Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Adelaide Writers' Week

Crowds gathering around the West Stage,
waiting for the lovely Gail Jones to speak.
This afternoon, it was my pleasure to walk down to the Pioneer Women's Memorial Gardens and join in some of the events that were being held for Adelaide Writers' Week. For those of you who don't know, Adelaide Writers' Week is a biannual event that is free to the public and makes up part of the much larger Adelaide Festival of Arts. What some of my friends and colleagues may find more surprising, however, is that this is only the second time that I have attended Writers' Week. The first time was in 2002, back when I was still a university undergraduate, who quite happily spent the (very hot) day trampling around the gardens in thongs, denim shorts and a very old tank-top. The highlight of the day was spotting Scott Hicks, the director of Shine in the crowd. My companion and I had a good laugh the whole drive home about how pompous and arty-farty the whole event seemed. 

Attending Writers' Week in 2012 as, dare I say it, an adult, was a very different experience. The first thing I noticed as I walked through the gardens was the diversity of the crowd. Old or young and from many different cultures, many, many people had come to share the experience of meeting and listening to some truly wonderful authors. As I approached the Gardens a little after 1.15pm, a large group was clustered around the East Stage, quietly listening to M.J. Akbar. Meanwhile, I was attracted to the larger crowd that had gathered around the West Stage. Here, Bill Gammage was speaking with Phillip Jones about his book, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aboriginies Made Australia. Standing on the outer fringes of the crowd (no seats left,) and searching for what little shade was left, it was not only my pleasure to listen to Gammage share his vast knowledge of the traditional owners of the land, but I got to share that experience with a pair of Indigenous teenagers who had come to Writers' Week specifically to hear Gammage speak about his book. 

When the talk came to an end, I took a quick detour to buy a bottle of orange juice, before finding myself  a more comfortable position to sit and listen to Gail Jones. Although I have not yet read her novel Five Bells I was interested to hear what inspired her to write the novel, and her characters, who come from very different backgrounds. All of her characters see the same thing in the book, Sydney's Circular Quay, but describe it very differently, based upon their own backgrounds, outlook and experiences. Immediately after the session, I purchased a copy of Five Bells (and somehow lost my bottle of orange juice, but that is another story,) and read a section of it during my train journey home. The talk, combined with the first section of the book made me think about many individuals may describe the same thing differently. Which makes me stop and think. I wonder how many other people attended Adelaide Writers' Week today and how they would sum up the experience?