Adelaide and ‘Mad March’ (festival fever): 25 February – 14 March 2020

I’d only briefly seen Deb, my Airbnb host in Prospect (a prosperous residential area in the north of Adelaide) when I arrived evening of Tuesday 25 February. I thought I had a private bathroom – but got that wrong – however my room was quite large with a huge comfy bed, TV, armchair and large desk. It’s never been a problem so far sharing a bathroom but is always a luxury to have an en suite.

The next morning (26th) I had a bit of a chat with Deb before she went to work. She works as a customer service assistant in the police station, taking the pressure off the police by answering the phone, reporting thefts and car accidents etc. She’d got back last night from work at 9.30pm and started again at 9.30am. At the moment there’s another Airbnb guest, Hasham, Indian, studying for a Masters in Construction at Adelaide University. He has a few cultural issues that don’t fit in here such as putting used toilet paper in a bin, showering for ever and soaking the floor mat and floor (which I usually end up wiping and hanging the mat out on the line) and spending ages in the toilet coughing up phlegm, which rather put me off my breakfast. But apart from those unpleasantries he’s a nice chap, respectful and intelligent. He must come from a wealthy family to be able to afford to study in Oz and pay the rent, which compared with Indian rents must be exorbitant.

I went off to the local supermarket and a good fruit and veg shop to get some supplies. Not all Airbnb hosts will allow use of their kitchen to cook, sometimes just the microwave, but Deb does, although I decided to keep things easy with salads and some ready made meals. As it was my first day in Adelaide I walked into the centre in order to orientate myself. It took about an hour and was quite pleasant as the temperature wasn’t as high as originally forecast. I picked up brochures for all the festivals (Arts Festival – that I was turned down for as a volunteer, Fringe Festival which had already started, Writers’ Week – all of the events being free and Womadelaide). I popped to the tourist information office and got a Metrocard for the transport system. Along Randle Mall I saw this charming statue, which belonged to a group of pigs, called ‘A Day Out’ completed in 1999 by the artist Marguerite Derricourt:

I checked out Elder Park, where Tim Minchin’s free concert is to be held on Saturday (in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Arts Festival) and the Pioneer Women’s Park opposite where all the Writers’ Week events are being held. I noticed, really for the first time on this trip, groups of Aboriginal people on the streets who shouted and each other and were the worse for wear as a result of the alcohol they were consuming. Sadly, alcoholism is a major problem for them. I popped into a pub on East Terrace for a ‘happy hour’ beer until 5pm when the parks opposite (renamed The Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony during the Fringe) opened their gates for Fringe events, which is where most of them take place. I had a quick look around them before getting a 235 bus back ‘home’.

I had a bit of a chat with Deb in the evening and she kindly gave me a glass of white wine. She’d unfortunately had a minor car accident when a girl driving the car behind her bumped into her when traffic braked suddenly. She didn’t seem overly bothered. She told me she’d been born in Birkenhead, England and brought by her parents to Australia when she was 6. She recently celebrated her 60th birthday and has two daughters. Not sure what’s happened to her husband and I have diplomatically not asked yet (I later found out he’d had an affair and she divorced him). She loves her job but told me that, should she have to give up her current job she’d like to train as a barista (not barrister) because she likes people and coffee. She’d done a lot of travelling and is planning her next trip to Europe to include England and Portugal. Her house is a lovely heritage house, quite large – one floor with four bedrooms (one hers with an en suite and the others all rented out via Airbnb). There’s a lot of interesting art.

On Thursday 27th I decided to stay ‘at home’ writing and padding out my blog mainly and checking the festival programmes in order to book a few tickets. I doubt I’ll go to anything much at the Arts Festival as most events are horrendously expensive apart from a couple of things. The fringe events are much more accessible price-wise. I just went out for an hour’s walk for a break, checked out the local library and bought a bottle of wine for tomorrow night. Deb went out with friends to a fringe event.

Friday 28th I decided to go to the Art Gallery. As I walked along Rundle Street (one of the main central shopping streets) I noticed that a large ‘Dolls’ House’ that was being constructed on Wednesday and part of the Arts Festival was now open and there was a small queue. I went in but wasn’t overly impressed, but guess it’s different and might appeal more to children:

This was specially commissioned for the festival. It was designed by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi who has been ‘transforming public spaces in jaw-dropping ways across the world since 2000’. Apparently this dolls house has been created once before outside the Palau’s de Tokyo art museum in Paris.

Then I had a meander around the war memorials en route to the Art Gallery:

I was rather impressed by a University building, the Mitchell building, opened in 1881 designed by William McMinn. The University of Adelaide was founded in 1874 and operated out of rented premises until this building was completed. It’s built in the Gothic style and has a grand staircase and mezzanine landing, stained glass windows, arches and a hammer beam roof (although I couldn’t go inside to see for myself as this was what I read outside!). The stone used is quite common around Adelaide:

I had an extremely enjoyable few hours in the art gallery: the Art Gallery of South Australia to give it its correct title. Each room was themed which incorporated a mix of old and new art, indigenous, Australian and European. There were a few Rodin sculptures and a Barbara Hepworth. I was surprised to see a man reading aloud in one room and it turned out he was Mike Parr, a leading artist whose work includes performance, drawings, print, sculpture and photographs. On this occasion he was on the first day of a six-day duration reading, testing the limits of his voice, stamina and body. He was reading the same page over and over. I had to ask myself, why?! and it got very tedious, I could almost recite it myself:

Some artwork that drew my attention:

Top: ‘Campagne Orovida, the laurustinus’ by Lucien Pissarro, bottom: ‘Prairie a Eragny’ by Camille Pissarro

I’d been invited to dinner by Chris, my good friend Helen’s sister, who lives in Adelaide and at 6pm her husband, Alan, picked me up as it was a fair distance to their home and complicated by bus – several buses in fact. Chris looked just like an older version of Helen (11 years older) and we got on immediately as Helen said we would. It was lovely having ‘real food’ – salmon, roasted vegetables and salsa followed by a nice fruit pudding washed down with some decent red wine. We had a nice chat and I used Uber for the very first time to go back ‘home’.

Saturday 29th was the first day of six of Adelaide Writers’ Week: the literary part of the Adelaide Festival with all events free and in the evening there was a free concert by Tim Minchin to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Festival.

The events were held in Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, handily opposite Elder Park where the Tim Minchin concert was to be so I figured I could keep an eye on how the queue was going and join it early. There were two main stages for the literary events, west and east, in the open air under trees with some blue triangular canvas pieces strung across to give some shade. It was no problem getting a seat although I’d expected it would be given that it was all free but there’s so much going on (this, the fringe, the arts festival and next weekend Womadelaide) that I expect people have lots of choices. The locals call this period in Adelaide ‘Mad March’.

I tried to pick events mainly on Australian authors or issues. I decided to take notes for future reference which I’m including here which could be dull for some readers! Australia is now paying its respects and homage to the indigenous people, recognising how poorly they’ve been treated, and before every single event the interviewer would read out something like the following: “We acknowledge the Kaurna People of the Adelaide Plains, the Traditional Owners of the lands upon which the Festival takes place, and we pay our respects to Elders past and present”. This at times seemed like tokenism, some chairs clearly hadn’t rehearsed it but others put it across in their own words as if they meant it. I couldn’t help but think that it could just have been said once a day and/or a notice displayed prominently with the words. It was also acknowledged that writers’ week was taking place in the Pioneer Women’s Garden – a tribute to the pioneer women of South Australia.

The first event I attended was on a book called ‘The Yield’ by an Australian author: Tara June Winch, described in the programme: ‘As Albert Gondiwindi’s (known as Poppy) family gathers to mourn his death, his returning granddaughter August is forced to confront past trauma, both personal and colonial. But she also discovers Poppy’s last big project, the chronicling of his life through the language of his people, the Wiradjuri. Tara June Winch burst on the literary scene with her dazzling debut ‘Swallow the Air’. Her stunning new novel, ‘The Yield’ – sad and angry, wise and uplifting – documents both the power of indigenous language and, uniquely, the language itself’

This event was chaired by Angela Savage and I found it fascinating. Tara had a white mother and Aboriginal father. Her father was taken from his family when he was 3 (part of the ‘Stolen Generations’), and she wrote this book as a gift to him using his native language (although I thought to myself that he probably wouldn’t have remembered that language). She worked with a linguist and was mentored by a Nigerian Nobel laureate (didn’t catch his name and there have been several). Poppy, in the book, is one of the narrative voices who is a mix of her father and grandfather. She uses the dictionary as a vehicle for telling Poppy’s story and read a passage out which I thought was very clever.

The next I went to was ‘A ladder to the sky’ by John Boyne, an Irish author, who wrote ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’. Chaired by Nicole Abadee who was very good. I’d heard the author speak before and had enjoyed him. This novel is about a young man called Maurice who wants to be a writer. He’s a charming sociopath who meets an older writer called Erich who is captivated by him and pays for him to accompany him on his travels first class. Maurice is using him. He gets to have dinner with Gore Vidal who sees through him. The book is “a savagely comic exploration of art and morality that asks “To whom does a story belong?” His book ‘The hearts of visible furies’ is the one most people tell him they enjoyed. He told us he saw a section in a bookshop in Sydney called ‘Plotless Novels’ – currently a trendy genre! Authors he likes are Ann Tyler, Sarah Waters, Rose Tremain, John Irving – all good storytellers and ones I like too.

The third event I attended was ‘Addressing modern slavery’ a book written jointly by Martin Boersma and Justine Nolan. Chair: Rick Sartre. Modern slavery includes control, forced labour, trafficking, debt bondage. There are now around 40 million people enslaved, 16 million of whom are working in the global economy. An Australian businessman, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest called on the Federal government of Australia to survey the extent of modern slavery in Oz. He founded the ‘Walk Free’ initiative in 2010 to work towards ending modern slavery in all its forms. There’s a ‘Good on you’ app in Oz that gives ethical brand ratings.

My final event was ‘An Orchestra of minorities’ by Chigozie Obiama described in the programme: “After being shortlisted for the Booker with his debut novel, ‘The Fishermen’ Chigozie Obiama impressively did the same with his next, ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’. In this tragicomic recasting of ‘The Odyssey’, humble chicken farmer Chinoso risks all for love, suffering vast and vicious indignities in his quest to win approval from his fiancé’s horrified family. Narrated by Chinoso’s ‘chi’, or guardian spirit, ‘An Orchestra….’ audaciously weaves ancestral knowledge through this epic contemporary tale of the turmoil of the downtrodden”.

This was chaired very well by Linda Jalvin. Chigozie is Asst Professor of Literature at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He always said he’d write a cosmological novel for Africa – inspired by having read ‘Paradise Lost’ and Dante’s ‘Inferno’. In Nigeria it’s believed that people have a chi, or guardian spirit, before they’re born and at the end of their lives. He said that so many things were destroyed in the psyche of the African when the West colonised – such as religion and beliefs. It was believed that a person who disagrees with their guardian spirit went insane. The novel is inspired by a true story.

All these events had been really interesting but after the last one I popped over the road to see if a queue had started forming for the Tim Minchin concert. It had, but there were only 3 people in it so I decided to join them and sat in the shade with a young woman called Megan Doherty. It was only about 2.30pm and the concert was due to start at 8pm with gates opening 4 or 5pm. I got talking to Megan who was a musical theatre actress so we discussed the shows she’d been in and I told her some of the shows the Cotswold Savoyards had done. It turned out she loved Gilbert and Sullivan and was very familiar with Sondheim and many other shows the Savs’ had staged. She did her degree at Ballarat, apparently a good place for theatre and the arts and somewhere I’ve been recommended to visit before.

Once the gates opened we got a place on the grass not too far from the stage. Her father Paul and friend (clearly in musical theatre too) Brenton joined us. It seemed forever before the concert started which began with an Aboriginal ceremony with the two directors of the Festival and some dancing before Tim appeared. He’s been touring with his amazing band (guitarist, percussionist, drummer, Bass saxophonist, trumpeter and trombonist) in ‘Upright’. I was, as always, astounded by his piano playing. He sang a few songs, including ‘Ginger’ and at one point forgot the words to one song, which didn’t surprise me as they are all so wordy, but we didn’t care and he made fun of it. His encore was ‘When I grow up’ from his musical ‘Matilda’ accompanied by fireworks, which made a nice change from the 1812 overture! I walked back ‘home’ having had a fabulous evening.

On Sunday 1st March I attended 7 events, the maximum! The first was ‘A woman like her: the short life of Qandeel Baloch’ by Sanam Maher and chaired, not very well, by Deb Whitmont who basically read from her notes. “Qandeel Baloch grew up in rural Pakistan in a conservative Muslim family, making her an unlikely social media star – her country’s first. In July 2016 the woman dubbed the Pakistani Kim Kardashian was murdered by her brother, another victim of a misnamed “Honour Killing”. Sanam Maher’s account of Qandeel’s short life transcends her tragic death to become an illuminating and important investigation into Pakistan’s class, gender and sexual mores, and the impact of social media on a country struggling with its contemporary identity”.

Sanam said that Pakistani people had never seen women behaving as Qandeel did, who posted that she had crushes on people. They had never seen a Pakistani woman seeking attention in this way before. There was a lot of outrage and hateful comments on social media. Her brother murdered her as said she had brought shame on the family. It was horrifying to see the reactions to her murder – people were saying they were glad they didn’t have to see her any more and that she got what she deserved. These reactions made the author question how they had got to that point and was looking into the questions: “what does it mean to be famous?” and “what does it mean to go viral?”. Before she was murdered Qandeel got rape threats and death threats but didn’t back down. She saw social media fame as allowing her to get opportunities as she wanted to be an actress and singer. She got invited onto TV shows and became political.

She posted a ‘Valentine’s day’ video and the President said it wasn’t what a Muslim should do. She challenged this, saying she could do it if she wanted and that politicians were corrupt. The reactions she got made her question her followers who had double standards. They were watching her videos, then posting hateful comments so why were they watching them? She was constantly upping the ante after the Valentine’s video. She did become an actress.

Qandeel came from a very poor background: she was one of 13 children. She said the internet was a place of equality. She was invited as a guest onto a talk show, another guest being a well known cleric who was often on TV. They hit it off on the show and she met up later with him in his hotel room in Karachi. She posted on Twitter that he’d behaved inappropriately with her and there was a photo of him appearing dishevelled. She got a lot of support, people saying the clergy were hypocrites and the cleric became a national joke. This also opened her up to outrage from people who supported the cleric. A picture of her passport photo was posted which had a different name from the name she’d been using. Details given were that she had been married off when she was 16, had an abusive marriage, had a child who she left with her husband. People then started passing judgement on her family, asking if her brothers found it shameful as they accepted her money but should do something about it. She had a lot of support from young people. Her brother was imprisoned for life for her murder.

Legislation changed after Qandeel’s murder. Previously the family of the victim could forgive the perpetrator and that would be that. Now they can only save the perpetrator from the death penalty. After her death a TV series was made of Qandeel’s life but was not very accurate. Not a book I will be buying or reading.

The next event was not as listed but was ‘Diving into glass’ by Caro Llewelyn, and very interesting. Caro read from the beginning of the book which talked about how she’d always run but one day was running in Central Park, didn’t feel quite right and discovered she’d wet herself. She eventually got diagnosed with MS. The book is a memoir, mostly about her father who was struck down with polio aged 20 when he was in the Navy. He went on to lead an extraordinary life and was very positive despite being 95% paralysed. Instead of thinking “Why me?” he thought “Why not me?”and thought it would be an interesting life from then on, He was one of the last cases of polio before a vaccine came into use. He never pitied himself. He had 2 marriages and 4 children. Caro’s mum was his nurse when he was in hospital for a year. Her parents opened a store which was a mixed business of a library, book exchange and dry cleaning. People started telling him that they had a room to rent so they set up and ran a very successful letting agency. They opened Llewelyn Galleries and another. He went on to work for the government.

Originally the art gallery was run from their home so people could come to them. It worked very well so they built a purpose built gallery in the back yard which became the most successful gallery in South Australia. Caro felt she should lead an adventurous life like her father had and now she has MS is trying not to be limited by her circumstances. She became a mother aged 24 with a man 15 years her senior. The relationship only lasted a year. Her son, Jack, is now 31. Caro’s dad used to read to her all the time. Her mum became a poet and took her to the Adelaide Festival. Caro worked at Random House, became artistic director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival and worked with Salman Rushdie for 4 years in New York on the Penn Festival – mainly focussing on books in translation. She saw on a card “Leap and the net will appear” – a mantra she uses. Caro was diagnosed with MS in 2009, 3 years after moving to New York. She’d been under a lot of stress with her job. This book certainly sounds like a worthwhile read, but won’t be at the top of the pile and, to be honest, I’ll probably never get to it.

The third event was quite an eye opener: ‘The way through the woods: mushrooming and mourning’ by Long Litt Woon, and Tory Shepherd was a good chair. “When Long Litt Woon’s husband of 32 years died suddenly at work at age 54 the world, as she knew it, ended. Stupefied by shock and grief, she first sought solace in familiar realms of healing like yoga and meditation but found it unexpectedly in mushrooming. ‘The way through the woods’ is a unique, informative, surprisingly funny and deeply affecting memoir of finding hope after despair. “I went into the forest and came out of my grief” Woon says”

Woon is an anthropologist living in Norway. One year after her husband died she enrolled on a ‘mushrooming for beginners’ course while she was still in a dark place. She describes the euphoria she felt on finding her first edible mushroom and had thought that feeling of happiness had gone. Trumarello is her favourite mushroom, which is expensive to buy so thrilling to find it in the wild.

Mushroomers have secret places where they’ve found mushrooms which they rarely disclose to others so she was excited when an elderly man showed her his secret porcini spot. The mushrooms weren’t big enough to pick so he put leaves and twigs over them to conceal them for later. When he returned to check on them there was a dead man lying on top. He did the decent thing and called the police!

There is a subculture in Mushrooms. What’s toxic in Norway may not be elsewhere. You can take an exam in Norway to become a certified mushroom expert which Long did and this was very important in her grieving process, it gave her a sense of direction. She found the society was not happy about magic mushrooms and they were never spoken about. However, she met a man who grew them and would give them to interested people. After her book was published she tried a small one and saw geometric patterns but got bored. She had an incredible feeling of someone loving her unconditionally. She didn’t try them again though. Micophobes: people who hate mushrooms, micomaniacs: people who love mushrooms. She would sometimes leave the forest with no mushrooms but still feel happy. There are 400 types of mushrooms in Central Park alone. Her mushroom society arranges trips to go elsewhere to search for mushrooms. The biggest mushroom is Humungous Funghus which is the size of several football fields! Mushrooms are very resilient and can grow in the desert.

Fourth event ‘Improvement’ by Joan Silber, an American novelist. Probably not a book I’ll read so I’m not writing about it and I left before the end.

Fifth event was ‘The Uluru Statement: where the bloody hell are we?’ With Megan Davis and Thomas Mayor chaired by Clare Wright, Professor of history at Latrobe University, Melbourne. “In May 2017, the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ was released, a roadmap for Indigenous recognition in the Constitution that was the result of an unprecedented process of consultation by the Referendum Council, an organisation set up with bipartisan support. Despite hostility from the Federal Government, the Uluru Statement continues to garner strong support from Australians from all walks of life. Megan Davis and Thomas Mayor were integral to its development: they explain the process and the vital need for a Voice, Treaty and Truth”.

Megan Davis: Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional lawyer, University of New South Wales. Thomas Mayor, from the Torres Straits, now living in Darwin, spent 18 months travelling around all indigenous communities to promote the Statement. The Statement includes a painting, done after the conference, including the signatures of all participants at the conference. It’s an 18 page document including Australian history going way back before colonisation and is a very important constitutional document. Professor Davis read out the Statement at the Conference and everyone was in tears – tears of joy and hope. It was a profound moment. The Statement calls for a Voice, Treaty and Truth. Want it to be a constitutional norm that the State should consult the indigenous people before making laws about them. All chances of hope are being crushed by the politicians. They’ve got to rely on the Australian people, not the politicians to bring about the change. There was a 1967 Referendum……The Uluru Statement has been handled appallingly since which is why a ‘People’s Movement’ was started. Scott Morrison made a ‘Closing the Gap’ speech 2 weeks ago.

How can Australians help? By writing to politicians, setting up local groups – supporters of the Statement, social media. Look at website: which includes a reading list. Apparently the government is about to spend $50 million on another Captain Cook statue, there are already 110!

Next event was ‘Yellow Notebook: diaries vol 1, 1978-87’ by Helen Garner and chaired well by Annabelle Crabb. Again, this is probably not something I’ll read but Helen Garner is a well known, and seemingly well loved, Australian author.

She spoke about her novel ‘This house of grief’. She’s interested in the things that other people do. She read an article in the paper about a man driving his car with his 3 children into a dam, then getting out and hitching a lift home. She wondered what sort of person would do that and went to the trial to look at him and followed the trial. The book is about that. Her book ‘The First Stone’ got her into hot water as many people were enraged by it.

My final event today was ‘You will be safe here’ by Damian Barr, a Scottish author (from Glasgow). This was chaired by Sharon Davis. Described in the programme: “ ‘You will be safe here’ a promise twice made and twice broken in this harrowing, powerful debut novel from acclaimed author Damian Barr. Sarah is interned with her son in one of the world’s first concentration camps. A contemptuous stepfather dispatches young Wilhem to a brutal training camp to learn “to become a man”. Moving deftly between the Boer War and contemporary South Africa, ‘You will be safe here’ illuminates hidden cruelties – past and present – to explore the heartbreaking legacy of trauma’

As if I hadn’t been feeling guilty enough about what we British had done in NZ and Australia to the indigenous peoples I now learnt about atrocities committed by British soldiers during the Boer War. Damian Barr is a Journalist, writer, playwright. He got the idea about this book from a newspaper article about Raymond Boys, who reminded Damian of a boy who’d gone to his school from South Africa for a year and whom he’d had a crush on but then never heard from again. The article made him ask questions about South Africa and led him to the Boer War and to discover that history is repeating itself. Raymond had been sent to a military training camp but died. Apparently he had over 60 separate injuries on his body. Wilhem in the book is based on Raymond. The camps are still running and are for white boys who don’t fit into the Afrikaans idea of masculinity.

Damian wanted to understand why there were these camps and who ran them. It was believed the Boer War would be the end of white South Africa. The British enacted the ‘Scorched Earth’ policy which created a homeless nation of women and children ‘concentrated’ into camps (the first ‘concentration camps’ and where they got their name). There were white and black camps. People had to sign their allegiance to Queen Victoria and, if they did so would e.g. have all their property burnt but leaving them something such as a chimney so they could rebuild around it. If they didn’t sign everything would be burnt, their cattle killed and innards put in the well so the water was poisoned etc. Women and children in the camps had very small rations – equivalent of 18th of a can of condensed milk per child per week meaning they quickly died of starvation.

Damian came across Emily Hobhouse’s diaries in a museum in Bloemfontein. She heard about the camps and travelled from the UK to South Africa to see them for herself. She wrote down the accounts of the women and was much loved by South Africans. She wanted to understand the suffering of the people. Damian Barr spoke to Gillian Slovo who gave him the thumbs up for writing the book.

A book recommendation by him: ‘My traitor’s heart’ autobiography by Rian Malan, and a film recommendation: ‘Breaker Mordant’ an Australian folk hero.

Lots of Australians had fought in the Boer war and, during questions, a lady said that her father had fought in it (she didn’t look old enough) and had been told they were fighting for diamonds and for Queen and country. Damian was obviously keen to continue a conversation with the lady as he said the following day, at another event, that he’d gone for dinner with her that evening.

Monday 2nd March was another full day although I did struggle! The first was ‘Mining History’s Depths’ with Damian Barr (again) and Bart Van Es with chair, Anton Enus. “Damian Barr’s ‘You will be safe here’ is a heartbreaking novel that links two dark periods of South Africa’s history to examine trauma and its terrible echoes through time. Bart van Es delves deep into his family’s history to explore the Dutch response to Germany’s murderous Third Reich in his Costa award-winning ‘The Cut Out Girl’. Their meticulously researched, beautifully told stories tread lightly across sensitive truths, powerfully demonstrating history’s resonance across fiction and non-fiction’

I’d heard Bart van Es talk about this book before, at Hay or Cheltenham, but hadn’t realised initially. He’s Professor of English at Oxford. Damian hosts ‘The Literary Salon’ (check it out online). Van Es’s book about a young Jewish girl, Lean, hidden by his grandparents. When he saw a letter written by Lean’s mother asking them to take care of her he knew there was a story. Barr spoke about letters by women and children written during the Boer he’d seen at the Bloemfontein museum as transcribed by Hobhouse.

Van Es’s family had a row with Lean in the 1980s which is why he hadn’t met her. She was in his parents’ wedding photos. His mother had secretly kept in touch with her and gave Van Es her address. The book is called ‘Cut out girl’ as no one in the family wanted to talk to her. He met her and quickly felt a deep connection with her. She had an archive of letters. He visited all 9 houses where she had been hidden from the Nazis who occupied the Netherlands. She’s now 86 and travelled with him on a book tour. She doesn’t want to be defined by her past. She’s had a lot of counselling and visited Auchwitz and has come to terms with what happened.

Second event was very harrowing, emotional and eye opening: ‘First, they erased our name: a Rohingya speaks’ by Habiburahman, now living in Australia. Described in the programme: ‘ “This is my chance to speak for my people, who continue to suffer, but who are voiceless”. Rohingya Habiburahman was 3 yrs old when the Burmese Government declared his people were not part of the country’s “recognised races”. Overnight he became stateless in his own country and the Rohingya have suffered extreme and brutal persecution ever since. This book is an urgent, first-hand account of genocide in motion – the heartbreaking personal story behind a vicious campaign of oppression and humanitarian crisis”.

This was chaired by Alice Peng who told us half her family had been killed in Cambodia under Pol Pot. Habiburahman spoke passionately. He wrote the book while in detention in Darwin. He was born in 1979 in Myanmar. He fled first to neighbouring SE Asia in 2009 and to Oz by boat spending 18 months in detention centre in Darwin. He now lives in Melbourne.

The book starts when he’s 3. When he’s older he states “I’m 15 years old and I wonder if I’ll ever reach adulthood or be murdered” – a memorable line in the book. The Rohingya people had to get permission from various authorities to study, keep chickens, grow vegetables etc. His family home was seized when he was young and when 8, that home was taken to be knocked down and military toilets installed. Rohingya people have been driven in their thousands to Bangladesh since before the events in 2017 that made headline news. They were called by a name meaning ‘sub human’. About 90% of Rohingya people are illiterate because they haven’t been allowed to study.

Habiburahman spent 20 years in a Malaysian detention centre, in and out. He joined many protest groups and was told he’d be locked up for his activities so decided to get a boat to Oz. There was an International Court of Justice ruling in January 2020 – Myanmar opposing the ruling, also China…Australia still maintains ties with Myanmar. Gambia is supporting the Rohingya people. Aung San Suu Kyi denies there has been genocide and has been siding with the military. Habiburahman feels very strongly she should be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize. He asks “If it’s not genocide, what is it?”. There are 15-17 other Muslim groups in Myanmar as well as Rohingya and he believes the military (who have been brainwashed just like the German people were) will start on them. He appealed to us very passionately to help his people and for Australia to place sanctions on Myanmar. Such a terrible story which appears to have dropped out of the news. I wonder what is happening? Habiburahman still has family in the camps in Bangladesh and sends money to them.

Next was ‘Disappearing Earth’ by Julia Phillips (American) chaired by Nicole Abadee. “Julia Phillips spent a year in Kamchatka – a former closed Soviet military zone and an isolated landscape utterly unfamiliar to most Western readers – and the stunning result is ‘Disappearing Earth’. Shortlisted for the National Book Award, this unique literary thriller opens with the abduction of two little white girls and examines how their disappearance echoes across the lives of a cast of complex women. It’s a gripping, fascinating book by a striking new talent”.

Julia had studied Russian at school and thought she could immerse herself in Kamchatka to learn the language better and decided to set her book there. It’s a difficult place to get to but is fascinating culturally and historically. This not only made me want to read the book but also look into Kamchatka as a possible place to visit!

Next up: ‘Women in War’ Zahra Hankir and Sophie McNeill with Deb Whitmont in the chair: “Sophie McNeill is one of Australia’s most celebrated journalists who has reported from frontlines in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. With pathos and power, her new book ‘We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know’ tells the human stories behind the battleground’s headlines. Lebanese-British journalist Zahra Hankir’s ‘Our Women on the Ground’ is a collection of writings from Arab women reporting on conflicts in their own homelands, an important anthology that provides a new, non-Western lens through which to view familiar wars”.

Zahra said that this was the book she wanted to read so wrote it. Sophie was inspired to become a journalist because of John Pilger reporting from East Timor.
Look at websites for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

‘A Carbon Free Future’ with Tim Flannery and Ross Garnaut, chaired by Tom Griffiths, got me nodding off. They are two of Australia’s leading Climate Change thinkers and were discussing how Australia could break out of its current policy mire. I didn’t know some of the references, not being Ozzie. There didn’t appear anything new about what they were saying. Basically we need to do something and now. Praised Europe for doing more.

Then an interesting event: ‘2020 MUD Literary Prize’: “Inaugurated by the passionate readers who comprise Adelaide’s MUD Literary Club – the only philanthropic organisation in the country exclusively supporting literature – the MUD Literary Prize has swiftly established an impressive pedigree. Founded to honour a debut novel of literary fiction, past winners are Sarah Schmidt (‘See What I Have Done’) and the author whose debut novel, ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ took the country by storm, Trent Dalton.”

The winner of the prize this year is Sienna Brown for ‘Master of my fate’ and she spoke to the chair, David Sly, who is on the panel of judges. They had 30 entries, shortlisted books included ‘The Artist’s Portrait’ by Julie Keys, ‘A Lifetime or Impossible Dreams’ by Tabatha Bird, ‘Fusion’ by Kate Richardson and a novel about Kangaroo Island.

Sienna Brown’s book unearths a little known history of Australia. There were Jamaican convicts in Oz. She discovered this as volunteers as a guide at Hyde Park Barracks (old prison) in Sydney, it was raining one day in August on her birthday when she was there. She decided to check who was there on her birthday all those years before and was surprised to discover a Jamaican called William Buchanan who was transported in 1836. As she traced his story it became larger than life.

She has him speak in Jamaican Patois but chose very specific words to give a flavour of the language which was verbal not written. She wanted to get a sense of the rhythm of the language without it being too overwhelming for the reader. William’s voice changes as he gets older. He cheated death many times and became a bush ranger.

My final event for today was ‘Reading, writing and reclamation’ with Bri Lee and Lucia Osborne-Crowley, chaired by Jo Case. “Bri Lee (‘Eggshell Skull’) and Lucia Osborne-Crowley (‘I choose Elena’) are two of Australia’s most interesting, intelligent young writers. Both have also experienced significant trauma as a result of sexual assault. They refused to let the assaults define them. Embracing literature and its capacity to heal, the crimes against them became their starting points for searching potent analyses of the failings of society and its systems, and personal, deeply affecting roadmaps to an empathetic and empowered future”

I listened to them for a while but left halfway through as decided I wouldn’t be buying nor reading their books. Both very articulate young women.

First event on Tuesday 3rd was ‘The Storm’ by Arif Anwar. “Burma 1942; India 1946; Bangladesh 1970; the US 2004. Countries trembling in troubled times. Inspired by the Bhola Cyclone of 1970 that killed 500,000 people overnight, Bangladeshi author Arif Anwar’s sweeping novel threads together five lives across time and place, highlighting the tumult of Partition, the violent birth of Bangladesh and the divisions of contemporary America. ‘The Storm’ is Arif’s rich evocation of the history of his country through the personal tales of love and sacrifice of his memorable cast of characters”.

He was interviewed by Steven Gale who I’ve seen many times at Cheltenham Lit Fest and is a good interviewer. Arif was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh and now lives in Toronto. He has worked for UNICEF and is now teaching creative writing. The novel is intricately plotted which makes it a very satisfying read. It opens with the storm/cyclone – very important in the novel. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Bhola Cyclone, the greatest natural disaster possibly in human history. He wanted the Cyclone to be remembered by the Bangladeshi people and the world.

The book is divided into 3 parts: Gathering – introduction to the characters, Eye- a place of calmness, Surging – when all the threads of the book come together. After the cyclone, West Pakistan’s ambivalence towards the disaster made people think they didn’t have a good relationship. There followed a brutal 9 month Liberation War with help from India, and East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971. Bangladesh is only 1 metre above sea level and has 700 rivers from the Himalayas, mineral rich soil making it fertile for agriculture. There is frequent flooding. The character, Sharia, is partly based on the author. The author wants to get people intrigued enough in the history so that they read more about it. The author was influenced by the big novels of James Clavell. He is trying to get to the core of what makes us human – basic desires of love and a need to belong.

Next event: “From fact to fiction” Anna Goldsworthy and Anna Krien, chaired by Tali Lavi. “Anna Krien is best known for her award-winning explorations of subjects including power and abuse in AFL (‘Night Games’). Anna Goldsworthy’s memoirs are characterised by warmth, wit, insight and honesty (‘Piano Lessons’ and ‘Welcome to your new life’). Both have just published their first works of fiction. The Annas discuss their transition from fact to fiction, the different Australias they evoke so effectively in their novels. ‘Act of Grace’ (Krien) and ‘Melting Moments’ (Goldsworthy), and the characters – both damaged and loving – that inhabit them.

’Melting Moments’- a series of moments over 7 decades which lets the reader fill in the gaps. Inspired by various anecdotes Goldsworthy was told by her grandmother. After her grandfather died her grandmother had a man friend – a radiant romance, they would go dancing and it became the kernel for this book. He moved into the retirement village with her for the last 8 years of her life.

In Krien’s book ‘Act of Grace’ there are 3 relationships: Tooey and his son, an Iraqi Pianist, and old Bert (of stolen generations) who has dementia and his daughter.

These and their non fiction books sounded interesting. Not only is Anna Goldsworthy a successful writer but also a concert pianist (her memoir ‘Piano Lessons’ is about her journey to becoming a concert pianist). Her father is also a successful writer. (I later picked up ‘Piano Lessons’ in an Oxfam bookshop and enjoyed it).

I met Chris (Helen’s sister) at 1200 for lunch at Jamie Oliver’s (one of the few still open) and her friend Jennie who has a birthday on Thursday. They met when they were living and working in Alice Springs as midwives many years ago. It was a pleasant lunch (I had a large plate of gnocchi), then we all went to ‘Reflections on writing’ with John Birmingham and John Boyne and Charlotte Wood in the chair (herself the author of several books and a future event I attended). “John Boyne and John Birmingham’s prolific writings traverse styles and genres. Best known for his bestselling ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, John Boyne has written 16 novels, short stories and his reviews appear in ‘The Irish Times’ and ‘The Guardian’. Cult classic ‘He died with a falafel in his hand’ was John Birmingham’s first published book. He has gone on to write award-winning history, science fiction, reportage and regular newspaper columns. They reflect on the challenges, joys and business of being a writer”.

They were both attracted to writing from having been taken to the library at an early age. Reading and writing are connected. Boyne has a stationery fetish – always buying nice notebooks. Birmingham was a voracious reader. When he’d read all the books in the library he went on to read the Junior Encyclopaedias from cover to cover. He copied out John O’Grady’s books to see how he’d written (apparently quite a few writers have copied other writers’ books in this way).

Boyne had the idea for ‘Boy…..’ on a Tuesday and wrote all through Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday lunch he’d written 50,000 words. It took him over and he had to go with it. Boyne does 8-10 drafts of his books, the second is his favourite and takes the longest, the story taking shape.

Both entertaining men.

Jennie and Chris left and I went to ‘See What you made me do’ by Jess Hill chaired by Victoria Purman. The book “sheds light on the social and psychological causes of domestic abuse, it’s horrifying consequences and the failure of our legal and social institutions to adequately respond. Exhaustively researched, this important and courageous book has helped reframe the national conversation about domestic abuse – who abuses, who they abuse and why – making a compelling argument that change is not only necessary but possible”.

A very good interviewer and articulate author who was clearly passionate about the subject. She said that domestic abuse came to Oz with colonisation, as in the UK at that time lots of women were abused by their husbands, there was a lot of child abuse and child prostitution. The indigenous people didn’t have doors and if there was abuse others would witness it and punish the perpetrator or exile him/her. Westerners are behind doors which is part of the problem as abuse is hidden.

Final event was ‘Guest House for Young widows’ by Azadeh Moaveni and chaired by Sophie McNeill (frontline reporter and appearing at an event about her own book). “Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize, Azadeh Moaveni’s ‘Guest House…..’ is a gripping account of 13 young women who were variously recruited, inspired or compelled to leave their lives and, in some cases, countries, to join ISIS. Azadeh offers a nuanced and meticulously researched explanation of the global appeal of violent jihadism and visceral descriptions of the brutality that awaited these young women seeking community and empowerment. With some still stranded by the Caliphate’s fall, this is an urgent important book”.

This is her third book. The spark for the Arab Spring started in Tunisia. Women were a vibrant force demanding freedom, equality and inclusion. This force of women was noticed by ISIS. Women weren’t getting noticed otherwise so why not join ISIS who did notice them? The author was drawn to researching into this by following the story of the 3 Bethnal Green girls who left London aged 15 and were seen at the airport, film of them at the airport leaving shown all over the world. All from immigrant families, vulnerable girls from broken households. They felt they didn’t fit in locally, ISIS picked up on this and plied them with messages. Rebellion on the girls’ part too. 13,000 women and children and some men who were associated with ISIS are stuck in detention camps in NE Syria. No country wants them, they are the “detritus of war”.

Chris, Jennie and me in Jamie Oliver’s

I got up slightly later than usual on 4th March, feeling quite tired so missed the first event at 9.30am. The next event I’d picked was Jung Chang who was to discuss her latest book ‘Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister’ but she was apparently ill. Lots of people were disappointed but I’d had the privilege of hearing her speak in the past at Hay about her previous book. So I decided to go to the alternative event ‘On Grief’ with John Birmingham (who I’d heard talk yesterday with John Boyne) who has a lovely voice and Long Litt Woon, who I’d heard talk about her mourning and mushrooming book. This was chaired nicely by Natasha Cica.

The event was described in the programme: ‘Patti Smith said that it is “part of the privilege of being human that we all have the moment when we have to say goodbye”. Loss and grief come to us all, an experience both unique and universal. Long Litt Woon’s husband died suddenly, her life transformed in an instant. John Birmingham’s father was long ill, and went gently into the good night. In Woon’s ‘The way through the woods’ and John’s ‘On Father’, they reflect on the deeply personal, profoundly human experience of grief’.

Woon said her lodestar (I didn’t know this word so looked it up = a person or thing that serves as an inspiration or guide) had gone when her husband died suddenly age 54, 10 years previously. John’s father died age 78 of a very rare cancer. He mentioned the book ‘The year of magical thinking’ by Joan Didion – an account of the year following the death of the author’s husband, John Gregory Dunne. Published in 2005 it was immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning.

I then attended ‘Looming Large: Technology’s Takeover’ with Robert Elliott Smith and Jamie Susskind, chaired by George Megalogenis (what a great name!) described thus: ‘Technology companies are blamed for undermining our democracies, obliterating our privacy and undercutting our industrial systems. Have they? And if so, what are we doing about it? Robert Elliott Smith (‘Rage Inside the Machine’) and Jamie Susskind (‘Future Politics’) look at the impact of digital technologies on our lives and societies, and the algorithms that invisibly drive them. They examine the case for and against these transformational tools, and the powerful companies that create them’.

Apparently the way we get news is mediated by AI – sophisticated computer programmes. Susskind said 3 big technological changes are happening at once now: 1. We’re surrounded by increasingly capable systems 2. Technology is becoming more ubiquitous/pervasive e.g. in the home, cities 3. We have an increasingly quantified society: generate more data now that is stored. It gives a window into our lives, knows where we go, what we do/buy etc.

Then I attended ‘The Challenge of Change: Women’s lives in the middle east’ chaired, very badly, by Shakira Hussein. Described: ‘A distinguished panel explores the extent of change in the lives of women in the Middle East over the last decade. Lebanese-British journalist Zahra Hankir (‘Our Women in the Ground: Essays from Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World’), Iranian-American journalist and author Azadeh Moaveni (‘Lipstick Jihad’ and ‘Guest House for Young Widows’) and Omani novelist and academic Jokha Alharthi (‘Celestial Bodies’) examine the diversity of women’s experiences across the Middle East and the challenges they face in campaigning for equality’.

The next session was one of the best I’d seen so far: ‘Tell Me Why’ by Archie Roach ‘In this deeply moving memoir, Australian musical legend Archie Roach tells his story for the first time. Best known for his anthem for the Stolen Generations, ‘Took the Children Away’, ‘Tell Me Why’ recounts the impact on his own life of being taken away, separated from family and country. He details his struggle with mental health, attempts to reconnect with his people and his triumphant redemption through music and love’ chaired by David Sly.

Archie writes autobiographical songs with very poignant lyrics. He was asked why write a book as opposed to songs now? He said things happened in 2010. Firstly his partner, Ruby Hunter, died in the February and he had a stroke soon after. Then he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His manager thought it was time he wrote a book about his life. Music has been a way for him to express himself in a very positive way. The book is about family, finding family.

He was taken away from his family aged 2 and placed with foster parents, the Cox family, who he said were wonderful. They had been told by the authorities that all Archie’s family had died in a fire but he had survived. They were lied to. He got a letter from one of his sisters – he was at school, where he was known as Archie Cox, aged ? when someone came in to request that Archibald William Roach should go to the office. Something resonated with him and he knew that it was him. He went to the office and was given a letter addressed to him starting ‘Dear brother’ and informing him that his mother had died a week before. He knew he had to find his sister and went to the address on the letter in Sydney, but no one knew where she was. He initially stayed with a man who turned out to be “a dirty old man” and then lodged at the ‘People’s Palace’ in Pyrie Street run by the Salvation Army. He started drinking and met Ruby who took him to a club. He sang a couple of songs and his career started from there.

His song ‘Took the children away’ was the first song that got Australians to notice him. His first album spoke to indigenous Australians for the first time but also to white Australians. He was probably the first person to bridge the two cultures. He didn’t realise the effect it would have, just telling stories through song. He set up the Archie Roach Foundation in 2014 for young indigenous artists. He helped Jessie Lloyd get her ‘Mission Songs Project’ off the ground. She collected old songs from the missions. There was a standing ovation for Archie at the end, not surprisingly, and I felt it had been a real privilege to hear him speak. Such a very wise and forgiving man.

Next up was ‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood who I’d been impressed with when she chaired the interview with John Boyne and John Birmingham yesterday. In the programme it stated: ‘The Natural Way of Things’ was a literary sensation and garnered its author accolades and awards. Charlotte Wood’s new novel ‘The Weekend’ is equally impressive. A study in female friendship, loss and the challenges of ageing, the story unfolds over a Christmas weekend as three old friends meet to sort through the house of the recently deceased fourth in their quartet. Full of sharp characterisations, keen observations and dry, sly humour, ‘The Weekend’ is an absorbing, satisfying exploration of growing up and growing old’. Chaired by Kerryn Goldsworthy.

Charlotte has a podcast talking to writers. The Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney has a centre researching cardiovascular disease and obesity. It is run by Steve Simpson who had the idea of having a creative writer there – the Judy Harris Fellowship: $100,000 for a writer to be there and write a book, just has to be there, has access to any other research centres, talk to people and see what happens. Charlotte had thought about writing a book on ageing and there was a centre for that there too.

She gave 5 reasons why she writes: 1. To make something beautiful 2. To be truthful 3. You have to make the most of the talent you have 4. To make is to add to the world not to subtract from it 5. Because, as Iris Murdoch said “paying attention is a moral act”. She has written several books and will definitely be worth a try.

I had been sitting next to a very interesting lady called Liz for these last two events and we got chatting in between them. She told me she used to work organising curriculums for the equivalent of City & Guilds for all sorts of trades and had really enjoyed it. She and her husband loved travelling and had travelled to the US for several months to see for themselves the Trump administration and meet and talk to people for and against him without judgement. From April they were travelling to the UK for 7 months but with Brexit as their main purpose, the aim to meet as many Brexiters and Remainers as possible. I thought this was a great idea and was only sorry I couldn’t welcome them into my home.


Finally I just sat in for a while on ‘Poetic Justice’ by Joy Harjo with Claire Nichols chairing. “Musician, author and poet Joy Harjo was appointed US Poet Laureate in June 2019, the first Native American to hold the position. Her journey to this literary pinnacle has not been easy – she recounts the trauma of her early life in her illuminating memoir ‘Crazy Brave’. She found redemption in the spirit of poetry. Full of wisdom and beauty, Joy’s poetry is steeped in spirituality and the great myths of her people and is a profound and poignant exploration of the universe and our place within it”.

Chaired by Claire Nichols this was being recorded for ‘The Book Show’ to be aired on Monday on Radio National, which has podcasts. Joy came to poetry through her mother’s songwriting starting aged 23. She first picked up a saxophone aged 40. She was an interesting woman and read two of her poems while I was there, one rather emotional about washing her mother just after she’d died. She didn’t do that but wanted to, and felt it strange when a stranger in a dark suit came to take her mother’s body away. I’m sure that must have touched a lot of people in the audience.

Thursday 5th March and the last day of the Writers’ Week, what a shame. I had meant to get to the first event of interest ‘The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Pell’ but was late waking (nothing to do with my being on the iPad from 4-5am of course!) so only got there towards the end. George Pell was Australia’s most powerful Catholic – a friend to Prime Ministers and the Pope’s right-hand man. Then it all came crashing down. Louise Milligan was the only journalist to tell the stories of Pell’s accusers. When Pell was charged and later convicted of sex crimes against children, Louise’s reporting on the allegations in her book ‘Cardinal’ led to her being a witness in the case. Her work won her two Quill awards and Walkley Book of the Year. She was joined in the discussion by long-time Pell observer and author of ‘The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell’, David Marr. So quite disappointing to miss that but will likely read the book when it gets into paperback. There is apparently more to come on Pell but this couldn’t be disclosed.

The next event was ‘Intimate Accounts’ chaired by Charlotte Wood: ‘Two collections of profound and deeply personal meditations on what it is to be human in today’s world. In ‘She I dare not name’, Donna Ward reflects with wry humour, fierce intelligence and unflinching honesty on a life lived in unexpected solitude. Vicki Hastrich’s ‘Night Fishing’ explores the pleasures of fishing, writing and thinking in a captivating series of observational essays on life, philosophy and the natural world. These two remarkable books lead us on a journey through the ordinary, elegantly illuminating the extraordinary in the every day’.

Vicki Hastrich worked in TV as a camerawoman amongst other things and Donna Ward founded ‘Indigo’, has been a Psychotherapist and Social Worker. Place is central to both their books. Donna has lived on her own all her life and her house became her companion. Vicki holidayed in Woy Woy, New South Wales, as a child and it felt more real to her than her suburban home. Has a holiday home there and returns regularly. Vicki had been writing her novel for 4 years and couldn’t get it to work so decided to stop completely. She went around galleries looking at artworks and then reading what the artists said about their works. She has reframed her writing as a life of enquiry instead.

Donna was asked what was the difference between solitude and loneliness. She answered that solitude is more wholesome, a sense of contentment in life and loneliness is a sense of being alone but not in a positive way, can involve depression and a sense of alienation. She’s solitary and enjoys it but wouldn’t have felt like this if she hadn’t gone through a depressive stage, loneliness and despair. She hadn’t expected to be on her own. She said she thinks you have to go through depression and loneliness to reach solitude but it took her a long time to be happy with her marital status and happy being a spinster. I could completely understand what she was saying as didn’t expect to live my life alone, have gone through the stages she mentioned but now feel pretty content (most of the time) with a solitary life. Donna describes herself as a ‘spinster’ not ‘single’ as ‘single’ people may have been divorced, widowed, single mothers etc which she hasn’t been. I hate, and always have, the word ‘spinster’ – ever since I overheard a neighbour in my first flat describe me as a ‘spinster’ – it’s such an ugly word. Maybe ‘bachelorette’ – or am I too old for that?

Donna was influenced by ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ (the second time this book has been mentioned so must be worth a read) and the complete poetry of T.S.Elliott – ‘Journey of the Magi’ a particular favourite that she reads most days. Vicki mentioned ‘41 false starts’ by Janet Malcolm as being important to her. Edna O’Brien said “a person becomes a writer because they have an intensity of feeling that normal life can’t accommodate”.

Next: ‘The Inscrutable Senator Wong’ (I had marked to go to ‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jokha Alharthi but had heard her talk about it before, either at Hay or Cheltenham) and well chaired by Tory Shepherd. Margaret Simons, Australian journalist, was presenting her biography on Penny Wong, a Labour politician. I hadn’t heard of her and, as I’m supposed to be immersing myself in Australian culture as much as possible thought I should attend. Described in the programme: ‘Gay, Malaysian-born, female – Penny Wong is an unlikely hero of the Australian Labour Party. But her sharp mind, fierce integrity and political acumen has seen the Senator from South Australia rise through Labour ranks and achieve a national popularity that transcends partisan loyalty. For this first major biography Margaret Simons spoke to Penny’s inner circles – and scored interviews with the elusive politician herself – to deliver a fascinating and comprehensive account of the life and times of the enigmatic Senator Wong’.

Margaret Simons said she asked Penny Wong three times if she could write her biography and was told no. However, in the end she did and Penny didn’t stop her, didn’t prevent her talking to the people that know and work with her and in the end gave her 6 interviews herself. She is formidable and can be extremely cutting and makes enemies internally. She is also very shy and introvert, finds campaigning a real toll and hates going to parties. She is head and shoulders above everyone else in Parliament intellectually.

Penny was devastated at the result of the 2019 election and seriously thought about giving up. She’d like to be Minister for Foreign Affairs if Labour wins the next election and had prepared herself for that role in the 2019 election, assuming Labour were going to win it. People think she would be the best ever in that role. She’s never wanted to be PM despite the fact people have told her to run for it. Apparently she has ‘eyebrow moments’ – raising an eyebrow at certain times and her eyebrows used to have a Twitter account!

Next was ‘Stolen Lives’ with Antonio Buti and Jennifer Caruso with not the best chair, Paul Daley. ‘A sick baby is taken to hospital by his concerned father. Once he’s recovered, baby Bruce is fostered out to another family without the consent or knowledge of his parents. Antonio Buti’s ‘A Stolen Life’ tells the story of Bruce Trevorrow, the only member of the Stolen Generations to successfully sue an Australian Government for compensation. Dr Jennifer Caruso, herself a member of the Stolen Generations, is a leading researcher on the traumatic legacy of Australia’s ‘Child Removal’ policies’.

Stolen Generations from turn of 20th century to the 1970s and it’s alleged children are still being taken now. No definitive number of how many children were removed but there are approximately 17,000 people who were removed alive today so obviously there were far more. The children were lined up, darker ones went to Catholic missions and the lighter ones to Methodist missions. Sometimes children were split up from their siblings.

Bruce was taken by foster parents on Christmas Day in 1957 when he was 13 months old. His British foster parents thought he was a baby girl until they removed his nappy. He stayed with them for 10 years but it had been difficult, and then went to live with his mother, he was in and out of care, got involved with petty crime and drank heavily. He had 3 siblings who hadn’t been removed who went on to have good lives.

Antonio said there were 5 reasons why Bruce’s case succeeded, two of them being that there was a great Judge presiding who wrote a beautiful judgement and Bruce had good lawyers. There was also written evidence that he had been removed without his parents’ knowledge or consent. There is a ‘Bringing Them Home’ report.

A lot of facts were missing for me (probably have to read the book). During question time, Antonio became very uncomfortable when asked if Bruce had received the money as he had died, aged 54, about a year after winning the case. Antonio didn’t appear to have much knowledge as to what had happened to him or if he had got the money, which seemed strange to have just ignored him after writing the book. A man in the audience mentioned that Bruce wasn’t the only person to have successfully sued for compensation as there had been at least 10 others. Another lady said she was surprised there was no mention in his book of a group of people who had worked tirelessly on Bruce’s behalf. Antonio went red in the face, squirmed in his chair, stuttered and was extremely uncomfortable which I found fascinating to experience as had never witnessed this in all the literary festivals I’d attended. I had a bit of a discussion about that with the ladies on either side of me who were equally baffled by his defensive answers and body language.

’The Palace of Angels’ by Mohammed Massoud Morsi ‘MMM is an Egyptian-Danish-Australian photographer, journalist and writer. His latest book comprises three intimate stories of great poetic power set amongst the violence and division of the Palestinian/Israeli border. In ‘The Palace of Angels’ Morsi doesn’t shy away from the shocking brutality of his characters’ world but his beautifully written stories are full of poignancy and hope and, with subtlety and grace, lead his readers to a greater understanding of not only this volatile, contested place but also about who we are and who we imagine ourselves to be’.

This was chaired by Antony Loewenstein. My initial reaction when I saw Morsi was, what an extremely attractive man! He was dark with blue eyes and smiley. Morsi was born in Copenhagen to Egyptian parents and has lived in Perth, Australia since 2011 with his son. The book is a trilogy of novels about what you don’t hear in the news: the human side. A search for identity and they’re all based on true stories. He said Gaza is like an open air prison, the people are denied fresh water. He has visited many times and it’s quite complicated to enter with a 1km enclosed walkway. The people in Gaza feel like the world has left them behind, they feel abandoned and that their lives aren’t worth anything. This is not a political book but does include some exact tweets that Netanyahu tweeted. The author promised the people he met in Gaza who shared their stories that he would write this book.

Quote from author: “when we stereotype people it’s usually because we want to discharge something for who we are”. He is mentoring some young writers from Gaza. He works with an organisation called ‘We are not numbers’.

A lady and her husband who I got talking to after this event recommended another book called ‘I shall not hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity’ by Izzeldin Abuelaish which she said was fantastic. Apparently he’d lost a lot of his family while working in Gaza as a Doctor.
So many books to read and not enough lives!

The lady, who told me she was Joanna, said goodbye to her husband (a retired dentist) and sat next to me for the next two events. She told me she was a retired piano teacher and had lived with her husband in Chelsea, London for several years. She was delightful, went dancing and they’d walked the Coast to Coast path in England 3 years before which I thought was amazing mainly because one of the days is 25 miles long. I didn’t ask her age but I’d guess late 60s/early 70s and she hardly had any grey hair. She wore a royal blue beret, jeans and a hand knitted cardigan in various shades of blue.

‘Storming the World’ was my next event choice chaired well by David Sly (who knew Rowbotham) with two Australian crime writers:’Michael Rowbotham and Felicity McLean both began their writing careers as journalists before moving into the dark art of ghostwriting. In 2002, Michael’s first novel became the subject of an international bidding war and he is now one of the world’s most successful crime writers. His latest book is ‘Good Girl, Bad Girl’. Felicity looks set to follow in Michael’s footsteps after her first novel, ‘The Van Appel Girls are Gone’, became an international sensation. They discuss their books and astonishing career trajectories’. Chaired by David Sly.

This was a very entertaining event, Rowbotham has a great sense of humour and I really must read both these books. Felicity said that her book is really about an ordinary Australian childhood and she is baffled as to why it’s successful internationally as such books by Australian authors haven’t been. She thought there’s something universal about small close-knit communities. Michael Rowbotham had lived in the UK for 12 years but hasn’t set any of his books in Australia yet. Felicity had to translate Australian vernacular for publication in the US into words the Americans would know as were told American authors were the least intelligent! Words such as ‘Arvo’ changed to ‘afternoon’ and explain what a ‘dunny’ was. This seemed bizarre to me as I should think it would lose quite a lot of the feeling of place. Michael said he’d had to change a football team he’d named in one of his books to Manchester United for the American audience as they’d have heard of that team but not the original he’d used. Also had to change the title of one book for US audience which later caused confusion for people in other countries who ordered it thinking it was a new book to discover they’d read it before.

Books mentioned by them: ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper (Joanna whispered to me that it’s a very good read) and ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent.

Evie Cormack is a new character introduced in ‘Good Girl, Bad Girl’ by Rowbotham. She has the ability to detect lies. Something happened to her as a child, which we don’t find out in this book. He said he doesn’t know what the end of his book will be when he starts writing. (I’ve heard authors say this before and I find it quite incredible).

In Felicity’s book the children aren’t found. She mentioned the well known disappearance of Beaumont children in Australia who were never found. ‘Sisters in crime’ organisation mentioned.

Finally the last event (other than Twilight Talk at 7pm) was ‘The Erratics’ by Vicki Laveau-Harvie and chaired by Kerryn Goldsworthy. ‘VLH became a debut author in her mid-seventies with her extraordinary memoir, ‘The Erratics’. Returning to wintry Alberta after 18 years to tend to their infirm ageing parents. Vicki and her sister navigate the wilful cruelty of their harsh, mad mother and excavate the past and the psychological damage she unleashed on their family. “Be glad if you forget” she writes. A book of unsettling honesty, tar-black humour and welcome warmth, ‘The Erratics’ was the first memoir to win the Stella Prize’.

Chaired by Kerryn Goldsworthy. And I thought I’d had a bad mother until I heard about Vicki’s! Her mother had been very beautiful, like Ava Gardner, in her youth. She had ‘malignant personality disorder’. Thought her girls were part of her and every achievement of theirs she took as her own. Vicki and her sister got away from home and were basically disowned. They were contacted to be told that their mother (then 90) had fallen and broken her hip and was hospitalised so their father needed help. When they got there they were shocked to find he was malnourished as had been starved by their mother. They fed him and he improved. They had to have their mother placed in a home. Their father had taken the side of their mother because he loved her. The author came across as a lovely person who had a good sense of humour but probably not a book at the top of the pile for me.

After this Joanna and I had a chat as I told her how I’d played the piano for years but had hardly touched it for the past 40. She said she had to get home to practice (she practises 2 hours per day) as had a fundraising recital in her home the next day. She then invited me to it, said it would be mainly Beethoven as it’s a big year (Beethoven was born 250 years ago and I know a lot is going on in Germany as a result). She said she’d be raising money for Kangaroo Island bush relief fund which had been badly destroyed in the recent bush fires (they’re crying out for tourists at the moment – I went there on my second visit to Australia). She said she’d be making a cake and serve tea afterwards. I accepted instantly and felt honoured to have been asked. She settled on a 4pm start, then bumped into two other people she knew, introduced me to them and invited them also. I’d gathered she knew a fair number of well known ‘artists’ (musicians I think mainly) although wasn’t showing off about this. Such an interesting woman and no doubt her husband is also (they’ve been married for 43 years, she told me) although I’d only briefly met him.

I left her chatting to the other friends and went to get a glass of wine and quiche before the ‘Twilight Talk’ from 7pm. There had been twilight talks since Monday but I’d decided not to go to them as it would have meant a late dinner plus 7 events on most days was quite enough. However, being the last day of Writers’ Week I thought I’d ‘linger in the gardens’ for their ‘last Hurrah’ for 2020 as some of their ‘funny, fierce and fearless authors offer their final reflections for the week. Addressing the Festival theme of ‘Being Human’ the delightful, distinguished line-up has 10 minutes each to ponder contemporary life and humanity in all its messy glory’. They basically stuck to the subject they’d been presenting and some of them went on a bit, particularly a woman talking about her son’s drug addiction and how he’d got through it then invited the whole family on the stage. I left before the end.

I was quite sad that it was all over and probably could have gone on and on. I felt I’d learned a lot and certainly added more books to my ever increasing list of books to read. I’d had lots of nice conversations with lovely, interesting women because, as usual, the women outnumbered the men and most of the men there were older and with wives. There were hardly any young people there because they will have been at work. At least Cheltenham and Hay Festivals are on during half term so younger people are able to attend.

The people attending seemed, to me, like a mix of the Cheltenham and Hay festival goers combined. There were a fair few smartly dressed people (like Cheltenham in the main) and bohemian-looking people (reminding me of Hay people). There were lots of hat wearers and some very bright colours dotted amongst the audiences. I’d been told that Adelaide people were quite posh.

Some of the events had ‘Auslan’ interpreters (signing for the deaf). People had to book for this in advance and not all events could be signed. I was fascinated to watch the signing done by women, two per event, who did 15-20 minutes each before handing over as, undoubtedly, it would be very tiring. At times I was distracted from the talk by watching their signing and the faces they pulled in addition to using their hands. I’d often wondered about the face pulling and asked two of them about it just before an event. I was told it was all part of the signing and that if I wanted to find out to sign up to a beginners’ Auslan course. I told them I couldn’t as was travelling (not something I’d so anyway). As I thought, they both had someone in their family who was profoundly deaf. I had noticed that there were a lot of people, not using the signers, in the audiences who were wearing hearing aids – the discreet ones.

I was impressed that every event, without question, started dead on time – something that rarely happens at the Cheltenham Lit Fest. Before questions from the audience the chair would remind people that they must stick to questions and not make statements. Unlike at Hay or Cheltenham which have a roving microphone for questions, here there was a microphone on a stand in the centre aisle where you had to line up to ask a question, I braved this on a few occasions!

Having had such brilliant experiences at the Oz Open and now this free Writers’ Week I’d ‘never say never’ now to returning to Australia for both events. Who knows?

On Friday 6th March I had nothing planned in the morning so just scratched about the house writing up this blog mainly. I left at 3pm for the bus journey (two buses) to Joanna and her husband Damian’s house in Malvern, a nice part of Adelaide. On arrival Joanna was outside in the front garden dressed very smartly in a red dress and blazer (she looked completely different to yesterday) talking to a lady called Doris whose husband, Cecil, was sitting nearby and showed signs of dementia. Doris was very attentive to him and he was very sweet, standing up to be introduced to me. Then another lady, Janice, arrived who used to sing in the same choir as Joanna, and a couple from Sydney (who Joanna had met, like me, at an event at Writers’ Week) Linda and Alex who arrived on bicycles which they’d rented for $25 per day. They were going from Joanna’s to Womadelaide.

The house was huge and very lived in – lived in for over 40 years and six children, all of whom appeared to be very talented. Joanna was not only a musician but also a very talented artist with a lot of her art adorning the walls. There was also a large and very colourful painting which I liked (of a tiger in the jungle) by her son Micheal, leaning against one of the walls and another in the kitchen, which I didn’t like so much, of a spaceman.

We were invited into a small room mainly taken up by a Yamaha Grand Piano. Joanna told us she was mainly playing Beethoven but might throw in some Chopin for Linda, whose father used to like playing Chopin and who I assumed had died. There were a couple of sofas and easy chairs which we sat in. Joanna started off by playing an old song and singing, but she sang so quietly I couldn’t understand the words at all. Nevertheless we applauded her graciously. Then she played ‘Fur Elise’ which of course everyone knew and Linda’s dad had also enjoyed playing. Joanna then introduced Beethoven’s ‘The Tempest’ piano sonata and was just about to start playing, with hands poised above the keys, when she bounced up to say something else which made me laugh. It wasn’t a sonata I knew nor particularly liked but Joanna played it very proficiently.

Cecil had a little snooze throughout with Doris looking from him to Joanna, Linda shut her eyes but had a smile on her face, I’m not so sure that Alex was enjoying it (something told me that Womad was more his thing than classical music) and Janice, a friend of Joanna and Damien for 20 years was politely listening. I couldn’t help but think what a bizarre situation I’d found myself in having only just met Joanna and Damien yesterday. Joanna then played a short and lovely piece, ‘Adieu to the piano’ attributed to Beethoven which was followed by two well known pieces by Chopin, the second being ‘The Minute Waltz’ which took Joanna a bit longer than a minute, not surprisingly.

I haven’t said how much Joanna talks, so much so that she distracts herself from what she’s meant to be doing, however it’s interesting chat. After the performance, Doris and Cecil left and the rest of us were invited for afternoon tea, although by this time it was 6pm. We admired Joanna’s and one of her son’s artwork along the hall into the large kitchen and sun lounge and chatted. Joanna put the kettle on but got distracted talking about various subjects for at least 45 minutes before making the tea. Meanwhile, Alex was getting a bit fed up as he mentioned to me he was missing a singer he particularly wanted to hear at Womadelaide (Kate Miller Heidke) who was only doing that one performance but Linda didn’t seem too bothered.

Joanna had made a lovely plum sponge cake and other sweet things and we drank our tea out of trendy mismatched cups and saucers. Alex was getting increasingly frustrated as time went on, Linda completely at ease which no doubt annoyed him even more. It was a lovely afternoon with Damian joining us for the tea part. Damian and Joanna are a very charming and interesting couple who I could quite easily become friends with if I were living in Adelaide. Alex and Linda eventually got up to leave, Joanna invited Janice and I to dinner which was very kind but we both politely declined. After saying our goodbyes, Alex and Linda cycled off to what was left of Womadelaide that day and Janice kindly drove me home.

I spent most of Saturday reading and writing then walked 90 minutes, purely for the exercise as it wasn’t a particularly attractive route, to the Ridley Centre which is part of the Adelaide Showground complex. In September they have the Royal Adelaide Show there which is apparently huge. I’d booked to see ‘Cold Blood’ starting at 6.45pm, an Arts Festival event, as it sounded intriguing and so it turned out to be. It was a theatrical piece by a group from Belgium and is really difficult to explain, but they used their fingers and small models of cities, a theatre, outdoor cinema etc which were filmed and magnified onto a screen. One particularly amazing piece was a tap dance with four fingers wearing thimbles. The people whose fingers they were must themselves have been tapdancers as they were so very well synchronised. Every now and then there was a male narrator, who had a wonderful voice, and beautiful music throughout. The narrator began the event as follows: “It’s dark. Your eyes are open, but you see nothing. You’ve switched off your phone because you’ve been asked to. You think you’re at the theatre and yet you’re already elsewhere. You will live seven deaths. Without worry, without fear. Each death is a surprise. Each death is the first. Deaths are like lives. No two are alike”. It sounds morbid but it was actually quite funny.

‘Cold Blood’ was created by a Belgian couple, Michele Anne de Mey (a dancer and choreographer) and Jaco Van Dormeal (an acclaimed director and screenwriter best known for the multi award winning feature films, ‘Mr Nobody’ and ‘Toto le heros’. In 2012 they formed ‘Kiss and Cry Collective’ with a group of other talented creatives working in the fields of writing, cinematography, design and lighting and built something entirely new and unique. Casting two human hands in the starring roles, they produced a show where a love affair, with all its associated emotions, is danced purely with digits. A tiny set for the hands/characters to live in was designed and cameras caught and projected the action onto a big screen. The text for the show was written by Thomas Gunzig, one of the most awarded Belgian writers of his generation, a star in Belgium with books translated worldwide.

So that had been an excellent choice, and the first of only two events I’d selected from the Arts Festival, because most of them were quite expensive.

On Sunday I walked into the centre to go to the ‘Dogs: a story of our best friend’ exhibition at the South Australian Museum located next to the Art Gallery, which I thought would be more interesting than it turned out to be and, had I known, wouldn’t have spent $15 on! The most interesting part for me was at the beginning with screenshots of quotes about dogs:

Then I had a look at the Aboriginal and Pacific Islands exhibits, interested to see the New Caledonia and Vanuatu sections as I’m travelling there soon. I sat outside and read my book for a while before a short woman (about my age) arrived with a backpack looking at a map. She asked me where the river was as had been directed to walk along the river to a campsite. I got talking to her and she said her name was Dee and had just arrived from Scotland. She said she had travelled a lot and always camped. I had a real laugh with her because I was amazed what she had in her backpack – rivalling Mary Poppins! There was a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, small stove, saucepan and cutlery. Then out came her laptop and kindle. I thought she was an amazing woman, far more adventurous than I’ve ever been or will ever be, and she had the biggest smile on her face. She told me she’d done lots of different jobs in her life, including living in Los Angeles working for a film director, but she didn’t like the film industry. She eventually went off in search of the campsite and I was sorry to see her go.

Dee rummaging in her amazing backpack

After that fascinating meeting I went off to the first of the fringe events I’d booked held upstairs in ‘Oostende’, a Belgian Beer Cafe. The event was ‘Ashes: A Comedy Showdown’ with ‘Australia’s top comedians taking on England’s best to claim the Comedy Ashes’. There were 3 on each side and ‘England’s’ were a Scotsman, Irishman and Englishman! It was a fun 90 minutes, some of the Ozzie references going over my head as expected but the British side won (scored by the amount of applause they each got and whether they managed to keep within the 6 minute time allocation). From there it was a quick walk to another comedy show ‘Best of the Edinburgh Festival’ over at ‘The Garden of Unearthly Delights’, a name given during the Fringe to one side of the park in East Terrace where lots of the events take place, the other side of the park is called ‘Gluttony’! The comedians (two men, one woman) were all English and it was a funny hour of comedy.

Monday was my first experience of WOMAD (here they call theirs WOMADelaide) and the last day of four days held in the Botanic Gardens. I got there just after the gates opened at 11am and was given a wristband as proof I’d paid. There weren’t that many people at that stage so I had a look around some craft stalls (buying some lovely illustrated animal cards) and had a tea and Danish pastry. I walked round the site (a lovely venue I thought) to orientate myself and check out the various stages. People were putting small pop-up tents up under trees and laying rugs and blankets down as places to go in between their music fixes, and welcome shade, although they would have to have removed them every evening as overnight camping wasn’t allowed, and there were lampshades hanging up in some trees which were particularly lovely later in the evening:


There were large yoga classes at midday, which I had planned to go to but was wearing jeans so not really appropriate for downward dogging!

Just about on the hour, every hour, from 1pm until after 10.30pm there were different bands performing. I’d done my homework in advance, not having heard any of the bands before, by listening to their music on Youtube and marking those I thought I’d particularly enjoy. The first I was really excited about seeing started at 1pm on the Foundation stage – the biggest stage – coming from Malaysia called ‘Orang Orang Drum Theatre’ described in the programme: ‘Transforming a traditional art form into something new, vibrant and colourful, Orang Orang Drum Theatre’s eleven performers use precision percussion, theatre and dance to share the rich folklore of Chinese Malaysian society. ‘The Memories’ explores the idea of collective memory and the concept of ‘home’ as a migrant. ‘LanguKu’ reveals the hidden power of the drum through a myriad of diverse, percussive instruments from different cultures combined with vocals and highly physical choreography’. It turned out to be an excellent choice as I love drumming but, it was so much more than that.

Orang Orang Drum Theatre

Then I went off to stage 2 (located behind the Foundation stage) to sample ‘Liniker e os Caramelows’ hailing from Brazil: ‘The sounds of black soul and samba run through Liniker’s blood. Casting a musical spell on you they shake things up to high-gear, Brazilian funk moving from lush ballads to a reggae bridge eventually exploding into a majestic African-based Candomble rhythmic finish. Formed in 2015 and led by charismatic transgender Liniker Barros, the band’s latest album ‘Goela Baixo’ has been nominated for a Latin Grammy’. Well, they were brilliant fun but I’d also marked Deline Briscoe as worth seeing (one of Australia’s finest indigenous singers) and went to check her out. She was fine but singing slow ballads so I returned to the more upbeat Brazilian band.

Lineker e os Caramelows

The 3pm slot was ‘Ezra Collective’ from the UK: ‘With their incredible musicianship and spirited approach to music, drawing on Afrobeat, Latin, hip-hop, grime and more, Ezra Collective has broken out beyond the thriving UK jazz scene. The five-piece are a tour-de-force whose thrilling and unmistakably London sound has already seen them conquer moshpit-filled tours of the UK and USA, perform at Glastonbury and at Quincy Jones’ 85th birthday party’. It was great to hear that they’d met at a youth club and taken things from there. They certainly were excellent musicians (if a little loud and too jazzy for my liking at times) and popular with the crowd.

At 4pm I enjoyed another great, and different, band called ‘Minho Crusaders’ from Japan. ‘An astonishing take on Japanese folk (min’yo) channelled through Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. Minyo Crusaders’ historical tales of the working class sung in the traditional way but with a 10-piece orchestra playing reggae, cumbia and Afrobeat, catch you off-guard in the most delightful way. The band is transforming what’s considered to be ‘highbrow’ art into a catchy, danceable art form’.

Minho Crusaders

On the Foundation stage at 5pm was a very raunchy Mavis Staples: ‘Civil rights icon, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Grammy Award-winder Mavis Staples has been a beacon of hope for generations. Hailed as “one of America’s defining voices of freedom and peace”, Staples is the kind of once-in-a-generation artist whose impact on music and culture would be difficult to overstate. Her stunning 2019 album ‘We Get By’, written and produced by Ben Harper, seeks to empower and evoke change in dark times’. Well, she was absolutely superb, quite clearly very happy to be at WOMADelaide and promising to return. I looked her up and was surprised to see she’ll be 81 in July! What a remarkable woman.

Mavis Staples

I’d marked 3 performances of interest at 6.15pm on various stages but just checked out 2 of them: Laura Marling from the UK and KermesZ a l’Est from Belgium. I checked out the latter first and their music was right up my street, quite brilliant: ‘The musicians of KermesZ a l’Est hammer out an original fusion of Balkan melodies, metal, math rock, electric and free jazz. Looking like metal heads (sans guitars), intellectual punks and hairy anarchists rolled into one, they also wield a typically Belgian sense of humour, capable of ruffling the hair of even the slickest of rockers. Their unique repertoire is enhanced by hilarious stage antics, resulting in a sweaty and supercharged show fizzing with energy’.

I probably should have stayed watching them but went instead to hear Laura Marling: ‘Over the course of 6 superb albums, each building on but never repeating what came before it, Laura Marling has become a darling of earthy, modern folk. Her songs, often pondering loss, identity and self-reflection, immediately draw you in, and her gorgeous voice and delicate guitar work never fail to captivate. For her WOMADelaide debut Marling plays a solo, stripped back set’. She certainly has a beautiful voice but the kind of music that would be better listened to late at night at home with a glass of wine, I thought.

Finally, from 7.15pm I gave ‘Los Amigos Invisibles’ from Venezuela a listen for a while: ‘Back in Australia after a decade to spread ‘la gozadera’ (good time) with their acid jazz, cheeky disco-funk and Latin grooves, ‘Los Amigos Invisibles’ are celebrated for their explosive live shows. Discovered by David Byrne and subsequently released on his label, the Caracas outfit has been sharing its irresistible party music since 1991, conquering more than 60 countries along the way’. They were very discoey, perhaps a little dated, but Australians seem to love disco music, something that I rather like about them is that they enjoy all the old disco numbers. After 20 minutes or so of them I went to hear Catrin Finch, a Welsh harpist I’d heard play at the Hay Festival before, teamed up here with Seckou Keita from Senegal: ‘After a serendipitous meeting in 2012 a sublime musical collaboration was born. Classical harpist Finch and griot kora master Keita have since built a formidable reputation for their innovative and mesmerising performances. Drawing deeply on their diverse traditions, Mandinka rhythms mix and interweave seamlessly with Welsh traditional tunes’.

I had planned to stay to the bitter end, the last bands performing from 9.30pm, but decided that this last music had been so beautiful and relaxing that to go from that to loud music would have spoilt its effect.

During some performances, and certainly during Mavis Staples’ performance because she was quite mesmerised by them, was a troupe called ‘Company Archibald Caramantan’ from France, a Street theatre company ‘dedicated to itinerant, dreamlike performances where they invite audiences to interact with their delightful four-metre high articulated puppets. Le Caramantran is a collective of carnival artists – stilt walkers, musicians, comedians, puppeteers, constructors and sculptors – moved by the desire to surprise and unearth the poetry in everyday life’. I loved them:

Unfortunately my photos at WOMADelaide were taken on my phone so not as good as they would have been with my proper camera, which I hadn’t taken as cameras with detachable lenses weren’t allowed in. However, I saw that quite a few people had managed to sneak them in with bigger lenses than mine, so was a bit miffed. Although there was the opportunity of doing the whole shebang of 4 days at WOMADelaide I think for me that would have been too much and was very happy with my one day experience.

Chris had invited me to join her and Jenny for coffee on Tuesday 10th (they regularly meet up on a Tuesday) and she picked me up as the cafe they’d selected was a bit out of the way. Afterwards I took a tram, for the first time here, with Jenny to the city centre, walked along the river and read my book for a while. I then checked out the Botanical Gardens, next to where WOMADelaide had been held, and had a lager during ‘happy hour’ outside a bar, chatting to a couple at my table.

I then went to see ‘Velvet Rewired’ at 6.30pm, a fringe event in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent in Gluttony – Rymill Park. This was a ‘disco-fuelled cabaret spectacular’ with Marcia Hines (singer) and a cast of 10, including acrobats, aerialists, glitz, glamour and circus skills. They were all very talented and the audience loved them but I would have enjoyed it far more if I’d been part of a group, perhaps with the squash girls. A woman sitting behind me was squarking and laughing loudly at everything and everyone, which was just a bit irritating.

On Wednesday I had my second arts festival event booked and walked into town for it. Beforehand I took a look at the Migration Museum, and read a few interesting stories of Brits who had come to Adelaide as children with their parents in the 50s and 60s. I then got bombarded by a group of schoolchildren with their teachers so left. The venue for my event was a lecture theatre in the Institute Building, part of the State Library, called ‘Eight’ a short interactive virtual reality experience which wasn’t recommended for people who suffer from severe claustrophobia, seizures, epilepsy or extreme vertigo. A heavy headset and speakers were placed on my head and ears and I was told to raise both arms if I wanted to leave before the end and someone would take me out. Well, I nearly opted out at the very beginning when a woman in about her 60s appeared and glared at me in a a most disarming way. Instructions were given to follow the woman and not to let her out of sight. She soon changed into a younger woman and finally a child who invited me to sit in a tent with her. Throughout there was beautiful singing, sung by Australian trained opera singer Kate Miller-Heidke for whom it was conceived. At times I was surrounded by natural wilderness, a forested mountainside and the fall cosmos. It was devised by Michel van der Aa, from the Netherlands, who is a composer and equally gifted video artist and has successfully integrated multi-media into his work for two decades and sees technology as “a new colour, a new possibility”. His genre-defying pieces ‘One, Up Close’ and ‘Blank Out’ can be experienced online but ‘Eight’ has to be experienced live. I love virtual reality and I loved this.

I went into the State Library where there was an exhibition about the Australian Smith brothers who won the England to Australia Air Race of 1919 – Captain Ross and Lieutenant Keith Smith. With their mechanics, Sergeants Wally Shiers and Jim Bennett, they were the first Australian airmen to fly from England to Australia, achieved in 28 days in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber. The exhibition followed the lives of the Smith family from their early days at Motorola Station in the far north of South Australia to service in World War One and the public response to the tragic death of Sir Ross in an air crash in 1922. Afterwards I took a peek in the the chamber of the Mortlock Wing where I was surprised to see people working as it was pretty dark and gloomy in there. This is considered without equal as a mid Victorian public library interior in Australia. There are two galleries, the balconies featuring wrought iron balustrading ornamented with gold and a glass-domed lantern roof allows the chamber to be lit with natural light (not that well lit!). The Mortlock Wing is regularly included on lists of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

I’d booked a free fringe event at the Tandanya Aboriginal Centre for 3pm but got there earlier and was able to go in straight away. It was ‘Yabarra – Dreaming in Light’, a world premiere.

After a tea and Madeleine in a ‘French’ cafe, the owner greeting me with a ‘bonjour’ but clearly not French, I walked to the railway station to catch a 4.27pm train (my first train in Adelaide) to Grange, the end of that line, where Chris was picking me up. She, her husband Alan and I walked from their house to nearby Henley Beach for a pre dinner drink and a meal at a Greek restaurant they hadn’t tried before. Alan insisted on paying for my meal, half of which I took away in a container for another evening. We had a lovely chat and walked back to their house. Alan went off to bed while Chris and I drank a glass of wine and continued our conversation. Then I got an Uber home, having had my last meeting with Chris and Alan although I know we’ll meet up again some time, whether in England when they visit Helen and Richard of should I return to Adelaide, which could very well be on the cards.

Thursday 12th I decided to spend at ‘home’ as was way behind with writing up this blog. I chatted a bit to Sun (not her real name but she has a long and difficult name to pronounce which actually means ‘Diamond’) a 30 year old young woman from Laos who arrived on Tuesday afternoon and had won a scholarship to do a Masters at Adelaide University in plants (making new plants). I had never met someone from Laos outside of Laos. She’s staying at Deb’s until the end of the year and I think has really fallen on her feet with this accommodation. A very nice, respectful, quietly spoken person who speaks excellent English and appears to have instantly got to know her way around the neighbourhood and the house.

On Friday 13th I thought maybe I shouldn’t go out either, although I’m not superstitious and had my final two fringe events to attend…..

First: ‘Don’t Knock Your Granny’ presented by the Feisty Women of Oz at the Bakehouse Theatre which was a sellout at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Described as: ‘a political/satirical take on elder abuse. Ten feisty women shine light in dark corners that’ll make you laugh and cry. Hear skits, songs and true stories of women’s lives. Puppets, Reg and Regina, will speak up too’. The Bakehouse Theatre is a small community theatre, smaller than the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham. Apparently back in 1988 a group of feisty older women were fed up with being ignored in government policy so pitched a tent in front of Parliament House, Canberra and, with songs and skits told the MPs what it felt like to be invisible. Obviously, this group I saw wouldn’t have been the same women but they’ve performed for the Governor General and appeared on TV. Based in Sydney this group is part of the Older Women’s Network (OWN) NSW and it’s National body OWN Australia. As well as managing 18 wellness groups across NSW, OWN undertakes research and advocates on issues that impact older women, including elder abuse and the growing issue of homelessness.

The group of women were aged from 62 (younger than me!) to 90. Some of them had good voices and one woman in particular, Asian, had probably been on the stage before as she had a real presence. She also seemed to have the loudest voice which I can imagine may have got up some of their noses! They alternated sketches with songs, putting their own words to well known songs. They clearly enjoyed themselves and it was wonderful to see the camaraderie and sheer joy. A tear came to my eye on several occasions. They were highlighting how elder abuse is the perfect crime as victims rarely complain and, if they do their complaints are scarcely heard. If anyone listens, action is unusual…and then they die.

My final event of all the festivals in Adelaide was ‘Espana el Vito The Spirit of Spain and Tango – a piano and guitar concert in Scots Church. ‘Internationally acclaimed, award-winning concert pianist Nicholas Young joins renowned 10 string guitarist Matthew Fagan, combining musical passion and virtuosity, performing Spanish classical to Flamenco, Tango and modern jazz, infusing flamenco guitar with classical, virtuoso pianism, of masterpieces by Albania, Rodrigo, Piazzolla, Correa and more’. It started at 7pm and I enjoyed it very much but decided not to stay until the end as I wasn’t feeling 100% and was flying off to Brisbane the next day.

On arriving back at the house Deb had a friend with her and also Mary, an Irish Airbnb guest who’d arrived a few days before (and could talk for Ireland!) and we sat drinking wine and chatting. It was a nice evening. Mary was looking forward to celebrating St Patrick’s Day somewhere in Adelaide. I have to say I’d really enjoyed my stay at Deb’s and getting to know her. Always a busy lady, she was hardly in and when she was always had a bottle of wine on the go. It had been good chatting to her.

I had my first Australian housesit booked in Brisbane starting the next day (Saturday 14th March) for two weeks but on Wednesday 11th received a text from Caroline (the houseowner) that they were cancelling the trip, owing to Coronavirus, but that I’d still be welcome to stay with them for the two weeks. I was a bit upset by this but could understand as Coronavirus (which began in China in December) was spreading across the world and things seemed to be moving pretty quickly. They had been planning to go to Thailand and Myanmar. Then on the Thursday Caroline texted to say they’d decided they would go after all, she confessed that they hadn’t actually cancelled the trip. By that stage I thought they were making a mistake, but selfishly didn’t tell her that, being quite pleased that I’d get to do the housesit and have a dog for company again after quite a break. Then on the Friday another message from Caroline to say they had cancelled the trip. I decided to call her via WhatsApp to discover she had had some virus for a couple of weeks and her company had also said she couldn’t travel. She did however say I could still stay with them and that she’d pick me up from the airport. I decided that given the fact she was ill, I didn’t know her and she had three children it might be quite difficult to stay with them so, after some consideration, declined her generous offer.

I had been suffering from a sore throat since Wednesday and wondered if maybe I had the virus but a call to Chris early on Saturday morning (retired midwife and the mother of a GP who was well versed in the Coronavirus symptoms) convinced me I just had cold symptoms so could safely travel to Brisbane. Chris had said that, if she was me, she’d be looking at going home. Until she said this it hadn’t occurred to me that I should but, indeed, Coronavirus was moving pretty swiftly.

At Adelaide airport I booked a central hotel in Brisbane for the first two nights thinking that I’d then book an Airbnb somewhere. I was due to leave Australia, visa-wise, on 31st March when I had a flight booked to New Caledonia. When I got to the hotel I just spent the afternoon and evening going online reading about Coronavirus, checking out what the Foreign Office advice was for travellers abroad (basically to follow the advice of the country you were in – Australia advising their people not to travel) and trying to find out what might happen if I ended up in Australia beyond 31st March. I also checked out flights. I decided to sleep on it but first thing on Sunday morning, having seen the writing on the wall, decided that indeed my only option was to fly back to the UK and booked a flight with Royal Brunei departing Monday 16th with just a short stop at Brunei and arriving Heathrow 7am on Tuesday 17th March.

On the second leg of the journey (from Brunei) I was seated in an aisle seat with one seat free between me and a Swiss man in the window seat. Despite the flight being 14 hours long (during which I watched 3 films – I can’t sleep on planes) he didn’t go to the toilet once! No idea how he managed that. He wasn’t particularly chatty and slept virtually the whole 14 hours too. He did tell me that he had a house in the country where he would join his wife and son to be safer from Coronavirus as was very worried about the situation in Switzerland. He didn’t seem to be concerned about anyone else’s situation so I didn’t bother conversing with him further.

I booked a National Express bus from Heathrow at 11am to Cirencester. While waiting for the bus I bought a paper to read up on the situation. It felt very strange and, in addition to being tired from the trip, I felt disappointed to be back in England as hadn’t wanted to return, having another year planned in Oz, Pacific islands and South Island of NZ. However, I also felt lucky that I’d managed to have nearly 9 months of travel when now it was looking like people weren’t going to be able to get away. Richard (Helen’s husband) was waiting for me at Cirencester as they’d kindly suggested I stay with them. I was very grateful as couldn’t immediately get back into my house as officially my tenant had until 17 July there, although when he knew I was returning agreed to look elsewhere.

I spent a very pleasant week with Helen and Richard, towards the end being joined by their younger daughter Harriet whose course at Prue Leith’s Cookery School had finished for the term. I left them on 24th March (the first day of Lockdown) to stay for a month in a studio apartment in Leckhampton booked via Airbnb (driven there by Richard, stopping en route to pick up groceries) and then a nice 2 bed house booked through my letting agent for the next month. My tenant found another place to rent and moves out 21st May.

I could fill in the gaps with what I did, and am doing, during Lockdown but decided to post on Facebook until travels/housesitting can resume, who knows when at this point? It will be my intention initially to stick to the UK and maybe Europe.


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