In February we flagged some of the most nationally pertinent conversations taking place at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2020. Back then, the appeal of settling in for hours at a time in a public place surrounded by hundreds of people (many of whom, to put it delicately, are smack bang in the most at-risk age range for COVID-19 complications) was uncontroversial. With Sydney Writers’ Festival’s 2020 program scrapped amid myriad other cancellations, what a quaint idea that seems now.
But whether you missed out on attending Writers’ Week this year or, for whatever reason, find yourself wishing to cultivate a background ambience of mass public activity as you potter indoors on a weeknight, Adelaide Festival has released recordings of every, single, session in podcast form.
As an added bonus, you can even skip through any tedious it’s-more-of-a-comment-than-a-question moments from the audience Q&A sessions – although if you ask us, that’s an important part of the experience.
To get you started, here are some of our highlights.
Trees for Life
Author Sophie Cunningham’s essay collection City of Trees explores themes of urban gentrification, disappearing ecosystems and very human grief. In this conversation with Michael Christie, the Canadian author of Greenwood, the pair offer meaningful reflections on climate change and loss while chair Scott Ludlam cringingly learns of the term ‘cli-fi’ and tries to source a scarf for a freezing Christie. It’s good stuff.
“You work out what you can do rather than worry about the things you can’t do; change at all levels is what has to happen I think,” Cunningham reflects during the Q&A.
Following the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch killings by an Australian terrorist and ASIO reports that local rightwing extremism is on the rise, this conversation between Fascists Among Us author and reformed Canadian white nationalist Tony McAleer is particularly timely.
Some of McAleer’s chipper anecdotes about dodging Canadian hate speech laws to run his own Aryan hotline are frankly uncomfortable to listen to. But, both Sparrow and McAleer bring plenty of food for thought – as difficult as it is to hear, it’s something we must not look away from.
Between them, economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Australian author Antony Loewenstein have written and spoken a whole lot about the often-messy relationships between economic and democratic systems. The world has changed a lot since February, but their conversation, which touches on disaster capitalism, economic collapse and transition, and the dangerous limits of commodifying everything, is pretty prescient.
In particular, chair Paul Barclay’s question, “is it in the interests of someone who’s making money out of a disaster, to fix the disaster when its continued existence continues to make them money?” is going to be an important one as western societies face their biggest crisis since the onset of neoliberalism.
The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Pell
Four Corners journalist and author Louise Milligan sits across from Writers’ Week mainstay David Marr to talk institutional abuse and its gradual unravelling, explosively typified by the trial of George Pell. With Pell’s case still working its way through the upper echelons of Australia’s legal system, this session from two of the most prominent documenters of the cardinal’s fall from grace offers plenty of difficult but important reflections on Pell and the systems of abuse and concealment he long presided over and, as we now know, was complicit in.
“I just came from the Helen Garner session.” – old Adelaide Writers’ Week proverb
Garner is another reliable fixture of the festival over the years, but with her latest publication, Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume I 1978–1987, shedding light on Garner’s diaries throughout her early career, this session is perhaps one of the more meta and self-reflexive appearances she’s made. Plus, the inclusion of Garner super-fan Annabel Crabb as chair makes this a very enjoyable listen.
Where to for #MeToo
Garner is an absent but recurring presence
in this panel on the #MeToo movement in Australia, courtesy of Virginia
Trioli’s republished Generation F.
Originally released in 1996 in the aftermath of Garner’s 1992 book The First Stone, Trioli’sbook offered an insight into the
tension, partly generational, between different waves of Australian feminism as
Trioli rebukes Garner’s critique of the complainants in a 1990s university
Given that subtext, it’s interesting to
note the new fissures between Trioli’s brand of feminism – investing in the
legal system to fight sexual harassment and misogyny – and more recent
generations, as she offers a fervent critique of ‘cancel culture’ and forms of
accountability outside the legal system.
A Woman Like Her
At the opening event of Adelaide Writers’ Week Pakistani journalist Sanam Maher described how, despite the success of her book A Woman Like Her in Australia and the UK, it was initially difficult to convince US publishers that American readers could relate to a story of a Pakistani social media influencer’s murder by her own brother. But listening to Maher speak makes one thing clear: despite some cultural specifities, the toxic cocktail of misogyny, patriarchy and media that led to the killing, and unfolded in its wake, can be found all over the world.
See What You Made Me Do
Closer to home, See What You Made Me Do author Jess Hill’s session is full of compelling, and confronting, insights into domestic abuse in Australia, from Hill explaining the necessary shift in terminology from domestic violence to domestic abuse, to the role of patriarchy in socialising young boys into the repressive structures of toxic masculinity. This, Hill says, both rob boys of rich emotional lives and personal connection, and can set them on course to unhealthy relationships with their future partners.
Listen to the full playlist here:
Walter is a writer and editor living on Kaurna Country.
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