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The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson

The Roving Party (2011)

by Rohan Wilson

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784231,318 (3.58)5

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This month’s book divided our group in a clear ‘loved it/hated it’ form. A handful of us, although admitting the horror of the storyline, nevertheless found the writing, characterisation and realistic setting a pleasure to read. And where some found the lack of punctuation difficult, others found the narrative flowing and well fitted to the character style.

There seemed to be a deficiency of emotional punch for some of our readers. They could not be moved by any of the roving party or their quarry and Anne went so far as to pronounce it ‘boring’ and ‘pretentious’. This in complete contrast to Jeanette’s ‘marvellous’ and ‘stunning’.

The imagery held strong for the book’s fans though and we found that Wilson’s writing draws a clear and far from glamorous picture of this alpha-male world, with small and subtle reminders that these characters are human, regardless of what they find themselves doing. And as a reader you are forced to acknowledge their weaknesses, and dare I say it, feel some empathy for them!

Our discussion tread through the obvious territory of racial discrimination and genocide, but also some interesting historical details from Tasmania’s past, sorting out the fiction from facts.

Short-listed for numerous awards and winner of last year’s Vogel Literary Prize, The Roving Party has found its place in Australian literature, if not into all our club’s hearts. ( )
  DaptoLibrary | Aug 16, 2012 |
Best Australian fiction book I have read in the last few years!
  Tip.07 | Feb 1, 2012 |
Sometimes what first appears to be a mediocre book will sneak under your radar and turn into one of the most powerful reads you’ve had for a long time?

So it was with the Vogel winning book from Rohan Wilson, The Roving Party.

Tasmania, in the year 1829 was not an easy existence. This small but mostly impenetrable island was roamed by convicts, early free-hold land owners and first occupants, the native aboriginal tribes, who were slowly being squeezed to the land’s limits.
The story’s roving party, brought together by John Batman, a hardened land-owner, husband and father, is a motley crew of farmhands, convicts and two free black trackers.

But Batman is no fool. He strengthens his team with Black Bill, an educated black who knows the land and the people, but possesses the ruthlessness needed for a massacre. They take to the wilderness in search of bounty with promises of money, land and freedom and in doing so trade their own souls in a world that will offer nothing for free. But Black Bill’s eye is never far off his own personal quarry, the much-feared leader, Manalargena.

Wilson draws a clear and far from glamorous picture of this alpha-male world, with small and subtle reminders that these characters are human, regardless of what they find themselves doing. And as a reader you are forced to acknowledge their weaknesses, and dare I say it, feel some empathy for them!

The callous termination of Tasmania’s people is not new, and if you don’t feel you want to face up to this historical fact, then don’t open these pages, for the author pulls few punches on the slaughter front, though mostly through cleverly written prose than clear graphic detail.

There are plenty of superbly descriptive passages to engage you in Tasmania’s natural beauty that will drag you, willingly or not, into the early world of the land’s tumultuous history.

‘A thin water grey autumn fog covered all the back country. On the broad and greasy gum leaves the dew beads balled and the sun showed only as a queasy presence pale beyond the gloom. It was under this muted dawn that Black Bill lay listening to the whistles of scrub wrens and honeyeaters, his hands stained with men’s blood.’

The imagery is strong throughout the book and took hold of me from a depth that refused to let go. It is classic Australian fiction that has a reserved spot on my must read history list. ( )
  jody | Aug 25, 2011 |
A literary-fiction take on one small part of the genocide of Tasmanian Aborigines. This novel deserved to win the Vogel. The subject matter and prose style evoke an authenticity of place and behaviour that rings true.
The reader empathises with the hardship of the members of the roving party in pursuing people who live in close symbiosis with the land around them. On the other hand the reader deplores the casual cruelty meted out to animals and vulnerable children with little thought by white settlers.
Thoroughly recommended for people who want to put some flesh on dry historical accounts of settler society circa the 19th century.
  nbshifrin | Jun 1, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rohan Wilsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
White, LisaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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1829, Tasmania. John Batman, ruthless, singleminded; four convicts, the youngest still only a stripling; Gould, a downtrodden farmhand; two free black trackers; and powerful, educated Black Bill, brought up from childhood as a white man. This is the roving party and their purpose is massacre. With promises of freedom, land grants and money, each is willing to risk his life for the prize. Passing over many miles of tortured country, the roving party searches for Aborigines, taking few prisoners and killing freely, Batman never abandoning the visceral intensity of his hunt. And all the while, Black Bill pursues his personal quarry, the much-feared warrior, Manalargena.… (more)

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