It just keeps getting better at the MWF

I liked Friday’s sessions a lot, but I liked Saturday even more. If my enjoyment of the festival keeps increasing at this rate, my head might well explode by this time next week…

I arrived at Federation Square at dusk, ready for a few of the later sessions on the program. The Square looks really amazing at this time of day, and the feeling you get when you look around is quite special. In one sense it feels as if the space is winding down for the day, with families wandering wearily home after a full day of activity, and in another sense there’s a feeling of anticipation for the night to come, with groups of friends meeting, ready to descend on the restaurants, pubs and clubs of the city centre.

After having a little chat with the lovely Mel Hobbs, I made my way to ACMI Studio 1 for Tasmania’s Call, a panel session featuring Natasha Cica, Sarah Kanowski and Michael Vetch. This session held particular significance for me, having grown up in Tasmania. I have often wondered what path my life might have taken had a stayed there, particularly in regards to my education and my writing. The panelists had some really insightful things to say on how Tasmania sees itself, and the dynamics that are working within this unique State.

The panelists shared their thoughts on the uniqueness of Tasmania, and they all seemed to agree that Tasmania is indeed very different to many other parts of Australia, environmentally and culturally. Michael ventured that it might be “something about being on the absolute edge of the known world.” As such, it produces literature unique to place, it’s environmental rawness and distinct isolation cannot help but influence the thoughts and deeds of those living and creating in this special place.

Not all the panelists agreed that Tasmania is any more unique than anywhere else, with Sarah suggesting that “Tassie needs to find something beyond it uniqueness…” and to identify with more than just being very different.  Despite this, they did all agree that the geography of the State, the effect of being on the very edge of the world created a sense of wildness perhaps not felt in towns like Melbourne or Sydney. Michael believes that “Tasmania prides itself on its isolation” and Natasha recalled how difficult it used to be to leave: “It cost a huge amount to travel to Melbourne, and it was very difficult to get to the mainland.” As a result, many Tasmanian’s choose never to leave, creating a kind of happy introspection.

I’m looking forward to getting hold of a copy of Natasha Cica’s Pedder Dreaming on its release, and I was greatly encouraged to hear that she thought real change in attitude in and about Tasmania was evident. I’ll also have a look into Michael’s new book The Forgotten Islands (2011), a travel memoir about the isolated islands of Bass Strait when it’s released.

I was so pleased to hear from Sarah Kanowski, editor of Islanda literary quarterly that publishes the very best contemporary writing – fiction, essays, memoir and poetry. I picked up a copy of their Winter Edition, and I plan to feature it in a blog post in the near future.

After this session, which made me feel a little bit homesick for Tassie, I attended the John Button Oration – The Fire Within. It was quite a privilege to hear from the most accomplished Honourable Michael Kirby. His progressive and eloquent discussion on a range of issues such as public education, the introduction of a bill of rights, and the current debate regarding same-sex marriage was enlightening and inspiring.

He has an incredible way of teasing out the threads of an issue, making the facts and feelings obvious from each other so as to be able to better understand the true nature of the argument at hand. What an amazing man, and amazing speaker.

The oration was well attended, and very well received. I’m so glad I was able to go. I am now looking forward to reading his forthcoming publication, A Private Life, a collection of essays which he describes as a picture of “his inner life.”

Today I’m looking forward to a little feminist discourse (what better for a Sunday afternoon hey?) as I’m going to see Dissecting Gender and Big Ideas: A Long Long Way to Go – Why we Still Need Feminism.

I’ll report back tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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