Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 18, 2018

2018 Word For Word Non Fiction Festival: Get Real (and an autographed giveaway!)


Geelong Library and Heritage Centre (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Word for Word Non Fiction festival in Geelong is fairly new as festivals go: in its fifth year now, it’s established itself as a must-go festival in our literary landscape.  It takes place in Geelong’s Arts Precinct (which is handy for dropping into the arts centre next door to see the touring Archibald Prize exhibition) and the sassy purpose-built Library and Heritage Centre venue is brilliant.  Although Geelong is an easy two hours from Melbourne I stay at Rydges Geelong for the weekend so that I don’t have to get up early to get there – it’s not expensive and the service is efficient and friendly.

And this year, my arrival on the Friday night coincided with Anita Heiss’s, so I got to meet my hero at last.  The hotel bar was full of authors dropping by, and one of them asked me if I was interviewing Anita, but no, we were just talking and sharing stories and having a lovely time.

It was a privilege to meet Anita, but it was great to hear her keynote address the next day.  She had said she was learning her language but I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional listening to her introduce herself in fluent Wiradjuri. It’s such a beautiful language and I am pleased to report that she taught the audience to say thank you: mandaangguwu – if you want to hear how it sounds, visit this site: the speaker uses it at the end of the short video clip.

Anita believes that conversations make change and now Aborigines are telling the story.  She had wanted to have a rest from work for a bit (she’s self-employed) but she couldn’t resist Aviva Tuffield from Black Inc when she proposed the project that became the collection Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia.  She was excited by the prospect of sharing Aboriginal pride in their identify and the resilience that they are forced to find from very young.  (See my review).  It was also an opportunity to showcase the skills of a diverse range of people, so very different to the stereotypes we see in the media.  It was a chance to tell the stories of urban Aborigines, who comprise 30% of Indigenous people in Australia today.    Anita said it was so very hard to cull the submissions down to a manageable size for the book: some people had never ever written anything before and all of them believed they would be ‘in the book’.  (The Austlit online edition includes all of them).

Australians are ready to read authentic accounts of the Aboriginal experience, though it’s true that most will find these stories heart-wrenching.  But it’s good to make people feel, and I was very pleased to hear that the University of Melbourne  gave 600 staff a copy to read,  as a measure of the importance of this book.

At the festival bookshop I bought three copies of Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, and one (autographed) copy is a giveaway.  You know the rules, express your interest in the comments, and I’ll draw the giveaway by the end of the week.

From Anita Heiss, I went to Gillian Triggs, talking not really about her book Speaking Up but about how it’s not about her, it’s not about misogyny, it’s about Australians paying attention to the corruption of important principles of law.  Yes, there were sexist cartoons when she was pilloried by the conservative press, but that’s not what it’s about.  It’s about human rights, and how ancient pillars of common law protect those human rights, and how we ought to be standing up for laws which protect us all.

I knew already that Australia does not have a bill of rights, but I hadn’t realised how fragile the protections are.  Recent attacks on our fundamental freedoms are extraordinary when you consider that Australia used to be a world leader and now it is a long way behind the rest of the civilised world.  Australia was a good international citizen until 2001, when the combination of the ‘children overboard’ lie, the Tampa crisis, and 9/11, turned Australia from being a champion of human rights to the politics of fear, conflating Islamophobia and terrorism with asylum seekers.  Malcolm Turnbull’s glib answer to why we needed extreme laws was always that we live in dangerous times.  He and others in the political class have peddled the view that we don’t need facts or justifications for taking away human rights. We need to deal with this, and Gillian Triggs says that we need to personalise the problem because reports tend to be very dry.  It’s people and their lives that move hearts and minds.  Lisa Waller was an outstanding interviewer for this session.

The session after that was a replacement for Bob Carr’s session because he was unable to attend.  It was called The Next Wave, featuring Toni Jordan (whose books I have reviewed here), Anita Heiss, (see here) Sonya Voumard (see here) and the vivacious Angela Savage (head honcho of Writers Victoria), talking about the trajectory of women’s writing.  Admittedly the session covered the feminist ground that’s been heard before, but the speakers made it enjoyable—with the best joke going to Anita Heiss who said that her choc-lit books derived from purging herself of bad dates…  But she also said that every book had a purpose, it was about changing the way readers thought about the people represented in her books.  And Toni Jordan made an important point about letting go after writing the book. It’s important to develop the skill of being relaxed about reader responses.  Once the book is written, it no longer belongs to the author, and it’s no longer under control.  She thinks it’s a privilege to be a writer; there’s too much talk about the agony and how hard it is.  [Amen to that.  Why authors imagine we want to read dreary whining about their struggles I do not know].

After that I went to Michael Atherton talking about his lovely book A Coveted Possession, the Rise and Fall of the Piano in Australia (see my review), in conversation with poet and musician David McCooey and one of my favourite authors Gregory Day (whose A Sand Archive I reviewed not long ago). I would have loved to have heard Day talk more about his novels, but this was a NF festival and he was there to talk about his music.  I enjoyed the anecdotes about learning to play an instrument, and felt myself to be part of a community of musicians even though of course I’m just an amateur.  I particularly liked Michael’s forecast that there will be more private performances in time to come.  Individualised music playlists, where everyone is listening to their music through the ear buds, but not sharing the joy of music with others is a sad development.  I recently had the pleasure of attending a private concert in memory of a dear friend and it was a sublime experience.

My last session of the day was Clare Wright in conversation with Angela Savage.  I had already heard Clare speak about the book (see my review) but Angela had a fresh take on the topic of Australia’s role in women’s suffrage and it was a very enjoyable session.  Angela’s questions brought out aspects I’d overlooked, such as the Dora Meeson Coates’ banner as a material artefact analogous to the Eureka flag, and there was also mention of the other women campaigners, not the focus in Wright’s book because they did not go to England to help their sisters with the campaign there:  Mary Lee, see my review of Denise George’s bio), Catherine Helen Spence (See Janine’s review at the Resident Judge of Port Phillip, of Susan Margery’s book, now on my TBR) and Jessie Street, see my review of Leonie Coltheart’s bio.   There were hordes of people lined up afterwards to have their copies autographed, and I wished I’d brought mine!

I had a ticket for the debate as to whether the Novel was Dead or not, but the drinks and nibbles were exhausting for an introvert like me and I shot through for a quick dinner at the Khan Curry Hut restaurant and hit the sack with my copy of Chloe Hooper’s The Arsonist.  I finished it at 3.30AM, in time to hear Chloe discuss it on Sunday morning with Lisa Waller, and it is brilliant.  I have taken copious notes which I will share when I write my review; suffice to say for now that I expect this book to be on shortlists everywhere.

There were other sessions after that, but my stamina is not what it was, and I know from long experience that it’s always a good idea to beat the surf coast traffic home…

Many thanks to the organisers of this terrific festival, to the staff of the library for hosting it, to Dymocks for running the festival bookshop, to the in-house café which coped superbly with the crowds, and last but definitely not least to the wonderful volunteers who made sure everything ran smoothly.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia!





  1. OK, I will put my name down for this one because I haven’t read it and would make time for it!

    Great write up Lisa … I’m impressed at your ability to be so succinct about each session. I wish I could do that. I always mean to, but then get carried away. Your comment about the banner is one that Wright made at Dymphna Clark Lecture I attended. She makes a big point about it too in the opening of the book, expressing her horror that she had not known about it despite calling herself a feminist historian.

    Anyhow, thanks for the write up – I would so love to attend this. I think you’re very sensible staying there for the weekend.


  2. This sounds as if it would have been wonderful. I must look out for it next year. I’m sure you probably mentioned it.


    • It would be great to go together next year:) I don’t mind dining alone (I always have a book) but it would be nice to debrief and to share sessions that clashed with other ones equally good. I’m not sorry I chose Chloe Hooper over Kerrie O’Brien but I would have liked to go to both.


  3. Thanks Lisa I would be interested in reading so I put my hand up for a chance.


  4. This Festival sounds great Lisa – full of ideas. Don’t enter me for your giveaway as I have too many others to read – although it sounds like a great book.


    • Hi Cathy, Are there are any NF festivals in your neck of the woods?


  5. What a great weekend for you LIsa. I have both Growing Up Aboriginal and You Daughters of Freedom on loan from the library. Thanks, but I won’t put my hand up for the chance to win Growing Up Aboriginal.


    • LOL You might need to renew TDOF since it’s such a long book!


  6. My hand’s up, which is very greedy of me as I already have a copy but I promise to pass it on. I would have selected Gillian Triggs as my hero, she performed wonderfully under incredible pressure, but of course you can have more than one. Great write up of what sounds like an excellent weekend.


    • Not greedy at all. In the keynote session, I asked Anita what we could do to help (in the context of Indigenous people feeling so tired of always having to explain and to educate others). She said two things: one was to call out the casual racism when we come across it, and the other was to encourage people to find out for themselves, reading this book being one way of doing that (which is why UniMelb is providing it to its staff, why IMO Education Departments should be providing it to teachers). So the more people read this book, however it happens, the better.


  7. Sounds like a great festival Lisa. Can you please enter me for Anita’s book – I would love to read it. Thanks


  8. Growing Up Aboriginal is on my ‘must have’ list! I’ve just stumbled on your blog via Twitter- heading back up now to read in detail.


  9. What a great post with so many books I am intrested in.
    I will take the time this afternoon to make a few selections for my #AWW2019 reading list. Question: when can we execpt your post “Favorite books 2018” ( fiction and non-fiction0? I still have your 2017 list and found many great books this year (ex: Flame Tip!)


    • Oh goodness me, Nancy, I will aim to do it in December, but I can’t promise…


  10. Serendipitous meeting at Chloe Hooper discussion at the very enjoyable Word for Wordfestival.
    I will follow your insightful reviews as an additional tool for book club.


    • Hello Valerie:) What a great session that was, and lovely chatting with you! PS Good luck with the giveaway:)


  11. I’d love an autographed copy of Anita’s book!


  12. Hi there I’d love a copy of Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia. What a great idea, a collection of personal stories. Sounds wonderful!


  13. I love Anita’s books and have collected all her fiction. I admire the way she weaves her culture into her tales of female friendship; providing an insight into Aboriginal attitudes and lived experience while producing a great read at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading Growing Up Aboriginal.


    • Good luck, Meaghan, (And you know, now that I’ve met Anita, I can see that her tales of female friendship are grounded in reality).


  14. I’d love to win a copy of Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, I’ve had it on the wishlist for a while. 🙂


  15. I follow Anita Heiss on Twitter and hugely admire her. Her book’s on my to-read list (which had grown longer after reading your post) so yes please this hand is up!


  16. Good luck Peta and Sumara, I’ll be drawing this soon.


  17. […] Heiss (ed), Growing up Aboriginal in Australia : for obvious reasons, and because if the University of Melbourne believes its staff should read it, then so should […]


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