Nimblefoot by Robert Drewe

Published: 2022 Penguin. Historical fiction

In the 1860s, Johnny Day, a 10-year-old living in Ballarat, became a World Champion in the sport of pedestrianism, a form of competitive walking. In 1870, he won the Melbourne Cup on a horse name Nimblefoot. Robert Drewe has created a story about the remainder of Johnny’s life. (In actual fact, he died at the age of 28, and is buried at Inglewood, near Bendigo in Victoria.)

“Nimblefoot’s by Panic, out of Quickstep.”

This is a thoroughly entertaining imagined story of a little-known Australian historical figure. The Conversation puts a negative view on this: “Nimblefoot features a relatively unknown historical figure. Shining a light on Johnny Day’s story does not have the same potential to, for example, reveal new truths about Australian identity and myths of nationalistic progress.” In my opinion, these little-known stories open our eyes to the distinctive features of Australia’s character. Robert Drewe’s research has been extensive, and used liberally throughout the book. I enjoyed this aspect of the novel, unlike The Conversation commenting: “These excerpts are thoroughly convincing as historical documents, but more often than not they interrupt the narrative momentum.”


“Nimblefoot is a somewhat lathy horse loosely put together and while skittish does not give the impression of possessing great staying power.”

“You can bet on who would be the first pedestrian to drop out of the race, who would be the first pedestrian to, say, achieve fifty miles in a race. There are so many different ways you can gamble on these walking matches.”

Author: Robert Drewe

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