Published: Lightning Books (August 2019)

ISBN: 9781785630910

The Drover’s Wives

Ryan O'Neill


101 reinterpretations of a classic Australian short story

‘A work of virtuosic flippancy tempered by considerable intellect’ – TLS

SHORTLISTED: Queensland Literary Awards

SHORTLISTED: Russell Prize for Humour Writing

Henry Lawson’s short story The Drover’s Wife is an Australian classic that has sparked interpretations on the page, on canvas and on the stage. But it has never been so thoroughly, or hilariously, re-imagined as by Ryan O’Neill, remixing and revising Lawson’s masterpiece in 101 different ways.

The variations include a pop song, a sporting commentary, a 1980s computer game, an insurance claim, a Hollywood movie adaptation, a cryptic crossword and even a selection of paint swatches printed on the back cover.

Inventive and unexpected, this is laugh-out-loud literature from the author of the award-winning Their Brilliant Careers.





‘In his supercalifragilisticexpialidocious new book Ryan O’Neill does something stunningly original using Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife – turning it into a bravura literary game. I have never read a work like this before. It is a perfect reference book and teaching aid for teachers and students of English by illustrating the rich variety of ways we play with and use the language. A cerebrally imaginative tour de force

Frank Moorhouse

‘Playful, inventive and often laugh-out-loud funny, The Drover’s Wives is a brilliant array of Oulipo-inspired exercises in style’

David Belbin


‘A work of virtuosic flippancy tempered by considerable intellect – great fun from start to finish’

Times Literary Supplement

‘The book is imaginative, clever, experimental, adroit, self-reflexive and very funny. As you turn the pages, you wonder just what O'Neill will come up with next’

Sydney Morning Herald

‘Pitch perfect… hilarious… Fellow writers in particular will enjoy O’Neill’s gift for literary karaoke… This is a book that begs to be read aloud. The reinterpretations are short, between one and three pages, and every one is entertaining. O’Neill is so adept at literary ventriloquism and at mastering multiple genres and forms’

The Australian

‘Inventive and ridiculously funny, this is a book about the multifarious ways in which a story can be told’

NB magazine

‘Captivating, coruscating, brilliantly honed satire... With this new work, O’Neill brings something new and thoroughly engaging into the Australian literary scene. Read it slowly, bit by bit, because satire gobbled too fast can overwhelm the reader or dull the senses. But read it, and odds are you will, by turns, laugh and weep’

Australian Book Review

‘The literary world can be rather po-faced sometimes, so it’s always a pleasure to come across an inventive book which offers the dual delights of intelligent writing and funny jokes’

On the Bookshelf

‘It’s a kind of satire of everything that's been done on the subject [of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife] in the past, and I think it’s brilliant. It’s hilarious… There’s so much literary criticism built into it, so much awareness of popular culture, so much wit and little jokes that come into into it, that I’m totally entranced’ 

Susan Wyndham, ABC Radio

‘Really enjoying this playful book which retells a classic 19th-century Australian short story in 101 different ways’

Booktime Magazine

‘An incredibly witty and entertaining satire’

Bookshine and Readbows

‘Highly enjoyable, constantly surprising, and well worth your time’

David’s Book Blog


Ryan O’Neill: Why I wrote 99 versions of Henry Lawson’s most famous story – Sydney Morning Herald interview.

How the trade press in the Northern Hemisphere and Down Under reported our acquisition of The Drover's Wives.

Listen to a broadcast review by Australian literary critic and prize judge Susan Wyndham on ABC Radio Sydney. From 1'35.

Read an entertaining Q&A with Ryan O’Neill for the Australian Book Review.

Read the citation for The Drover’s Wives from the judges of the Russell Prize for Humour Writing.


Ryan O'Neill

Ryan O’Neill was born in Glasgow in 1975 and lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Australia.

His short story collection The Weight of a Human Heart was shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards.

His debut novel Their Brilliant Careers, first published in Australia in 2016, won the Australian PM's Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

He lives in Sydney.

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