Roger McDonald was born at Young, New South Wales, and attended Temora and Bourke primary schools before completing his education at The Scots College, Bellevue Hill, Sydney and the University of Sydney, where he attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Diploma of Education in 1962. In the 1960s he worked as a high-school teacher with the New South Wales Education Department and later joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), where he trained as a producer and director of schools' radio and television. He went on to direct television, including studio, outside broadcast and film programmes with ABC Education in Hobart and Brisbane. McDonald became poetry editor for the University of Queensland Press in 1969, a position he held until 1976. In this position he had a significant influence on the direction of the 'New Australian Poetry' of the 1970s.
In 1976 McDonald moved to Canberra and took up writing full-time, but continued as part-time poetry editor until the early 1980s. Supported by a fellowship from the Literature Board, he wrote his highly acclaimed novel 1915 (1979) which won several awards. In 1982 the novel was adapted into a seven-part television series. He has since written several novels, television scripts, screenplays, a fictionalised biography of Dame Nellie Melba and a variety of other prose works.
McDonald first drew attention with his poetry and editing for University of Queensland Press, but he is better known as a writer of fiction. His concern for the Australian character and its expression through Australian voices was first explored in his poetry. The metaphysical explorations of his poetry were adapted for his fiction, most notably the searches of each main character in 1915 for an explanation of their existence. The lyrical and poetic passages in 1915 drew some criticism, influencing the simpler prose of McDonald's later work. With Mr Darwin's Shooter, McDonald has successfully moved out of Australian territory in an attempt to reach an international audience.
During the course of his career, McDonald has received a number of grants and fellowships from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. Other literary activities include Australian representative at the Hari Sastra Literature Congress in Sabah, Malaysia, 1973, Writer-in-residence at Department of Language and Literature, Faculty of Military Studies, Royal Military College, Duntroon 1981, Geelong College, 1985 and a judge for the Vogel Awards, 1987 and 1992.
'In this sweeping epic of friendship, toil, hope and failed promise, multi-award-winning author Roger McDonald follows the story of Kingsley Colts as he chases the ghost of himself through the decades, and in and out of the lives and affections of the citizens of "The Isabel", a slice of Australia scattered with prospectors, artists, no-hopers and visionaries. Against this spacious backdrop of sheep stations, timeless landscapes and the Five Alls pub, men play out their fates, conduct their rivalries and hope for the best.
'Major Dunc Buckler, "misplaced genius and authentic ratbag", scours the country for machinery in a World War that will never find him. Wayne Hovell, slave to "moral duty", carries the physical and emotional scars of Colts's early rebellion, but also finds himself the keeper of his redemption. Normie Powell, son of a rugby-playing minister, finds his own mysticism as a naturalist, while warm-hearted stock dealer Alan Hooke longs for understanding in a house full of women. They are men shaped by the obligations and expectations of a previous generation, all striving to define themselves in their own language, on their own terms.' (From the publisher's website.)
'Last century Charles Darwin set out on a voyage in the Beagle that would change forever the way human history was viewed. It was on this voyage that Darwin collected the information that gave birth to his controversial Theory of Evolution.
'This is a novel of scientific discovery, of religious faith, of masters and servants, and of the endless wonder of the natural world. But its greatest triumph is Covington himself, the boy who looked up at the beckoning figure of a yellow-haired Christian in the stained glass window in his boyhood church of Bedford, and sought to follow.
'He leaves Bedford as a lad of 13 and goes to sea with the evangelical sailor John Phipps and becomes one of Phipps' 'lads'. But Phipps' catechising can't repress Covington's passage into manhood, nor prevent him chasing the exotic native maidens of Tierra del Fuego. When next he returns to sea it is to serve on the Beagle.
'Mr Darwin's Shooter re-creates the voyage of the Beagle, where Covington spends time exploring – and collecting specimens – inland. And we travel on to the Galapagos Islands, with their huge turtles and armadillos and remarkable finches. Years later, in Sydney's Watson's Bay in beset middle age, Covington awaits the arrival of the first copy of Darwin's The Origin of Species, which contains the scandalous theory of evolution. What part of his life might be in it? What truths may it contain? How can one man absorb the meaning of Creation?' (Publication summary)