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The Roving Party Hardcover – February 25, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this novel drawn from historical ­accounts, the governor of Van Diemen’s Land, or Tasmania, commissions the Roving Party to exterminate Aborigines in 1829. Leading the party is John Batman, a ruthless, though practical man whose motive isn’t genocide but, rather, land grants and money. The rest of the party consists of a sad but vicious stripling, Gould; two Aboriginal trackers; four convicts, in a land where everyone is a convict; and the extraordinary Black Bill, an Aborigine raised as a European and the smartest, and most formidable, of the lot. The party wreaks havoc consistently in harrowing scenes, but at times you can almost sympathize with them, or at least with their desperation. And the novel has a white whale at its core in the form of the fierce, near-mystical warrior Manalargena. Australian first-novelist Wilson writes beautifully, equally expert in describing the magical land as he is with Aboriginal dialect, but his story, at least in the U.S., will inevitably be compared to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985). It comes up short of that but is certainly worthy of recommendation. --John Mort


Praise for The Roving Party

Winner of the Australian/Vogel Literary Award
Winner of the Tasmanian Literary Awards' Margaret Scott Prize
Winner of the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
Winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist Award

"One of the best first novels I've read all year . . . The urgency of the chase, carefully chiseled language, exotic characters and dangerous conflict with each other—it's all here."
—Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered

"[An] exceedingly powerful debut. Wilson's compelling story carries us through forest and over plains, leaving a trail of dead men."
—Chicago Tribune

"The grim implacability of nature and end-of-the-world remoteness that haunts Wilson’s novel and those of his countryman Richard Flanagan have inspired the label 'Tasmanian Gothic.'"
—The Seattle Times

"Wilson presents an emotionally harrowing, sometimes brutally violent exploration of cruelty and compassion in a desolate land. Wilson’s psychological insights are electric; the chilling ways in which each member of the roving party must grapple with his sense of humanity makes for particularly fascinating reading. Wilson’s novel will appeal to readers who appreciate intricate plotting, rich character studies, and poetic depictions of nature."
—Library Journal 

“A grim and bloody tone poem . . . Difficult and intriguing.”
—Kirkus Reviews

"Australian first-novelist Wilson writes beautifully, equally expert in describing the magical land as he is with Aboriginal dialect."

"[A] grim and astonishing novel."
Australian Book Review

"An extremely skilful book telling a horror story, and the young writer's maturity takes your breath away . . . not for the fainthearted . . . Wilson writes in spectacularly beautiful prose."
Courier Mail

"The Roving Party is distinguished by Wilson's tactful and restrained account of a brutal episode in the history of the conflict between European newcomers and the original inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land. His restraint renders the horrors he depicts far more vivid and their ethical implications much more telling than other melodramatic, at times tub-thumping, approaches . . . evocative and impressive."
Sydney Morning Herald

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161695311X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616953119
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,560,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania)'s Black War was fought between 1804 and 1830 when the new and old inhabitants of the island clashed violently over occupation and use of the land and its resources. The end result of the Black War was the dispossession and near annihilation of the indigenous inhabitants. In this novel, researched over a number of years, Rohan Wilson focuses on one roving party: sanctioned by Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, and was led by John Batman in 1829. While the precise demarcation between fiction and fact is unclear, the story has its own momentum and its own raw impact.

In 1829, Van Diemen's Land had been a British penal colony for 26 years. John Batman was then a grazier (he went on to found Melbourne), and this roving party was to consist of nine men: Batman himself, his farmhand William Gould, four convicts (Baxter, Clarke, Gumm and Toosey), two black trackers from New South Wales (Pigeon and Crook) and Black Bill.

John Batman tells the roving party: `There is among them a chief. A warrior. Some say witch. He is called Manalargena.' `You must bring him down before all others.'

Black Bill, referred to as the Vandemonian, is an indigenous man who has been educated and raised by Europeans. (There is an historical `Black Bill' - William Ponsonby about whom I would like to know more.) He belongs to both cultures, and to neither. As the novel opens, Black Bill is approached by Manalargena to fight with his indigenous clansmen:

`Who is brother. Who is hunter. They forget this thing.'

Black Bill refuses: he has already agreed to accompany Batman. It may be a pragmatic choice: the members of the roving party have been offered freedom, land grants and money; but it is not to be an easy one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alley2000 on October 2, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Roving Party is set in the 1800's in convict era Tasmania and is about a party commissioned by the Governor to hunt and kill Aborigines. The party is led by John Batman, a prominent property owner and his rag tag bunch consisting of several convicts, and three Aborigines consisting of 2 trackers (interestingly from Parramatta) and 1 "civilised" local, Black Bill. The team are offered freedom and land grants for a successful mission.

What most impressed me about this book was Rohan Wilson's ability to convincingly portray the social conditions of all the characters. Nobody in this story has an easy path; this is a not a straight forward story of the hunter and the hunted, or the good and the bad. There are times when you really for feel for the members of the party (some not given shoes to trek endlessly through cold wet harsh country) while at other times you are made to feel repulsed by their brutal behaviour (amongst themselves, as well as what they do to the Aborigines).

As an Australian myself I found this book hard to read, this is not a part of our history that I am proud of. However I can only praise Wilson for tackling this story so intelligently and from such a convincingly realistic perspective.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Manalargena, the chief of an Aboriginal clan in Tasmania, knowing his clan must fight to survive, recruits Black Bill to join them. Bill declines on the ground that he follows the direction of a white man, John Batman. Bill fails to mention that Batman, intending to collect on a contract from the governor, has already engaged him to hunt Manalargena and his clan, earning a bounty for each one killed or captured. Yet Manalargena, a witch who "has a meanness even God won't forgive," is believed to be (and believes himself to be) protected by a demon. He is not an easy man to kill.

Bill joins the roving party, nine men (including four convicts and two free blacks) following John Batman's lead. They are hard, rough men, cruel men who have been treated cruelly. They fight each other as often as they fight the tribesman they hunt. They regard the Aborigines as uncivilized savages but they are hardly exemplars of civil behavior. Bill, the toughest of them, stands above the fray, but as "a black man raised white" he finds little acceptance among the other members of the roving party. Bill is earning a share of the bounty to hunt his own people, a decision that even Batman's white employees cannot respect. Katherine, Bill's pregnant wife, does not approve of his decision to follow Batman, despite the food his employment puts on the table.

The Roving Party is a fast moving story of violence, but much of the dramatic tension comes from Bill's internal conflict, the doubt that gnaws at him despite his best efforts to ignore his conscience. Although raised and educated by a white family, Bill knows himself to be rooted in those he has been assigned to capture and kill.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From September, 1829, until early 1831, the British government overseeing the rule of Tasmania as part of its Australian colony, engaged in establishing the shameful “Black Line,” part of its war to remove all blacks in Tasmania. Rohan Wilson, a Tasmanian himself, tells the brutal story of the Black Line in which a white farmer, John Batman, and Manalargena, an aborigine leader, engage in mighty, genocidal battle sanctioned by the Colonial Governor,on behalf of the British crown. As Wilson presents the bloody story of this period, he is sensitive to the historical record, telling of events as they happened. His main characters are real and are presented realistically, not as stereotypes of good and evil as they struggle to survive.

The “roving party” which farmer John Batman leads in 1829 consists of Batman and eight others who illustrate the island’s cultural mix: Black Bill, a young aborigine who has worked for Batman for years, is so familiar with white life that he is "suspect" as far as the local blacks are concerned. William Gould, Batman’s manservant, and two other blacks, Crook and Pigeon, members of the Dhuareg clan, have been brought to Tasmania from the Sydney area and will work for Batman in exchange for their emancipation papers. The four remaining members of the roving party are prisoners transported to Tasmania for crimes in England. The prisoners do not trust the blacks, the blacks and Batman do not trust the prisoners, no one has enough food, and none of the prisoners have warm clothing or any shoes for this war on the snowy slopes of Ben Lomond during winter.

The novel opens with a dramatic scene in which Manalargena, a black clan leader, confronts Black Bill outside the “humpy” Bill shares with his pregnant wife.
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