Thursday at the Sydney Writer’s Festival was another glorious May day in the sunshine. Over breakfast I planned my session times. Two were pre-booked and paid, but I also hoped to fit in the free session called And the Award Goes To….
Setting out on the ferry in the morning was a tad crisp, but the view coming into Circular Quay is always worth any wind-chill factor that goes with sitting at the front.
My first session, Do We Turn Into Our Mothers
? was at the end of Pier 4/5 which took me on a lovely long walk down the entire length of the pier.
The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf provided encouragement and inspiration along the way!
The double-decked finger wharves around Walsh Bay were built in the early part of the 1900’s.
The old wool stores have now been converted into an arts precinct.
At the end of this year’s festival, the area will be closed for 2 years while it undergoes refurbishment and rejuvenation. Apparently there will be a square erected over the water between the two wharves.
Watch this Arts Precinct space for more details.
I was curious to learn a little more about the history of the area, because even though these buildings are old and cold and draughty, I love the tall, dark spaces, the light through the high windows and their relationship to the harbour.
I hope the redevelopment maintains the feel and history of the place but with a few more mod cons, like proper toilets!
At the end of the 19th century, without a seawall, the Walsh Bay foreshore was awash with rubbish and infested with rats. A major disaster changed everything in 1900 when Arthur Payne, a van driver, became the first person to contract the Bubonic Plague, which arrived in Sydney in January.
The rats were brought under control and by August the outbreak was over.
In October that year The Sydney Harbour Trust was established to rebuild the port of Sydney. Wharves were renewed and whole streets disappeared as the cliffs were cut down to form Hickson Road.
I arrived with enough time to enjoy a coffee in the sunshine whilst reading my book – Joan Lindsay’s bio Time Without Clocks. I was very grateful for my view of clean, sparkling water and colourful flags – not a rat insight!
Do We Turn Into Our Mothers
? was led by Louise Asler, and the conversation included Caroline Baum
(author of Only
), Nadja Spiegelman
(author of I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This
) and Jessica Friedmann
(author of Things That Helped
All three have written books about their parents and parenthood although it was their relationship with their mothers that was the particular focus today.
Within that was the idea of narrative – how we constantly rewrite our own histories and the push/pull effect of differing memories within families.
Going into this session, I knew that I already loved Spiegelman’s memoir. I realised very quickly it was because that Nadja herself, was a funny, warm, articulate, generous, thoughtful and entertaining person in the flesh.
Nadja explained that her book was ‘a shaped telling not a tell-all
Her comment about how the process of writing this book allowed her to see the girl in her mother and for her mother to see the woman in her struck a chord.
But I’m sure I will have more to say about this by the end of her individual session on Saturday.
Baum discussed the difficulty of balancing ruthlessness and compassion when writing a memoir and I loved her descriptions of her family as being ‘champion sulkers‘. I suspect I will be reading her book, Only, now.
Friedmann was harder for me to define or discuss lightly.
She has been through some major periods of depression, including a traumatic post-natal depression time that informed her book of essays.
Body image and boundaries have been her life themes so far. There was an intensity about her presence and her comments that overwhelmed my senses. I felt challenged by her and uncomfortable. Jessica’s intelligence shone through everything she said but it wasn’t always easy to hear what she had to say. I’m not sure I can read her book.
Her journey has been very dark at times and I can only admire her courage and determination – from afar – a little at a time.
And the Award Goes To... featured three of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award winners.
I was hoping that Heather Rose would be attendance as the winner of the Christina Stead Fiction Award, so imagine my delight when I walked in to see this!
My review for Museum of Modern Love
Also in attendance were the co-authors for One Thousand Hills
, James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe. They took out the Ethel Turner Award for Young People’s Literature.
We spent the hour exploring friendship, their writing processes and the idea of hope and kindness in literature.
Having researched both books and authors for the reviews I previously wrote, I didn’t really learn anything new. But I was thoroughly entertained and heartened by the creative impulses that drive our talented authors.
My final session for the day was in The Loft on Pier 2/3.
The views of the bridge through the high windows are gorgeous while the sounds of the trains going across it are occasionally distracting!
This session was with Kate Grenville discussing her book about The Case Against Fragrance
with moderator Caroline Baum. The same Caroline Baum that I had seen earlier in the day talking about mothers, reminding me that the Australian arts scene is often very self-contained.
As I was walking back to the ferry in the fading afternoon light, I reflected on my day.
It had been thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating, but I’m not sure I learnt anything new. I didn’t discover any new-to-me authors or feel compelled to add any more books to my wishlist.
Perhaps the weekend sessions will change my mind?