Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 5, 2023

2023 Bendigo Writers Festival Friday 5th May

Well, here we are at the Bendigo Writers Festival and it’s been a great day so far.

Thanks to the kindness of our neighbour G., Amber is enjoying a weekend break filled with treats and walks and tummy rubs, while we made our way up the highway to Bendigo.  As in previous years we are staying at the City Centre Motel which is closest to the festival and handy to good eateries too. We have already scoped out the best places for dinners and breakfasts and scrumptious afternoon tea cakes… and The Spouse has made a preliminary visit to a secondhand bookshop called Bendigo Book Mark and made some preliminary purchases.  (They have two floors of books to survey so it can’t be done in one visit…)

I’ve made only one purchase so far.  I started off at a session called ‘Old Ideas for New Books’, with Gabrielle Wang, Reece Carter, Ailsa Wild and host Cecile Shanahan.  The authors told entertaining stories about the sources of their book ideas, but I couldn’t stay for all of it because I wanted to get to ‘Art and Influence’ with artist and polymath Imants Tillers in conversation with Ian McLean who is Professor of Art History at the University of Melbourne.  It was Tillers’ book that I bought: it’s a collection of essays called Credo (Giramondo, 2022), and I have already read the first one, which is fascinating.

Tillers began in the 1970s as a conceptual artist, moving on to postmodernism in later years, and his paintings, said McLean, are full of ideas and how they manifest — thinking machines, he called them, from before the advent of AI.  As you can see if you search a little online, the paintings are covered in poetic-sounding names and are like songbooks… so you have to take time to ‘read’ them.

Most of Tillers’ process is by hand.  He writes — drafts and edits — by hand.  There’s no typewriter or computer in his studio, where he reads a lot and keeps copious research notes, 6000+ he says! He likes to do everything himself, in a lo-tech uncomplicated way because it helps him to focus on the content. He says that something is lost when we see his paintings on a screen.

What interested me so much is that his work is based on three fundamentals:

  • quotation,
  • appropriation, and
  • repetition.

The question of appropriation is a live one at the moment, especially in respect of First Nations art, and he admitted that he got himself into strife in his early days but now works more in collaboration.  He feels that he has some connection with First Nations people because his family’s country of origin Latvia has been colonised over and over again, yet Latvians have been able to maintain and develop their culture through oral traditions, as Australia’s First Nations have done.

It was a very interesting talk leaving me with much food for thought.

The next session was called ‘Who Cares? and, hosted by Liz Connor, featured Richard Denniss from the Australia Institute; journalist Paul Cleary; and Simon Holmes à Court, whose book The Big Teal (2022) I reviewed before the last state election.  The main thrust of the session was that those who benefit from the status quo especially neo-Liberals have a vested interest in people being disengaged from politics, and that people play into their hands when they deride politicians as being all the same and that none of them are worth voting for.   Again, this was a session offering food for thought…

I plan to go to one more session today: ‘The Soul of a Place’, featuring Oslo Davis, Louisa Lim, Lauren Mitchell and host Shannon Schubert, and then we’ll have dinner at Jo Jo’s.


  1. How lovely to see Amber’s face!
    Have a great time at Bendigo … it sounds like a treat. I bet you come home with more than one book! 😆


    • Yes, well, I’m not famous for my restraint, am I?
      But I’ve just had $600 worth of vet bills, $300 for a new tyre and $200 for a broken tooth (and more to come for the crown next month) so I shall have to be circumspect…


  2. I was recently in my home-town of Bendigo but could not stay for the festival. If you get a chance, go down the road about 35km to Castlemaine and visit Stoneman’s independent bookstore. It’s superb, not only because it stocks my novel. :)


    • Not this trip, alas. The highway bypasses Castlemaine but our last session is in the late afternoon and then we must hightail it back to Melbourne to collect Amber. But we love Castlemaine and have had short weekend stays there … and of course we always do the bookshops!


  3. Sounds like a fun time with food for thought, food and more books!


  4. The session ‘Who Cares’ was interesting, whether I agreed with the speakers or not, except that the moderator wasted the first 5 minutes virtue signalling, and didn’t even introduce the speakers!


    • It’s not an easy job being a moderator, especially if you get roped in at the last minute. The speakers were excellent!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Bendigo is an excellent city for visiting, for eating, and of course it is the site of many books, not least Murnane’s Tamarisk Row; though as it happens, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book there .
    I have never been to a writer’s festival but it always a pleasure to go vicariously with you.


    • Well, if ever you’re on our side of the continent when the BWF is on, I recommend you give it a try. I can think of half a dozen sessions that you’d really have enjoyed at this one. I’m only sorry I couldn’t go to some of them because of clashes.


  6. I enjoyed your post as always Lisa. I’ve never heard of Imants Tillers, so I probably wouldn’t even have thought of going to that session. But, I enjoyed your discussion, particularly regarding the appropriation issue.

    As for the status quo, that comment – that “those who benefit from the status quo especially neo-Liberals have a vested interest in people being disengaged from politics, and that people play into their hands when they deride politicians as being all the same and that none of them are worth voting for” – is interesting. Not surprising when you think about it, but a point worth making.


    • Absolutely. He made the comment with his trademark irony, but it’s a wakeup call!


      • Yes … though research is showing that the conservatives are in decline isn’t it?


        • I’m not sure about that… and worldwide, democracy is in decline.


          • Sorry, I didn’t say quite what I meant. My brain must have been separated from my hands!Overall, it does feel that conservatives are on the rise, but what I intended 6 say was that research is suggesting that here in Australia (at least) that traditional trajectory towards conservatism, including in voting, as people get older, is no longer happening. It’s showing in Gen X apparently, and my sense is that it could be true of baby-boomers as a whole too, but I don’t know. This latter feeling may be the Canberra Bubble at play!


  7. Lisa, You could stay home and attend the Melbourne Writers, but you choose to go to Bendigo for their festival. Why do you prefer the regional event – what’s better about the Bendigo?


    • Everything! They have an excellent blend of fiction and NF writers so that there are interesting sessions for The Spouse and for me; and the atmosphere is better:)

      Liked by 1 person

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