In June, 1789, only eighteen months after the arrival of the First Fleet, George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer (pr. 1706) was performed in Sydney by a cast of convicts as a King’s Birthday entertainment for an audience of sixty that included the colonial governor. Thereafter, musical entertainments as well as civil and religious spectacles and stage plays were commonplace; that is, theater became an integral part of the regional culture, and taking into account the educational background of some of the convicts, one might have expected original dramatic materials making use of the novel local milieu. Convicts, soldiers, settlers, and Aborigines isolated in a generally inhospitable and inaccessible environment would seem to have offered ample scope for plays on themes of expatriation, penitence, ambition, fortitude, and rivalry set in unusual, if not exotic, locales, but a deference to established, successful models, a reluctance to experiment and minimal leisure combined to keep local drama imitative, derivative, and repetitious in structure, theme, and characters. These traits are to be found in the other genres also; it was some time before recognizably Australian characters, speech, and subjects were widely incorporated into Australian literature.
Literary reputations in Australia were traditionally based on achievement in poetry or fiction, while the dominance of comedy and musical comedy in commercial theaters (a reflection of British theater offerings) eliminated the stimulus to attempt serious plays and tragedies, which were relegated to little theaters—located in suburbs or in the insalubrious sections of the capital cities, in the main. A publishing industry that...
(The entire section is 698 words.)