I recently spent a few days in Darwin as a participant in the Wordstorm Festival. Plus enthusiastic audience member. To be in Darwin is to be reminded how close Australia is to Asia, especially to Timor and to Indonesia. Maybe, as a subtle reminder, the rest of us could be trucked up to the Top End once a year. Something else for Kevin Rudd to think about and then not act on. I ate a stack of good food, too, not least a fabulous Thai yellow seafood curry (I’ve almost forgiven the waiter for ignoring me when I was trying, with increasing desperation, to order another beer).
Top of various highlights of Wordstorm was a searing panel session entitled ‘When Death is a Constant’, featuring Ali Cobby Eckermann, Iyut Fitra and Wesley Enoch. It was desperate, sad, angry, poetic and thought-provoking. And hugely entertaining in the best and most challenging of ways. A rare moment in any Writers’ Festival. I was also privileged to hear a 20 minute Germaine Greer riff on myths in Australia. Because the focus is usually (and quite rightly) on Greer’s ideas, pronouncements and legacy, it’s easy to forget what a brilliant user of words she is — especially on the page but also in front of a crowd. I also enjoyed watching Don Walker in action a couple of times, and it was fun to watch his laconic insistence that on most days basically nothing happens to an audience who couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe that (a) it might be true, or (2) a former member of Cold Chisel could be the one pointing it out to them.
I enjoyed my own sessions. I was on a panel called ‘Utopia’ with Indigenous writers Philip McLaren and Yvette Holt and Indonesian writer and broadcaster, Mohamad Gunter Romli, and another panel called ‘Writing Yourself into History’ with Jill Jolliffe (author of the excellent book of investigative journalism, Balibo) and José Bello, an East Timorese journalist and freedom fighter.