"The Bodysurfers" by Robert Drewe. The Landscape and its Effects on the Identity of the Characters

Seminar Paper, 2010

12 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of contents



3.3. “SHARK LOGIC” (DREWE 23-35)



1. Introduction

In my paper I want to talk about the book The Bodysurfers (Robert Drewe) by focusing on the description of the different landscapes and the way people identify with it. I also find it important to mention the mixed feelings of the different characters, all of them living by the coast.

While I was reading the book, I could notice the rather different ways of describing the landscapes, each narrator and character senses the surroundings differently. The environment in which the characters are living is one of the main topics of the book, it focuses on the descriptions and provides the reader with the opportunity to ‘live’ the book and to understand in a better way, how important the sea and the beach are for Australians.

In The Bodysurfers the beach is the most popular and most described landscape. It is fantastic how many different ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ the beach can be found in this book and how different varieties of language can influence the reader by providing him with many ways of understanding the characters.

The Bodysurfers is not an easy book, maybe you have to read it twice, but it can give you a perfect possibility to deal with other nations and cultures and to distinguish between different characters and their ways of speaking and telling. When I was dealing with my topic I was impressed how ones opinion can change while reading a book, e.g. in one story the beach is described as a lonely and quiet place, in another story as a sand heap full of rubbish.

In my paper I want, above all, to show these different ways of describing, on the one hand, describing by using different sorts of language and on the other hand describing, by ‘feeling’ and observing the place you live in. I want to show, that these depictions are the essence of the book and make it vivid, because “these stories breathe. Taut yet teeming with life, they are shot through with gritty phrases that catch at one's throat.” (Goodreads)

2. The work

2.1. The author

Robert Drewe was born in Melbourne in 1943, but moved to Perth (Western Australia) when he was six years old. Before he started writing fiction, he was a well known journalist, who even won the Walkley Award for excellence in journalism twice.

He published six novels, four collections of short stories (including The Bodysurfer ”) and two works which are non-fictional. He also edited short stories and prose works.

Robert Drewe got many awards for his works, e.g. The Australian Council Fellowship, The National Book Award and the Commonwealth Literary Price.

His most famous works are A Cry in the Jungle Bar (1981), The Bodysurfers (1983) and Shark net ( 2000), which is a memoir.

He does not talk much about his private life, but he was married three times, divorced twice and has seven children. (The Australian Literature Resource)

2.2. The book

From its first release in 1983, The Bodysurfers has been widely acclaimed a wonderful example both of Australian writing and of the short story form. With recurrent themes and characters across the collection, and familiar beach side settings in many of the stories, these are tales which Australian readers can relate to. (Aussireviews)

The book consists of twelve short stories, depicting three generations of the Lang family and how they live their lives around the beaches of Australia. Each story has its own plot and could be seen as a completed story, but if you see them from a different perspective, you will recognize that the stories are interrelated and supplement each other.

Nearly every story talks about the difficulties which the characters have to surmount, how they try to keep their bodies up on the surface like real Bodysurfers (a variation of the sport of surfing). They all try to ‘ride the perfect wave’ which is used as a metaphor for living a good life.

3. Landscape and Identity

“When Australians run away they always run to the coast.” (Drewe 55)

The landscape is the most important element in this book; each short story lives because the characters identify themselves with the surroundings and integrate the beach into their lives. They transform the beach into a social place and give it their own personal stamp. The beach is deeply involved in the conflicts of their lives and helps some of them to overcome their ups and downs.

I personally compare these feelings evoked by the beach with the feelings I have when I am next to the mountains, can go into the woods or sit beside a little creek. Everybody:

has different views about a particular place, e.g. for a Christian the local church might be a location with associations of communal support, a place of particular significance as a place in which one’s beliefs and values can be nourished. For an atheist, the church might be an architecturally interesting old building but is unlikely to be seen to have any bearing upon her or his behaviour in and around it. (Giles, Middleton 121).

I think this describes perfectly how places can be seen and how they influence your identity and lifestyle to a certain extent. For the Australians, and so also for the characters in the short stories, the beach is extremely valuable, like the church for the Christians. For me, on the contrary, it is not so valuable, I do not identify myself that much with the beach, like in the example the atheist does not with a church. Human behaviour changes, when people can identify them with their environment and by living in a specific place.

This can be seen perfectly in the short stories of The Bodysurfers and I want to show how the different characters deal with their environment, which means the coast, and how place is linked with their consciousness: whether through memory, imagination or through direct contact.

Language, images or metaphors are keywords when we talk about this topic and we also have to keep in mind that the landscape in this story transforms itself into different social places (Giles, Middleton 148). Another keyword for the analysis is importance: the landscape descriptions should show how important it is for every person to have a home and to recognize your very own home through the environment.

3.1. The view from the sand hills (Drewe 85-92)

…I wandered down to Tamarama beach from the boarding house and just got in amongst all the bare tits, bold as brass. […] But it got me going, I can tell you, those plump bodies gleaming with suntan oil, that sweet coconut smell, it was heaven… (Drewe 91)

In this story the main character and also narrator is Paddy, a former inmate, who is using the beach for perverse and obscene fantasies. He lurks behind the sand hills, watching and photographing couples having sex or young women lying around naked or topless.

His language is rude, although direct and to the point. He describes the beach as it is, not using any metaphors but simply describing what he sees. In his eyes the beach is not only a lonely place to think about life, but a vivid place, where many people live together and share the same habits. And exactly these habits are his dreams: sun oil, nudity and sex.

His identity can be seen through his actions, his language and his connection to the beach. The rudeness in his description depicts his way of life and emphasizes what he appreciates.

Sex on my mind the whole time, racing from one beach to another, must have trudged over every sand hill in the state! Now I mostly concentrate on one beach. Don’t think I’m going to give the beach away! They’ve got these sorts of vigilante groups now and they come at you all fury and saggy balls, not even stopping to put their pants on, with the intention of beating the shit out of you! (Drewe 88)

The most important element which identifies him is his fantasy, he lives his life merely through his dirty mind and his criminal past, e.g. “ I would not mind seeing her down at the beach one lonely night, snatch like a clam, I ’ d reckon. “ (Drewe 92)

Interesting is that even a bad and nasty guy like Paddy, who stalks young women, has feelings and craves a quiet and blissful life. “I sometimes wonder about my wife, where she is […] I could see us living together up the coast. […] I think of heaven sometimes.” (Drewe 92)

This story shows very well how the beach can be seen, as a crowded place, where people not only sunbathe but also live their sexuality.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


"The Bodysurfers" by Robert Drewe. The Landscape and its Effects on the Identity of the Characters
University of Innsbruck  (Department of English)
The Urban and the Rural in Australian Literature
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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429 KB
bodysurfers, robert, drewe, landscape, effects, identity, characters
Quote paper
Anna Rauch (Author), 2010, "The Bodysurfers" by Robert Drewe. The Landscape and its Effects on the Identity of the Characters, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/272959


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