Robert Drewe

Robert Duncan Drewe (born 9 January 1943) is an Australian novelist, non-fiction and short story writer.


Robert Drewe was born on 9 January 1943 in Melbourne, Victoria. At the age of six, he moved with his family to Perth. He grew up on the West Australian coast and was educated at Hale School.

He joined The West Australian as a cadet reporter. Three years later he was recruited by The Age, where he became Sydney chief at the age of 21, later Literary Editor of The Australian.[1] He was a columnist, features editor and special writer on The Australian and The Bulletin.

Drewe won two Walkley Awards for journalism while working for The Bulletin.[2] He was awarded a Leader Grant travel scholarship by the United States Government.[3]

During the 1970s he turned from journalism to writing fiction,[1] beginning with The Savage Crows in 1976, followed by A Cry in the Jungle Bar, The Bodysurfers, Fortune, The Bay of Contented Men, Our Sunshine, The Drowner, Grace and The Rip, as well as a prize-winning memoir, The Shark Net, and the non-fiction Walking Ella.

Fortune won the fiction category of the National Book Council Award, The Bay of Contented Men won a Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the best book in Australasia and South-East Asia, and The Drowner made Australian literary history by becoming the first novel to win the Premier's Literary Prize in every state. It also won the Australian Book of the Year Prize, the Adelaide Festival Prize for literature and was voted one of the ten best international novels of the decade. The Shark Net won the Western Australian Premier's Prize for Non-Fiction, the Courier Mail Book of the Year Prize and the Vision Australia Award.

Our Sunshine was made into a 2003 film, retitled Ned Kelly, directed by Gregor Jordan and starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Naomi Watts. The Shark Net was adapted for an ABC-BBC-produced international television mini-series and a BBC radio drama. The Bodysurfers also became a successful ABC and BBC TV mini-series and was adapted for radio and the theatre.

Drewe was also the editor of two short-story anthologies, The Penguin Book of the Beach and The Penguin Book of the City, and edited Best Australian Stories in 2006 and 2007 and Best Australian Essays in 2010. He has been a Sydney Morning Herald film critic, and his play, South American Barbecue, was first performed at Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre in 1991.

Awarded a special Australian arts scholarship [1] by the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating. He has also received an honorary doctorate in literature from the University of Queensland, and an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Western Australia. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of Western Australia, La Trobe University in Melbourne, the Southbank Centre at Royal Festival Hall, London, and at HM Prison Brixton in London.[citation needed]

He has served as a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and the management committees of the Australian Society of Authors, the Sydney Writers' Festival and the Byron Bay Writers Festival. [4]

In 2019 Drewe won the Colin Roderick Award for his book The True Colour of the Sea.[5] The True Colour of the Sea was also shortlisted for the 2019 University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection at the Queensland Literary Awards.[6]

Critical responsesEdit

Literature and Journalism: The Fiction of Robert Drewe – 1989 by Bruce Bennett[7]

Robert Drewe is the author of three novels, The Savage Crows (1976), A Cry in the Jungle Bar (1979), and Fortune (1986), together with a book of stories The Bodysurfers (1983) and a forthcoming collection to be called The Bay of Contented Men. Drewe was a journalist for ten years between the ages of 18 and 28 before he determined to be a full-time fiction writer. He had started to write a novel when he was 26, parts of which found their way into The Savage Crows, but for Drewe the major career change occurred when he was 29. Since the early 1970s Drewe has returned to journalism only briefly to earn money to keep himself and his family going. Yet he had built a successful career in journalism in a number of newspapers and magazines including The West Australian (1961–64), The Age (1964–70), The Australian (1970–74) and The Bulletin (1975–76 and 1980–83). Drewe won three major national awards including the Walkley Award (twice), Australia's version of the Pulitzer Prize. His experience ranged from investigative reporter to literary editor and columnist. From his period with the Australian on, Drewe set his sights on becoming a fiction writer (a first abortive novel had been written while he was with the Age). His occasional returns to journalism in the 1970s and 1980s were increasingly difficult and, in his words, "soul-destroying."

Birth of a novelist, death of a journalist by David Conley[8]

Robert Drewe is Australia's most prominent journalist-novelist in that he has won awards for reportage and fiction. He has won two Walkley Awards (1976, 1981) and written five novels and two books of short stories, including The Bodysurfers, which became a TV mini-series. Fortune (1987) won the National Book Council's Banjo Award for fiction. It can be argued journalism helped prepare him for fiction and made him a better, and certainly a different, novelist than he otherwise would have been. Drewe undertook a cadetship with the West Australian on his 18th birthday and credits the profession with educating him. Becoming a journalist seemed a romantic notion. It offered travel and adventure while he was being paid for it (Hart 1988, p. 5). “Unless you have a family fortune, like one or two prominent writers, you have to do something to make a living, and being a cub reporter . . . is a better training ground than most”

"Robert Drewe’s Australias – with particular reference to the bodysurfers" by John Thieme[9]

Few contemporary Australian writers have explored the changing nature of the country's social mores to a greater extent than Robert Drewe. Ever since his first novel, The Savage Crows (1976), Drewe's fiction has interrogated conceptions of a unitary national identity such as that projected by the Australian legend, with its emphasis on the bush, mateship and Anglo-Celtic origins.

“The lesson of the "yellow sand": Robert Drewe's dissection of "the good old past" in “The Drowner” and “Grace”” By Michael Ackland[10]

Robert Drewe’s investment in the past and history is much commented on but not always understood. Its very obviousness, together with the variety of subjects chosen, has deflected attention away from the evolving, subtly changing nature of his response to the historical record. This has, of course, ranged from the adversarial to the nostalgic and elegiac, and a similar diversity characterises the historical sources drawn on for his major fiction, beginning with genocide in Tasmania and Australia’s place in the Asia-Pacific region, through the making of national fold-heroes, to an autobiography and stories based on his early life in Perth.

"The Diviner" by Murray Waldren[11]

He has always specialised in precise texts of straightforward but expressive prose, tinged with traces of black humour. In literature, his world is one in which characters barely comprehend what is happening around them, where life and nature verge on the malevolent, where shards of sudden insight illuminate the confusion. One of his strengths is an ability to pin down the fine detail of how people interact, socially and emotionally, to capture the nuance and undercurrents that exist beneath conversations.

"Desert Drowning" by Michael Cathcart[12]

This is a sad, sexy and visceral novel. It is buoyed up by compassion and a clear-sighted lack of self-indulgence. This is Drewe at his very best: the world of a mature craftsman writing with cool urgency and a relish for the language of life.

Personal lifeEdit

Drewe has been married four times and has seven children.[13] In around 2005, Drewe moved to the far north New South Wales coast with his third wife, Candida Baker, and their two children, partly to get "more writing done".[14][15] He is now married to Tracy.[13]



  • The Savage Crows (1976) ISBN 978-0-14-100799-1
  • A Cry in the Jungle Bar (1979) ISBN 978-1-74228-343-2
  • Fortune (1986) ISBN 978-1-74228-349-4
  • Our Sunshine (1991) ISBN 978-1-74228-352-4
  • The Drowner (1996) ISBN 978-0-14-100802-8
  • Grace (2005) ISBN 978-1-74228-003-5
  • Whipbird (2017) ISBN 978-0-14-379194-2

Short story collectionsEdit



  • The Bodysurfers: The Play (1989)
  • South American Barbecue (1991)

As editorEdit


Robert Drewe was on the program to appear in 4 events at the 2017 Brisbane Writers Festival in BrisbaneQueenslandAustralia.  [16]


  1. ^ a b Murray Waldren, Rob Drewe: The Diviner (1996) Interview first published in The Australian Magazine. Accessed: 11 October 2007
  2. ^ "Walkley Winner Archives". The Walkley Foundation. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  3. ^ "Robert Drewe". Newcastle Writers Festival. Archived from the original on 17 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  4. ^ Penguin Books Australia -Robert Drewe (Author,Editor)
  5. ^ "Drewe wins 2019 Colin Roderick Literary Award for 'The True Colour of the Sea'". Books+Publishing. 1 November 2019. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  6. ^ "2019 Queensland Literary Awards Winners and Finalists". State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 17 February 2020.
  7. ^ "Ariel", A Review of International English Literature, Calgary, Canada. 1989, Vol. 20. No. 3 by Bruce Bennett
  8. ^ University of Queensland Australian Studies in Journalism 7: 1998: 46–73
  9. ^ The Making of a Pluralist Australia 1950–1990. Selected Papers from the Inaugural EASA Conference 1991. Edited by Werner Senn and Giovanna Capone.
  10. ^ Westerly, Volume 51, November 2006, Eds Delys Bird & Dennis Haskell. Westerly Centre, University of Western Australia
  11. ^ The Australian Magazine, 28–29 September 1996
  12. ^ Australian Book Review, October 1996 No 185
  13. ^ a b Susan Chenery, "Drewe story", The Saturday Paper, 29 July - 4 August 2017, p. 19
  14. ^ Janet Hawley, "On fertile ground" in The Age, 23 July 2005, pp. 38-
  15. ^ Janet Hawley "One man's island", Sydney Morning Herald, 22 September 2012
  16. ^ "Brisbane Writers Festival 2017". Uplit. Retrieved 4 September 2017.

External linksEdit