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The Happy Land by Marcus Clarke



THEMES: Australia, Politics
LENGTH: 45 Minutes

The women of Fairyland grow restless.


The women of Fairyland grow restless in Marcus Clarke‘s The Happy Land.


Life above the clouds has grown dull and they wish to experience the mortal world, a place they think is far to wicked for the likes of them. So rather than travelling there themselves, they will bring a touch of Earth too Fairyland. Naturally, the visitors to Fairyland would have to be well learned, respectful, trustworthy and must represent the best aspects of mankind, and the only place to find such men is in the Victorian parliament, of course. So, without delay, three ‘upstanding’ examples of Victorian government are whisked away to Fairyland to teach its fairest residents about the political economy.


Fairy Court a threat to Australian Parliament!

The story behind the play is a tale of the working class man taking a swing at the highborn, and getting flattened. Clarke was a journalist, celebrated novelist, and performed playwright. Shortly after The Happy Land was produced/shut down he declared bankruptcy and died.

Had his timing been different, Clarke’s play may have been able to finish its season in Melbourne, but this is what made it so notable. The Happy Land was staged in the lead up to the Victorian election, in a time where the houses of parliament resembled the class struggle, suffragists constantly campaigned, and the press was making a farce of the idea of women being in politics. In it Clarke dragged three key Victorian MPs in a similar style to the 2016 US Election SNL skits: not subtle. Despite being pre-emptively banned, the show went on in an abridged version. Audiences enjoyed it with a copy of the full play script in their hands, having been circulated through a popular newspaper. The process of putting the play on and protesting about it being taken off the stage made it just as notorious as the original dialogue [would have], and extends the political drama well past the footlights. The entire story of the play, its making, and its larrikin playwright, feeds into a national dialogue about freedom of speech, sources of power, and the quintessentially Australian healthy disrespect for authority.


Marcus Clarke wrote The Happy Land, an Australian adaptation of an English political burlesque in 1873, however it was not performed until January 1880, by the Academy of Music in Melbourne. Following the two official performances, the play was famously banned in Victoria. Staged in the lead up to a Victorian election, the political satire was feared by the Chief Secretary as he faced the crucial re-election period. He moved pre-emptively and prohibited any version of the play be localised in Melbourne. He acted under Victoria’s Licensed Theatre Statute of 1865, which granted him the power to forbid a piece of theatre he considered unsavoury. This power had never been invoked before and caused a political uproar. The play was subsequently performed at other colonies in Australia without problems.

ISBN 978 192190 26 5

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