1886.  Rosa Nightingale, prostitute, Lucas Ramsay, ex-soldier turned bandit, Stanley Stoneham, prizefighter, Alexander McPherson, alcoholic doctor, and Griffith Summerhill, police officer, are aboard the majestic Murray River paddleboat steamer the Colonial Queen.  Rosa is fleeing her louche life and opium addiction and searching for her remittance man brother.  Ramsay is on the run from the law after robbing a bank.  Stoneham’s fighting career is drawing to a close as he resorts to stopping off in the river towns for exhibition bouts.  McPherson battles his demons and yearns for a life like that of his hero, fellow Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson.  Summerhill is on the trail of Ramsay.  Their lives collide and intertwine as the Colonial Queen moves down the swift-flowing, ever-changing river.

‘Authentic and unforced... not divorced from the society and politics of the time.  And part of the politics is to do with water, just as is the case now.’ - Thomas Keneally