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May 3, 2018


Victorian Premier’s Award Drama 2017

by NancyElin

Leah Purcell:  youngest of seven children born to an Aboriginal mother and caucasian father in the small Queensland town of Murgon (pop. 2000). Her work includes TV series and films. She has also had a formidable impact on the stage as actress, director and playwright. She has appeared in more than 20 productions.

So, I ask myself…why have I never heard of her?

It was time to discover some of the best that Australian literary world has to offer:  Henry Lawson’s story – The Drover’s Wife  adapted for the stage by playwright Leah Purcell

If I could get the opportunity to see Leah Purcell preform on stage I’d book tickets immediately! If you live in Australia…you are so lucky to have this talent on your doorstep!



  1. The Drover’s Wife is confronted by a threat in her yard, but now it’s a man.
  2. He’s bleeding, he’s got secrets, and he’s black.
  3. She knows there’s a fugitive wanted for killing whites,
  4. ….and the district is thick with troopers.
  5. But something’s holding the Drover’s Wife back from turning this fella in.



  1. A two room shanty, in the dense scrub land of
  2. ….Alpine country of the Snowy Mountains.
  3. A chopping block sits in the middle of the stage.
  4. An axe buried deep in it.
  5. Timeline:  3 days


Theme: survival

  1. The woman (Drover’s wife) is trapped
  2. …in a world of male dominance.
  3. The man (Yadaka) is trapped
  4. ….in a world of racism.
  5. They both do what they have to do to survive.


  1. Scene 2: Drover’s wife:
  2. “Cross me and I’ll kill ya.
  3. I’ll shoot ya where ya stand and bury ya where ya fall.”
  4. Scene 7: Drover’s wife:
  5. “But fight for my life, my children’s, I will.
  6. Make no excuses for.”


  1. Scene 6: Yadaka
  2. “My only true charge, missus is ‘Existin’ whilst black’.
  3. But fight for  my life, I will, and make no excuses for it.

What is the emotional power in the play?

  1. The emotional power in the play
  2. is the anticipation of the fate of  Yadaka.
  3. The shifts in the conditions of Yadaka and Molly Johnson
  4. at the shabby cabin….guide the direction of the dialogue.
  5. Another important emotional issue is the growing
  6. friendship between Yadaka and the Drover’s wife 
  7. …be it coded and sometimes implied in gestures not words.



  1. Leah Purcell took some qualities she admired
  2. in her Aboriginal family members and
  3. infused them into Lawson’s orginal cast.
  4. Purcell  brought more characters on the stage and
  5. deepend the dramatic impact of the story.



  1. The Drover’s Wife – full of fight and life – 40
  2. The main character is a women whose qualities in this play were inspired by the
  3. …people Leah Purcel has personally known:
  4. …generous, assertive, resilient women
  5. …who hold the world on their shoulders.
  6. Molly Johnson, the drover’s wife is a woman who is
  7. proud, works hard, plays hard and never gives up who she is.

  1. Yadaka (black) – 38
  2. Danny  (Drover’s wife’s son) – 14
  3. Thomas McNealy (swagman) – 60
  4. Douglas Merchant (peddler) – 35-40
  5. Spencer Leslie (trooper) – 35
  6. Robert Parsen (stockman) – 45
  7. John Mcpharlen (stockman) – 25


 Strong point:

  1. The dialogue is thick and fast.
  2. It  emerges from the character’s reaction to prior events.
  3. Yadaka’s  backstory, Drover’s wife… her marriage and children
  4. and the direct interaction between these
  5. …characters in the nine  scenes.


Strong point:

  1. Strong point: Henry Lawson provided a look at
  2. …bush life that appealed to his audience in the 19th C.
  3. Leah Purcell provides a look at bush life….that should
  4. …appeal to all in the 21st C.
  5. People who are now  seeking a change from the
  6. stereotypes of  the colonial past
  7. …that were the basis of Australian life.


Stage design:

  1. Provides the atmosphere and environment
  2. …of a particular scene or piece of action.
  3. The Drover’s Wife  stage is minimalist:
  4. There is a piece of dead tree,
  5. chopping block with axe wedged deep into it
  6. …and a curtain.
  7. Stage decor reinforces the action and
  8. gives the action depth
  9. …and a realistic context.
  10. Props: rifle, axe, prisoner’s iron collar, small coffin
  11. …boots, set of clean clothes, wood-heap, tribal spear.



  1. How does it feel to be a problem? (blacks)
  2. Yet being a problem is a strange experience
  3. …for one who has never been anything else.
  4. Leah Purcell is determined to change this situation.
  5. Classic Australian story adapted for the 21st C.
  6. …Leah Purcell has turned the plot upside down by re-imaging
  7. Henry Lawson’s classic story ‘The Drover’s Wife”.
  8. The black man is  not the menacing element
  9. ironically it is the white man!
  10. Leah Purcell shows a  strong connection
  11. to her aboriginal culture and community.
  12. She has surprised the theatrical world with is  powerful play!
  13. I imagine a conversation between Henry Lawson and Leah Purcell.
  14. Lawson has just read The Drover’s Wife to Purcell.
  15. Her response:
  16. “Great story filled with action, grit and passion...
  17. but I think I will ‘reimagine’ your story
  18. just once….my way!”
  19. There is an unexpected….twist in the plot.
  20. #Bravo Leah Purcell!


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