The Drowning by Bryan Brown

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

In 2021, Bryan Brown, a well-known Australian actor, published a book of short stories, Sweet Jimmy, which was also available as an audio book narrated by Brown. His first novel, The Drowning, is to be published in the latter part of 2023. As an actor he has performed in over eighty film and television projects since the late 1970s, both here in Australia and abroad. His journey as an author is just beginning.

Brown’s curiosity about how ordinary people get swept into the criminal underworld sparked the idea for a television series. It is what this book is all about. Familiar with a working-class upbringing in Sydney’s west, he has used his personal experiences and observations of those times when creating this latest work, The Drowning.

The book is written with mostly simple sentences which include some truncated words – ‘school hols’ and ‘gal iron’. It contains the vernacular and arrogance one assumes, of those early years – ‘Yeah, just fuckin with ya’ (100). ‘He’d shaken there with an attractive one-nighter one night. The attractive one-nighter probably remembers shaking there with a one-nighter herself’ (227).  This is the vernacular we have become used to hearing from Bryan Brown in the many roles he has played. Yet for all this, it is quite a complicated story because of the many characters whose storylines can be found within each chapter, rather than in chapters of their own.

Sometimes it is difficult to know whose storyline is being advanced and to distinguish between those who are on the right side of the law and those who are engaging in questionable activities, especially when the scales seem to be heavily weighted in one direction. Investigation into the drowning of a young aboriginal lad when his body washed up on the beach begins the process of solving this conundrum.

The setting is a small beachside town north of Sydney, away from highly populated areas and prying eyes. This is a place where ‘most blokes on the coast surfed, or had surfed. Same with weed. Most smoked or had smoked’ (183). It is a destination where people from different nationalities are to be found.

There is the Danish backpacker who suddenly disappears. There had been talk of a Chinese ship going aground and illegal immigrants. One storyline features young girls from South America being enticed to come to Australia for fruit picking. Many of the characters now calling this place home had originally come from Middle Eastern or European countries or had that heritage. Although the area presents as a sleepy backwater, there is a lot going on.

With many singles or partners away for long periods, sexual encounters take up a lot of the residents’ time. The funeral of the young lad reveals much of aboriginal culture. People are puzzled about the drowning, but life carries on as usual, except for the local policeman who has a ‘nag’, and he had learnt to trust his instincts. Others might have information that could help him but doing so would expose secrets they wish to keep.

To add more drama to this story one of the key characters remains nameless always being referred to as ‘the fella’.  Although keeping mostly to himself, his building skills draw him into the lives of some of the other unsavoury characters here. But he has his own agenda.

Brown himself admits that he is a reluctant author. However, his stories have enough twists and turns to hold fans.

This book is written for Australians of a certain age, as people from other parts of the world or some older readers may not understand the full meaning of the language used. This reader remained confused for a while, about the following sentences – ‘then he made his way from gummy to gummy. There were gummies and bushes all the way to the shed’ (3). What is a gummy?

About a week after I had finished reading this book and writing the review, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. Maybe the gummies were gum trees. Those sentences then made sense.

The Drowning


By Bryan Brown

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-76106-980-2

$32.99; 288pp


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