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Rock Street, San Francisco
Rock Street, San Francisco

How does Timberlake Wertenbaker establish geographical and historial context in the first six scenes of Our Country’s Good? In mid seventeenth century there was a fear within the middle and upper classes of the raising crime rate, largely due to an increasing population and high unemployment figures. The chosen solution to this problem was the transportation of convicts to Australia, where they could be used as slaves to build a naval outpost. ‘Our Country’s Good’ By Timberlake Wertenbaker is based on events which occurred in the first penal colony to be set up in Australia in 1789.

The play deals with the prisoners in the colony, who were imprisoned for minor infractions, while still in Britain. The first scenes tell of the abuse they endured at the hands of their officers. Some British convicts were dragged over from Britain for petty crimes such as stealing a morsel of food. ‘Our Country’s Good’ is a play primarily concerned with theatre’s influence in changing people’s lives rather than with the British colonisation of Australia.

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The arrival of the transported victims in Australia, allows the writer to dramatise how they will rebuild their lives through their involvement in theatre and how it will result in their transformation and reformation. Wertenbaker identifies themes such as the geographical and historical context in the ability to transcend circumstances and the ability of theatre to influence life to the characters and audience. There are two distinct social groups within the play, the socially higher, more educated officers and the socially lower, less educated convicts.

The two groups social statuses are clearly reflected in the language (The officers in general posses a far more superior vocabulary to that of the convicts) used representing both the historical and geographical circumstance in the late 18th century. In the first six scenes the audience is introduced to a historical play with elements of black comedy. The geographical fundamentals are already established in the first scene as the audience are immediately introduced to a voyage taking place at sea. The image of Robert Sideway being ‘flogged’ identifies the manner of which punishment is inflicted amongst the convicts.

In Act one Scene two a ‘Lone aboriginal Australian’ describes the fleet of convicts heading towards the Island as ‘a dream that has lost its way…… ‘ The aborigine continues, ‘…… best to leave alone. ‘ In this short scene, an emphasis clearly demonstrates the distinction between how we respond to tourists today in comparison to the reactions of people in the 18th century. The following scene incorporates activities which usually, only the socially higher persons in society would encourage, shooting birds.

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