‘Deadly Unna?’ was the first novel of the famous Australian author, Phillip Gwynne, published in 1998. The fascinating drama novel expresses the inter-racial friendship between two teenage boys, Gary “Blacky” Black and “Dumby” Red. The book focuses on many complications the adolescence face, for example racism, favouritism, relationships, families, exclusion and more.
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‘Deadly Unna?’ is set in the Port and Peninsula of South Australia, the ‘Goonyas’ (white Australians) are based in the Port and the ‘Nungas’ (the Aboriginals) are located on the Peninsula. The reason for this separation is to emphasise the racial tension between the white Australians and the Aboriginals that the author is trying to present.
The story is told from the perspective of the main character, ‘Blacky’. As the story is being told by a white Australian you would be led to believe that it is going to be a very biased story but in this case it is quite the opposite situation. Gary Black is one of the few, if not the only, characters from the Port that truly understands the similarity that the two races acquire which enables the readr to see Aboriginals in a different light from the generalised/sterotypical image common in Australia.
Gary “Blacky” Black is the major character in this novel, as the basis of the book revolves around him and his experiences and complications he faces in his youthful life. Blacky is more academic then he is sport orientated, though saying this he does play football. Blacky has a rather large family consisting of eight children, a stay-at-home mother and a hindering father. Blacky gets along with his siblings though they do have the occasional conflict, he is proud of his mother but unfortunately has a weak relationship with his father because of a previous controversy.
Though Dumby Red did not physically appear very often throughout the book, one particular incident involving Dumby Red arose great racial contention. Dumby Red was a very enthusiastic, optimistic and extremely self-assertive character. He was responsible for Blacky’s change of mind towards the Aboriginals, he was the one the made Blacky see the Aboriginals for who they really are, not who they are said to be.
‘Pickles’ is Blacky’s best friend, he in highly intolerable with his disgusting habits and his lack of general hygiene and know one will ever know why Blacky’s relationship with him is so strong. ‘Arks’ is Blacky’s over enthusiastic and encouraging football coach, he was a great influence on Blacky’s football performance in the grand final. Clarence is Dumby Red’s sister, at one point in the novel Blacky was rather fond of her though he was warned by Darcy that he must be careful who he associates himself with. Darcy is Blackys next door neighbour, the elderly man is very king to young Blacky and is always full of good advice, Blacky enjoys spending time with him and hearing about his fascinating life.
The book is separated into two sections, winter and summer. Winter being the football season and summer the off season. The beginning of the novel focuses on football and Blacky’s attempt to be the hero of his team. It briefly touches on relationship and racial difficulties though the real complications reach their climax towards summer. Horrific crimes occur making the plot very interesting, people are being blamed, hearts are being broken and choices are having to be made.
The Port’s football team make the grand final, disaster occurs on a boat, family relationships are tested, there is dispute at the football awards, the death of a well loved character provokes outrage throughout the community, true friendship is being questioned and Blacky follows his heart to do what is right.
The purpose/aim of ‘Deadly Unna?’ is to highlight the seriousness of racism that takes place in the country we live in, as well as focusing on many concerns that adolescences face today. This is very effective as the book is intended for young adults meaning they are able to relate and compare their lives to the ones created in the book.
The use of Australian ‘slang’ (for example youse, ya and g’day) in the novel was also very powerful as it strengthened the realism of the characters. Many people nowadays do speak with ‘slang’ and it is the stereotypical way the true Australians communicate.
A definite strength of the book is that it is written in first person, the use of Blacky’s thoughts and feelings throughout allows insight into the life he lives during the dramas that occur. The fact that Blacky was not bias in his feeling towards the Aborigines also assisted in allowing the reader to understand both sides of the racial conflict.
The only minor weaknesses in the novel were the friendship between Blacky and Dumby Red. Though is does discus how good of ‘mates’ they were, it did not go into great detail of the complexities they face because of their inter-racial relationship. The other flaw in the novel was the misleading blurb, the blurb deceives the reader to think that the story line will be revolved around Blacky and Dumby Red facing the community whereas it focus on the much broader community facing the truth about the Aborigines.
Overall the book was thoroughly enjoyable and should be recommended to other teenagers. The humour the novel possesses mixed in with the moving theme of racism made the book a worthwhile read. As James Bryce, a diplomat, historian and politician, said “The worth of the book is measured by what you can carry away from it”.