Social and Cultural Issues Represented within The Removalists

Theatre reflects the society from which it springs, and in the case of The Removalists by David Williamson (1971), this reflection is an exploration of cultural and social issues of Australian society. Set in Melbourne in 1970’s Australian society, David Williamson investigates power, through the dynamics between men and women, and the violent relationships between Australians as a whole, focusing on the corruption of the police force that was most prevalent at this time. It is through my personal experience of performing this play and seeing them performed before me, that is ultimately informed by my experiential and literary study, that I can understand the concepts it explores to its entirety.

Ian Turner’s Introduction to The Removalists, written in 1972 (one year after David Williamson’s play was published), begins the discussion of the relationships between people in 1970’s Australia, a concept undeniably explored throughout the text. “The male-female relationship in Australia rests on a frightening sub-stratum of violence…But beyond that the Australian code of aggressive masculinity (which found its first expression in “mateship”) involves the positive isolation of women in their role as sexual objects.” Evidence of Turner’s statement is consistently shown throughout the text, both in quotes and stage directions. Simmonds and Kenny reflect this behavior entirely, vulgar language against women becoming common place. Simmonds refers to his own daughter as “a good arse, but she’s an irritable bitch”, and his indecency extends much farther than his own family. When Kate and Fiona enter the station to report domestic abuse, Simmonds insists on taking photographs of Fiona’s bruises: [FIONA hesitantly rolls up her sweater. SIMMONDS inspects her hips and back very slowly, prodding her flesh slowly and lasciviously.] Simmonds even comments on Fiona’s choice not to wear a bra, “One of these braless birds eh?”. Kenny treats women equally harshly, calling his wife a “dumb twit” and his sister-in-law “the greatest twat flasher in Melbourne”, vulgar slang exemplifying the indecency of the quote. In performance, it is extremely important to capture the perverted nature of these two men in some of their actions. Whilst it is difficult and uncomfortable for an actor, I have seen a case where it is done well, and one where it is done poorly, and I can safely say that the creepier the portrayal of Kenny and Simmonds, the more effective the play is as a whole.

The relationship between people and their environment, in particular, the role of women in 1970’s Australian society, is made extremely clear within The Removalists, as Kenny uses his position as the breadwinner to control Fiona. In the second act of the play, it is discovered that the reason that Kenny beat Fiona was because she did not empty the rubbish bin. Stage directions exhibit his belief that he is just in what he did when he states: [indignantly] – “That’s your job. I can’t understand how a mother could let the kitchen tidy get in that state when she’s got a young daughter whose health might be endangered.” Kenny also disrespectfully speaks about his sex life with Fiona, in front of other men and women, examples including, “You squeal like a stuck pig for me in bed” and “it was all she could do to spread the legs for me occasionally”. The humiliation of Kenny’s words upon Fiona is displayed in her stage directions following, stating that she is [flaring]. These quotes show the role many women played in 1970’s Australian society, as a sexual object for men to use and abuse. Domestic violence, in that time, was so common that police officers had “a saying in the trade: ‘Never arrest a wife basher if his missus is still warm’.” Most shockingly, however, is the response from the women in regard to the way they are treated by men, shown by Fiona, “It doesn’t worry us. Really. We’re used to it.”

Police corruption is quickly established in David Williamson’s The Removalists, suggesting that it reflects the violent relationships between people, and between people and their environment in 1970’s Australia. Australian culture, in the 1970’s at least, was one that was perpetually violent. Ian Turner, in the Introduction, suggests that it arises from Australia’s convict history. Interactions between people in the play are dominated by violence, and assault almost always seems to be the answer for everything. This is not just in the case of the police officers, but also with normal characters, such as the Removalist and Kenny. After only having just met Ross, Simmonds threatens him to establish a sense of power: “You’ll go for a row of shitcans if you try anything smart with me, boy.” When conflict arises between Kenny and the Removalist, violence is suggested as a means of resolution: “Look. Piss off or I’ll spray the back of your throat with your teeth.” / “Go on. Take a swing, mate. See what happens. Take a swing.” Violence is not only perpetuated by individuals, but ignored by bystanders, who understand it as normalcy. This is evident when Simmonds is bashing Kenny and the Removalist avoids getting involved, “No need to get shirty with me, mate. You can punch up that bastard all you like, but I’ve got me job to do.”

Another thematic exploration within David Williamson’s play is the relationship between people and their environment, namely, police corruption in 1970’s society. The opening stage directions exhibit the reality of misconduct that was prevalent during the 1970’s in Australia: [The play opens in a small inner suburban police station built fairly recently but already having an air of decrepit inefficiency.] Ross is introduced as a foil to Simmonds, where Simmonds is corrupted, Ross is innocent, and where Simmonds has control, Ross does not, until the end of the play that is. Ross’ innocence provides a reprieve for the audience, who hope that his purity will not be corrupted. In the last scene, Ross is ultimately and completely affected by the actions of Simmonds and begins to mirror the villainous character, an extremely uncomfortable resolution for the audience. The first half of the first act is just dialogue between the two characters, which not only displays the lack of work done in the force but establishes their relationship as partners. Simmonds quickly dominates Ross in power, but the dynamics between the two are quite complex and must be thoroughly thought of when translating the script onto the stage. For an assessment at school, I had to act as Simmonds and the connection between myself and the character of Ross was one that had to be worked on to be balanced correctly. It is my suggestion that the power struggle between the two is carefully constructed early on, to create a more rounded piece. Simmonds continually displays corruption throughout the entirety of the play, using excessive violence to detain Kenny, accepting and using bribery, making reference to his promotion of prostitution (including his own adulterous use of the services), and his lack of formal police work, “I have never made an arrest in all my twenty-three years in the force”. The peak of police corruption comes at the end of the play, when Ross kills Kenny and believes that he can get away with it, “They won’t put us in for life, will they Serg? They never put us cops away for as long as ordinary blokes, do they?” David Wlliamson carefully and successfully explores relationships between people, and between people and their environment, through his 1971 play The Removalists.

David Williamson’s The Removalists, in performance, explore the social and cultural issues pertaining to 1970’s Australian society, in particular, the violent relationships between members of society. It also looks into the role of women in 1970’s Australian society, and police corruption within this period. Although it details a dark period of Australia’s history, it is not entirely disheartening, and can be heart-warming and hopeful in delivery.