Book lists, Focus on WA writers, Reading Projects

A Western Australian reading list: introducing a focus on Western Australian writers

As many of you will know, I have recently relocated to Western Australia (WA) after almost 21 years of living in the UK. I am originally from Victoria, on the other side of the country, so even though I am back “home”, as it were, I have never lived in WA before, so it is all very new and exciting — and a little bit strange.

For those who don’t know, WA is Australia’s biggest state — it makes up almost a third of the entire landmass, most of which is desert (or what you might call the Outback). The state’s population of around 2.6 million people (in 2014) live largely in the fertile south-west (home to the Margaret River wine region) and the capital city of Perth.

Until 2015, I had never stepped foot in WA. But when I did so, on an all-too-brief holiday, I immediately fell in love with the laidback lifestyle, the open spaces and the weather. I have returned for longer holidays several times since, and in June 2019 made the leap to move here permanently, choosing to settle in Fremantle, a historic port town just a 30-minute train journey south of Perth.

Living here for only a short time it strikes me how little I know about WA culture — its music, art, theatre and literature, in particular — because when you grow up on the south-east coast of the country it’s all very Melbourne and Sydney-centric. (Something I also noticed when I lived in Queensland for a few years in the mid-1990s.)

But what I have learned is that WA has a very strong literary tradition, with numerous successful writers, past and present, and a handful of independent presses, including Fremantle Press, the University of Western Australia Press and Margaret River Press, being based here.

I thought I would use my blog over the next few months to celebrate WA writers and review books written by the people who live here (or come from here). I’m regarding it as a bit of a journey of discovery and hope you might come along for the ride.

I’m not a complete ignoramus though. In the past, I have read many WA writers and I can see from my archives that I have already reviewed some, including (in alphabetical order by author’s surname):

Alan Carter

Claire G. Coleman

Amanda Curtin

Brooke Davis

Robert Drewe

Ron Elliott

Elizabeth Jolley

Gail Jones

Lynne Leonhardt

Joan London

Kim Scott

Craig Silvey

Randolph Stow

David Whish-Wilson

Tim Winton

My TBR includes novels by Josephine Wilson, Geraldine Wooller, Annabel Smith, Michelle Johnston, Marcella Polain, Madelaine Dickie, Steve Hawke and Dave Warner — just to name a few!

Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend a good read by a WA author?

Australia, Author, Book review, memoir, Non-fiction, Penguin, Publisher, Setting

‘The Shark Net’ by Robert Drewe

SharkNet

Non-Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 358 pages; 2000.

Robert Drewe is one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed writers. In this book he switches his focus from fiction to memoir, with mixed results.

Born in Melbourne, Drewe moved to Perth with his family when he was a young boy. In the most isolated city on earth, he lived a comfortable and carefree middle-class existence by the beach. But then a man Drewe knew murdered a boy he also knew. Before long, a murderer was on the rampage, randomly killing eight strangers. Suddenly life took on a darker twist.

At the same time that Perth was losing its innocence, so, too, was Drewe, who became a teenage father and husband, something his upstanding parents found difficult to deal with.

While I had expected the book to concentrate on Perth’s dark underbelly and Drewe’s reaction to the crimes happening around him, what I got was a rather uninspiring account of an ordinary suburban childhood. While I found the descriptions of Perth intriguing and could feel Drewe’s love of its amazing coastline and the friendliness of the people resonate off the pages, I found the lack of dates annoying (was it the fifties or the sixties?) and some of his writing pedestrian.

However, his insights into life as a young cadet reporter were interesting; if only breaking into journalism and then getting a job on Melbourne’s Age was as easy now as it was then!

All in all, this is an entertaining account of an Australian childhood in a bygone, if somewhat unspecified, era.