91: Salt Creek Murders

20 Jun

Melissa Reeves wrote Salt Creek Murders in 2002 based on the true story of Malachi Martin and the Coorong murders in the mid-19th century.

Salt Creek Murders

The play centres on Jane Macmanamin, a young domestic worker who came to Salt Creek in South Australia to work at The Traveller’s Rest, owned by Nellie and John Robinson. When Jane first arrives she walks in on an amorous grope between Nellie and Malachi, the yard hand. Nellie lusts after Malachi’s brute strength and feels contempt for her husband with his withered arm and twisted back.

NELLIE: We got stuck coming round the coast road. The waves were pounding into us, I almost had the sea in my lap, when Malachi appeared out of nowhere. He stood knee deep in the sand and heaved and you could see the chords in his neck, stretched like piano wire, and the cart began to rise into the air, I’ve never seen a man so strong…

Within a week, John is dead, with his throat slit. As Malachi says to Jane:

MALACHI: This place you’ve come to, it’s different to any place you’ve ever been. It’s the frontier. A piece of paper with nothing written on it, not a word written on it. […] And you can become something quite different than what you were before, if you have a mind to. […] You can take what you want, take whatever you want, and feel no guilt, feel nothing … does that shock you?

Salt Creek Murders is a strange combination of Gothic thriller, historical saga and comedy. The characters at The Traveller’s Rest are all linked by greed and envy. Jane won’t leave because Nellie hasn’t paid her, but the longer she stays and keeps working unpaid, the larger the debt grows and the less chance there is of her ever being paid or able to leave. Malachi and Nellie are in a state of constant heat for each other and the other two characters, Trooper and Tracker, have the most bizarre and surreal conversations.

TRACKER: What are we?
TROOPER: What do you mean?
TRACKER: To each other
TROOPER: Friends of course
TRACKER: well of course…friends
TROOPER: What else but friends
TRACKER: …nothing…
TROOPER: spit it out
TRACKER: It has occurred to me that there are certain overtones of a man and his pet
TROOPER: Who is the man and who is the pet?
TRACKER: I am the pet of course.

Tracker is an Aboriginal man and he and Trooper discuss race, identity and the Romans and Carthaginians as if these were common topics for white police and Aborigines to have with each other in the 1850s.  At one point Trooper mentions the ugly features of Malachi: his “savage face” and “big cranium”.

TRACKER: All you migloo look ugly to me.
TROOPER: I look ugly?
TRACKER: oh yes…Like a man who’s been peeled.

The mix of contemporary thinking with history, comedy with murder and fact with fiction make Salt Creek Murders a fascinating read.

Not yet published. Available as a PDF.

Cast: 3M, 2F

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One Response to “91: Salt Creek Murders”

  1. Diane June 20, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    I do like it that white people look like someone that has been peeled!

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