Roger McDonald

Slipstream by Roger McDonald

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June 1982, no. 41

Aviation was a myth still in the making to my generation of Australian children. We cricked our necks watching a patch of sky for Amy Johnson’s arrival and, indeed, whenever an aeroplane engine was heard aloft, as if the watching itself was a necessary act of will, or prayer, to ensure the safety of those magnificent men and women whose photographs showed them always ear-muffed, be-goggled and leather-jacketed, smiling and jauntily waving thumbs up to us their earthbound worshippers.

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Though he had already produced two volumes of poetry, Roger McDonald first came to popular attention with his spectacular début novel, 1915, published in 1979. A recreation of the Gallipoli Campaign from the points of view of two ...

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Nothing is more humbling and gratifying to a writer than meeting a reader who has read their work, and this is where writers meet them, sometimes more than one, but if only one, hooray.

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As Ratty observed to Mole, ‘There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’ In Roger McDonald’s A Sea-Chase, lovers Wes Bannister and Judy Compton would certainly agree, but before they achieve Ratty’s state of nautical transcendence much that does matter has to be dealt with.

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The Songs of Trees takes its title from something that might not actually happen. Do trees sing? The notion runs through the American biologist David George Haskell’s second book in twisty directions, like a half-caught melody. (His first book was The Forest Unseen, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2013.)

Don’t trees just make sounds, crack ...

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 ...

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How much do you care about sheep? I mean really care about sheep. Because The Ballad of Desmond Kale is up to its woolly neck in them. It’s an unusual and inspired variation on the classic Australian colonial novel of hunters for fortune, for identity and for redemption ...

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The Ice and the Inland by Brigid Hains & Australia’s Flying Doctors by Roger McDonald and Richard Woldendorp

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December 2002-January 2003, no. 247

Australia’s frontier legend is alive and well, as is John Flynn’s contribution to it in these two new books. In Australia’s Flying Doctors, Richard Woldendorp’s glorious photographs celebrate a medical service that reaches about eighty per cent of the vast Australian landmass. They are complemented by Roger McDonald’s economical personal vignettes of outback spirit.

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McDonald’s latest novel, Rough Wallaby, carves out a fascinating position in contemporary literature: an intricately constructed, fast paced yam drawing its narrative from a contemporary Australian myth, the Fine Cotton race horse switch. The intriguing aspect of Wallaby is that it makes no pretence at anything but a great big yam. The yam in Australia is in a position of disgrace, not among readers, but in the academic-critical club. The story is no longer literature, it seems. There have to be other surreptitious elements recognized and codified by the literary fraternity.

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When the ABC asked me to adapt Roger McDonald’s novel 1915 into a major seven-part serial, I declined. Ray Alchin, producer and head of the ABC’s film studio in Sydney, looked at me with disbelief and asked me to read it again. So I read it again, twice, and thanked him for having the good sense to see its possibilities, and gratefully accepted.

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