2015 Eye of the Storm – Day 3
with Festival Guest Blogger Mark MacLean
Saturday, 19 September 2015
A writer once described his book launch as ‘the storm before the calm’. I was anticipating something similar with the writers festival: there seemed to have been so much going for so long already that would the weekend itself feel anticlimactic?
The answer was, thankfully, no. Olive Pink Botanic Gardens at any time of day is a glorious venue, but early in the morning or late in the afternoon, it shows itself off at its best. The car park was filling, the Bean Tree Café was punching out coffees at a prodigious rate and the Red Kangaroo pop-up bookshop was shifting units.
In the gazebo we gathered on metal chairs to listen to a group of women who between them hold centuries of wisdom. On occasions like this it becomes blindingly obvious just how much words like ‘custodian’ and ‘healer’ and ‘knowledge holder’ are puny attempts to render a word from a first language. Dr Josie Douglas led us with her usual calm dignity as the women told stories of living on country, on missions, and funny yarns of cheeky billy goats. But looking at the panel and the audience I was struck by a question that I find myself asking so often on occasions such as this: Where are the men?
The helpful folk at the check-in desk tell me that I’m due on in Hut 1. Unfortunately none of us know where Hut 1 is, or if it’s even a hut. (Sally fesses up later that they just made the word ‘Hut’ up because they didn’t actually know what kind of shelter, if any, might be available.)
We scout out the location and decide that a metal shelter on the southern boundary is, of this minute, Hut 1, and at 11 o’clock, our ‘self-help’ teas in hand,
six of us wander past the bower bird’s bower and settle down for a couple of hours of exposing our inner thoughts to a critical audience.
Did I say this would be fun?
It was; in fact, it was big fun. Such a talented group of writers, prepared to make themselves vulnerable and share their creative thoughts in ways that had each of us nodding in agreement or clapping or laughing.
So much talent.
But there’s no time for congratulating one another because, immediately after, there are two panels to get to: first off, Jessie Cole and Clare Atkins; then Yugambeh woman Ellen van Neerven and the guys from the SWEAT-SHOP collective.
Jessie and Clare are both such accomplished authors and yet, as is so often the case with creative types, humble and self-deprecating. We all want to know how they do it: fit writing and creativity in the whirlygig of life and ‘real’ work and children and … everything.
The SWEAT-SHOP guys come from a different world: one where the status quo is there to be challenged, where people talk of ‘queering the third space’ and where young people embrace old models of publishing in ways that unsettles the establishment. It was all quite unlike anything else that was happening around us, and when the ever gentle Dick Kimber asked a question in his quiet Centralian drawl it felt like the kind of cultural collision that Doris Stuart deals with on a daily basis.
Do we get time for lunch? Only a quick bite. On my way through the gardens I come across Diane Lucas, clearing up after one of her gorgeous workshops.
The ‘table garden’ is filled with the found objects that children have scavenged, the clay animals they’ve made and the puppets they’ve used to tell the stories of the land.
Di’s books have helped non-Indigenous kids to understand the seasons of Kakadu, the ways of the desert and – most recently – the work of Indigenous rangers to nurture the Top End’s endangered fauna. All this with her signature warmth and laughter. Go Di!
Festivals should surprise. If you don’t get to be surprised then someone isn’t doing their job.
These guys are doing their job because I was surprised in the best possible way at the Drawing Story presentation with Craig San Roque, Rod Moss, Joshua Santospirito and Jan Bauer. This multimedia presentation was like an MGM blockbuster from the old days: make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, leave ‘em wanting more.
Craig’s ‘lost weekend’ isn’t new as a publication but is still crispy fresh as a story. I took to heart the advice of the Warlpiri gentleman who sternly advised Craig:
‘We’ll look after our Jukurrpa. You whitefellas look after your own Jukurrpa.’
Jan’s reading of his Salty River graphic novel was wonderfully presented, with a ring-in ‘Morgaine’ providing the hilarious foil to Jan’s stumblingly besotted German trekker.
Morgaine: ‘I thought you liked to walk alone?’
Jan: ‘Um … ja. Usually I do.’
And afterwards, after I get Jan to sign my book, he sprinkles salt between the pages. I’ll keep this a surprise for CB when she opens it, then complain about the grit between the bedsheets.
As the sun drops behind the ranges we gather around the Bean Tree Café for the last time that day for the launch of Ali Cobby Eckermann and Christopher Raja’s books. People sip beers and wind down after the adrenaline rush of the day, take mini nanna naps and get ready to rev up for the Rooftop Rant ahead.
And rant they did, at the Epilogue Bar beneath the stars.
Candy Royalle closed the poetry section and had us all howling at the waxing moon (Ginsberg would have been proud of us).
Candy has performed on each day of the festival and, each time, has come up with some new piece of material or new angle or new way of skewing the world People have really taken her into their hearts.
Then, after wowing a packed house at Olive Pink with her performance Of Cows, Women and War, Ajak Kwai closed the evening with beautiful soulful songs that had the rooftop bar swaying.
What a day!