Nan Dear

Nan Dear, as stipulated by her birth certificate, was born beside the Murray River and takes immense pride in her rich Aboriginal heritage and ancestral lands. Her identity is intimately entwined with the Murray River and the place she was unceremoniously uprooted from, specifically Cummeragunja. This brutal eviction leaves an undercurrent of bitterness that influences her outlook on life. Despite the challenges she’s faced, Nan Dear is defined by an unwavering sense of responsibility and practicality, focusing primarily on providing for her family and ensuring their safety.

Being the family’s elder, her interactions with her daughter, Gladys, and granddaughter, Dolly, oscillate between care and rigid discipline. She often imparts wisdom to Dolly, like emphasizing the significance of familial ties to prevent inadvertent relationships with kin. Nan Dear’s grasp of her lineage is vast, although she might pretend otherwise when expedient, hinting at a complex rapport with her past.

Her cultural convictions subtly emerge, most notably in her scoffing at the idea of needing white gloves for a royal visit and her declaration of, “She’s not my queen.” This aversion to the royal visit and the indifference towards Gladys’s fascination with the monarchy reflect her underlying dismissal of colonial hegemony and a lean towards Aboriginal customs.

Nan Dear embodies resilience, a quality that goes beyond being personal and becomes representative of her community’s fortitude. Her resolution to return to her roots regardless of hardship is evident in expressions like “Born [by the Murray River] and by crikey I’m gunna go back and die there.” This determination to reunite with her birthplace, symbolized by the simple joy of consuming swan eggs before she passes, reveals a heartfelt bond with her origins.

Her experience of displacement is deeply embedded in historical infractions, as underscored by her acrid memories of compulsory expulsion from Cummeragunja. This account highlights the reality of forced relocations of Aboriginal people and the subsequent loss of home and culture. It lends a critical viewpoint on the aftermath of colonial policies on Aboriginal communities.

In conclusion, Nan Dear, with her fierce independence, instills depth and veracity into the narrative of “Rainbow’s End.” Her dialogue is laced with a subtle defiance, unveiling a character sculpted by hardships yet unfaltering in spirit. She personifies a generation of Aboriginal individuals who, despite systemic oppression, upheld their cultural identity with dignity. She confronts the audience with the stark truth about her community’s standing by recollecting past experiences, showcasing an undeterred resolve to withstand and challenge these realities.

Gladys Banks

In Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End,” the character of Gladys Banks emerges as a powerful symbol of the dreams and dilemmas of an Aboriginal woman during the 1950s in Australia. This multifaceted character finds herself torn between her cultural ancestry and a yearning for advancement and validation within a wider society that’s often hostile. Being Nan Dear’s daughter and Dolly’s mother, Gladys finds herself bridging gaps between old customs and her daughter’s potential for new opportunities. A particular scene that pinpoints her ambitions and protective motherly instincts is when she approaches the bank manager, presenting Dolly for a teller’s position. Despite her pride in declaring, “She’s just completed her Leaving Certificate—the first in the family—with real good grades… ‘N’ top of her class in algebra,” Gladys is met with disdain, portrayed by the bank manager’s indifference. This episode signifies the roadblocks that Gladys and Dolly confront and Gladys’s resolution to fight against them.

The spotlight further shines on Gladys’s potency when she asserts her daughter’s independence and social life. Contrary to Nan Dear’s concern, she firmly states, “I’ll make the decisions regarding Dolores thank you. She’s going to the ball. And Errol Fisher is walking her home”. Her command unveils her determination, her role as a decision-maker, and her progressive stance compared to Nan Dear’s traditionalist viewpoint. Furthermore, Gladys’s preparedness to counter Nan Dear’s reservations exhibits her grit in shielding her children’s freedom to carve their destinies.

Gladys’s complexity unravels further in her opinions on living conditions and respect. Discussing the Queen’s tour and the embarrassment of screening their impoverished homes behind hessian drapes, Gladys voices discomfort concerning not just the superficial attempts to mask their poverty but also the deeper issue of suitable housing and respect for her community. Her concern reflects an understanding of the larger socio-political scenario and her hopes for enhanced conditions for her community. However, she cherishes the liberty they have at the riverbank shanty over the limitations of more regulated habitats like Cummeragunja, an Aboriginal settlement that fills her and Nan Dear with a sense of suffocation.

In totality, Gladys Banks encapsulates the intersection between tradition and advancement. She simultaneously assumes the roles of nurturer and trailblazer. Her interactions exhibit her unwavering commitment to elevate her family’s stature in the face of societal obstacles that often overlook their aspirations and dignity.

Dolly Banks

Dolly Banks surfaces as a central figure in Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End”, personifying the journey of a young Aboriginal girl during the transformative period of the 1950s. As Gladys Banks’s daughter and Nan Dear’s granddaughter, Dolly is an emblem of the link between age-old conventions of the previous generation and the aspirations of the forthcoming one.

Throughout the narrative, Dolly carves out her individuality and desires in a society geared to overlook them. A notable interaction unfolds between Dolly and Errol, an epitome of society’s general perspectives. Upon being addressed as “Miss Banks,” Dolly is quick to rectify it as “Dolly,” affirming her down-to-earth nature and her inherent strength. The aftermath of Errol complimenting her name and learning that her full name is Dolores witnesses Dolly tactfully distancing herself, manifesting her boundary awareness and self-regard as she manages her encounter with a non-Aboriginal man.

Gladys often acknowledges Dolly’s achievements and dreams with pride, emphasizing Dolly being the first in their family to earn her Leaving Certificate, a testament to her intellectual prowess and determination. However, the circumstances under which this attainment is brought up highlights the harsh racial biases they encounter. Armed with Dolly’s picture, Gladys has to deal with the bank manager acknowledging Dolly’s looks without grasping Gladys’s purpose of visit. The episode offers a glimpse into Dolly through Gladys’s perspective—full of potential, yet constrained by a society reluctant to offer opportune circumstances to Aboriginal people.

Dolly’s character progression in the play divulges the elaborate intricacies of identity, balancing cultural expectations with her personal ambitions in a world that usually marginalizes her and her community. Her consistent decisions and actions throughout the play epitomize the younger generation’s resoluteness to pay homage to their roots while forging their chosen future. Through Dolly, Harrison expounds on themes of cultural selfhood, generational transformation, and the promise of future prospects for Aboriginal women in an evolving societal landscape.

Errol Fisher 

In Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End,” Errol Fisher steps onto the scene as a pivotal, albeit less prominent, character. He encapsulates the overlap of the Aboriginal community’s experiences and wider Australian society in the 1950s. Instilled with a sense of awkwardness and uncertainty, he marks his entrance by nearly tumbling off his bicycle upon meeting Dolly, an indication of an immediate affection that adds complexity to his bond with the family.

Errol’s character progression begins unfolding with his interaction with Dolly. His conversation with Gladys subsequently highlights his societal role and viewpoint. His hesitancy is evident when he mistakes lumber-chopping Gladys for a man, thereby exposing his cultural unawareness and anxiety. His swift apology and introduction, “Sorry er ma’am. My name is Errol Fisher,” establish a stark contrast to the women’s bold demeanor. This contrast signifies the prevailing dynamics between white Australians and Aboriginal people—an assumption of superiority and misunderstanding from the former side and overlooked proficiency and fortitude from the latter.

Errol’s primary motive circles around his business endeavors—selling encyclopedias—as disclosed in his chat with Gladys. Still, this commercial engagement also layers over intricate cross-cultural interactions. Gladys and Errol’s synchronised reference to the encyclopedias suggests prior discussions and the financial pressures facing Gladys, who admits, “We… I… won’t be needing them any more. All the shillings go into the meter box now,” accentuating not just economical burdens but also the priority of basic needs over educational indulgences.

His subsequent interactions with Dolly hint at a romantic inference, albeit tangled with the societal implications of such an alliance amidst racial divisions. He compliments her name and endeavors to bridge the cultural divide, regardless of his clumsy approach. Since Errol also embodies other characters, he plays a crucial part in eliciting responses from Nan Dear, Gladys, and Dolly while driving their narratives. Errol’s presence, therefore, offers a refractive lens to examine the complexities of identity and relationships within the layered social structure of mid-20th-century Australia.

The Bank Manager

In Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End,” the Bank Manager epitomizes structural hindrances faced by the Aboriginal community concerning employment and societal acceptance. His interaction with Gladys Banks, who is lobbying for a job for her daughter Dolly, reveals the racially biased mindset at the time. Attempting to underline Dolly’s qualifications for a teller’s position, Gladys states, “But she’s just completed her Leaving Certificate—the first in the family.” Despite these credentials, the Bank Manager dismisses this proposal, indicating resistance to employ an Aboriginal individual.

The audience observes the Bank Manager prioritizing Dolly’s appearance over her skills when he comments, “Yes. Very pretty face,” while studying a photo of her. This shallow appraisal highlights the racial objectification and discrimination faced by Aboriginal people. His query about how Dolly would adapt at the bank subtly points out the invisible barriers imposed by a society uncomfortable with accepting Aboriginal people in professional roles. Despite Gladys confirming Dolly’s punctuality and competency, his statement, “In a job such as this reliability is important,” questions Dolly’s means of commuting to work.

While the character of the Bank Manager isn’t profoundly intricate, it offers insight into the institutionalised racism of the era and the socioeconomic standing of Aboriginal families. His patronising gesture of presenting a tin money bank to Gladys, compared to “jam tins,” mirrors his condescension towards her family’s savings methods, a mindset that aligns with the broader societal perceptions of Aboriginal people.

This character subtly stands for the gatekeeping that obstructs equal opportunities for Aboriginal individuals, creating a stark contrast against the professional aspirations of Gladys and Dolly. This interaction culminates in the play’s critique of Australian society’s racial perceptions and the hollow notion of a fair, merit-centered framework, thereby accentuating central themes of racism and discrimination echoed in the play’s narrative.

The Inspector

The character of the inspector, though minor in Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End,” symbolically encapsulates the surveillance and authority that Aboriginal individuals encountered in 1950s Australia. He comes into the picture when Nan and Gladys are anxiously tidying up their home, setting an atmosphere of apprehension. The inspector embodies the governmental supervision that persistently shadows the lives of the characters.

His visit to assess their living standard is marked by a seemingly congenial veneer that thinly disguises the intrusive power dynamics. Responding to Nan and Gladys’s efforts with a casual compliment on the “crocheted pillow shams,” credited to Nan’s craftsmanship, he maintains a polite yet aloof interaction, taking notes while apparently disregarding the significant influence of his authority within their home.

The exchange of this scene goes on to reveal the true intent of his visit—an inspection that holds severe repercussions for the family. The unease displayed by Nan and Gladys underscores their vulnerability to the inspector’s discretionary power, and by extension, the colonial authority structures. His query regarding a Mr. Banks casts light on conventional impressions of family units and the expectation of a male patriarch, subtly reflecting patriarchal norms.

With his meticulously noted inquiries, the inspector exemplifies governmental intrusion into personal lives and spaces. This implies potential undesirable outcomes should the living conditions or behaviors fail to meet preset, albeit unspoken, standards. This incidence sharpens the audience’s understanding of the systematized rules governing the Aboriginal characters’ lives in the play, spotlighting the broader backdrop of racial inequality and control through the inspector’s attitudes and actions.


Jungi, a police officer in Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End,” serves as a symbol of legal enforcement and state authority. The actor representing Errol Fisher also plays Jungi, suggesting that the character represents another aspect of the same societal structure embodied by Errol—specifically, a more confrontational side of authority.

In the scene where Jungi appears, Gladys is alerted to a noise outside, leading to a tense moment as a lightning flash reveals Dolly standing still in the darkness. Jungi’s role as a law enforcer becomes apparent when he forbids entry into the family’s dwelling, stating, “You can’t go in there. We’re evacuating.” He emerges as an agent of disruption and regulation, directly affecting the family’s life. His straightforward actions and dialogue with Dolly mirror the harsh reality of police interference in Aboriginal families’ lives – the display of power often comes devoid of ample explanation or consideration for the personal autonomy of those impacted. This scene highlights the oppressive circumstances that the characters continually navigate, with Dolly casting her gaze down in disgrace, yet displaying the strength to defy his directive and force her way past.

Despite his fleeting presence, Jungi’s role in “Rainbow’s End” is meaningful as it provides an authoritative force for the main characters to counter, revealing their resilience and determination to sustain independence. His portrayal offers audiences a feel of the heavy-handed governmental intrusion into the daily routines of the Aboriginal community, shedding light on the broader socio-political context of the era.

Papa Dear

Within Jane Harrison’s “Rainbow’s End,” Papa Dear looms as a fatherly figure whose influence prevails in the narrative, despite his physical absence for most of the play. His characterization gets crafted via the memories and expectations of the other characters, primarily Nan Dear and Gladys. His role is largely depicted through stories and his sway on familial structure and values.

Portrayed by Nan Dear as a man “busy doing good work. God’s work and hard work,” Papa Dear is painted as an individual dedicated to the upliftment of the Aboriginal community. His commitment to activism and communal service is further highlighted when Gladys recounts his travels, stating that he’s “in Western Australia. Touring the communities there,” and has also featured “in the newspaper and all,” suggesting his efforts are recognized and valued beyond their immediate circles.

His dream appearances fortify his fond relevance to the family in spite of his absence. In a conjured scene, he’s shown wearing “an old-fashioned hat and coat,” suggesting a sense of nostalgia and timelessness linked to his persona. His brief act of kissing Gladys on the head demonstrates a symbolic and affectionate bond with his family, downsizing his lack of direct involvement in their ongoing challenges.

When Dolly contemplates her family tree during a vulnerable moment, she considers naming her unborn child Reg or Regina, “after Papa Dear.” This reflects a continuing legacy and admiration for him within the family, particularly his dedication to their people.

While Papa Dear does not have much dialogue or direct involvement in “Rainbow’s End,” his existence vibrates through the family and the audience, portraying the spirit of a generation of Aboriginal folks who aspired better conditions for their communities. Through the shared memories and the respect exhibited by the characters, Papa Dear stands as a beacon of resilience, hope, and the continuing effort for activism and acknowledgment within the Aboriginal community of the era.