I’ve followed the rebirth of the Tasmanian Writers Festival quite closely over the last year, watching it being pulled together by the amazing Chris Gallagher, who also doubles as the Director of the Tasmanian Writers Centre. I was very fortunate to attend the TWF in April, which featured a number of my favourite Australian writers including Anita Heiss, Tony Birch and the magnificent Frank Moorhouse, who gave an abridged version of his famous Martini lecture, something everyone should witness at least once in their lives.
But perhaps more importantly, the festival showcased a host of staunchly Tasmanian (or ‘Van Diemonian’ as historian James Boyce insisted) writers, both established and newly emerging, whose commitment to building and participating in the local literary scene was truly inspiring. I also attended the launch of the latest issue of the revamped Island, a national literary journal but one with a proudly Tasmanian accent. With a predominantly local audience, there were times when I felt like an outsider, as if I was eavesdropping on a conversation meant for someone else. This glimpse into their literary community was a real privilege for me.
Coming back to my desk at the SA Writers Centre, I pondered the conversations I’d been listening in on. There was so much talk of Tasmanian identity, of history, landscape, culture, architecture, environment, local politics, and of course the often cited ‘MONA effect’ and the cultural renaissance taking place in its wake.
It was inspiring and exciting to listen to this comparatively small but high achieving writing community whose relative isolation may also be its greatest strength. The writers and readers I saw were so engaged with who they are as Tasmanians, who they have been, and what they might be, and so excited by the stories that try to make sense of it all.
Being on the ‘frontiers’ of mainstream, eastern-seaboard Australia can obviously bring with it a strong sense of identity. Adelaide and South Australia seem sometimes to occupy a middle space – not as removed from the major east coast capitals as Darwin, Perth and Hobart as to have a sense of total disconnect, but far enough to not feel entirely connected. My visit to Tasmania has me wondering anew how much this impacts on the ways we think and write here.
I’d like to see more forums, festivals and events where we talk about South Australian writing, our history, environment, and culture, and how it shapes us. It also made me hope that sometime in the near future I might attend a launch of a reborn literary journal here in South Australia, one that celebrates our diverse and unique community of writers. We’d love to talk to anyone who feels the same.