The Drowner by Robert Drewe

Published: 2001 Originally published in 1996 1. First lines 2. Cover: Penguin 3. Inside the Roman Baths. Image by Frank Kovalchek [CC BY-NC 2.0] Original image cropped and blended via Flickr 4. A Gentlewoman by Henry Wolf [Public Domain] via Smithsonian Institute

Will Dance is the son of a “drowner” (an irrigation specialist ) in Wiltshire in the late nineteenth century. As a young man he meets actress, Angelica and they fall in love. They follow Will’s dream to Australia where he is in charge of constructing a water pipeline from the coast of Western Australia to the goldfields of Kalgoorlie at a time of the gold rush and an outbreak of typhoid.

“This is in the bath, in Bath.”

This book is a pleasure to read. Although Publishers Weekly thinks “Will and Angelica emerge more as vehicles and occasions for lyrical language about the wet stuff than as flesh-and-blood characters”, I think they are portrayed brilliantly, as are the minor characters, which Publishers Weekly says are “crisp and moving portrayals“. Kirkus: comments: “Clever, informative, exquisite in sensibility but cool in sentiment“.


“Then the early drowners learned to control water, to divert it lightly onto the meadows to protect the roots from the cold and encourage growth. When the ground was wet enough, they sluiced the river back on course. From autumn through winter, they drowned the meadows, then dried them. When the first grass tips showed they drowned them again. Then in March they shut off the water from a month before the ewes and lambs fed on the new grass.”

Author: Robert Drewe

Awards: The NSW Premier’s Prize, Australian Book of the Year, Victorian Premier’s Prize, West Australian Premier’s Prize, West Australian Book of the Year, Adelaide Festival Prize, South Australian Book of the Year.

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