these natives. Surely our
      lack of food and supplies is a bigger problem. Alright, his officers
      get no more than us convicts, but all that means is none of us can eat
      enough. So why are we sharing our highly limited resources with the
      likes of Colby and Bennelong here?

      WILLIAM: I suppose you have a point.

      ROGER: You know what I really think? I think it would be better if the
      two of them got up and disappeared.

      Colby suddenly rises and bolts off stage. Pandemonium ensues. William
      and Roger just manage to grab Bennelong, who is too panicked to
      escape. They call and exclaim.

      WILLIAM: Well, I guess that solves your problem eh Roger.

      ROGER: (not amused) He was your responsibility, William. I told you he
      was your responsibility!

      WILLIAM: Mine? But you said/

      ROGER: /Go and stop him!

      William rushes off. Roger sits Bennelong down and re-ties his ropes.

[end of extract]