Top Australian writers join Bendigo Writers Festival lineup

7 June 2012

Written by: Steinar Ellingsen

The inaugural Bendigo Writers Festival will take place in August this year. With budding writers’ groups such as the Bendigo Writers Council already in place,  it was an obvious next step to provide an outlet to learn, educate and discuss all things writing with others who share the same passion.

A  highlight of the festival will be a range of guest speakers including Don Watson, Gideon Haigh and Ita Buttrose.

How did the idea for a writers festival in Bendigo come about?

When my partner and I moved to the country near Bendigo about two years ago, I went to work for a local paper, and set about getting to know the city. It’s a lovely place, and growing fast. I discovered so many interesting people, and so many different kinds of lifestyles. I began to realise it would make a good place for a writers festival (which is all about energy and community involvement). I was surprised there wasn’t one, so I set about “joining the dots”.

We have a superb street (View Street where the art gallery is located) and an ideal venue, The Capital, which is a lovely old building with interesting spaces. We have a uni too, La Trobe, so experts in writing and literacy as well as young people ready to take part. And we have a progressive council, willing to back a good idea. Voila: after many, many, many meetings, we are off and running…

Who makes up the committee?

We have an organising committee which I’m on, with Sarah Mayor-Cox and Sue Gillett from La Trobe Uni, novelist John Charalambous (who is doing a PHD at La Trobe, Di Dempsey who lives in Bendigo (writes for The Age) and Dawn Rasmussen, (President of the Bendigo Writers Council).

We are chaired by councillor Rod Fyffe who is a huge supporter of the arts, and there is also a management group, with Jacoba Kelly and David Lloyd from The Capital, Kathryn Mackenzie from Bendigo Tourism and a kind of rolling group of other people from the council and La Trobe.

How do you feel Bendigo will benefit from this festival?

We are so ready for an event like this. Bendigo is a big country town that is becoming a lovely little city. There is a divide between old Bendigo (which is a little suspicious of change) and new Bendigo, which is often (made up of) people like me, who are astonished at how good it is to live here, and then there is the new generation of young people, who deserve to feel they live in a place that cares about culture, and reading, and thinking. A festival like this, which is really for everyone, gives us an opportunity to enjoy our city in a different way.

Was there already a high demand for such an event or are you hoping to encourage more locals to explore writing?

Both. There is a very lively writing community in Bendigo and in the region. And we have wonderful history (the biggest gold rush in the world and communities such as the Chinese making such an impact). We have Alex Miller (Australian novelist) and Don Watson (Australian author) living not too far away, and we know it is no longer impossible to be a writer and live in what city folk call “the regions”.

What are some of the main attractions the festival will include?

We have a young readers day featuring the wonderful Leigh Hobbs and Craig Smith. We have panels on testy questions such as “do men and women write differently?” and spotlight sessions, where a writer will be interviewed solo. We also have a festival hub, a kind of big lounge room with food and drink, and a hot-seat in the corner, for short readings and talks.

What do you want writers’ to take away from the event?

A warm memory of what may well be a chilly weekend. We want them to feel this is a writers festival about reading, about the pleasure of books, and about why we know, in our hearts, how important to a healthy community is a passion for writing.

Who will this appeal to – when you say “writers” who does this include?

The memoirist, the poet, the novelist, the songwriter, the dramatist, the blogger, the historian, the newspaper columnist.

The Bendigo Writers Festival will be held from 10-12 August and will feature over 50 writers from all literature genres. For more information, visit http://bendigowritersfestival.com.au/ or check out their Facebook page.

Cass Savellis is a final year Bachelor of Journalism student and is a former member of the upstart editorial team. She writes a blog and can be found on Twitter @csavellis.