Wordstorm 2010: the festival of Australasian writing

The weather at this year’s Wordstorm writers festival (held 13 to 16 May in Darwin—officially in the ‘dry’ third of the year), was humid enough for even the locals to admit things were ‘warm’. But for those who sweated and fanned their way through sessions in the lush (unairconditioned) Darwin Botantic Gardens, there was the reward of hearing voices that don’t always carry as far south as Victoria and New South Wales—or get as much airtime when they do.

Of course some big-name guests sold out special event sessions at other venues—Wendy Harmer, Tim Flannery and Germaine Greer among them—but the shelves in the Dymocks bookshop tent in the gardens were packed with titles by authors less familiar to my non-Territorian eye, books by writers from Timor, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia—a mix which justifies Wordstorm’s recent rebranding as the ‘festival of Australasian writing’.

Ha’u Maka Lucas/I Am Lucas, which won first prize in the Timorese National Short Novel Writing Competition, for example, was stocked by the bookshop in its original Timorese edition, its author Teodosio Babtista Ximenes hoping to find Australian support for an English translation of his story, which is based on the removal of Timorese children from their families by the Indonesian army in the late 1970s. Nearby was the anthology of Indonesian work in translation, Reasons for Harmony, published by the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

The bookshop shelves were also full with poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays and anthologies by Aboriginal authors from around the country, including Marie Munkara, Yvette Holt, Wesley Enoch, Lionel Fogarty, Lorraine McGee-Sippel, Philip McLaren, Marcia Langton, Melissa Lucashenko and Margaret Kemarre (M K) Turner—several of whom appeared at the Indigenous Writers and Educators conference which ran as part of the festival on 12 and 13 May at Charles Darwin University.

From this overwhelming mix, I came away with Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book of poetry little bit long time (Picaro Press), a collection that’s direct, personal, moving and beautiful; the anthology Fishtails in the Dust: Writing from the Centre (Ptilotus Press), which includes some of the poems from Eckermann’s collection among short stories and other works by a range of Central Australian writers; Terra, a bilingual English/Indonesian anthology of work by writers who have appeared at Wordstorm between 2004 and 2006, edited by festival director Sandra Thibodeaux; and M K Turner’s Iwenhe Tyerrtye: What It Means to Be an Aboriginal Person (IAD Press), which was launched at the festival. Opera soprano Deborah Cheetham read from a section of Turner’s book in a panel on ‘Home, Land, Homeland’, emphasising the importance of words to human identity: ‘Words makes things happen. Words makes us alive… That’s how I got taught these things, how I’ve learned through out my life, how I’ve always seen the world, how I understand it, and how and what in all those ways life has always been.’ Continue reading