Tale of Colonial Violence Wins Vogel

Indigenous Tasmanians on the margins of their own country, as painted by William Gould in *River Scene with Aborigines*, 1838, courtesy W. L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, via WikiCommons

Indigenous Tasmanians on the margins of their own country, as painted by William Gould in River Scene with Aborigines, 1838, courtesy W. L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, via WikiCommons

Congratulations to Launceston writer Rohan Wilson. The 35 year-old University of Melbourne PhD student was announced the winner of The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award last night for his tale of a murderous expedition in colonial Tasmania, The Roving Party. Citing Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian as a literary antecedent, Wilson’s novel is set during what has been called the Black War.

Based on historical events, the eponymous party, sanctioned by colonial authorities, is hunting indigenous Tasmanians. The 1830 paramilitary campaign this story is based on has come to be known as the Black Line. The party is led by a character named John Batman, based on the historical figure of the same name. Sydney-born Batman settled in northern Tasmania in 1821 and was a participant in the Black Line. He later became involved in land speculation on the mainland, making deals of dubious legality with local indigenous groups, and in the process founding the settlement we now know as Melbourne.

The novel provocatively revisits the intellectual terrain of the History Wars of a decade ago. That debate was triggered by claims by conservative historian Keith Windschuttle that Tasmania’s colonial history was much less violent than portrayed by historians like Lyndall Ryan and Henry Reynolds, and certainly not genocidal, as claimed by historians including Tony Barta, John Docker and Ann Curthoys.

In a novel twist, the ebook version of Wilson’s novel was made available on the Readings ebook website immediately following the announcement, and the book is available in print today. Here he blogs about the novel’s background.

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