Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 11, 2015

Opening Lines: The Ballad of Desmond Kale (2005), by Roger McDonald

Ballad of Desmond Kale

I was part way through writing my review of Roger McDonald’s Miles Franklin Award-winning seventh novel, The Ballad of Desmond Kale, when I realised that I hadn’t posted its opening lines.  (It’s one of my blog projects to post the opening lines of all the Miles Franklin winning novels, but I have to confess that it’s a project that’s stalled a bit since my disenchantment with the award over its most recent choices…)

Anyway, back in 2006 the judges had a really difficult task in choosing a winner.  These great books were on the shortlist:

  • The Garden Book, by Brian Castro
  • The Secret River, by Kate Grenville
  • The Ballad of Desmond Kale, by Roger McDonald
  • Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, by Carrie Tiffany
  • The Wing of Night, by Brenda Walker

I’ve read every one of these books and I can only say that I’m glad I wasn’t on the panel having to choose between them.

But I think they made the right choice.  Here are the opening lines from the Chorus of the First Part:

After Desmond Kale was flogged for stealing a ten-shilling metal rake he was cut down from the punishment tree and commanded to walk the ten miles back to the prison stockade of Toongabbie.  So famous was Kale’s conceit in Botany Bay, he was ordered to walk in ankle irons, holding his chains in his fists.

Eight flogged men were given a ride in the stone quarries’ waggon.  Kale was given an escort soldier, kept under view.  It was said he might die – it was hoped by some that he would – just through the effort of lurching along in the bright morning, restrained by bolt, ring, rivet and rusty chain.  The man who awarded his fifty strokes of the cat, Parson Magistrate Stanton (who was not present at the flogging, on a pretext of standing aloof), was quite as likely to agree in the denying fullness of his heart: that Kale could leak his gore into the earth, that the flies could swallow him.

‘But fifty is nothing’ Kale was heard to say, spitting a tooth worked from the side of his jaw where it was cracked on a lump of tree during punishment.  The back of his short flooded red while the next part of Kale’s joy was to struggle forward of the bullock waggon and keep pace with his escort soldier, who said nothing from the time he flitted up from behind a log at the side of the track where he seemed to have been sleeping in sticks and grass and dirt.

The Ballad of Desmond Kale, by Roger McDonald, Knopf, 2005, p. 3-4






The Ballad of Desmond Kale, by Roger McDonald, Knopf, 2005, p255-257

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