We have been rereading Robert Drewe’s novel The Drowner, which is set mostly in Western Australia. Robert Drewe grew up by the beach in Cottesloe, Perth’s most famous beach, and just a few kilometres from where we live. Several of his novels have a beach setting, and The Drowner also has a watery theme. It begins in the meadows along the Avon River in England and moves via a journey by ship to Perth in the late 19th century, and then on to the parched waterless goldfields 600km inland.
The sort of hero of the novel, Will Dance, grows up along the Avon in England learning from his father who is a drowner, the art of flooding meadows and other secrets of irrigation. He becomes an engineer and comes to WA to join the pipeline project which will pump water inland to Kalgoorlie, a booming gold mining town.
Kalgoorlie is still a gold mining centre with a huge open cut gold mine just a kilometre or so from the main street. And the main street is still lined with impressive buildings from the late 19th century gold rush era.