Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Shark Net

The Shark Net by Robert Drewe was first published in 2000.  That's the year we moved to Perth.   In hindsight, it would have been nice if I had read it then (although in those days I didn't have much time for reading).  However, I recently came across it and read it for the first time.

It's an autobiographical account of growing up in Perth, from the age of 6, when the author's family was transferred there from Melbourne, until the age of 21, when he leaves to accept a job as a journalist under Graham Perkin at the Age.  Although dates are hardly mentioned, I understand that it spans the years 1949 to about 1964.

Cottesloe (watercolour)
I greatly enjoyed the descriptions of Perth life in the 50s:  the street lights being turned off at 1 am, the official sparrow-hunters,  red-back spiders, the Billy Graham Crusade and lots of references to places in Dalkeith, Nedlands, Cottesloe and other Perth suburbs.  By 2000, of course, Perth had changed, but on reading this book, I identified a number of characteristics that had carried forward!   But, just the same, I thought it a bit harsh to describe a house in now-trendy Dalkeith as being "a house in the [sand] dunes".   Sure, geologically, this is an area of sand dunes.  By the time we lived in the area - admittedly a few decades later - the sand was mostly covered.  I struggle to imagine that the process of developing nice gardens wasn't well underway by the 50s - but there again, I wasn't there then.

It's a a little easier to credit that, in the 50s, people regarded the hill above Cottesloe as "the wind-buffeted hill above the ocean".  These days, this is expensive mining magnate territory, having a view can add a million dollars or more to the value of a property and the wind (which is still a strong south-westerly) is referred to as a "sea breeze"! 

However the book also has a more sinister thread:  it describes the time when the innocence of Perth's middle-class suburbia was disrupted by a series of gruesome murders.  There was a theory that the murders were linked to the OBH (that's the Ocean Beach Hotel, still there at North Cott).  It turned out that the author's life was intertwined with that of Eric Cooke, the murderer, who was the last person hanged at Fremantle.   Drewe gives quite an insight into Cooke's life and circumstances, extending so far as an interview with his wife, Sally, some time after the execution.  Cooke had not been an easy person to be married to, but even so, it's surprising that, in answer to the question, how did she feel at the appointed time of the execution, 8 am, when many people were counting the seconds, she replied, "What with feeding the kids and getting them ready for school and all the rest of it, eight o'clock sort of went past without me noticing".

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