> Skip to content

Winner of the Miles Franklin Award.

Winner of the Miles Franklin Award.

In the early 1800s, out of the prison society of governors, redcoats, English gaolers, Irish convicts, and the few free settlers of Botany Bay, no one had ventured much farther inland than a few dozen miles from Sydney. Or so it was believed until the escape of Desmond Kale and the vengeance of his rival, the wildly eccentric parson magistrate Matthew Stanton.
The Ballad of Desmond Kale is a broad-sweeping novel of the first days of British settlement in Australia. At the centre is Stanton's pursuit of Kale - an Irish political prisoner and a rebelliously brilliant breeder of sheep. The alchemy of wool fascinates, threatens, and transforms when it is discovered that fine wool thrives in New South Wales as nowhere else in in the world, producing veritable gold on sheep's backs.

The Ballad of Desmond Kale is both a love story of unusual interest and an epic novel of greed, ambition, conceit, and redemption. The novel is rich in its characterisations and the rawness of its settings, vigour of language, and vividness of personality. The action moves from the early Australian bush to the halls of Westminster, the mills of Yorkshire, the sierras of Spain, the wilds of the Southern Ocean, and returns at last into the far outback for its finale.

Once the ballad is sung, ordinary experience is heightened, the world can never be the same again. A brilliant and inspired recreation of the early days of white Australian settlement by one of Australia's finest writers working at the height of his powers.


‘…[an] exhilarating fable… a rollicking extravaganza that tells a ripping yarn… But it is the language – witty, colourful and evocative, extravagant at times, lyrical at others, a style that makes sentences rear up and gaze at themselves by means of cunning adverbs, adjectives and often unusual syntax – that sustains the novel and reminded me of the virtuosity those old authors sought to cultivate.’ - Andrew Riemer, The Sydney Morning Herald

‘Roger McDonald is a riot… He combines a love of intrigue and high adventure with a defiant, lyrical, vigorous way of telling. Here are art and excitement, mixed to magnificent strength… a full-blooded, pulsing tale… A SMH critic wrote of [McDonald] that he had a ‘’subtle understanding of human motives and a clear eye on human savagery”, and it’s still going, this gripping insight, in this latest novel.’ - Stella Clarke, The Australian

‘…pitched to almost visionary intensity… written to be read at a breakneck pace, a looping, half-wild portrait of a world where wonder and squalor lie hard against each other… cascading energy and radical fervour… underpinned by a poet’s understanding of the natural world. It is a world where meaning infers in every detail, and an intimate understanding of the land and its textures is revealed again and again, deepening the resonances of the novel’s broader aspirations.’ - James Bradley, The Bulletin

‘This is a rollicking good read. The writing is beautiful, too; funny and energetic, grand and intimate.’ - Australian Book Review

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    July 2, 2007

    Vintage Australia

    656 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    August 31, 2011

    Random House Australia

    658 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

Also by Roger McDonald

A Sea-Chase
The Following
The Tree In Changing Light
When Colts Ran
Shearers' Motel
Mr Darwin's Shooter


The Handmaid's Tale
To Kill A Mockingbird
A Gentleman in Moscow
Echo Burning
The Heart's Invisible Furies
The Girl on the Train
The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time
Dragonfly In Amber
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Swing Time
The Bear and The Nightingale
Ready Player One
The Trip of a Lifetime
A Long Way from Home
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
The Light Between Oceans
Animal Farm