Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015

The West Stage at Adelaide Writers' Week - Helen Garner's Talk

I took time off work to got to Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015. I went in every day, though I don’t have the attention span or the stamina to last the full day. Generally I stayed for two to three hours.

Only when you attend an overseas Writers’ Week do you really appreciate how good the Adelaide event is. Firstly, it’s entirely free. Pick from over 100 presentations by leading writers, and you don’t have to pay a cent. Even the programme is now free. Go to an equivalent event  overseas and you can find yourself paying anything up to twenty-five dollars per presentation.  Secondly, it’s a stunning setting. the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden is a lovely spot, close to the city centre, but secluded enough to feel like you’re in another world.  Thirdly, March in Adelaide generally brings beautiful weather, and this year it was mostly mid 20s celsius for the whole week.

The result is that the event is very well attended, the audiences are appreciative, the sun shines and for a few days you can pretend that Australia really values culture and intellect and that the arts are an important part of everyday life. There are two stages, with events lasting 45 minutes from 9:30 am finishing at 6 pm. The writers aren’t all household names, but that’s the joy of it – you can listen in to writers you’ve never heard of and find yourself captivated by them, and noting them down for your future reading list. Or if you don’t find them interesting you can wander over to the other stage to see who’s talking there.

A few observations:

Julia Gillard – our ex-PM got a rapturous reception from her hometown crowd, and it must be good for her soul to feel the love after all the hate she got from Abbott and Murdoch. However, it still felt to me like a rather wooden Julia. The programme promised a ‘revealing and enlightening conversation’. Not really.

Hugh Mackay – Australia’s leading social researcher talking about the lack of ‘community’ and ‘belonging’ in Australia. He advised older Australians not to leave their suburban backyards for a tree or sea-change, whilst admitting that he’s done exactly that. I think he’s fallen into the trap that every generation does of criticising the younger generation for not being community minded enough. You could see lots of grey heads nodding in agreement as he criticised the over use of Facebook and phones. I don’t agree. I think these things are just tools which you can use to increase or decrease community attachment, as you wish.

Nicholas Clements – made some interesting points about the way that Australian history has been manipulated by both sides for political purposes, rather than being focussed on documenting what actually happened. His book “The Black Wars’ looks like a very worthwhile read about the genocide of Tasmania’s aboriginal population.

Miranda Richmond Mouillot – the fascinating story of her grandparents and how they escaped the Nazi occupation of France, but how it irrevocably affected their relationship; in particular the effect on her grandfather of being one of the first ever simultaneous translators – he worked on the Nuremberg trials, translating the evidence of the very German war criminals who had persecuted his family.

Poetry Reading – with Barry Hill, Anne Kennedy, Omar Musa, Sam Wagan-Watson and Ian Wedde. It’s a bit unfair to put ‘page poets’ on the same stage as such a brilliant performance poet as Omar Musa. Sam Wagan Watson and Anne Kennedy were still able to cut through to the audience. I didn’t feel Barry Hill or Ian Wedde did. Just my opinion of course.

Cate Kennedy – poet and fiction writer. She finished with what, for me, was probably the highlight of the week, a new poem about a school function where a father watches his disabled boy taking part in a limbo. Stunning poem.

Willy Vlautin – is a singer and novelist. He doesn’t read his work very well, but he speaks as if he is sitting next to you in a seedy bar in Reno, about war and the effect on working class American men. Could listen to him all day.

Helen Garner – speaking mostly about her great book “This House of Grief” which I read last year.

Jerry Pinto – what a character. This Indian author should give motivational speeches to people with writer’s block. He is hilarious and charismatic, and manages at the same time to talk movingly about his mother’s mental illness.

Antony Lowenstein – talked persuasively about the vested interests in war, prisons, detention centres; firms like G4 and Serco and Haliburton which make billions around the world from wars and from incarcerating people. God, how depressing. He also spoke about Palestine and the brutal colonisation by Israel. ‘Disaster capitalism,’ gives a name to a concept I was vaguely aware of – the way in which big companies make billions out of natural disasters, war and aid.

David Marr – never been a great fan of David’s. I felt he did a hatchet job on Kevin Rudd at a time when Murdoch and Abbott were doing the same thing. He (Marr) comes across in person as a bit too smug and self-admiring for my liking.

I was looking forward to hearing about Max Harris from his biographer, Betty Snowden, and daughter, Samela Harris. Unfortunately Peter Goers was determined to talk over the top of them, rather than encourage them to speak – so I moved to the other stage, where Don Watson appeared to have run out of energy and enthusiasm – and I could still hear Goers booming out from the other stage. Shame.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2014