There can be no doubt about the accuracy of the play's comment. The political detail behind it is described by H.G. Kippax in his introduction to the published script. (In fact the election, and the rising and falling hopes for a Labor victory, provide the play's central metaphor, as we shall see below.) But there is also a great deal of social detail which gives a 'shock of recognition' to audiences. All the trappings of an Australian middle-class, trendy party are there: the beer, the Twisties, the home-made pizzas, the bawdy jokes and cracking-on by the men, the women talking about their husbands in the corner (although the details of their conversation were shocking to some in 1972) and the gradual decline into drunken argument. The play caused a national wave of confession by people who said that they'd been to parties just like that.
The characters are, or were, a perfect selection of types of a certain class of Australians. They represent the new professional class of teachers, psychologists, lawyers and others whom one social commentator has called 'sons of ocker'. They are a generation educated in the affluent boom years of the Menzies era, beyond the social and economic expectations of their parents; and, some would say, beyond their own capacity to take part in civilised life. They have money, social status and political ideas but they still retain much of the 'coarse' ocker behaviour of the Australian tradition. One English journalist has said that the trouble with Australians is that you can't tell from their behaviour or language how educated they are. You can see this either as a refreshing aspect of Australian egalitarianism, or a sad comment on Australian vulgarity.
The issue that is raised by the political and social detail in the play is: has it become dated? Certainly a theatre doing the play now would have difficulty making some of the references and some of the jokes work on stage. Memories of the DLP, Vincent Gair, John Gorton and John McEwen fade with each passing year, and since the play first appeared Gough Whitlam has come and gone. Even Bob Hawke will presumably one day be forgotten. More importantly the social behaviour as presented in the play may be changing. Are Australian parties still like that? Is the rather frantic preoccupation with getting drunk and cracking-on still an accurate reflection of Australian social life? In this age of general disillusion do the small disappointments in
Don's Party still seem important? These are interesting questions for discussion.
In any case there are other concerns in the play which may give it a more universal appeal. The characters are more than just political and social types. They represent different general human traits, and their personal concerns and problems—how to cope with disappointment, how to get on with each other, how to find enduring satisfaction—are common in societies everywhere. This raises a second important aspect of the play.
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