Set in Western Australia in the first decades of the nineteenth century, That Deadman Dance is a vast, gorgeous novel about the first contact between the Aboriginal Noongar people and the new European settlers.
Bobby Wabalanginy is a young Noongar man, smart, resourceful, and eager to please. He befriends the European arrivals, joining them as they hunt whales, till the land, and establish their new colony. He is welcomed into a prosperous white family, and eventually finds himself falling in love with the daughter, Christine. But slowly-by design and by hazard-things begin to change. Not everyone is happy with how the colony is progressing. Livestock mysteriously start to disappear, crops are destroyed, there are "accidents" and injuries on both sides. As the Europeans impose ever-stricter rules and regulations in order to keep the peace, Bobby's Elders decide they must respond in kind, and Bobby is forced to take sides, inexorably drawn into a series of events that will forever change the future of his country.
That Deadman Dance is inevitably tragic, as most stories of European and native contact are. But through Bobby's life, Kim Scott exuberantly explores a moment in time when things could have been different, when black and white lived together in amazement rather than fear of the other, and when the world seemed suddenly twice as large and twice as promising. At once celebratory and heartbreaking, this novel is a unique and important contribution to the literature of native experience.
Australian novelist Scott s (Benang) complex Commonwealth-winning (South East Asia/Pacific Region) third novel begins in 1833 with Bobby Wabalanginy, part of the Aboriginal Noongar people, befriending early white English settlers who ve arrived in southern Australia to establish the port of King George Town. Among his white associates are the military surgeon Dr. Joseph Cross, the merchant Geordie Chaine, and Chaine s young daughter, Christine, who Bobby perhaps likes too much. Characterized by Dr. Cross as animated and theatrical, Bobby maintains an upbeat attitude that will serve him well once race relations sour. Until he dies, Cross is a mentor to Bobby, and then the Chaines fill the position. Short, titled chapters group into four parts demarcated by sweeps of nonlinear time, from two years to four. Always piquant and lyrical, with some Aboriginal dialect words translated and some not, Scott is at his most picturesque when Bobby assists the whalers, bringing boom times to blackfellas and whitefellas alike. The historical interaction between these two cultures in a changing 19th-century Australia is given full play in Scott s ambitious, elegiac storytelling (the author s mother is white and his father Aboriginal).