Made in Australia
When Colts Ran
by Roger McDonald
Vintage, $32.95 pb, 352 pp, 9781864710410
Between the wars, the dominant mode of Australian fiction was the saga: tales of land-taking and nation-building, melodramas within families across generations, characters shaped by loneliness and obsession, struggles against fire, flood, and drought, and the anguish of married life. In the fiction of Eleanor Dark, ‘M. Barnard Eldershaw’, Xavier Herbert, ‘Louis Kaye’, and Brian Penton among others, Australia’s history was written (this before the professionalisation of the academic discipline of History). It was the saga tradition that Patrick White reworked in The Tree of Man (1955), as did Colleen McCullough in The Thornbirds (1977). In recent decades, this territory has been ceded to the television miniseries, with some notable exceptions: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2006) and now the triumph of Roger McDonald’s When Colts Ran, whose cast acts against the backdrop of the national story from the early 1930s to the near present.