Reflections on the Thirroul Readers and Writers Festival

2016 saw the second Readers and Writers Festival at Thirroul in the first weekend in September.

Thirroul is a seaside suburb of Wollongong on the NSW South Coast, once a small mining village with a distinctive character. As a suburb, it is very proud of its mining, railway and shipping past. It has literary links with DH Lawrence, as he and Freida lived here while he wrote Kangaroo in a cottage called ‘Wyewurk’. Lawrence’s descriptions are for some places, still true.

More recently, Ashley Hay set The Railwayman’s Wife in Thirroul. And it was in the Railway Institute, where the Library of the book was, that the Festival held its opening function on a night of teeming rain. We were entertained by readings of poetry and a short story and cello recitals accompanied by wine and canapés.

Thrroul Writer's festivalThe Festival was the brainchild of Denise Russell who rallied friends to organise speakers, sell tickets, cater, find backers for the first festival. Denise was the program director and  this year a formal committee was organised with Victoria Keighery as Director. The theme this year was ‘On the Edge’ – to be taken literally and metaphorically at this seaside town.

I don’t intend to go through session by session, but rather show what I think are some of the attractions of this small scale festival.

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It’s important to note that the work is done by volunteers. Money is raised to pay speakers, hire venues, and any profit goes to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

It was appropriate, then, that the opening session was a Q and A with Linda Burney, (who four days before had made her maiden speech as the first Indigenous woman in the Federal House of Representatives,) and with her biographer, Noel Beddoe. Linda was warmly received and there were interesting questions about Linda’s early life. The biography publication date is not yet set.

One of the things I admire about this festival is the variety in the type of sessions.

On Saturday morning, a group of very excited youngsters read their prize-winning short stories to the audience, then had a private discussion about their work and writing future with a published author. It was great to see the Festival encouraging young talent in this way.

Literary quizzes and games broke up the more formal sessions. These formal sessions were wide ranging – indigenous writing, censorship, writing as political action, book reviewing, poetry reading and playwriting.

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As befits a Festival at Thirroul , Joe Davis’ session on DH Lawrence is always enthusiastically received.

On Saturday evening, Robert Hood, Robyn Cadwallader, Noel Beddoe and Marion Halligan read from their works and talked about important writing moments in their career. I met Marion Halligan briefly in the foyer where she’d been taking a break. It’s important to remember that authors aren’t by nature performers, usually, and festivals are often very demanding. Others might relish it. Marion Halligan has coined one of the most charming titles for one of her Canberra set mysteries – The Apricot Colonel. I was sorry I had not brought along my copy of her collection of recipes titled Eat my Words, though we did have a chat about writing recipe books.

Participants could also avail themselves of writing workshops on poetry and drama.

There were books for sale from Dean Swift, a Nowra bookshop. Festival goers were keen browsers.

The Festival finished with the debate: Novels need heroes.

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This small festival provides a wonderful opportunity for people to get together and exchange ideas. No matter what part of the reading/writing process you are involved in, there is a warm personal engagement at such a festival.

I urge you to try one.

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