Anyone not familiar with Australian culture and geography may find it difficult to understand aspects of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. For one thing, in Australia a sharp division has long existed between attitudes toward the city and toward the country—or “the bush.” The bush is thought to represent the true Australia, and city life is considered a betrayal of bush values. A masculine world, the bush has bred a mythical man: strong, brave, silent, faithful, self-reliant. These men from the bush—where women are scarce and play a secondary role—take care of one another, share burdens, remain steadfast through all adversities, and form a distinctive alliance called “mateship.” The two leading male characters in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll are “mates,” who work as canecutters in tropical Queensland, a state about one-fifth the size of the United States. Finally, in contrast to the vast and sparsely populated bush where the men in the play spend most of the year, Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city of a million or more people and is located in southern Australia—more than two thousand miles from northern Queensland.
All the play’s action takes place in the living room of a house in one of Melbourne’s working-class neighborhoods. The drama opens by revealing the events of the past sixteen summers and introducing what will unfold during the seventeenth. (It should be noted that the Southern Hemisphere’s summer begins in December.) Barney and Roo, the canecutter mates from Queensland, have spent their past “lay-offs” with two Melbourne barmaids, Nancy and Olive, but since the men last returned to the canefields, Barney’s longtime lover, Nancy, has married a city man who works in a bookstore. Determined that this summer will be as pleasant as the previous ones, Olive, Roo’s faithful part-time lover, has recruited a replacement for Nancy, another barmaid named Pearl.
(The entire section is 793 words.)