By Roger McDonaldFictionAlfred A Knopf

When Colts Ran

Roger McDonald is renowned for his densely beautiful, sharply observed, richly sardonic evocations of rural Australia. In When Colts Ran, he revisits familiar territory while creating something entirely new – a tightly crafted mosaic of human experience, spanning several characters and decades, anchored by the recurring character of Kingsley Colts.

We meet Colts on his expulsion from boarding school and follow him through the years, taking several diversions into the lives of loosely connected characters, each of them trying to define themselves and fighting their own challenges – with personal relationships, relationships with the land, or even love affairs with alcohol. At the core of the book is an exploration of Australian masculinity, of relationships between fathers and sons, between friends, and between lovers. McDonald charts the ebb and flow of human fortune - the desire to leave an indelible mark on society and those closest to us.

When Colts Ran is the work of an Australian master at the height of his powers, a sweeping outback saga spanning the early 1930s to the near present. While the star of this novel is its heady, intensely worked prose, it is also a deeply affecting portrait of a changing rural landscape.

Portrait of Roger McDonald

Roger McDonald

Roger McDonald won the Miles Franklin Award for The Ballad of Desmond Kale in 2006, and When Colts Ran was on the three-book shortlist in 2011. His first novel, 1915, was made into a successful ABC TV miniseries. His bestselling novel Mr Darwin’s Shooter won the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian Premier’s Literary Awards. His account of travelling the outback with a team of New Zealand shearers, Shearer’s Motel, won the National Book Council Banjo Award for non-fiction. A long story that became part of When Colts Ran was awarded the coveted O. Henry Prize (US) in 2008. Since 1980, Roger has lived on farms in south-eastern New South Wales, with intervals in Sydney and New Zealand. He has been a teacher, an ABC producer, a book editor and a poet.

Judges’ report

Roger McDonald’s When Colts Ran spans the decades from the end of the Second World War to the present day, and the intermingled residents of a small inland Australian town. The damaged orphan Kingsly Colts moves from centre stage to sidelines and back again over the years, with a cast of other characters taking the limelight in succession—and it is through the cumulative power of these interweaving and overlapping stories that the emotional impact of the novel builds its force. When Colts Ran is the work of a writer adept at observing both the minutiae of people’s lives and the dramatic arcs that can sometimes only be seen at a distance.


Roger McDonlds’s When Colts Ran is a challenging yet rewarding read. It is not the type of book that can be read in stages: it will require concentration to keep track of the many characters that weave through the narrative. Originally published as individual shorter stories, McDonald has connected them into one novel through a few main characters and produced a quintessential Australian experience.

McDonald’s use of evocative imagery brings the people and the Australian landscape to life. Spanning decades and major periods in Australian history, the main connective character, Kingsley Colts, drifts in and out of the lives of the citizens of “the Isabel”. The novel explores the relationships between men and they way they relate to each other, as well as their interaction with women and the land, with the words and phrasing helping the reader to clearly visualise and experience the moment. It is the images that will remain with the reader well after the novel is finished.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist