Yarra Valley Writers Festival – Saturday 17 July 2021

I realized the other day that I am missing two things in particular under COVID restrictions: writers’ festivals and conferences. I miss the lining up, the bookshop to browse in, the ‘housekeeping’, the stewed coffee, the nametags, the plenaries and the person standing up at the end to say “this is a comment more than a question” before rambling on while everyone shuffles their feet.

So when I saw that the Yarra Valley Writers’ Festival was going to be on in Warburton this weekend, I thought – right, I’ll go on the Saturday! But then on Thursday night the lockdown descended again, and that was the end of that. But not quite, because forced online last year, the YVWF already had a ‘curated’ Zoom stream set up as well as their face-to-face offering. With this fifth lockdown (I can’t believe I’m writing ‘fifth‘) the focus shifted to the online program instead. When I learned that the links would be available for 7 days after, I decided that I was still ‘in’. I wouldn’t watch everything: I really wanted to go for a walk because I haven’t been outside for 2 days, and the thought of sitting staring at a screen all day didn’t fill me with joy.

The morning started with Don Watson, who has released a collection of his writing called Watsonia. I’ve read many of his books over the years, and even though I find his public persona rather dry and prickly, I do enjoy his writing. Either he has mellowed, or I am getting dry and prickly myself, but I enjoyed this wide-ranging session. He displayed his usual diffidence about the act of writing, and his dislike of managerial sludge. He spoke about the influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez on his history writing, and his regret that Recollections of a Bleeding Heart fractured his relationship with Paul Keating, while rebutting the charges of ‘betrayal’ that were levelled against him. He talked about the press gallery then and now, and the way that Trump has upended the idea that if a politician attacked the interviewer, the political argument was lost. He finished by noting that liberating ideas always have their dark side: the scientific revolution led to Hiroshima; Christianity led to the Inquisition, the dream of a neoliberal society with a strong safety net destroyed the ALP. I realized again how much I enjoy his writing, and I’m tempted to buy the book.

I hadn’t read either of the books for the next session (Kokomo and A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing). It was time for a walk while the rain held off, and by the time I returned the poetry session with Ellen Araluen and Tony Birch was half-way through. I’ll catch it up later.

By the time I finished lunch, the next session was underway. ‘Putting Music into Words: Music Industry Writings, Murmurings and Generation Change’ featured Stuart Coupe, Brian Nankervis and Phillip Frazer (who I had never heard of, but I learn that he was involved with Go-Set, my teenage bible). It was a bit ‘old blokes sitting round yarning’ and name-dropping- although both Stuart Coupe and Brian Nankervis had enviable bookshelves.

I caught half of ‘ Can I Pay for Dinner with my Postcode’ with Dennis Glover (Factory 19), Glyn Davis (On Life’s Lottery) and Rick Morton (On Money). I’ve often seen Rick Morton on ‘The Drum’ and I like his writing in the Saturday Paper. This will be another one to catch up on, because I had to leave to talk with my Spanish-speaking friend Diego for our regular Saturday one-hour 1/2 Spanish 1/2 English conversation.

Finally Louise Milligan spoke with Kerrie (as distinct from Kerry) O’Brien about her recent book Witness which explores the effect of our justice system on those who appear as victims and witnesses in our courts. As a Four Corners reporter, she has broken several big stories over recent years about Cardinal George Pell, and more recently against the Attorney-General Christian Porter. She is fearless in her reporting, but I fear for her as reporter.

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a cold, wet, locked-down Saturday. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I’ve signed up for tomorrow again, for another day’s viewing that will be punctuated by my Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a Spanish movie that is only available tomorrow and a ukulele strumalong.

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