The compassionate novel Deadly Unna?, written by Phillip Gwynne, creates vivid characters and depicts race discourses experienced by Gary Black (also known as Blacky) in a fictitious South Australian coastal community. The novel portrays a typical coastal town of the 1970s and is set mainly in the Port: the local Pub, the Black family home and the jetty, where the local children play. The story explores the racism between the Nungas (the indigenous population who live at the Point) and the Gooynas (the white population who live at the Port). As Blacky is from the Port, he only begins to develop awareness of the racism around him as a result of his friendship with Dumby Red, a Nunga football player, and consequently stops making racist jokes and comments. Analysis of racist ideas in the town, the marginalisation of the Nunga community, Blacky’s changing beliefs and how it influences and empowers him to respond to the death of Dumby Red, reveals that Gwynne encourages the reader to reject the racist values, attitudes and beliefs of Blacky’s community.
In the novel ‘Deadly Unna?’ various discourses about racism are portrayed, exemplifying the individual’s belief, attitudes and the values of the characters. The reader is positioned to view Blacky as having no knowledge of how racist his friends are through the racist comments that are made amongst them and Blacky’s going along with it. At the start Blacky may not have been aware of the racism around him as he previously laughed and even told racist jokes. The statement “And the priest says I got the black bastard with the door. And they all laughed all the regulars. Especially Slogsy. But I didn’t. I don’t know why, I’d laughed at the joke beforeâ€¦But tonight it didn’t seem so funny anymore. And I knew it had to do with Dumby and Clarence and Tommy” (p.161) gives prime example of the dominant racist ideology of the town. Racism can also be seen when Blacky witnessing the fight between Dumby and Mad Dog. After Mad Dog punches Dumby in the side of the face, Mad Dog makes a racist comment; “Don’t shake hands with no boongs.” (p.29). Blacky’s reaction is selfish because he thanked Dumby for saving him, instead of asking how he is feeling after the racist comment made by Mad Dog, which demonstrates the racism within the community. Blacky becomes aware of racism when he is sitting in the shed with Clarence and notices a racist comment in graffiti on the wall above Clarence: “BOONGS PISS OFF.” (p.121)
Blacky becomes more aware of racism when the Best On Ground Award (B.O.G.) is announced for the grand final. Blacky is angry about Mark Robertson winning the B.O.G. because Dumby Red played a better game. Blacky believes that Mark only won it for being white. “Mark Arks getting B.O.G. It’s bullshit. That’s Dumby’s Trophy.” (p.133) Blacky reacts by running outside with anger building inside him, telling somebody in his way to ‘Piss Off'(p.133). Blacky realises how racist his town is towards the Nungas: “Mark Arks- what a joke! It just wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. But what could I do?” (p.134). Blacky decides to quit football “Because you the team cheated Dumby out of his medal, you lousy bastards.”(p.134) These events are a prime example of the strength of racism in the town, and the marginalisation of the Nungas community.
Pickles and Darcy both think that Dumby deserved to die when Blacky tells them about Dumby’s funeral, showing the extent to which the Nungas community is marginalised. The injustice of these attitudes influences and empowers Blacky to respond to the death of Dumby: “The old man reckons he got what he deserved.” “Yeah” (p.206). Blacky sees his friends do not care for the Nungas. To show respect Blacky decides to go to Dumby’s funeral and later decides to get rid of the racist graffiti stating ‘BOONGS PISS OFF’. Blacky seeks to counter the spread of racism caused by the signs, so he stands up to his father by painting over all the “BOONGS PISS OFF” signs, as the signs promote racism to grow throughout the community. If Blacky was not angry because of the words ‘BOONGS PISS OFF’ then he would not have the courage to stand up to his dad. Blacky’s father wants the sign on his shed, asking Blacky “ARE YOU OUT OFF YOUR FUCKING MIND?” (p.264) Blacky reacts by taking his dad’s keys, best brushes and paint to fix the graffiti. At the end of this incident Blacky develops awareness that his friends, family and town are racist.
Blacky stops laughing and telling racist jokes when he gets to know Dumby Red and his family. Blacky’s awareness of racism is demonstrated when he is prepared to do something about the graffiti, as he feels guilty about the graffiti and takes it upon himself to get rid of it. Blacky even starts to have dreams about Slogsy writing ‘BOONGS PISS OFF’ (p.258-259) all over the town making him even more determined to do something about the graffiti and racism. This shows Blacky’s emerging ideology and how it influences and empowers Him to respond to the death of Dumby. Although the town culture is racist Blacky’s view is altered after being friends with some Aboriginals.
Blacky’s friendship with Dumby Red causes Blacky to stop making racist jokes and comments. Throughout the novel Gwynne drives the reader to reject the racist values, attitudes and beliefs of Blacky’s community, as seen in his portrayal of racist ideas in the town, the marginalisation of the Nunga community, Blacky’s emerging ideology and how it influences and empowers him to respond to the death of Dumby.