Sydney Writers’ Festival

Friday morning I sat in the gate lounge out at Tullamarine airport, watching my fellow passengers arrive, and sent the following text to some people who knew I was heading up to Sydney on the 10am flight:
Oh man. I think I’ve got the glamour flight. It’s full of fashionable-looking single women. Just as well I did my hair this morning.
To which The Poolboy replied:
They are probably going to Sydney for lunch.
It may not have been quite as decadent, but as far as I was concerned I was off to treat myself every bit as much – with three days at The Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Held predominantly at venues in the Walsh Bay precinct, in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge.

The place was buzzing with people with one thing in common: a love of words and ideas.
With my friend, M as my Festival companion, I enjoyed a jam-packed schedule of sessions (both paid and free ones).
Highlights included:
    • Hearing Michael Pollan speak (twice) about food. We certainly took on board his simple approach to the increasingly difficult issue of nutrition for health: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He was a delight to listen to, delivering his broad messages with humour and reason. After the second session, M and I lined up to get his latest book, In Defense of Food, signed. If they ever introduce queuing for author signings as an Olympic event, M should be captain of the Australian team – she has a system, which guarantees a swift and efficient process. We were almost about to go hear Pollan for a third time, but decided he may think we were stalkers by that stage.
    • Seeing Ramona Koval in a session entitled Booklust which also included Jane Gleeson-White. I listen to Ramona Koval’s Book Show on Radio National often, but had never before seen her, or even a photo of her, so it was interesting to put a face to the voice.
    • Experiencing Kylie Kwong’s enthusiasm for food and her Chinese heritage in a session entitled, Kylie Kwong’s China. Her descriptions of some of the dishes she discovered while exploring some of the remote parts of China started my mouth salivating.

  • Listening to Australian, Don Watson together with Americans, James Reston Jr, Andrew Bacevich and Ian Klaus discuss the idea of America: its confidence, its heros and its material obsession. It was particularly interesting to follow the discussion about whether it is ‘unAmerican’ to admit limits, and the idea that the culture has grown up with almost an expectation of endless abundance and endless choice.
  • Enjoying Judith Lucy’s performance as she discussed her latest book, The Lucy Family Alphabet. M’s husband joined us for that one, and we went for dinner afterwards.

After we returned home from dinner, M and I started having massive reservations about why on earth we had booked tickets to see a 9.30am Saturday session called The Whale Warriors: Peter Heller in conversation which was described:

Would you give your life for a whale? Peter Heller joined the crew of a vegan pirate ship as they set off across the wild Antarctic seas. Their mission: to save the giant mammals being hunted by the Japanese whaling fleet. Their approach: take no prisoners. he shares his tales of adventure on the high seas.

However, we approached it with an open mind, and were blown away by how much we enjoyed the session. I don’t think I’d be signing up to be one of the crew on the Sea Shepherd’s Farley Mowat, but I certainly have sympathy for their cause. And it highlighted also the personal risks some journalists or writers take in the interests of making the public aware of an issue.
Halfway through our sessions at the Festival, M and I realised we had chosen almost exclusively to hear writers of non-fiction. So we’ll be making an effort at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in August to go to more sessions by fiction writers.

We also realised it takes a lot of coins to feed Sydney parking meters over a three-day period, and that the best source of said coins is the moneybox of a tween. Don’t worry, she got notes in return. (And yes, we discovered the credit card slot in the machine above after we’d put the coins in…)

Another delightful aspect of the weekend was the opportunity to meet two bloggers that I have ‘known’ almost since I began blogging. M and I had arranged to meet Nutmeg and Blue Mountains Mary for dinner on the Saturday night, but we also knew that Nutmeg was going to be at the same Michael Pollan & Elizabeth Farrally session as us on Friday afternoon. Once we took our seats in the crowded theatre, I said in an off-hand way (not really knowing what she looked like), ‘Nutmeg must be in here somewhere, wonder if we could work out which one she is?’ At which point, we noticed someone a few rows in front, waving to us! Yes, she had recognised us.
So we met up with her after that session, and she and I went to the next session together. Then, Saturday night the three of us also met Blue Mountains Mary and we had dinner.
Neither M nor I had ever met a blogfriend ‘in the flesh’ so-to-speak. It was such a relaxed and enjoyable experience. It was just like meeting up with real-life friends. There was no need for introductions or small talk (which was lucky, as I don’t excel at small talk). We could start conversations half-way through, as we each knew the background. We also discovered things we didn’t know previously. Definitely a highlight of the weekend.

But alas, Festivals do eventually come to an end. Sunday evening I returned to Melbourne.
I’d been washed with words. I’d been packed full of ideas. I’d supped with friends.
I was satisfied.
So much better than a Friday ladies’ lunch.


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