Bangalow local Robert Drewe is an Australian literary legend whose more than 20 highly acclaimed books, including novels, short stories and memoirs have won state, national and international prizes, been widely translated, and been adapted for film, television, theatre and radio.
His new novel Whipbird is a sharply observed, vividly imagined, satirical portrait of contemporary Australia and a modern comedy of manners.
Kungadgee, Victoria, Australia. A weekend in late November, 2014. At Hugh and Christine Cleary’s new vineyard, Whipbird, six generations of the Cleary family are coming together from far and wide to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the arrival of their ancestor Conor Cleary from Ireland. Hugh has been meticulously planning the event for months – a chance to proudly showcase Whipbird to the extended clan.
Among the more than 2,000 relatives gathered at the vineyard walks the ghost of Conor Cleary narrating events past and present through the eyes of his great-great-grandson Simon ‘Sly’ Cleary, former keyboard player for the rock band Spider Flower, now suffering a delusionary mental belief that he no longer exists.
As the weekend unfolds, the wine flows, family tensions rise – and then Hugh’s recently acquired painting, Miner with Pan and Shovel from Sidney Nolan’s Eureka Stockade series goes missing. Right on cue, a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur arrives with a view to investing in a new Australian winery.
In Whipbird, Robert Drewe pulls no punches. Nothing is sacred as he takes on the mining boom and conservationists; everyone from investment bankers and real-estate agents to sea-changers and tree-changers, vegans and Paleo practitioners, First World smugness, global-warming, retirement, divorce, death, sudoko and artisan brewers. And the nonchalant disrespect and disillusionment of the young.
Robert Drewe will feature at Byron Writers Festival in conversation with Geordie Williamson (Friday 4 August) and in the session Just Like Us: Creating Fictional Families with Sophie Hamley, Ashley Hay and Eka Kurniawan (Saturday 5 August). Full program at https://byronwritersfestival.com/festival-2017/
Portrait by Sarah Gray.