Fire in the Water: An interview with Sarah Drummond on ‘The Sound’

The Sound, the second book from novelist SARAH DRUMMOND, is set around Western Australia’s King George Sound. Based on a true story, the novel tells of Wiremu Heke, a Maori man from across the Tasman who sails from Tasmania to WA in 1825 on a mission of vengeance. We asked Sarah, who’s worked as a fisherwoman, to tell us about Wiremu, The Sound, and the most terrifying thing she has encountered at sea.


Who is Wiremu Heke, or Billhook?

William Hook, as he is named in the archives, is someone I’ve stalked through explorer and coloniser journals for years. He came from the North Island of New Zealand, just prior to colonisation in that country. To tell you the truth, I fell in love with him – a man dead for more than a century. I thought that he, of all the men he travelled with, possessed a moral compass. I would like to have met him.

What happens to him in The Sound?

William Hook is sent by his elders to go to Australia, ostensibly to avenge on an attack on his village. In The Sound, he is from the South Island and situated at the site of a historic Australian attack on a Maori village. Hook sails on a sealing operation from Bass Strait to Western Australia in 1825, when the west had not yet been colonised by the British. He travels with Aboriginal women, men and children, as well as European and African American men. As he travels west, Hook begins to understand the power relations between black and white, man and woman.

How much of your novel is grounded in a real story?

It’s pretty close. I had to change some time sequences to create a storytelling narrative. I also had to change some people and place names, or invent the names for people who weren’t recorded. Other than that, the story is aligned with historical fact. When I first came across this story I couldn’t believe how perfect and complete it was. Everything was in place for a ripping yarn.


How has King George Sound changed between the early 1800s and now?

The journals say there were a lot of really big sharks in KGS! So maybe they are coming back again. Real estate. Whaling. Shore front industries. The dispossession of Menang people and their land.

Which modes of research were the most revealing about the seal hunters and how they lived?

Plomley’s edited version of George Augustus Robinson’s journals Friendly Mission is probably most scholars’ first reference to Southern Ocean Australian sealers of the early 19th century. His journals are amazing. They detail a Van Diemen’s Land in the crucible of war, and his writing on the sealers and women in Bass Strait is second to none. I also used the Frenchmen. They were sniffing about Australia and wrote great journals on the ‘natives’ and the country..

My primary source for the whole story is William Hook’s statement to Major Edmund Lockyer on the killing of a man on Green Island. You can find that reference in the Historical Records of Australia or on my website.

What’s the most terrifying thing that has happened to you at sea?

When I was not quite 18 I jumped on a yacht at the Albany jetty, heading for Hobart. We spent a week becalmed off the Bight somewhere. (We saw the QE2 motor past on her way west.) And then the storm started. Twelve-metre waves going sideways against an 18-metre swell. We all had six hour shifts and during the storm, while the crew were sleeping, I surfed that yacht. I was on my own. No-one knows what that is like, until you’ve surfed a 40-metre yacht down a wave at 20 knots, hit a wave, broached, and turned the boat on its side. I dipped the sails in the water that day. So glad I didn’t roll the thing. The night-shift mob crawled out of the hatch to abuse me for tipping them out of their beds.


Are there links between The Sound and your non-fiction title Salt Story?

Yes! I wrote The Sound while I was writing Salt Story and working on a small-scale commercial fishing operation. So really, I was always writing about rough men and women in small boats. The Sound just took a bit longer.

Which books, movies or music influenced the writing of The Sound?

I don’t know if this sounds strange but Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian bangs around in my head to this day. It’s about the brutal reality of men and women who are operating without a central rule of law.


Keri Hulme’s The Bone People.

Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party.

Richard Flanagan’s Gould’s Book of Fish.

Sarah Hay’s Skins

Rebe Taylor’s Unearthed: The Aboriginal Tasmanians of Kangaroo Island

Music: James Fairfield, Lana Del Rey, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Stick in the Wheel.

Could you share with us a favourite sentence or passage from The Sound?

“Feel this,” he handed her the rope. She took the wet, muddy cork in her hand. She felt fish hitting the net; a sharp tug on the rope, a lighter hit from the smaller fish, a flutter as they struggled. He wriggled a big silver fish out of the net.

“Hauture,”said he in his countryman’s language. “Skipjack of the sealers.”

“Madawick,” said she.

She woke early when the air was still and cold. The wind had stopped. She left her skins to squat a little way from the cave, drove a neat hole into the gritty sand with her stream. Shewatched the dark loom of the Māori.

“Get up Tama Hine,” he shook the little girl. “See this … something in the water.” He stood right on the lacy edge of the beach and strange blue lights shot out of his toes.

He waded in further and hot blue bullets fired away from his legs.

She heard the girl breathe in quick.

“Fire in the water, Tama Hine.”

The Sound by Sarah Drummond is published by Fremantle Press, rrp $27.99.

Book Club Notes | Teaching Notes | Extract

Sarah’s blog:


One response to “Fire in the Water: An interview with Sarah Drummond on ‘The Sound’

  1. Pingback: Sound As A Bell – The View From Mount Clarence·

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