Archive for November, 2011


Based on a series of historical research works on the region, and told by a Noongar man, it seems to tell the story of very early settlement in south west West Australia from every angle. It doesn’t seem to say these people are villains and those people are saints, rather it seems to say people are people and you should expect tragedy if you simply let people be guided by greed. It leaves you feeling as if you understand why all the characters do what they do. It has the feel of truth and reality, whilst also being dreamy and atmospheric.

Roze a wail – Is the way That Deadman Dance commences. Reading that phrase, with all the double meanings implied and evoked by the confused spelling, encapsulates in three words the experience of the book.

Like that phrase, the book is a dreamy, vague, but very complex and, by the end of the book, complete experience.

As a young boy Bobby, the book’s protagonist, sees the beautiful sight of many whales rising, and says to the reader there rose a whale.

Later as an adolescent Bobby works in the early days of the Albany whale industry and often rows to a whale.

At the same time his local Noongar people have a tradition of singing whales, of which Bobby is an exponent, so at times Bobby himself is said to have rose a whale.

Later still, as the whaling industry grows we understand that the commencement of whaling season for the year and the death of many whales is inevitable outcome of the whalers shouting to each other there rose a whale.

At the end of the book a wail is rising from Bobby’s people. Bobby decides to put on a performance, singing and dancing that wail to the local big wigs, confident that his skill and artistry will persuade the white powers that be to share their cattle and sheep with the Noongar, in the way the Noongar had shared their Kangaroo only 10 years earlier.

Roses are beautiful despite their thorns, and a wail can be beautiful if it evokes a tradgedy in all its complexity, a rose of a wail.

That is Bobby’s dance, and also the book, an elegy to a tragedy. It’s the closest thing any of us will come to living on the frontier.

Bookgroupers found it hard to get into at first because its quite disjointed early on. However it definitely rewards persistence, a must read for Australian history buffs, and for anyone wanting a better understanding of the clash between indigenous cultures and capitalism.


November 13, 2011 at 5:09 am Leave a comment


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