That Deadman Dance

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Throughout Bobby Wabalanginy’s young life, the ships have been arriving, bringing European settlers to the south coast of Western Australia, where Bobby’s people, the Noongar people, have always lived. Bobby, smart, resourceful, and eager to please, has befriended the settlers, joining them as they hunt whales, till the land, and work to 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 so pleased with the progress of the white colonists. Livestock mysteriously starts 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 haunted by tragedy, as most stories of first contact between European and native peoples are. But through Bobby’s life, the novel exuberantly explores a moment in time when things might have been different, when black and white lived together in amazement rather than fear of the other, and when the world suddenly seemed twice as large and twice as promising.

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