Grab an Early Bird ticket today

Edwina Johnson (picture by Tim Eddy)

Edwina Johnson
(picture by Tim Eddy)

I’m thrilled to announce that Early Bird tickets for the 18th Festival go on sale on today. Food, history, true crime, travel, music, politics, screenwriting, memoir, journalism, sport, surf, poetry, art, romance, education, comedy…whatever your literary love, we have it covered.

We’ve dedicated the last five months to assembling an incredible program of literary stars all of whom will converge on Byron for three days in August in celebration of writing. Over the next few weeks we’ll be bringing you a taste of what we have in store before the launch of the full Festival program on 6 June.

A coup of which we’re particularly proud is securing US author Poe Ballantine. His latest book, Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, part memoir, part true crime, is an incredible story about his neighbour, a college math professor who disappeared and whose mutilated body was found three months later. Author Cheryl Strayed says ‘Reading his work is inspiring, agitating, and invigorating… This is his best book ever.’ And Tom Robbins ‘Mark Twain would have admired his wit, and had Oscar Wilde read him, he would have bought an old Ford pickup and moved to Nebraska the day he got out of the slammer, hoping that some of his style rubbed off on him.’

Poe told me: ‘I’ve been a vagabond most of my adult life, living in at least seventy different places all over North America, but leaving the continent FINALLY and getting a chance to see Australia is the biggest thrill yet.’

Poe will feature at the Festival in various sessions including a conversation with ABC Radio presenter Richard Fidler at the Byron Community Centre. The interview will be recorded for later broadcast on his program ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler. So keep your eye out for that one.

We’re also bringing you a fascinating insight into Australia’s future direction on the world stage by our 22nd Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. He will discuss his new book, Dangerous Allies, in which he asks whether our country should continue to follow our policy of strategic dependence or move towards a more strategically independent foreign policy. He makes an impassioned argument for breaking the current agreement with the US, to have an independent relationship with the superpower to allow Australia to have a more mature role in the region, most especially with China. I anticipate we will have a packed marquee for that session.

The line-up in the children’s marquee on Sunday is shaping up to be action-packed and great fun. It’s a special day for kids where they can meet some of their all-time favourite authors and be introduced to some new ones. Remember, we offer a Youth Pass especially designed for kids to take advantage of our dedicated children’s program.

A headline act for this year’s children’s marquee is Mem Fox, one of Australia’s best-loved picture-book authors whose books Possum Magic and Where is the Green Sheep? have sold millions of copies around the world.

Just a reminder that the Festival is being held from 1- 3 August with workshops commencing on 28 July. Our discounted Early Bird tickets are available for a limited time only so why not head to our website now and book.

Edwina Johnson, Director, Byron Bay Writers Festival

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The 18th Writers Festival is shaping up to be the best yet…

Edwina Johnson (picture by Tim Eddy)

Edwina Johnson
(picture by Tim Eddy)

After a whirlwind move from Sydney, I’m close to finalising a rich program of writers, performers, poets, thinkers, comedians and musicians for the 2014 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. The program is filling out with talent covering everything from politics and crime to screen writing and fiction in all its forms. We have some international gems and a host of the best local writers and thinkers in Australia today.

I’m very excited about incorporating new media into the program. We are trying some new ideas to diversify the program and explore different literary mediums.

Our partnership with Griffith REVIEW goes from strength to strength. The most recent issue of Griffith REVIEW, co-edited by acclaimed New Zealand author Lloyd Jones, shines a spotlight on the shifting tides in New Zealand. Through this association and with the support of the NZ Book Council, we will be bringing some of New Zealand’s most exciting and innovative literary talent to the Festival.

Other areas that are emerging as strong Festival themes include the environment and investigative journalism. I think Festival-goers will find this aspect of the program incredibly stimulating. The children’s program is also looking fantastic with some of Australia’s favourite authors coming to inspire our young writers and readers.

So mark your diaries. The Festival is being held from 1- 3 August with workshops commencing on 28 July. We’ll release early bird tickets on 11 April and the full program on 6 June.

It’s such a privilege for me to invite leading writers and thinkers to congregate in this stunning landscape to celebrate the written word in all its forms. It’s also a privilege to live in these spectacularly beautiful surroundings. I’ve been holidaying in Byron for the past twenty years and feel so fortunate to have found such a stimulating job in one of the most beautiful places in Australia.

I’ll be here regularly updating you on Festival news, so watch this space.

Edwina Johnson, Director, Byron Bay Writers Festival

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Gillard’s homework for us : Anne Summers

One of the sessions that sparked the most passion at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2013 was by iconic author and feminist Anne Summers and journalist, political commentator and author George Megalogenis.
“We should all thank Julia Gillard for the speech she gave on June 26,” said  Summers, to an audience that overflowed from the marquee on an unusually warm August 1 afternoon.
It is belated yet perhaps timely to post a few days ahead of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s conversation with Anne Summers in Sydney on September 30 and Melbourne on October 1. (Both events sold out rapidly and the conversation will be live on ABC 24 on Monday, 6.30 p.m.)

Called The Misogyny Factor, the same title as Anne Summers’ book, the BBWF session looked at many topics other than the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and these are touched on in an earlier post.
The country handled the experience of having a first female prime minister very badly, said Summers. “But why? It wasn’t just that Gillard was a woman, single, childless, atheist a migrant, or had a particular kind of voice.”
“These are the things we have to talk about. What was it about Julia Gillard that we found so hard to deal with?”
“Gillard would make a good teacher. She is a bit of a schoolmarm and she has given us some homework,” said Summers. “Our homework is to have a mature conversation about what it meant.”

Australia was one of the last countries in our region to have a female leader. In the world there have been 63 elected women.

We cannot overlook the extraordinary campaign of vilification, hatred and mockery to which she was subjected that had an incredibly corrosive effect on her legitimacy, said Summers. In what would be her final interview as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard told Anne Summers  did not expect to win the 2010 election.

The Kevin Rudd orchestrated leaks were fatal to Gillard in the 2010 election campaign, said Summers.
“What’s happens if a bloke’s not good? Did the Labor party kick out a bloke who’s no good and say they would never have another bloke?” 

We have a bit of a double standard where it’s OK for a bloke to knife another bloke but not OK for a woman “What’s happened now?”
“She’s gone and not sticking around to do to Kevin what was done to her.”

And now they are attempting to excise her from memory and we should not allow that to happen, said Summers. “There are bipartisan national policies for the National Disablity Insurance Scheme and the Gonski reforms and Child Sex Abuse Royal Commission and the apology to victims of forced adoption and bipartisan policies that would not in place that would not in place if Julia Gillard had not been Prime Minister for three years,” she said.

Summers spoke about ‘That speech’ saying Julia Gillard had reacted with white hot rage when Tony Abbott used the word ‘shame’ after the comments by Alan Jones.

“People think that speech was an attack on Abbott but it was only partly.The powerful thing about that speech that she said was this had happened to her, that she had been treated badly, that the ‘ditch the bitch’ signs had offended her,” said Summers. “She had shed the victim status. She made it OK for women to object.”

“Huge numbers of people are angry and we should be getting together in groups around the issues that concern us. That’s the point I made in book,” said Summers.
Women need to have organized lobbying in Canberra. It needs to be a professional, she said. Until now, we have not been good at recognising this has to be put on a professional footing.

Summers said in Byron Bay that “we need to do the homework Gillard set us.”

Perhaps next week in Sydney and Melbourne we may receive a progress report.

Marian Edmunds

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Feminism at the festival

The sexism experienced by Julia Gillard isn’t anything unusual for women in Australia said Maxine McKew.

Maxine McKew talks about feminism at Byron Bay Writers' Festival

Maxine McKew talks about feminism at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival


“It’s no secret that women have a tough time of it in Australian life. Whether they are in politics, or academia or the corporate sector,” said McKew.

Despite recognising the misogynistic nature of some of the commentary surrounding Australia’s first female Prime Minister, McKew said that Gillard should have kept quiet.

“It seems to me Julia had a choice. Outrageous things were said about her, but I think she could have taken the moral high ground.”
If Gillard wanted a debate about gender she shouldn’t have made it about herself, said Mc Kew.

The idea that women should ‘be nice’ is a hugely limiting concept. Catherine Deveny pointed out that girls would be described as bossy, where the same behaviour in a boy would just be considered good leadership skills.

“And then women are opinionated where men just have opinions, women are mouthy but men just talk,” said Deveny.

Promotions and pay rises are awarded to men more often then women. Research into these phenomena always seems to come to the same conclusion- that women need to be more assertive and demand recognition at work.

Entrenched sexism is another barrier faced at work and certainly explains some of the barriers to the continuation of Gillard’s political career. Gillard was right to call it out.

The most baffling thing about McKew’s stance is that she isn’t blind to sexism. She wasn’t parroting Kevin Rudd’s recent assertions that the Labor party is a gender-blind meritocracy.

Silence on sexism and a kind of sisterhood of women in power, lifting one another through the ranks, is the way to achieve equality said McKew.

The sisterhood culture exists amongst the women of the Labor party according to McKew, but Gillard was never a part of it. McKew spoke about Gillard coming from a family where gender didn’t matter.

“She didn’t see the need the network with other women. She associated more with the cardigan-wearing men of the party,” said McKew.

Smugly, McKew went on to suggest that Gillard learned the meaning of sexism by the end of her prime ministership.

Lifting up those women coming behind you is important, but it can never result in equality. If we perpetuate that culture there will always be more men lifting others up behind them. After all doesn’t that account for the parliament filled with old white blokes that we have now?

McKew was hardly taking her own advice in her lambasting of Gillard. It reminded my of a comment Deveny made earlier in the festival.

“If every nation has an emotion then Australia’s is envy. Envy and the tall poppy syndrome,” said Deveny.

Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Arts student.

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Can Labor ascend from the badlands?

The heated debate in the SCU marquee on Saturday afternoon at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival was over the current problems associated with Australia’s Labor Party.

The session was brimming with punters just as passionate about Labor’s fate as the panel of expert political journalists and ex-politicians.

Disillusionment with the Labor Party and indeed politics in general is widespread in Australia— as serious debates around policy are continuously overshadowed by endless polls, PR campaigns and election stunts.

According to James Button, political journalist, author and former speechwriter to Kevin Rudd, Labor has been the main vehicle for change in Australian policy over the last fifty years. However, for the last ten years the party has been in a terrible state.

“Unfortunately it’s not a great party anymore,” Button said. “It’s not embedded in the life of Australia anymore and its policy making is opaque.”

Veteran political journalist Alex Mitchell, agreed that Labor no longer had the same ethos as it held earlier.

“The notion that the Labor party is still working for the working classes is a fib of the imagination,” Mitchell said.

“They are serving the interests of vested interests, not public interests.”

Former Labor politician, journalist and author Maxine McKew was less scathing, however she is still critical of the party’s corporatisation and reluctance to embrace strong and ethical policy-making.

“We’ve become afraid to get genuinely involved in the contest of ideas,” she said.

“We’ve never been in such a period of volatility.”

One issue that McKew was adamant about is Labor’s reluctance to take an ethical stance on asylum seekers.

“It’s perverse to be sending people who have trouble with personal security to a country like PNG, which also has huge problems with security,” she said.

“We’ve turned this in to psychopathic episode when it should have been a manageable issue.”

Mitchell also argued that the media has lost a great deal of its objectivity and is increasingly a powerful proponent of political spin.

“Most of the imbeciles in the press gallery gave up journalism to be become propagandists for one side of the other,” he said.

Button strongly agreed, and added that the media is doing a disservice to the public and their readers.

“Both the political side and the media side have let us down,” Button said.

Indeed, Button believes the media played a big role in dismantling the Gillard government, a case also put by political commentator Kerry-Anne Walsh in her book The Stalking of Julia Gillard.

“They’ve had the Gillard government on a knife’s edge,” he said.

However, McKew argued that the Gillard government was bound to be unsuccessful from its very beginning.

“Gillard was never forgiven by the Australian community for putting Rudd to the sword,” she said.

McKew’s affinity with the Rudd government was obvious. However, she doesn’t see Rudd as a silver bullet solution— rather as a step in the right direction on the challenging road to reform.

The other panelists agreed that there is hope for the Labor party, as long as internal conflict is resolved and strong, and ethical policy-making is implemented.

Clearly Labor requires an overhaul on many levels and winning the next election, now called for September 7, will be a challenging feat. However, Labor supporters still hold hope that it can emerge from the badlands to reclaim itself once again as an honourable political party.

Madeleine Brown is a Creative Writing student at Southern Cross University.

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The end of the age of deference: liberating the sexuality spectrum

Sexuality has come a long way, but why is being gay, lesbian, queer or transgender or why are certain sexual behaviors still categorized and stigmatised?

The panelists at the SCU tent opened up this controversial topic on Saturday morning with lighthearted wit, yet the debate still had serious undertones.

Author of Gasia: Adventures in the Queer East and self-confessed gay, Benjamin Law talked about the challenges of growing up in a conservative Queensland community as both Asian and gay.

“People would tell me that they didn’t consider me to be Asian, which was meant as a compliment,” Law said.

“When you’re a teenager, you want to fit in, so you defer to your friends.”

Another proud gay man, gold Olympic medalist and author of Twists and Turns, Matthew Mitcham, also faced challenges growing up gay.

“I knew I was gay from an early age but I tried to be straight,” he explained.

“Kids pick-up on hetero society and see it as ‘normal’. They just want to become invisibilised.”

The other panelists, Mary-Lou Stephens and Tom Doig, don’t identify as gay, but both feel there are unhealthy sexuality stigmas still prevalent in society.

Stephens believes her strict Anglican homophobic upbringing propelled her to explore her sexuality.

“My mother wouldn’t accept anyone who was gay,” she said. “She thought they were terrible sinners.

“I wanted to burst open those doors as much as I could. So, I tried very hard to be gay and at one stage I did fall in love with a woman. But I soon realised I was straight.”

In Stephen’s memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, her eye-opening ten-day silent retreat helped her discover why her relationships failed and gave her an enlightened view on sexuality.

“I thought my relationships were better than my promiscuous friends, but I began to re-think all of my prejudices,” she said

Tom Doig  also littered the pages of his first novel with sexual insights.

Moron to Moron: Two men, two bikes, one Mongolian adventure unravels Doig’s overseas odyssey with his uber-masculine friend Tama, who ironically grew up with three gay fathers.

“Tama’s hetero sexuality was over the top. It was something he had to act out, after coming from three gay fathers,” he said.

Doig’s novel unabashedly reveals sexual behaviour, in what he describes as the longest wanking scene in literary history.

“It’s the climax of the book,” Doig quips.

Sexual taboos need to be broken down: that was the consensus amongst the four panelists, who believe the older generations hold them the strongest.

Mitcham and Law were terrified to tell their grandparents they were gay, yet their parents accept their sexuality, which is possibly a sign that sexual prejudice is becoming outdated generationally.

However, even though there is more acceptance, having an alternative sexuality is still foregrounded by society.

“You’re not considered an author, you’re a ‘gay’ author,” Law said.

Micham said that he’s sick of being put in a clichéd category.

“I’m gay, but I don’t consider it the most interesting thing about me,” he said.

Indeed, there’s a long way to go before alternative sexuality becomes normalised and accepted. However, there is a new assertiveness by those unwilling to be relegated to the clichéd and prejudiced position that dominant society has historically placed them.

As chairperson Jane Caro emphasised, this is the end of the age of deference.

Madeleine Brown is a Creative Writing student at Southern Cross University.

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‘I’m a feminist and…’

Jane Caro doesn’t hate Alan Jones. He’s the gift that just keeps on giving.

Jones’ misogynistic remarks gave life to the Destroy the Joint Twitter hashtag and it was his comments a week later that bolstered #destroythejoint, and stopped its initial viral run from dying out.

What Caro had started one night after a couple of glasses of wine has been picked up by Jenna Price and others and has morphed into a movement.

The group’s lobbying cost 2UE over $3 million in advertising pulled from Jones’ show and saw Mercedes reclaim Jones’ personal Mercedes Benz.

“Now that is real clout. That represents real world consequences for sexism and for continuing to bank roll sexism,” said Caro.

Destroy the Joint was the rebrand that feminism needed, said Catherine Deveny.

“There are so many men, but mostly women, who have been listening to the radio, making phone calls, tweeting and having an impact” said Deveny. “It’s enabled women whose personal circumstances might prevent them being involved in more hands on campaigning to be involved.”

Although she confesses to usually hating hashtag activism, Jennifer Mills said she thinks that in this case it provided the moment of catharsis that feminism needed.

“Sometimes, it can feel a bit like we’re just attacking whoever is baiting us this week without actually achieving anything. I was really glad to see it develop into a full on movement,” said Mills.

The versatility of the words ‘destroy the joint’ make it the perfect rallying cry. Women can imbue them with their own meanings, which is demonstrated in the variety of stories shared in the book Destroying the Joint.

Melissa Lucashenko’s initial reaction was one of celebration but, close on the heels of that, she said was an Aboriginal reaction.

“Whose joint are we talking about? Which joint? Haven’t white fellas been destroying the joint for the last 200 years?” Lucashenko said, “I’m all for creative destruction, but destruction for destruction’s sake, no.

“Indigenous people have, especially indigenous women, have been the brunt of that kind of destruction for too long.”

How can we structure our destruction to make it productive? The panellists spoke about using your spending power to vote out sexism, free and safe abortion on demand, and women’s and workers’ collectives.

“It’s simple though,” said Caro, with her characteristic dry humour. “Practise saying, ‘I’m a feminist and…’ And if anyone says ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ Shoot them.”

Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Arts student.

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