The Shark Net by Robert Drewe


It is nice to have read coming of age memoirs by literary figures of roughly the same era from opposite coasts of Australia; Clive James was born in 1939 and grew up in Sydney, Robert Drewe was born in 1943 and moved from Melbourne to Perth at a young age.  I hadn’t realized the importance of shoes to teenage boys until I read these two books.  Clive James bought shoes called “brothel creepers” as soon as he could and Robert Drewe longed for desert boots, regarded by his parents as shoes worn by disreputable boys.  Of course there is our friends’ son Graham, immortalized by his friends for his odd behavior of repairing his sneakers with duct tape by naming their band, Sparky’s Flaw, for him.

Drewe’s father was a company man for Dunlop and the family would have eaten the products if that was possible.  He paints a convincing picture of the conventional 1950s and the unforgiving social code.  He married his pregnant girlfriend at 18 and was ostracized by friends and estranged from family.  His mother died unexpectedly just after the baby was born; sometime later the family doctor took it upon himself to tell Drewe that it was not necessarily his bad behavior that had killed his mother.

An important part of the story was the figure who loomed large in Perth, the Nedlands Monster, who killed 22 people over the course of five years.  Eric Cooke had worked at Dunlop and been at the Drewe family house once on business; he was later fired for petty theft.  One of the people he killed was a high school friend of Drewe.  The killings varied from a gruesome one with a hatchet to shooting strangers in their sleep; the police had reason to assume this was not the work of one individual.  Perth changed from a big small town to a frightened city during those years.  Cloudstreet by Tim Winton also refers to the Nedlands Monster.

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