Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 28, 2011

Sensational Snippets: The Roving Party (2011), by Rohan Wilson

The Roving PartyNow that I’m half way through this book, I am not at all surprised that Rohan Wilson won the 2011 Vogel Award for The Roving Party. It is breathtaking!

This is the publisher’s blurb:

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, theroving 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. A surprisingly beautiful evocation of horror and brutality, The Roving Party is a meditation on the intricacies of human nature at its most raw.

This blurb can’t convey the brilliance of Wilson’s writing as he paints the Tasmanian wilderness through which the roving party hunts.  A turn in the weather reminded me of Cate Kennedy’s chilling evocation of a Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair walk.  Here is Wilson describing the remorseless weather in the area nearby what is now known as Avoca:

The party was a few miles short of St Paul’s Plains when the weather turned bitter.  The cloud cover swelled darkly over an hour and when the rain hit it came like stones thrown against the earth, great fistfuls flung in anger, and it was deafening.  The men huddled shivering under their blankets, as wet as ship’s rats, and looked out upon a world turned foul.  Only Black Bill stayed on his feet with the sleet collecting on the brim of his hat while beyond him at the horizon the cloud banks scuffed Ben Lomond frigid white.  On dark the rain eased to a mist and Batman had them pitch an oiled canvas lean-to he’d packed from knowledge of the weather.  The makings of a fire were hard to come by so Crook used his knife to strip the bark off some branches and carve raised scales along one end.  He took a portion of the dried punk carried as tinder – a habit learned from the local tribes – and before long had a fire sizzling.  The men twisted water from their blankets in pairs and then put their clothes inside the blankets and wrung the water out of them too.  It was a wretched business and their teeth rattled in their jaws as they piled under the canvas as near to the fire as practicable while they watched the billycan come to the boil.

The Roving Party, by Rohan Wilson, Allen and Unwin 2011, p145-6.

Update, late on Sunday afternoon of the same day…

Today I heard Rohan Wilson speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival and the topic of historical accuracy came up.  On the very day I post this Sensational Snippet I hear Rohan confess that his father tackled him about this passage because it doesn’t snow in this part of Tasmania!  I think this is hilarious, though tourism operators in the Avoca area may not like me describing their location as having ‘remorseless weather’ – sorry!

Fishpond: The Roving Party


  1. accuracy in historic works been in news here with the tv show the hour set inm fifties being pulled up on a couple of pharse that wouldn’t have been used at the time ,must be so hard to get things perfect always something slips through the net ,all the best stu


    • Yes, it is tricky, but one of the things Rowan said was that novelists can reserve the right to change things if they don’t suit the story. They don’t have to have an ethical commitment to inform and educate the way historians do. I’ll write more about this in today wrap-up of the writers’ festival…


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