Gwen Meredith wrote Great Inheritance as a radio documentary play during WWII. It’s a play written about the dangers of soil erosion, so is an issues based and factual play, more a teaching aid than a drama. What’s startling is that after 60 years we still need to learn the same lessons.
What I most enjoyed about Great Inheritance was the way Meredith used voices and direct address to get her message across. The play begins with voices of rain and voices of water, calling to wash the soil from the land, down the gullies, off the slopes and away. The voices and sound effects fade and an announcer tells the audience the name of the play, the author and the fact that it is a ‘documentary play’. Then there’s the sound of gunfire and the narrator begins.
NARRATOR: Libya, 1940. Libya, a desert then as now. And you are in the middle of it. You’re fighting a war […] You think of the sand. Think of it – and curse it, as it gets in your eyes, in your clothes, your equipment, in your hair and your food and your mouth. You spit, and it rolls up into a smug little sand-coated ball. You’ve seen it do that on the dusty plains at home. You thought they were bad enough, but they were nothing like this.
The ‘you’ the narrator refers to is Jim, an Australian farmer now serving as a soldier in WWII. Jim curses the sand and his mate Joe tells him that it didn’t always used to be like this. That the land in Libya used to be good wheat country and wine country before the Romans came and started farming it.
JOE: But that’s how they reckon it was – cut down the trees – took the heart out of the soil and then, when the locals moved in on ’em and the wind and the goats took charge, well, it all just went to pot. Probably all the top soil is clutterin’ up the bottom of the ocean by this. And here’s not the only place.
There are a few more history lessons and then a shell explodes and kills Joe and sends Jim back to his farm and to his wife Emma and their kids.
EMMA: Whew! This kitchen’s like an oven. It must be the hottest summer we’ve ever had – the hottest and the driest.
JIM: I reckon we’re going to get rain.
EMMA: But you’ve been reckoning that for the last four months. Hoping’s not believing with me, Jim.
JIM: I’m not just hoping, though Lord knows we need it. The pastures are nearly eaten out. And we need rain for the fallow, too, before we can plant. If you ask me, the wheat and sheep chap’s up against it all ways.
EMMA: And with the bank always yapping at our heels! Oh well!
The morals in Great Inheritance are delivered with a heavy hand but the dialogue is often deft and shows Meredith’s bright future as the writer and creator of The Lawsons, a highly successful radio serial.
Cast: many voices