The Drover’s Wife (Adaptation)

Adapted from Henry Lawson’s short story

 

TOWNSPERSON 1

Out here there is only bush all round.

SHEARER

Bush with no horizon, for the country is flat.

TOWNSPERSON 2

Out here it is nineteen miles to the nearest sign of civilisation.

BROTHER

Out here, we find a woman and her four children all alone in the Australian bush.

The DROVER’S WIFE sweeps the house. Four ragged children, TOMMY, JACKY, RUTH & BESSIE, chase each other inside and outside the house.

FARMER

Her husband, the drover, is away with his sheep.

BUSHMAN

The family live in a two-roomed house built of round timber, slabs, and stringy-bark, and floored with split slabs.

BUSHLADY

It is a lonely life, and a hard one.

SQUATTER

The Australian bush can be a dangerous place for a woman on her own with four children.

Suddenly one of the children stops outside the house and points to the ground.

RUTH

Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!

DROVER’S WIFE comes outside and picks up a stick.

DROVER’S WIFE

Where is it?

JACKY

Here! Gone into the wood-heap!

TOMMY

Stop there, mother! I’ll have him. Stand back! I’ll have the beggar!

DROVER’S WIFE

Tommy, come here, or you’ll be bit. Come here at once when I tell you, you little wretch!

TOMMY

There it goes! Under the house!

He runs after it, stick raised. The big, black dog, Alligator, breaks his chain and rushes after the snake.

BESSIE

Alligator! No!

His nose reaches the crack in the slabs just as the end of the snake’s tail disappears.

DROVER’S WIFE

Come over here, children! Stand near the dog-house while I watch for it.

SQUATTER

The Drover’s Wife gets two small dishes of milk and puts them near the wall to tempt the snake out; but an hour goes by and it does not show itself.

DROVER’S WIFE

Come into the kitchen, children, and climb up here. The table will be your bed tonight.

TOMMY (hiding his stick under the blanket)

I’ll lie awake all night and smash that blinded snake.

DROVER’S WIFE

Tommy, how many times have I told you not to swear!

JACKY

Mummy! Tommy’s skinnin’ me alive with his club. Make him take it out.

TOMMY

Shet up, Jacky! D’yer want to be bit with the snake?

JACKY

No.

TOMMY

If yer bit you’ll swell up, an’ smell, an’ turn red an’ green an’ blue all over till yer bust. Won’t he, mother?”

DROVER’S WIFE

Now then, don’t frighten the child. Go to sleep.

JACKY

I’m skeezed!

DROVER’S WIFE

Tommy, move over and make more room for your brother.

TOMMY

Mother! listen to them blank little possums. I’d like to screw their blanky necks.

JACKY

But they don’t hurt us, the little blanks!

DROVER’S WIFE (turning to Tommy)

There, I told you you’d teach Jacky to swear.

TOMMY

Mother! Do you think they’ll ever extricate the blank kangaroo?

DROVER’S WIFE

Lord! How am I to know, child? Go to sleep.

TOMMY

Will you wake me if the snake comes out?

DROVER’S WIFE

Yes. Go to sleep.

FARMER

It is near midnight. The children are asleep and the Drover’s Wife sits there still, sewing and reading the Young Ladies Journal.

SHEARER

Whenever she hears a noise she reaches for the stick.

TOWNSPERSON 1

She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves.

End of Excerpt

(c) Fiona Harris 2016

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