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A devastating flood on the Hawkesbury almost wipes out the young colony, bringing to the surface many secrets and desires in this masterpiece of historical fiction

Martin Sparrow is already struggling when the Hawkesbury’s great flood of March 1806 lays waste to him and his farm.

Luckless, lovelorn and deep in debt, the ex-convict is confronted with a choice. He can buckle down and set about his agricultural recovery, or he can heed the whispers of an earthly paradise on the far side of the mountains – a place where men are truly free – and strike out for a new life. But what chance of renewal is there for a man like Sparrow in either the brutal colony or the forbidding wilderness?

The decision he makes triggers a harrowing chain of events and draws in a cast of extraordinary characters, including Alister Mackie, the chief constable on the river; his deputy, Thaddeus Cuff; the vicious hunter, Griffin Pinney; the Romany girl, Bea Faa; and the young Aboriginal men, Caleb and Moowut’tin, caught between war and peace.

Set against the awe-inspiring immensity of the hinterland west of the Hawkesbury River, this epic of chance and endurance is an immersion into another time, a masterpiece of language and atmosphere. Rich, raw, strangely beautiful and utterly convincing, The Making of Martin Sparrow reveals Peter Cochrane – already one of our leading historians – as one of our most compelling novelists.


Brilliant debut. Sparrow is a terrific fictional creation. There is wit and wisdom to be had in the book. Following the frontier, and beyond, is precisely the direction the novel takes ... It is here, too, that Cochrane employs some of his finest writing, embarking upon perfectly modulated descriptive riffs that betray an appropriate sense of awe and developing understanding for what is a vast, ancient, storied landscape - a terrific accompaniment to the pitch-perfect dialogue and deep characterisation found in this fine novel.

David Whish-Wilson, Australian Book Review

Serious reflections and a good deal of grim humour are built into a well-paced narrative and rich description of both landscape and character in this impressive novel.

Dennis Haskell, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Making of ­Martin Sparrow is at once harrowing and entertaining, unsettling our expectations as it ­constructs yet another version of those convict times that seem always to stand up to another imaginative return.

Peter Pierce, The Australian

Written in a wonderfully evocative, muscular prose and rich in Biblical cadences, Martin Sparrow just might be Australia's answer to the novels of Cormac McCarthy.

Chris Saliba, Books+Publishing

The story moves back and forth between Sparrow and the constables – ambitious but not unfair martinet Mackie and equable, entertaining, insightful Thaddeus Cuff – to draw an utterly persuasive and atmospheric picture of a frontier society struggling with an overlay of violence and depravity, particularly towards women and the local Aboriginal population, who are making their own accommodations to the forced changes to their existence. The novel is full of memorable personalities (with terrible names) but they pale in comparison with the overarching authority of bush and weather, made luminous by the personal experience of the author, and with the hauntingly equivocal coda with which the book ends.

Katharine England, SA Review

Unsurprisingly, given Cochrane's position as a historian, the novel is well researched and brings vividly to life the danger, dirt, and darkness of the period. The smell of death and decay hangs over the events of the novel which paints the Australian frontier as uncompromising and unwelcoming.

Simon Clark, The AU Review

The Making of Martin Sparrow is a book well worth the reading. Its language, the accuracy of its depiction of life in the colony, the tension created by Martin’s escape and its consequences all contribute to an excellent historical novel.

Ian Lipke, Queensland Reviewers Collective

This deeply impressive novel brilliantly evokes the bleak, brutal world of early colonial life. In authentic, compelling prose and distinctive, convincing dialogue, it provides a nuanced and disturbing view of the brutal reality of our nation’s origins.

Jo Dyer, MUD Literary Prize

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    April 30, 2018


    464 pages

    RRP $32.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    April 30, 2018

    Penguin eBooks

    512 pages

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    • iBooks
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    • Kobo



Sparrow woke on wet sand somewhere downriver with a terrible stink in his nostrils, the smell of death and decay, rot and ruin all about. At first he did not stir, there in the pre-dawn, pale light to the east beyond the river, the tide on the turn, ebbing now, the flow yet a faint murmur in his ears.

Confusion held him still, as did the formidable lassitude in his bones and the damp cold on his skin. The sound of his breathing con­firmed the likelihood that he was alive. He raised his head and looked about, sucked up a wad of gritty phlegm and spat onto the sand. He wondered if perhaps his deliverance was the work of a kindly fate, a chance to make good his miserable existence. Hard to know.

The sand was strewn with muck and wreckage. The hen coop was there, his hens dead, in company with tangles of lumber and thatch, fence posts and scoured saplings, a big, raggedy cut of wagon can­vas and a lidless coffin, the muddied panelling infested with yellow mould that glowed bright in the soft dawn light.

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Book Clubs
The Making of Martin Sparrow Book Club Notes

Immerse your book club in the language and atmosphere of this novel set in 1800s New South Wales.

Also by Peter Cochrane