A radio play by John P Rooney
BBC Radio 4 The Afternoon Play January 15, 2007
Available on "Listen Again" RealAudio internet stream(One might have to click on "Listen on a stand alone player" to get the stream clip to go.) through Jan 21, 2007
This is a period piece, a play about three young Irish men in Belfast in the 1966. They see their prospects as rather slim unemployed at home. They find that they can get assisted passage to Australia which they don't have to repay if they stay two years. So they set off to seek their fortune. They go via a ship. A trip that must take a very long time. But, no matter, that is not the business of this play. It only has 45 minutes to tell the story of two years in Australia so we get there pretty quickly and it is there that the interesting drama really begins. What unfolds is a more or less universal immigrant story. They have a rather hard time finding decent work and end up falling in with a rather nasty exploitive contractor. So off the three of them go with this man and find themselves in a very rough situation with dangerous work. They end up splitting off in ways that will not be told here so as not to spoil the enjoyment of the story.
The play brings up several issues. The plight of newcomers who find themselves vulnerable to exploitation being only one if them. That is obvious and of course continues today all over the world. At least the young men in the play had some sort of papers, they were not illegal. I don't suppose that Australia is so open to uneducated, unskilled newcomers as it was 40 years ago. And yet even with that they find it very hard, find themselves entrapped in backbreaking, dangerous work. This brought to mind the plight of women who find themselves going for an offer of a new life out of misery and end up as sex slaves in the new land with little recourse to do much about it. This sort of thing goes on today all over our glorious modern world. Slavery lives today.
Another issue is who become the volunteer immigrants. True it is often the unemployed, but the young men in the play didn't have to set off to the new land. Surely there were thousands of others in a similar situation back home who chose to remain do to ties with family or just not really being the adventurous sort. The men in the play were self selected. It is the self selected adventurous ones who set off, leave home regardless of relational ties and take off. And who are these people who ended up making modern industrial nations out of the former tribal close to nature lands of Australia or North America?
Are they the most aggressive, the most yearning of their breed? Are they ones who built the (dangerous?) superpower of the current USA? Are they all adventurous young men seeking their fortune, traveling far to achieve it and not too concerned in the end who they have to push out of the way or kill to get it and keep it?
Some of these issues of the American character are addressed in American Mania a book by Peter C. Whybrow. It's an interesting read.
Immigrants brushes up against these issues in this very entertaining and personal coming of age adventure play. It's a fast 45 minutes and worth the listen.