The Golden Age (play)

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The Golden Age is a 1985 play written by Australian writer and playwright Louis Nowra.[1] It is based on the story that Nowra heard from an academic about "a strange group of people in the wilds of South-West Tasmania just before World War II".[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Francis Morris, a young, enthusiastic engineer from Melbourne, and his wealthy friend Peter, a geologist, depart on an endeavour of exploring the wilds of Tasmania. After becoming lost in the wilderness, they stumble upon a group of people who have been living in isolation since the mid-19th century.

Because of this social seclusion the tribe develops its own unique language and culture constructed upon the social conventions of Regency England. Upon returning to Hobart, the pair informs Peter's father Dr William Archer of the group, and he arranges for their integration back into civilisation.

The group does not acclimatise into society well, and are seen as "an endorsement of Nazi beliefs" in relation to their mental incapabilities. As a result the tribe is imprisoned in an asylum, whilst in the meantime with the advent of World War II, Peter and Francis are sent to Germany to fight. In the years that follow, one by one each member of the group dies, with the exception of Betsheb, leaving her suffering "profound depressions" and in an unfit condition to be released, so for another year she remains at New Norfolk Asylum.

Francis is eventually sent back to Australia, and after being disillusioned and traumatised by the events of the war, as well as resentful of the Australian attitude towards our history and mistakes, he elects to live with Betsheb once more in the wilderness, taking her back home.


The play addresses many themes and ideas. The lost tribe has been seen as an allegory for the Tasmanian Aborigines, and indeed all Aborigines and indigenous people. The play also addresses the basis, and the flaws, of the Australian culture.

Many of its themes are consistent with Tasmanian Gothic literature and it is considered a good modern example of the genre. It has been described as one of Nowra's great theatrical achievements.[3]


  1. ^ Currency Press - The Golden Age
  2. ^ From the preface to The Golden Age
  3. ^ Theatre Australia