Northern Australia, the dirt, the heat, the loneliness, everything about it says that it’s man’s country. The men ’round these parts are rougher, tougher, and louder than any other men in the country. The women up there are even more so. Ma Bates and her daughters are the only white woman for at least a hundred miles, until now.
Men Without Wives is an Australian drama where the landscape is as much a character as the cast themselves. Soaked with local slang and vernacular, this play perfectly showcases life in the Northern Territory in the early 1930s. It captures the people, the problems, the humour and the relationships between men and women, older and younger generations, different races and different ways of life.
Life in the North can be tough, but some would rather die than leave it behind.
Men Without Wives is a historic achievement for female Australian playwrights and a true-to-life portrayal of North Australia. Within our modern context, its study of the isolation of women, whiteness, and geography makes it fodder for Intersectional Feminism.
Henrietta Drake-Brockman was one of the two most influential playwrights of her generation (the other being Katharine Susannah Prichard), adding the female perspective to the overwhelmingly masculine Australian Bush Legend. She was also one of the original members of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Western Australia. The majority of her work was inspired by the North-West region of Australia, and holds detailed snapshots of life in Northern Australia at the time, including speech patterns, daily rituals, and dialects.
Men Without Wives was her most successful play, produced in both Perth and Sydney.
The play’s central theme is women occupying male spaces, a reflection of the contemporary issue. Female playwrights rose to prominence in Australia for a number of reasons following the war. Among them was the (tragic) absence of two separate generations of young men. It is a painful fact that it took a cataclysmic war for women to get their collective foot in the door, let alone be noticed for their own merits. This play is important to the Australian national theatre cannon not only for its geographically based narrative, but also for its role in the history of plays written by women, about women.
“…there is little denying the piece’s intrinsic value as a time capsule memento of a period of Australian cultural and theatre history when women writers were stationed at the movement’s vanguard rather than the rear flank,” Stephen Carelton, 2012.
Men Without Wives was first performed in Sydney in 1938 receiving praise for its script. The play has enjoyed a long life in Australian theatres including a season in Adelaide at the Arts Theatre, opening on the 24th of August 1963.
ISBN 978 1 921390 28 9