Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 8, 2015

Bendigo Writers Festival

Amber in her new jumper (crop)

I have had such a lovely time at the Bendigo Writers’ Festival!

The Spouse and I drove up from Melbourne last night, leaving our precious pup Amber in the capable hands of our dear friend Glenda, arriving just in time at the Ulumbarra Theatre for the tasting session put on by Bendigo’s local Food Fossickers and producers and a nice glass of local wine.  Then it was into the theatre for a most entertaining session with Matthew Evans, Ross O’Meara and Nick Haddow of SBS TV’s Gourmet Farmer series fame, with food writer Dani Valent valiantly trying to keep them in line.

BWF Lisa and LilyAfter a good night’s rest at  the stylish newThe Schaller Studio, we were up bright and early for my first session of the day.  It was my pleasure to interview Lily Yulianti Farid about the books and publishing scene in Indonesia, and to explore further some of the themes in her short story collection, Family Room (which I reviewed a little while ago, and recommend to both readers and writers of short story as examples of fiction being used as a powerful medium for social critique).  We chatted about translation issues and about the importance of developing the profile of Indonesian writing, and how hopefully Indonesia’s role as guest of honour at the forthcoming Frankfurt Book Fair will encourage more works to become available in English and other languages.

After that I went to two very interesting sessions featuring friends of The Spouse.  Dr Meredith Doig and Ian Robinson from the Rationalist Society talked about how policy based on opinion rather than rational evidence can lead to privileging some ideas unfairly.  (An example of this is the granting of time in a crowded education curriculum for religious education in state schools which are supposed to be secular.  Under the existing rules, the children who don’t attend RI are not allowed to be taught anything because that would be unfair to the ones who do.  Therefore children whose parents don’t want them to have religion taught in school time at a secular school lose between 30 minutes and an hour of instructional time each week.  This is obviously not very rational when we as a nation are trying to improve education standards, eh?)

From there we went to hear Dr Lynne Kelly and author Ilka Tampe talk about pre-literate cultures and the transmission of knowledge.  Ilka is the author of Skin which I reviewed a little while ago, and it features a pre-literate society confronting the changes that came with the Roman invasion of Britain.  Knowledge in Skin’s fictional society is passed on according to the ‘skin’ totem assigned at birth and the story raises interesting issues about being excluded from some forms of knowledge and from access to education on the basis of one’s totem.   Lynne’s work also raises similar issues, and much more besides.  She has just published her PhD findings in her book Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies  (Cambridge University Press) and it’s a very interesting theory.  Places like Stonehenge that have standing stones are found all over the world, and they reveal markings which are used as memory triggers for knowledge which is passed on orally.  Australia’s indigenous people have songlines all over Australia which are places where knowledge is passed on to initiated people, and Lynne also showed us a coolamon which had markings on it, the meanings of which could be, at their simplest level passed on to anyone who took an interest, but which at their more complex level, be known only to elders who were entitled to know it.  This inclusion/exclusion from knowledge – as we know to our cost – makes this kind of knowledge vulnerable to extinction.  (This summary really is a gross simplification of a sophisticated theory, so do visit Lynne’s website to find out more about it.

(Update, the next day: check out the summary of Lynne’s theory in this article by the ABC as well).

After squeezing in a short break for a late lunch, I ducked into the last half hour of Sasha Grishin’s entertaining and informative talk about the goldfields artist, S.T. Gill, and could not resist buying the book that accompanies the current exhibition at the State Library of Victoria.  At the book-signing table I also had the pleasure of meeting Adrian Mitchell, author of The Profilist which is a fictionalisation of the life of S. T. Gill.  and if you are going to see the exhibition, I recommend that you get hold of a copy because it really will enhance your enjoyment of the paintings.  (See my review).

BWF Lisa & Roger After that, I had the honour to chat with Roger McDonald, who is one of my all-time favourite Aussie authors.  Usually when I go to writers festivals or author talks I’m dying to ask the author something and I sit there in the audience wishing the moderator would pick me so that I can ask my question.  What was really nice about doing a session like this with Roger is that I got to ask all the questions I’ve always wanted to ask – and I persuaded him to read one of his poems as well!  Not only that,  but I have a little scoop to announce: the book that he is working on at the moment is about lone sailors.  It was such a privilege to do this session and I will treasure my memories of today for a long time.

There’s more to come tomorrow, but I’ll say my thanks today to Rosemary Sorenson, Artistic Director and Anne Henshall, in charge of Marketing and Administration for organising a great program and for looking after us so well!


  1. Looks like a good time Lisa and must be nice to ask the question to writers you know so well


  2. Sounds like a great day, in a great town, with wonderful authors. I love the look of the program. Would be so hard to choose what to attend! Congrats on your sessions too. I bet they were wonderful.


  3. What a full day, glad you are enjoying it all.


  4. Thank you, Lisa, I feel like I attended the festival without even having to get up off the sofa! Sounds like a great evening/day and what a privilege to host a couple of sessions! Do you get nervous, at all?


    • *chuckle* Do I get nervous? Is the Pope a Catholic? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?


      • LOL. Terrible nerves is one reason why I’ve turned down a few gigs like this…

        PS > Forgot to say Amber is totally adorable :-)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, I’ve always, always been ridiculously nervous over anything, from driving tests to exams to making presentations at conferences which I’ve had to do at least a hundred times at work. So I know it’s going to happen, and I make sure I keep away from anyone else who might be nervous because they only make it worse. I hang around confident people who don’t have a care in the world (who are probably just as nervous as I am but are better at faking it). And I make sure that I am always over-prepared so that if all else fails I’ve got what I need to tide me over in the beginning. But you know, in every situation, as soon as I get in there and get started, it’s easy. If you know your stuff, and I make sure I do, it’s just like having a conversation with a best friend about books, only it’s your job to find out what they think, not blather on about what you think! (That’s the difference between a good lit festival chair and a bad one, IMO, the good ones let the authors shine and ask the questions that you want to ask them.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m with Kim … no matter how prepared I’d be, I hate unstructured conversations. I go all inarticulate. Presenting a paper is nerve-wracking but once I get going I’m fine, but something more free-flowing and I’m outta there. Perhaps being a teacher you’re more practised at thinking on your feet!


            • My big discovery from this festival is that everyone I spoke to worries about what they’re going to wear, worries about what they’re going to say, worries about whether they know anything and whether they’ll look like an idiot, and lies awake at night afterwards reliving all the terrible mistakes they think they made. Given everyone I spoke to also put in superb performances (and looked smashing on stage), I realised it’s not really worth all the worry and maybe I should try to cut down on it a bit.


              • Haha, yes. Trouble is it’s one thing to know this, and another to follow it. I haven’t managed to do it yet. I did a radio interview and a presentation in late June and I hated it though everyone said it was fine. But I just feel they’re being kind. I did love the laughter … But that was the content that I knew they’d love anyhow.

                Liked by 1 person

                • I think radio is much harder. I used to do radio shows with The Spouse, and sometimes on my own when he was busy and couldn’t be there, and the problem is that you can’t read the audience, you’ve got no feedback to know whether you’re on the right track or not.


  5. Well, Sue, you’re right in one way about the teaching: it’s certainly true that you can count on kids to respond in original ways and you just have to think on your feet. On the other hand, kids are so forgiving, (if they like you, that is), they wouldn’t be tweeting #hopeless presenter or #out of her depth even you were!
    And Jane, you are so right about the worries! When I got to the Schaller Hotel and everyone looked so young and hip even when they were obviously 10 years older than me, I felt a bit dismayed. Fortunately my recent op meant that I was limited to Things With Very Loose Waists and Things That Cover That so I didn’t have much choice. That made it easier to put that worry aside, but yes, I had all the other ones, of course!


    • Haha, yes, I guess kids, particularly primary school kids, are forgiving. I see that with my son. But still, the skill is there. You have to be reasonable for them to forgive you!

      As for radio, yes, that’s part of it. Face to face is much easier. I even hate phones for that reason. I used to do weekly interviews early in my career. I never loved it.


      • And yet, I never want to have video phone calls. Especially early in the morning when I’ve just woken up!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. […] interviewing two authors,(Lily Yulianti Farid and Roger McDonald)  is an excellent writer and by reading her blog, although salt in a still open wound, I appreciated the delights of an ideal weekend for those […]


  7. […] books I bought for the Kindle, to strengthen my awareness of Indonesian fiction in preparation for talking with Lily Yulianti Farid at the Bendigo Writers Festival.  At Amazon, it comes with an enticing […]


  8. Reblogged this on voxbendigo.


  9. […] spreading cultural knowledge between Indonesia and Australia.  I know Lily from my session at the Bendigo Writers Festival where we talked about her short story collection Family Room, (see my review). It was translated […]


  10. […] Tampke’s battle for Albion represents the conflict between modernity and tradition.  Southeast Britain has been colonised and its leaders have sworn fealty to Rome.  There is peace and order and the Romans go about doing what they did best, building things.  But Ailia, the flawed heroine of the novel, has a spiritual connection to the land in the way that Indigenous Australians do.  Despite her failure to prevent disaster in Skin, she believes that, as the Kendra* appointed by the Mothers who are the tribal ancestors and the soul of Iron Age Britain, she has a role to play in defeating the invaders and protecting her home and the people in it.  Overcoming doubt and distrust, she makes herself an indispensable adviser to Caradog.  She also becomes pupil to Rhain, Caradog’s Songman, who doesn’t just sing of the past, but also sings the future into being.   Ailia learns his songs using landmarks as memory triggers, which are techniques described in Lynne Kelly’s The Memory Code, which I heard Ilka discuss with Lynne at the Bendigo Writers Festival back in 2015. […]


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