Byron Bay Writers Festival – Day Two

Let me just admit from the outset that I didn’t see Julia Gillard. I realised early that if I wanted to get a spot in her session then I would basically have to plan my whole day around it. I considered doing this, but in the end I decided to take advantage of the relatively smaller crowds elsewhere and enjoy the rest of the festival.

So, first up I checked out the local authors at the ‘Meet the Locals’ panel. I enjoyed hearing more from Emma Ashmere and Eden Venter, and was entertained by the fact that Lisa Walker found inspiration for her book, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing‘, at the Big Prawn in Ballina. It was also lovely to see local High Schooler, Thea Shields, win the Susie Warrick Young Writers Award. She read an excerpt from her winning short story and it was beautiful writing.

Thea Shields

Thea Shields

For my second session of the day, I went along to ‘The Saturday Paper over coffee’ to hear Editor Erik Jensen and writer/doctor Karen Hitchcock talk about current affairs and the paper. Jensen’s attitude towards the newspaper was impressive. He emphasised his commitment to publishing articles that wouldn’t be published elsewhere – those that take time to research, and to both write and read. He also said that The Saturday Paper takes the news and makes it more complicated (or more nuanced), because its entire model is predicated on a belief in the seriousness of the Australian public. It was great to hear that the paper’s circulation has been continually increasing since they started 18 months ago.

Karen Hitchcock and Erik Jensen

Karen Hitchcock and Erik Jensen

From The Saturday Paper I headed over to the panel on Displaced Persons with Abdi Aden, David Manne & Annie Zaidi. Anni Zaidi’s accounts of the communities in India who are being displaced by big dams were horribly familiar, as were her stories of the government’s attempts to silence (& jail) activists through the use of India’s Anti-Sedition laws (this happened to Arundhati Roy). Abdi Aden highlighted the fact that most people love their country of birth and would never leave (and certainly never take a risky boat journey) unless they were being forced out – as he was from Somalia. David Manne spoke of his belief in the ongoing relevance of the Refugee Convention and argued that it is political will, not the Convention, that is broken.

IMG_1069I stayed in the SCU Marquee for the next session entitled ‘Jailed for Journalism: Truth-Telling and The First Casualties of War’. On the panel were Kate McClymont, Sally Sara and Greg Sheridan. The conversation ranged from foreign repressive States (Iran, China, etc) to the fact that our government has become just as bad when it comes to imposing extreme confidentiality obligations on public servants and, more recently, locking up both whistle-blowers and journalists for exposing its actions to the public – even those actions that we have every right to know about (such as government waste, corruption, etc).

Kate McClymont also raised the power of the private sector to silence people through the chilling effect of Australia’s extreme defamation laws (she was successfully sued by Eddie Obeid in 2001). Greg Sheridan highlighted the fact that defamation laws are so expensive to use that they only protect the wealthy. He was particularly scornful of people who sue for defamation when they have other platforms to defend their reputations – such as politicians and journalists. Cough, cough Joe Hockey and Chris Kenny.

Christopher Warren, Sally Sara, Kate McClymont & Greg Sheridan

Christopher Warren, Sally Sara, Kate McClymont & Greg Sheridan

I ducked out of the journalism session early to catch ’30 minutes with Emily Bitto’. Emily Bitto spoke about her inspirations for The Strays, which she wrote as part of her PhD at Melbourne Uni. I loved her musings on female friendship and her lament that it is so often portrayed in a negative light. It was great to hear Caroline Baum draw out the subtle feminist observations in the book – such as the way that the men dominated conversation even in an unconventional household. At Caroline’s prompting, Emily also spoke about the (somewhat) mixed blessing of winning the Stella Prize. Of course she was very grateful, but the schedule of commitments (events, etc) was clearly exhausting her.

Caroline Baum & Emily BItto

Caroline Baum & Emily BItto

Having missed Julia Gillard, I decided to go along to see Anna Bligh in conversation with Phil Brown. I heard her recently being interviewed on ABC radio and was taken with her self-awareness and her thoughtful analysis of the political scene in Queensland. In this session, Anna Bligh was warm and genuine. She talked openly about her childhood and her time as Premier of Queensland. I can see why she is remembered so fondly.

Phil Brown and Anna Bligh

Phil Brown and Anna Bligh

I dashed across from Anna Bligh’s session to catch the end of Matthew Condon giving the Thea Astley Lecture. I have to admit that I had never heard of Matthew Condon before, but he was an impressive speaker and echoed Anna Bligh’s evident love for Queensland – particularly highlighting the thriving and extremely supportive nature of the Brisbane literary scene. I should probably check out his books…

Matthew Condon

Matthew Condon

The next session was particularly excellent. It was a session on ‘Looking West‘ with David Ritter, Carmen Lawrence and Robert Drewe, hosted by Griffith Review editor Julianne Schultz. Paul had mentioned that I should be sure to catch a session with David Ritter and I was glad I did. Carmen Lawrence was also excellent. Not for the first time this festival, the panel emphasised again and again the overwhelming need for Australia to confront our brutal history of dispossession and violence against Indigenous Australians. They also spoke about the fundamental importance of connection to place. As an aside, I loved David Ritter’s observation that sport in this country has been so commodified by corporations as to be utterly boring – and totally disconnected from its ‘home grown’ origins. I had never heard this articulated so well. A classic illustration is the fact that I teach several rugby and cricket cases in my Competition Law unit.

Julianne Shultz,, Carmen Lawrence, Robert Drewe & David Ritter

Julianne Shultz,, Carmen Lawrence, Robert Drewe & David Ritter

For my final session of the day, I decided to check out ‘Pitch Perfect’ – where three authors pitched their unpublished manuscripts to a panel of three judges (two publishers and a literary agent) who both critiqued their pitches and decided whether they’d read the manuscript. The bravery of the three authors and the quality of their pitches was impressive. They were all very different – a three-part crime series built around a ‘flawed, but tough female heroine’; a ‘quiet, nostalgic’ book about a woman finding herself; and a book about a mother whose son disappears and who travels to Afghanistan (just before Sept 11) to find him. It was great to see the three judges being so constructive and supportive in their critiques, and a relief that all three writers ultimately ‘won’ in that at least one judge decided to read their manuscript.

'Pitch Perfect'

‘Pitch Perfect’

Here’s my wrap up of Day One, in case you missed it.

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