Robert Drewe is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer, columnist and editor whose work is greatly influenced by the “ordinariness and tragedies” of Western Australia in the 1960s and 1970s.
Books fascinated Robert as a child and he pored over novels like Robinson Crusoe and The Famous Five series. He read encyclopaedias, spent hours at the library and borrowed his father’s imported magazines: the Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic. He was a keen collector of comics and copied the drawing styles of famous cartoonists.
Robert moved to Perth from Melbourne at the age of six and found a deep love for the coastline. He attended Hale School, where he was the editor, primary writer and illustrator of the school magazine, as well as the swimming and school captain. An English teacher dubbed “Monkey” Marshall was one of the first to encourage Robert as a young writer. A teacher with a penchant for the cane, Marshall terrified cocky teenage boys. But in Robert’s final years of school, the formidable teacher began to read the 17-year-old’s creative writing compositions to the class and a spark of possibility was born in Robert’s mind.
After finishing school, Robert knew that he wanted to write, but “did not know where Writing Headquarters was”. The West Australian (The West) seemed like a sound choice and he began at the newspaper as a cadet journalist on his 18th birthday. He was expected to cover all beats and quickly learned a taste for drama, covering crime and the courts. The dark and complicated aspects of humanity he experienced as a young writer would later be reflected in his memoir, The Shark Net (2000). Robert’s time as a journalist enhanced his observation skills and helped him discover his preferred writing style: meaningful, firm prose with no unnecessary airs.
Three years after beginning at The West, Robert was recruited by The Age in Melbourne. He became Sydney bureau chief of the newspaper at 22 and spent five years with The Age before again growing restless. After ten years as a journalist, he yearned for artistic freedom. In the early 1970s, the reporter made a conscious decision to transfer his focus to writing fiction after an epiphany of sorts, “a blazing notion” that he experienced while at the park with his two young sons.
Robert’s first attempt at a novel fell short and a lack of income forced him to take a position at The Australian as a columnist and literary editor. After two years at the national broadsheet, he began to spend his nights working on what would later become his first novel, The Savage Crows. With the first 100,000 words of the novel, Robert gained a Literature Board grant that allowed him to resign as a full time journalist. To support his family between books, Drewe worked as a special correspondent for The Bulletin, winning two Walkley Awards for his reporting.
The Savage Crows was published in 1976, with nine more novels and short story collections, and five non-fiction offerings to follow over the next four decades. Fortune (1986) won the fiction prize of the National Book Awards and The Bay of Contented Men (1989) won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The Drowner (1996) became the first Australian novel to win the major literary award in every state, as well as the Adelaide Festival Prize for Literature and the Australian Book of the Year. His first memoir, The Shark Net, was highly acclaimed and won numerous awards, including the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Non-Fiction. It was also adapted for an ABC and BBC TV mini-series and radio drama, as was The Bodysurfers (1983). In 2012 he published a second memoir, Montebello.
Robert has written two plays: an adaption of The Bodysurfers (1989) and South American Barbecue (1991). The 2003 film Ned Kelly, which featured Heath Ledger in the title role, was based on Robert’s novel Our Sunshine (1991). He has also edited five short story and essay anthologies.
He has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from both The University of Queensland and The University of Western Australia (UWA), an Australian Artist Creative Fellowship from then Prime Minister Paul Keating, and a Leadership Grant from the United States government. He has been writer-in-residence at UWA, La Trobe University, the Southbank Centre and Brixton Prison in London. In 2012, he was invited to write a Poetry Line to run through Forrest Place in Perth.
When Robert isn’t writing, he’s swimming laps or walking along the beach.
Robert divides his time between the north coast of New South Wales and Western Australia. He is always working on a new novel or short story.