21 May 2015 by Sophie Warburton
“Be Part of the Story”
That is the slogan for the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival. When it began 4 years ago, in April 2011, the organisers had the idea that it would not only feature prominent writer’s talking about their publications, but that it would also focus on the readers and budding writers amongst them. Basically, they wanted people to get involved and “be part of the story” not just listen to it. There is even a locally made video the inaugural 2012 festival. One of the most popular events in the Festival is the Poetry Slam, where poets from all over the region perform original poetry amid raucous cheers and laughter from the crowd.
The 2015 Festival is coming up soon – over the June long weekend (4-8 June) – so it is the perfect opportunity to visit our creative town, chill out at the Promised Land Retreat and take in some culture. This year the theme is ‘Politics and Society’ and there will be a range of celebrated political commentators, fiction and non-fiction authors, poets and young adult writers to explore this in magical and unexpected ways. Standout guests include the longest-serving NSW Premier and Foreign Minister Bob Carr, interviewed by award-winning journalist and author David Marr. Other political figures attending include Rob Oakeshott who held the balance of power in the Gillard government, and journalist and author Paul Daley, whose gripping novel Challenge is set in the midst of federal politics.
photo Wendy Tanner
Other guests include novelists and YA writers Felicity Castagna, Lisa Walker and Jessie Cole; humourists Mandy Nolan, poets Zohab Zee Khan and Samuel Wagan Watson. An exciting new initiative from the founders of the festival is the new Coffs Coast Writers Centre, at the Bayldon Community Centre in Toormina. Renowned author Robert Drewe will launch the Centre in a special night on Thursday June 4th.
As well, in the spirit of participation, there are several workshops over the weekend, to help aspiring writers find their voice, learn some tricks of the trade and find out how to go about getting their works published. There is something for everyone at this year’s festival.
Bellingen has quite a literary history, and indeed, The Promised Land was once the home of the world renowned writer Peter Carey. In fact, his Booker Prize winning 1988 novel “Oscar and Lucinda”, which was made into a movie featuring a young Cate Blanchett and a younger Geoffrey Rush, has a strong link to the Promised Land.
In his own words, Carey explains how the novel was inspired, in part, by his time in Bellingen:
I was living in Bellingen in the country. And the little church was down the road, and they wanted to take it away, zip: and I looked at that landscape and I thought – only 200 years ago this was a landscape that was full of Aboriginal stories. So I thought about a moment when that church that I knew, which was being removed from my landscape, might have arrived. I wanted it to arrive intact, whole. And I thought it would come on a barge. And, this is a totally irrational thought, it’s like a dream. I wanted this church, a wooden church, just what I saw, a church in that valley, to come along the Bellingen River on a barge gliding like a dream into the landscape.
Photo Delphine Bouchard
Luckily, this quaint timber church is still there, and is now a popular wedding venue with people from far afield who have been captivated by its rustic charm. It was in Bellingen that Peter Carey wrote Illywhacker, which was published in 1985. After leaving the area he continued to write other novels which had references to Bellingen. Peter Carey is now the patron of the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival