Western Australian author Tim Winton has a big cultural footprint. The ocean-loving chronicler of maturing masculinity is literally a Living National Treasure, having been declared one by the National Trust of Australia. Perhaps they simply wanted the honour him with something more impressive than four Miles Frankin Awards (for Shallows (1984), Cloudstreet (1992), Dirt Music (2002) and Breath (2009)). He’s a literary giant, to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking he’s the only writer to come out of Western Australia.
As a Western Australian writer who got sick up to the back teeth with Winton while attending his alma mater (the lecturers at Curtin University of New Technology simply would not shut up about him) I can say that tendency does stick in the craw a bit but must be balanced with the acknowledgement that Winton really is that talented, and if anyone deserves that level of recognition and success, it’s him. He excels at documenting life on the WA coast with clarity and sensitivity, and brings the same approach to his characters, mostly young men coming of age in that milieu.
The protagonist of his 1997 novella Blueback is Abel, one of Winton’s young fellas navigating the path to adulthood and the secrets of the Southern Ocean. In Robert Connolly’s excellent film adaptation, Abel has become Abby, played at various ages by Ariel Donoghue (childhood), Ilsa Fogg (adolescence), and Mia Wasikowska (adulthood), who grows to love the ocean under the careful tutelage of her environmentalist mother, Dora (Radha Mitchell, with Liz Alexander playing the elderly eco-warrior).