Day 2 BWF 2017.

August 14, 2017 - 7:59 pm No Comments

Having missed The Pleasures of Leisure with Robert Dessaix and Caroline Baum—which I heard was wonderful—I’m wondering if the Bendigo Writers Festival is recording any of the sessions. If so, I would like to acquire a copy of this one.

In the slot at the Capital Theatre after Caroline and Robert, David Marr was predictably sublime. His subject was The White Queen aka Pauline Hanson. His Quarterly Essay on the same subject is as much about her followers as it is about herself:  not the poor and disenfranchised as they are often represented to be, but members of the Middle Class who have jobs and, quite possibly, Subarus. They are secular, not at all religious, they do not attend churches—a glaring difference from the followers of Donald Trump, who have also been characterised as “fundamentalists” and “knuckle-dragging rednecks.” Yet it’s possible Hanson sees herself as the Antipodean component of the Donald Trump entourage. Marr describes Hanson’s maiden speech and those that followed, as “evangelical meanness.” Yet these were the very speeches that John Howard himself dipped into, though presented in another guise.

Pauline Hanson, says David Marr, is the “classic Liberal.” She was endorsed by the Liberal Party for an unwinnable seat (Ipswich, Queensland,  historically held by the Labor party) made a thriving business from her fish and chip shop in Ipswich, and then expelled from the Party for embarrassing comments  about Aboriginal people—which John Howard (remember the Intervention?) and the mining companies used to their own advantage. Howard actively courted the 25% of the electorate that voted for her, using such Hansonisms as “I can choose who comes into my house” regarding Australia’s Refugee Policy.

When Hanson was convicted and jailed for electoral fraud, One Nation toppled. But she’s back, and David Marr cautions us against underestimating her. She is a brilliant communicator, he says, despite her grammatical glitches, and she  hates progressive elites with moral views as much as she hates to see money spent on people who are out of work. Rather like John Howard. In fact, when an audience member asked facetiously if Pauline Hansen is the love child of John Howard, Marr said, “No, they are twins, separated at birth.”


The next session at the Capital was scheduled as Uncomfortable Truths, and was supposed to be about The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse and George Pell. However, since the Cardinal has been charged by the Victorian Police with multiple historical sex abuse offences himself, the program was changed to The Long Goodbye, about the slow death of The Great Barrier Reef.

This session emerged from yet another Quarterly Essay, this time by Anne Krien, using the title originally used by Raymond Chandler for one of his crime fictions. Though to any fair-minded person, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef falls into the category of serious crime, it is sadly, no fiction.

A passionate voice for it, Anna Krien gave us some sobering facts and figures about our Reef. Coral bleaching is a sign of  stress. Eighty to ninety precent of the far north of the Reef has bleached and most of it died instantly. At the moment the southern part of the Reef is okay, but with pressures from Adani, the mega coal mine, how long will this last? Thousands of kilometres of mangroves have turned white and the Murray has had massive algae bloom because of the increase in the temperature of the water. If you’re wondering why the Queensland government is flirting with Adani, it is because so far it has spent 10 billion dollars on coal-related infrastructure, and wants to get that money back.

The NSW Anti-Corruption Commission should be rolled out across the country, says Anne Krien, requiring transparency about everything from what land is dug up to where the minerals are sold. The revolving door between lobbyists and their staff and the politicians must be shut.


The Art of Debate, something I had eagerly anticipated, was for me, the low point of the Festival. Perhaps if it had been run as a debate, or if the rules of debate were adhered to, a more coherent discussion would have emerged. As convenor, Annika Smethurst seemed to have no control over the journalists—one representing a Murdoch newspaper and the other the Guardian—so that the most interesting speaker, Kon Karapanagiotidis, seemed hardly to get a word in. Though I was more inclined to agree with the sort of things the Guardian journalist was initially saying, she basically hogged the discussion, speaking far too long (though the Murdoch journalist did start the proceedings with a very long spiel) that she quickly became very irritating. She did not project or vary her voice effectively, so that much of what she said became towards the end of the hour just a blur of undifferentiated sound. Or rather, noise. I would have liked to have asked a question about the way the journalists were batting around the terms “Left” and “Right” regarding the major political parties, and to Kon, about why there was no public debate re the plight of our asylum-seekers. But of course there was no question time, the Guardian journalist was hanging on to the bitter end, so no one else could get a look-in. Ironic when you consider the title of this session was “The Art of Debate.” Quite a few people walked out. I wish in retrospect, that I had.


Music for Meditation in the Engine Room at the Old Fire Station, brought back our sanity. There were two musicians, Michael Johnson on harp and Evripides Evripidou on guitar. . . Or were they really two angels in the guise of mere men? My friend and I were feeling rather bludgeoned by the last session and the meditation with beautiful music was sweetest balm.


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