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y separately published work icon The Cake Man single work   drama   - Three acts
Issue Details: First known date: 1974... 1974 The Cake Man
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A simple story of an Aboriginal family's hopes, The Cake Man is a compassionate plea for both blacks and whites to look again at the origins of mutual distrust and work together to restore a precious lost heritage. (Back cover of 1978 edition)




form y separately published work icon The Cake Man Robert James Merritt , ( dir. Douglas Sharp ) Sydney : ABC Television , 1976 Z896530 1976 single work film/TV

The first television production of a play by an Aboriginal playwright, narrated by an Aboriginal storyteller, the 'Cake Man'. The story deals with an Aboriginal family facing emotional traumas, practical problems, and racism as they attempt to adjust to life in white society. The over-riding concern is that the white man's colonisation of Australia has been at the expense of the rights of the native Aboriginal people.


  • The first black Australian play to be published, televised (1977) and to tour overseas.
  • The author has acknowledged substantial help in the writing of this play from the playwright Jim McNeil (q.v.).
  • The Cake Man was written at Bathurst in 1974 as an expression of what he believes to be the root causes of Aboriginal despair. (Fly leaf note on both printed editions.)

Production Details

  • First produced by Black Theatre, at the Black Theatre Arts and Culture Centre, Redfern, Sydney, 12 January 1975 then at the Bondi Pavilion, Sydney, 30 April 1977.

    First overseas production was at the World Theatre Festival in Denver, Colorado in July 1982 by the Australian Aboriginal Theatre.

    Play-reading performed by Moogahlin Performing Arts at the 181 Regent St Symposium (presented by Sydney Festival and Carriageworks in association with the ABC), 2012.

    Also performed at Belvoir Downstairs Theatre (a Belvoir / Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company co-production) 14 November - 8 December 2013.

    Director: Kyle J. Morrison.

    Cast including Irma Woods.

    The cast included: Luke Carroll, Oscar Redding, George Shevstov, Tim Solly, Irma Woods and Jame Slee.

    Play-reading performed by Moogahlin Performing Arts at Eora College of Aboriginal Studies, Redfern, 16 January 2015, to mark the 40th anniversary of the play.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

First known date: 1974
    • Woollahra, Sydney Eastern Harbourside, Sydney Eastern Suburbs, Sydney, New South Wales,: Currency Press , 1978 .
      Extent: xxviii, 63pp.
      Description: port. illus. (Production photos).
      • Introduction by Mervyn Rutherford with an essay entitled 'A Mystery of Infinite Complexity' dealing with the Wiradjuri people and their circumstances. Also includes an end note by George Ogilvie, director of the 1977 production.
      • Author biography and production history on fly leaf, with author photo on the back cover.
      • Epigraph: Dialogue Talkin'life with brother Jim, Tell 'im where's the pain. Shake 'im word stick at my mind, Helps me see it plain. R.J.M.
      ISBN: 0868190144
    • Sydney, New South Wales,: Currency Press , 1983 .
      Extent: xxxi, 59pp.
      Edition info: Second edition.
      • Introduction by Mervyn Rutherford, with a preface on the stage history by the author and historical notes on the Wiradjuri tribe of NSW.
      • Epigraph: Dialogue Talkin'life with brother Jim, Tell 'im where's the pain. Shake 'im word stick at my mind, Helps me see it plain. R.J.M.
      • Author's Preface to the second edition (vii-xi)is dated 1983.
      ISBN: 0868190799
      Series: Currency Plays Currency Press (publisher), series - publisher
  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Plays of the 70s [Volume 2] Katharine Brisbane (editor), Sydney : Currency Press , 1998 Z184553 1998 anthology drama (taught in 3 units) Sydney : Currency Press , 1998

Works about this Work

Letterbox-Gate Liza-Mare Syron , 2018 single work life story
— Appears in: Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia 2018; (p. 219-225)

'Balmain is traditionally an industrial Sydney suburb. Before Cook, Gadigal and Wangal people lived on the bush landscape now known as Peacock Point. My great-grandfather Daniel Syron moved to Balmain in the 1920s after the First World War to find work on the wharves. He is a Birripi man from Cape Hawke on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. I have no memory of ever meeting him. I have seen photos of him stuck in an old photo album held together by broken silver corners. He was a tall man, black and handsome. All the Syron men are. He was a light horseman and a returned soldier.  Although Aboriginal people weren’t allowed to enlist in the Australian army at the time, he must have slipped through. Daniel met his wife, Elizabeth Murray, an English migrant from Manchester, on his return from service. Elizabeth was a tough cookie having survived working down coalmines as a child. She thought Dan was your typical bronzed Aussie. Together they had eight children. Their firstborn is my grandmother, Catherine Mary Syron. Cathy’s eldest son, Frederick George, is my father. He was also born in Balmain, as was I and my two younger sisters. My mother came from the now well-to-do eastern suburb of Waverly and her family heritage includes the First Fleet Irish convict Henry Kable. However I didn’t know all this about my Aboriginal history when I was growing up.’  (Introduction)

The Cake Man and the Indigenous Mission Experience Julian Meyrick , 2018 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Conversation , 1 February 2018;

'In the introduction to her seminal book Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre, Mary Rose Casey observes:

Indigenous Australian activists and artist have consistently utilised the potential for theatre… to create different frames… of Indigenous Australians… In a show like Basically Black (1972), the “gaze” as an expression of racial objectification was returned… Following this work, writers such as Robert Merritt, Kevin Gilbert, Gerry Bostock and Jack Davis individually and collectively altered the range of representations of Indigenous Australians in Australian theatres and writing. In doing so, they increased awareness of issues affecting Indigenous people and related those issues to [them] as human beings.

Indigenous Australian culture is one of the oldest on the planet, stretching back thousands of years. Indigenous engagement with colonially derived theatre is of shorter duration, and it is only in the last 50 years that Indigenous playwrights, in the European sense, have emerged. Robert Merritt, author of The Cake Man, is one of this cohort. Written in 1975, his play comes after Kevin Gilbert’s The Cherry Pickers (1971) but before Jack Davis’s No Sugar(1985)'. (Introduction)

Cake Man on Stage at Belvoir 2013 single work column
— Appears in: Koori Mail , 20 November no. 564 2013; (p. 68)
The Evolution of Telling Stories from Their Evolutionary Roots Kyle Morrison , 2013 single work column
— Appears in: The Sydney Morning Herald , 14 November 2013; (p. 34)
Half-Baked Revival of a Historic Gem Victoria Laurie , 2013 single work review
— Appears in: The Australian , 29 October 2013; (p. 13)

— Review of The Cake Man Robert James Merritt , 1974 single work drama
Black Theatre Gets a New Start David Marr , 1975 single work review
— Appears in: The Bulletin , 18 January vol. 96 no. 4940 1975; (p. 44-45)

— Review of The Cake Man Robert James Merritt , 1974 single work drama
Half-Baked Revival of a Historic Gem Victoria Laurie , 2013 single work review
— Appears in: The Australian , 29 October 2013; (p. 13)

— Review of The Cake Man Robert James Merritt , 1974 single work drama
y separately published work icon Creating Frames : Contemporary Indigenous Theatre : 1967-1990 Maryrose Casey , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 2004 Z1109707 2004 single work criticism

From publisher's blurb (back cover): Creating Frames provides the first significant social and cultural history of Indigenous theatre across Australia. As well as using archival sources and national and independent theatre company records, much of this history is drawn from interviews with individuals who have shaped contemporary Indigenous theatre in Australia - including Bob Maza, Jack Charles, Gary Foley, Justine Saunders, Weley Enoch, Ningali, and John Harding...

Creating Frames traces the history of production of texts by Indigenous Australian artists from 1967 to 1997. It includes productions in theatres of texts by Indigenous Australian artists, collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, and adaptations of texts by Indigenous artists. The focus is public urban commercial productions and includes national and international premieres and tours. 'Commercial' is used here in the sense of public presentations open to any potential audience member as distinct from closed community productions. The focus does not include radio plays, millennia of traditional practices, performances devised and performed within communities, or community outreach/education theatre initiatives such as HeatWorks in the Kimberley. Even within these limits the constraints of space have affected the number of productions that can be covered in detail.

Throughout this thirty year period, particular themes recur, these themes relate to the ways in which the external framing of the work either facilitates or blocks production. These themes often relate directly or indirectly to concepts of 'authenticity' and/or 'Aboriginality' - in effect the 'acceptable' face of Aboriginality within government and social narratives at any point in time. The strength and power of these themes as frames for the work has drawn on generally accepted understandings of Australian history and the ways in which these are manipulated in the service of political agendas. These frames fall into three main categories within the thirty year period - assimilation, multiculturalism and reconciliation. This production history reveals that, rather than Euro-Australian theatre practitioners creating an environment that enabled Indigenous theatre practice, Indigenous artists have taken their own initiative. An initiative they continue to take whilst simultaneously contesting the primarily external frames that define their work and affect their production possibilities.

(Abstract courtesy the author.)

Aboriginal Drama : A New Voice in Australian Theatre Adam Shoemaker , 1982 single work criticism
— Appears in: Aspects of Australian Culture 1982; (p. 28-33)
Shoemaker explores the use of humour in Indigenous drama, seeing it an an enhancement of the socio-political messages which underlie the plays. He also notes the use of poetry in the drama.
Thoughts on Aboriginal Literature Jim Kable , 1985 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Aboriginal Child at School , February/March vol. 13 no. 1 1985; (p. 31-52)
In the Loop: RealBlak Advance Word 2012 single work column
— Appears in: RealTime , October-November no. 111 2012; (p. 24)
Belvoir produces 'One Beautiful Day' and 'Coranderrk' with Ilbijerri, Meyne Wyatt will appear for Belvoir in the title role in 'Peter Pan', Tom E. Lewis and Michael Kantor are collaborating to create 'The Shadow King', based on 'King Lear', Yirra Yaakin will stage 'The Cake Man'.
Return of the Cake Man Berwyn Lewis (interviewer), 1982 single work criticism interview
— Appears in: The National Times , 27 June-3 July 1982;
Last amended 7 Feb 2019 14:55:29