The story and its themes Deadly, Unna? is one year in the life of fourteen year-old Gary ‘Blacky’ Black. Like most boys his age, he plays football, worries about what to say to girls, shirks responsibility and has problems at home. However, through his brief friendship with Dumby Red, one of the local Aborigines, Blacky learns important lessons about human dignity, racism, justice, death, courage, family and friendship. As the novel opens, Blacky is worried about the imminent grand final and the responsibility he carries as the team’s new first ruck. His opponent will be the unstoppable ‘Thumper’.
To protect himself, Blacky has devised the ‘Thumper tackle’ which is the ultimate defence of the coward: it looks like he is trying to tackle his opponent but is really an elaborate dodge. Blacky spends much of that winter dodging responsibility in a similar manner. By the end of the following summer, however, he understands the importance of making a stand and is able to do so. His brothers and sisters join him in his stand and the novel ends with Blacky at peace with himself, happy in his relationship with his siblings, and confident that he will be able to deal with the problems that will come with the morning.
The setting and structure The novel is set in recent times on a peninsula in South Australia. Blacky and his family live in the ‘the Port’ where the whites, or Goonyas, live. Dumby lives out at ‘the Point’ with the Nungas, the Aborigines. The Port is a typical sleepy coastal town. In winter, the only action in town is the local football competition; in summer, action revolves around the beach and the stimulus provided by the annual influx of ‘campers’. The novel is therefore divided into two sections: Winter and Summer.
In winter, in the football team, the short friendship between Blacky and Dumby develops and Blacky begins to see and resent the racism in his community. In summer, he is smitten by the camper, Cathy, and in his desire for her approval, he forgets his Nunga friends. The summer also brings the tragic death of Dumby. Blacky’s determination to attend Dumby’s funeral marks a turning point. He knows his actions will put an end to his blossoming friendship with Cathy and bring the full weight of his father’s rage upon him.
Nevertheless, he does get to the funeral and the experience gives him the courage to make a further stand. It is clear when he and his siblings paint over the ‘BOONGS PISS OFF’ graffiti, how much he has matured. He is standing up for something important. Although he knows that he can’t change the attitudes of the Port overnight and the slogan may well reappear, he also knows he has at last taken responsibility for something he can change, ‘not forever, but for tonight anyway’. Year levels Deadly, unna? is suitable for study at years eight and nine. Questions while you’re reading DEADLY, UNNA? Phillip Gwynne