Game by Trevor Shearston

GameGame is a novel imagining the last months of bushranger Ben Hall.

Structured around real events, Shearston’s book tries to see the man behind the legend. Throughout we are taken to imagined meetings between Hall and his son who is being brought up by Hall’s estranged wife.

Those meetings help to humanise Hall, who in the past, depending on the source, has usually been turned into either a wronged farmer driven to a life of crime, or demonised as a ruthless callous thug.

The former view attributes his waywardness to persecution by local law enforcers (the traps), who through wrongful imprisonment and by burning down his home, contributed to the breakdown of his marriage, the loss of relationship with his son, and drove him to crime as a way to survive and fight back against the injustices done to him.

The latter sees him as a willing participant in an audacious robbery that still rates as one of the most profitable crimes in Australia’s history; after which he was briefly jailed, but soon released without charge.  His wife DID leave him. His home WAS burned down. But that was after he’d already chosen the criminal path that saw him join forces with a progression of accomplices to conduct robberies, take over towns and eventually led to murder (though Hall himself reportedly killed no none).

Edmund Parry's grave. Gundagai NSW

Edmund Parry’s grave. Gundagai NSW (photo by Onesimus)

This book starts in the last year of  the Hall gang’s short but prolific crime spree, when a coach robbery goes wrong and one of the police guards (Edmund Parry) is killed. Therefore some of the major and quite spectacular incidents of Hall’s career don’t get a mention in Shearston’s novel.

But the book isn’t intended to be a catalogue of increasingly audacious exploits that could glorify the man and his accomplices. Game presents a sad image of a man longing for change: leaving his life of crime,  winning the love of his son and regaining a life free of pursuit.

It shows the grim reality of a life continually on the run, of hiding out in the bush, in caves, or on occasion in the homes (or barns) of sympathisers.
The latter increasingly rarely, as rewards for Hall’s capture increase, combined with heavier penalties for those giving aid make it harder to know who can be trusted.

At times I felt sections of the book were clumsily constructed. Here and there I had to back track through a sentence or two because the first reading didn’t read “right” – the words didn’t immediately flow. That might have been the outcome of trying to give the  language a period relevance, with a cadence suited to the era.

But despite that difficulty, I really enjoyed the book. Some of that enjoyment came from the familiarity of the settings. Many of Hall’s crimes were carried out around my local area and I know the towns and landscape referred to in the book quite well, so it was easy to picture it all.

In fact, when Gloria and I were planning to move from Sydney out into the country, it was partly Ben Hall that drew us to our current home town. I’d been reading about his life, and wanted to see some of the places he’d frequented. Our current home is in a town we discovered during that trip.


One thought on “Game by Trevor Shearston

  1. I once took my sons (not sure it was all of them or not, but included my one son most prone to stirring things up, a fan of the old “Five Mile Creek” stories) to a movie about an American outlaw. When we were driving home, he said something indicating his anger at how the FBI (or some government operatives) had treated the outlaw’s wife (not sure whether or not they were married per se at the time, but that’s what she was). I could have said it was her own fault for being with him or helping him (and it was, at least to some extent). I also could have said he deserved it (which would have indicated to my son he should take responsibility for what he gets someone into rather than putting all the weight on others). What I did say was that it wouldn’t have happened to her if he had stopped sooner. In addition to the fact putting it this way made him stop and think, it also said he could be responsible more than angry. (Of course, it questionably lets the past run under the bridge.)

    My son did things like, as a two-year-old, break open a gumball machine (which I had implored my husband not to set on his desk out in the main living area of our home). He’s a problem solver (and my husband would ignore me and, subsequently, overreact to the child). The child, meanwhile, always cared about people. He wasn’t a bad kid. But his father told him (at two) that he would grow up to be a thief. (This is seriously assenine to place on the child. Do you leave knives out in the middle of a room with a toddler and conclude the child will grow up to be mentally disturbed and cut himself/herself when he, which could easily be predicted, touches one? No. Who is really mentally messed up?)

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