Day 3 BWF 2017

August 15, 2017 - 10:30 am 4 Comments

She Followed Her Heart was the title of the session featuring Marie Munkara, a survivor of the Stolen Generation.  Since it was staged in the lecture room of the La Trobe Art Institute—another excellent venue—this much more intimate atmosphere allowed the audience to interact with the author and her story. Karin Altmann struck just the right note as the convenor of the session, enabling a fascinating story to unfold and the audience members to feel they were part of the unfolding.

In 1963, the author was taken from her full-blood Aboriginal mother. She was three years old. The rationale for this bureaucratic act was  that  having a Chinese father, Marie was considered to be too white to be brought up by her natural mum. She was adopted by a white couple who were strict Catholics—though apparently not so when it came to their own behaviour, for, from a very early age, Marie was sexually abused by her white father. His wife, knowing that this was happening, merely averted her gaze. When she was 28, Munkara discovered her Aboriginal origins and set out to find her birth family. This is where the humour of the book, Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea, is generated: a rebellious young First World woman is suddenly thrust into the Third World, and she’s not going quietly. Shamefully, third world conditions still exist in Aboriginal communities today, a point which Marie Munkara makes very clear in this book. It is part of its humour, which is  irreverent and subversive enough to compel the reader to  follow Marie’s search for her Aboriginal identity. However any fair-minded reader would understand the anger that it thinly veils.  Without the humour this story could be very hard going, for this is a subject which many white readers would find too confrontational to be starkly enunciated.


Poetic State was the last session for me at this year’s BWF. There were others that I would like to have attended, but couldn’t do so since they were held at the same time as those I did attend. The Moral Tightrope was another I would like to have caught, but it was rather late in the day for my friend and I, who had to return home. So I am reiterating my hope that the organisers of the BWF recorded the sessions. Many would make excellent radio programs—for the community FM or RPH stations if not the ABC. Just a thought.

Three of the four editors of the new Contemporary Australian Poetry anthology were the speakers at Poetic State. They were David Musgrave, Judy Johnson and Martin Langford. The fourth, absent member of the editorial committee, was Judith Beveridge. Simon Patton competently convened the session.

Poetry is the poor relation of the other writing forms. The economy doesn’t like it much, therefore there are relatively few publications around. Schools—unless individual teachers are passionate about it—don’t seem to bother teaching it much any more and it has  disappeared as a subject of serious study from many universities. However, if you were to ask some elders in our community if they liked poetry, they would probably give you a verse or two of  “I Love a Sunburnt Country” or “The Man From Snowy River,” for example, poems they learned at school, even though they may have completely forgotten what they did last Friday.

Contemporary poetry is harder to negotiate for readers than the traditional, narrative forms, however, and as the poetry in the anthology comes from the last 25 years of Australian writing, it is contemporary. Judy Johnson said that each poem in the anthology has a cultural voice, which defines it as Australian, as well as the poet’s personal voice. Martin Langford said that there is a “sense of space” in Australian poetry, and that it has a “groundedness”  to it. Scientific observations, for instance, are  reflected in colloquial language.  Simon Patton believes that Australian poets project a sense of estrangement from the environment. (Is this a clue as to why we allow so many abuses to our environment?)

The introduction to Contemporary Australian Poetry points out that publishers such as A&R, OUP, Penguin and Heinemann, have stopped publishing individual collections, yet small, independent publications have been proliferating. It also says “there are more people writing poetry of publishable standard than ever in this country” so clearly, many Australians love their poetry.

For me this was an interesting session, giving me much to ponder. In fact, the  BWF  as a whole was a very valuable three and a half days.

Though this may seem a statement of the obvious, the best Writing Festivals are not just Wordfests, they are also Thinkfests. Ultimately they become Talkfests. Of course, they are equally an opportunity for writers to be introduced to their reading public and to sell their books. Bendigo, once again you’ve created a splendid environment to facilitate such activities and you’ve got a lot of tongues wagging about important issues. Well done! Now, dear readers, you can see why I so love the month of August.



4 Responses to “Day 3 BWF 2017”

  1. Phee Says:

    Sounds like a wonderful festival!

  2. Cheryl Says:

    It was, darling. Next year you will have to come with me. I am sure you will find something that you’d like a lot.

  3. Cheryl Says:

    For instance you would have loved the David Marr session. He is one of the best political commentators in the country and he has such a relaxed style on stage. My friend, Trish, was raving about him, saying that he is so accessible, never obscure or supercilious. He just tells it as it is.

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