Dorothy Hewett’s first play tells of life in Sydney’s Redfern in the early 1950s. It’s a place and time she knew well, having lived in Redfern for nine years, with the family on which she based the Dockertys living just down the street from her.
This Old Man Comes Rolling Home is a play about families, poverty, disillusion, politics and love. It’s set very clearly in a particular time and place but the thwarted love, the largeness and smallness of heart and the determination to persevere and survive are recognisable anywhere and at any time.
Laurie Dockerty used to be the Belle of Bundaberg. Now she’s an alcoholic mother of seven, barely able to drag herself from the couch to the pub. Her children cry for her attention but she nurses the bottle more than she nursed any of them. Her husband Tom is a hard working, hard drinking, idealistic member of the Communist party. He’s made sure none of his children are drinkers by setting up a life-long aversion to alcohol:
TOM: I cured ‘im of that vice when he was two year old. Got him shickered on beer. He herked his guts out. Never touched it since, have you, Lan?
Of the seven children, Julie (25) and Lan (21) are the only two who seem to have a hope of surviving their upbringing semi-intact.
JULIE: When I was a little girl I didn’t dream about a prince on a white charger. Not me. I dreamed about a boy in a leather coat ridin’ a big fast Thunderbird. I’d settle for that. To go flyin’ through the streets in the spring-time up inter the Blue Mountains with the gum leaves glitterin’ under our tyres. We’d ride away out a the dark streets and the little huddled houses with a spurt of exhaust and the sky on our backs … and then I wouldn’t mind comin’ back down to Redfern and Malleys and the seven o’ clock start on the zombie parade.
But the boy Julie loves has already done time in prison and doesn’t seem able to give her even the little that she dreams of. And Lan has married his 16-year-old girlfriend because she’s pregnant. She desperately wants to get out of Redfern and have a housing commission place of their own, but it looks as if they’ll be stuck under the same roof as the rest of the family.
EDIE: Nothin’ turned out how I wanted it, no apple tree, little and dark-barked and sweet, in the back yard, no petunias in them winder boxes, and no fresh air. Nothin’ grows ‘ere, nothin’. ‘Cept babies and people. They grow … wivout petunias, wivout apple trees, wivout fresh air. Ain’t it the greatest bloody miracle?
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 9M, 9F (some doubling possible)