Australian and New Zealand writers, artists and performers have descended and departed from London, having attended for the Australia & New Zealand Festival in May. In its second year, the festival’s line-up showcased some of the most exciting voices both countries have to offer.
Festival Director, Jon Slack, described this year’s festival as presenting Australian and New Zealand stories and ideas – which are being exchanged locally, nationally and globally – in London. ‘Books, music and film were the main forms of choice this year and there was an incredible wealth of creativity, and different ways of thinking. The Festival explored Australia and New Zealand’s biggest challenges, covering issues such as national identity, politics, the environment and the economy. Our speakers also explored common ground with the UK and beyond. What makes us different, and what experiences do we share? How can we understand our global neighbours a little better?’
Exclusive lead-up events in May
As well as four days of events from 28–31 May, the Festival featured exclusive events throughout the month. On May 22 the British Museum hosted Melissa Lucashenko in Black, White and Brindle: Aboriginality in an Age of Unreason; and May 25 saw Elemental – a collaboration between poets, musicians, sound and video artists . . . and world-renowned science writer John Gribbin, take place at the Royal Observatory.
The May 28–31 events were then held at Kings College, London, and featured discussion, debate, music, workshops, performance poetry, film, literature and more.
Memory, identity and more
Novelists appearing included Kate Grenville, discussing her new memoir My Mother’s Story; Howard Jacobson, focusing on his new TV series, Brilliant Creatures; novelist and journalist Peter Walker on his acclaimed Some here Among Us; Paul Ewen on The Writer and his (Alter) Ego. Those who wondered what’s next from ANZ literature attended New Stories with Melissa Lucashenko, Tony Birch and Tara June Winch. A.C. Grayling explored the work of Australia’s beloved poet, Gwen Harwood; Vincent O’Sullivan and Gerri Kimber looked at The Life and Legacy of Katherine Mansfield; and performance poets Omar Musa and Selina Tusitala Marsh reflected on identity and writing in Who Do You Think You Are? For a look at the illustrated side of literature, Dylan Horrocks and Roger Langridge discussed The Graphic Novel; and Alternative Worlds in fiction were visited with Elizabeth Knox and Janina Matthewson. The festival closed on 31 May with Steve Toltz in conversation about his latest novel, Quicksand.
Feast for the senses
The majestic Victorian chapel at Kings College was at the heart of the festival’s performance programme. The Morning Coffee Sessions (I and II) began each day with a feast of music and spoken word; while Australian contemporary music found its voice in Collaboration in Contemporary Music and the Nellie Bell Showcase. Those looking for a classical treat enjoyed Sings Harry, Bill and Mick: A Celebration of Douglas Lilburn and Denis Glover. In Art Meets Science, science and performance were intertwined as two artists and one scientific collaborator presented and discussed their cross-disciplinary collaboration. South Country (I & II) provided rich evenings of performance poetry, while Duncan Sarkies and Joe Blossom brought performance to fiction in the spoke- word show of Sarkies’ novel, The Demolition of the Century. And in an event with an X-Factor twist, Literary Death Match saw writers read their own work, and be appraised by three all-star judges. Selina Tusitala Marsh took out the prize after a closely fought Literary Death Match finale.
Society and thought
Australian and New Zealand society and thought – both contemporary and historical, was a vital focus for any Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts. Radicalisation and National Identity, The Asian Century, Who Owns Culture and Alan Duff and Melissa Lucashenko in Breaking the Cycle – all events that explored issues and changes to Australian and New Zealand society today. Robyn Archer, Geraldine Doogue, and Diane Lees reflected on their career paths and lessons learned in Inspiring Women Reflect; and inspiring women from a different era was also examined in Awakening: Four Lives in the Arts.
Forged by war
First World War history – in particular the social shifts and new alliances that the Great War forged in Europe and Australasia – was examined by James Belich and Christopher Clark in War Stories: Uncertain Allies; and Vincent O’Sullivan and Ruth Padel delved into the dark world of War in Writing. Former artistic director of Sydney Theatre Company, Wayne Harrison, and the London cast of The One Day of the Year, discussed Alan Seymour’s newly revised 1958 play and the cultural debate that raged at the time it was written.
Journeys and landscape
Journeys and landscape are a lynchpin of Australian and New Zealand identity and took centre stage in a number of events including Mike Allsop’s Extreme Adventures. Pat Lowe discussed Girl From the Sandy Desert – A glimpse of artist Jukuna Mona Chuguna’s life as a desert child, before European settlement changed the Walmajarri people’s lives forever; and Lowe and Jesse Blackadder returned to the desert in Dramatic Beaty: Writing from the Kimberley Region for Children. The Indigenous Voice featured Kate Grenville and Tony Birch explored the role of indigenous writing and culture in the national agenda and on the world stage.
In The Mara Crossing panelists followed journeys of immigrations – the search for ‘home’. Tony Birch and Rose Fenton considered our global changing environment, and how we can examine the narrative of climate change through the prism of literature and storytelling in Writing the Environment.
As well as live performers and artists, the festival’s film programme celebrated some of the best of Australasian cinema – from the first silent feature-length film, to modern classics and award-winning contemporary cinema.