Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 6, 2023

2023 Bendigo Writers Festival Saturday 6th May

Day 2 of the Bendigo Writers’ Festival has been excellent!

It began with a tasty breakfast of perfectly poached eggs at Harvest, and just as well we made a booking for lunch because by the time we got back there at lunchtime, the place was buzzing.  (They have a very tempting lunch menu but in the end neither of us could resist the quail with lentils.) Tonight’s dinner will be at The Dispensary and very nice it looks too…

My first session today was ‘Peace and Justice’ with Antony Lowenstein and Elaine Pearson, in a lively conversation hosted by Tasneem Chopra.  Lowenstein is a journalist who works internationally and takes a special interest in being a voice for the weak.  Most journalists, he says, claim to care about them, but are actually more interested in being a voice to power.  Pearson is an activist with Human Rights Watch which has an investigative role in exposing breaches of human rights, in over 100 countries.  (Sophie McNeill is the only investigator here in Australia so they have to prioritise areas that are under-reported.  Readers may remember that I recently reviewed her book, We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know, 2020.)

In these complementary roles, both Pearson and Lowestein aim to draw attention to governments that oppress the vulnerable.  Pearson said that outspoken criticism makes governments take notice, because they’re concerned about how they appear domestically and internationally.  So although it takes time to compile an authoritative report that can be used to hold governments to account, being publicly named in a report from HRW can force a government to change its ways in the interim.

Lowenstein’s recent book The Palestine Laboratory  How Israel Exports The Technology Of Occupation Around The World, has a chilling message.  He says that various forms of surveillance have been trialled in Israel, such facial recognition technology of every person in Palestine, and these technologies are being exported around the world.  I’ve read recently about people being photographed at supermarkets when they’re using those self-service checkouts, and I think that’s creepy. I don’t like to imagine any government having Israel’s kind of technology at its disposal…

My next session was the highlight of the festival for me: Sophie Cunningham in conversation with Jane Sullivan.  Both these authors have featured on this blog: Jane Sullivan with her novel Little People (2011) and her memoir Storytime: growing up with books (2019), and Sophie Cunningham with novels Geography (2004, shortly to be reissued as an eBook) and Bird (2008); and in nonfiction City of Trees (2019) and Warning, the story of Cyclone Tracy (2014).

This session was about Sophie’s latest book This Devastating Fever (2022) and it was such a pleasure to listen to these two friends chatting about the process of bringing the book to fruition.  I have taken copious notes but I am going to try and forget everything I heard until after I have read the novel.  But — intrigued by what Sophie said about how she preferred Leonard Woolf to Virginia at the beginning of her book but became more fond of VW as the book progressed, — I’m a little bit tempted to read the bio I have of Leonard Woolf first… but I think I’ll probably resist that and come to the book with an open-mind!

There was also a sobering discussion about Sophie’s advocacy for writers.  The fact is that sales are declining, and the ways in which authors have been able to supplement their incomes are declining too,  In the past there was work as sessional lecturers at universities, there was freelance work including reviewing, and there was journalism, but the pool of money that circulates around to support writers is smaller, and sad to say, Sophie says that writers should not expect to make a living from writing. It is distressing when they realise this and it’s important that they develop a strategic career.

My next session was called ‘Seeing and Believing’ and it featured people who work in the film industry: Sally Aitken, Phil Craig and Tosca Looby, with host Alex West.  They discussed the role of documentaries in truth-telling, and how that includes ’emotional’ truth telling, and West also asked if they thought filmmakers had more power than the authors of books.  Well, they were at a writers’ festival, so their answers were diplomatic!  But all of them were concerned about the use of film for disinformation, especially with the advent of AI.

My last session for today featured Imant Tillers again, in conversation with BWF festival director Rosemary Sorensen and director of the our much-loved Royal Botanic Gardens Tim Entwisle.  I could listen to Imant Tillers talk about the sources of his inspiration all day, (and I’ve started reading his book  Credo (Giramondo, 2022)), but it was also fascinating to hear about how Tim Entwisle grew up in houses with barren gardens to become a director of botanic gardens.  His memoir is called Evergreen: The Botanical Life of a Plant Punk.

After that it was time to visit Bendigo Book Mark and I indulged an attack of Spendyitis with a grand haul of Australian books…

I found six titles by Frank Moorhouse that I didn’t have; Roger MacDonald’s Rough Wallaby; A Lease of Summer by Jean Bedford; two by Beverley Farmer; two by Dymphna Cusack; a first edition of Vanishing Points by Thea Astley, and two by the English author Beverley Farmer. Plus, I bought a gorgeous book bag as well!

More tomorrow!





  1. Sounds like a wonderful day Lisa, and too much for me to comment on. That’s worrying about writers’ careers and sales though.

    Today I was packing my Australian TBR and among many was a Vanishing Point hardback (mum’s I’m pretty sure) which was probably a first edition but I didn’t look. It’s going to the storage unit until I can sort out my bookcases!


  2. It all sounds wonderful (especially Harvest, which I always visit when I go to Bendigo). I was at MWF today – feeling cross that they scheduled at the same time as Bendigo)


    • I think it was very shabby of the MWF. As I understand it, Bendigo used to be in August and they rescheduled to avoid clashing with the MWF, and now look. The exact same weekend.
      Fortunately, from what I’ve seen attendances are good here, not house full but hopefully adequate to make the festival pay its way.


  3. Sorry to hear about the writers. They need to write and play football if they want to make a living. So sick of sport getting all the glory. I’m glad your attending to proper meals as as well as everything else and like the idea of a new book bag🌻


    • Ah yes, you can count on me to support the eateries in the cities I visit!
      And yes, sport… I don’t begrudge the enthusiasm for sport, but I’d like to see the arts get at least equivalent financial support.


  4. Last time I was in Bendigo I took a house so I didn’t have to have restaurant meals all the time, much as I enjoy eating out.
    That’s a shame if overall book sales are declining. I didn’t have that impression (from a long way outside). UBI is probably the best answer, then university work, if only we had our old universities back from the neo-liberal goths.


    • Yes, absolutely. There’s a lot about our economy that needs reforming…


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