Our Country's Good: The Story

Study Information

Our Country's Good

The Story:

This play is based on fact. By the middle of the seventeenth century the middle class and wealthier citizens of England were deeply frightened of a rising crime rate - particularly crimes against property - which had been created by a swelling population and widespread unemployment. did not result in funding for such construction. The idea was proposed that convicts could be transported - exiled would be a more accurate term - to a remote part of the globe where the British where they could be used as free laborers to create a strategically located naval outpost: Australia.

When the first fleet arrived at this new penal colony, carrying the first Europeans who would live there, it is estimated that the Aboriginal population of the continent numbered about 300,000, that is roughly one person to every ten square miles. The Royal Marines who served as jailers resented being ordered to this ignoble duty in such an undeveloped part of the world. Their own diaries have shown historians that many of the captors took out their frustrations in brutal treatment of the prisoners. We also learn from these same sources that, in 1789, several of the convicts and one of the officers decided to put on a play for the enjoyment of the entire camp. None had any experience in the theatre, and only a few of the convicts could read, but, against all odds play on the Australian continent, but also in teaching themselves and their observers much about compassion, cooperation, and creativity.

Ms. Timberlake Wertenbaker, a playwright who gained much acclaim in the British theatre in the 1980’s, wrote this play after reading about the history of the convict transportation and this noteworthy amateur theatrical performance. It is her design, in Our Country’s Good, that the actors play both convicts and jailers -- a rich device that places on trial all of our assumptions about what “civilization” means. One critic “a tribute to the transforming power of drama.

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