Robin Bower author: childhood home in South Perth

Memories of river set the scene for new novel

I was born at the South Perth Community Hospital and grew up on the banks of the Swan River in Parker Street opposite the Perth Zoo. My home was a grand old house that my grandfather bought as a home for his wife and three daughters. On his death, two of the daughters (one of whom was my mother) and their families were invited to live with their mother. We inhabited a downstairs dwelling which was big enough for my family of four. My aunt, cousin and grandmother (my mother’s mother) lived upstairs. Majestic views of the Swan River greeted them in the kitchen at breakfast, and the myriad lights of the city glittered on the river’s surface at night. I spent many evenings in my childhood listening to the roar of lions from their nearby zoo enclosures. I waited for them to send me to sleep, which became a comfort that I would listen for in the quiet of the night. Most weekends I would take my friends to play tennis at the zoo tennis courts, and move around the grounds on the miniature train. In my mother’s day, and between the 1880s and 1952, the foreshore between Mends Street and the Causeway was home to Chinese market gardens operated on leasehold land. These were run by Chinese immigrants who came out to join the Kalgoorlie gold rush but were denied miners’ rights. I’ve taken ‘novelists’ licence’ to move the market gardens into 2010 when I’ve set my new novel, My River Sanctuary. When her father dies, Kim Chen takes over the family’s market garden, at the south end of the South Perth Esplanade.

Robin Bower: lionRobin Bower: At the Perth Zoo

I have taken this setting from the past to create a contemporary story of diverse cultures inhabiting the scenes from my own and my mother’s childhoods to create the story. My River Sanctuary, my third book, is a quintessential Perth story, and is particularly relevant to anyone who is familiar with South Perth and its iconic landmarks. The following paragraphs are snippets of different scenes from the book.

‘Just past the first turn of the winding river, and visible at the second, was the old Swan Brewery. At the base of Mount Eliza it sat there on the bank, nearly on the beach and in the water itself, this monument to what some thought fuelled Australia — beer. It was older than Kim, seemed a part of her and certainly a part of her history. She was fascinated by the antiquity of the buildings. Built in the early 1880s, it had been used as a brewery until about the 1970s. The old structure’s haughty presence was the sign to ferries arriving in the city that the Narrows Bridge was beyond.’

Robin Bower: The Swan Brewery
The Swan Brewery

This is the view of Perth city (below) that Kim and Jack experienced growing up, and Kim now sees from her home at the bottom of the hill in South Perth. It’s where Jack spent most of his childhood sailing, and his son Ayden spent kayaking.

Robin Bower: Swan River water

As Kim is walking along the river to meet Jack, the Aussie boy next door whom she’s loved forever, this is what she sees (below). She is meeting him for what is to be their first intimate time together, a meeting that will have consequences for the rest of her life and one she will always remember.

Robin Bower: Swan RiverSouth Perth foreshore











Ayden just loves kayaking. More than Uni, more than household chores, and possibly more than his mum, Kim. Well he is going through a stage — Kim hopes. He built his own treehouse overlooking the river and the city and Kim’s not allowed anywhere near it. Home turf, his territory. What will happen when a stranger moves in to the family home?

Soon enough, they begin a relationship of sorts and It is not far from here where  Ayden and Ara from Afghanistan go kayaking for the first time, and where her trust is really tested.

Robin Bower: Under the Narrows

Take away the block of apartments and the metal stairway. Imagine rickety wooden stairs broken in places with a dirt track leading to it. This is where Ara walks down to the ferry with Kim to make her first visit to the city. She is excited but the day does not end well for Ara, or for Kim.

Robin Bower: Down the stairs to the river

Kim had taught Ayden about Chinese traditions — as much as she remembered from her father’s teachings. She had forgotten most of the Chinese language he had taught her; she was saddened by that now. Ayden loved the lunar new year traditions so Kim tried to incorporate them into life for him from a young age. Most of all he loved getting the red packets of money from Chinese friends that were symbols of energy, happiness and good luck.

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My River Sanctuary: Robin Bower, author


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  1. Gary Bird says:

    This is such a great companion piece to the book, Robin, and a brilliant way to create even more interest in it 🙂
    Well done! (And what a house to call home!)…

    • Thanks Gaz. I think it’s nice to know a bit of background to the story and as it’s an actual setting, it does make it more real for the reader. That’s the intention anyway!

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