Bellingen has been intellectually stirred and shaken by a festival celebrating the power of words.
Stimulating, insightful, funny and thoughtful moments abounded at the Readers and Writers Festival as a parade of entertaining conversation rolled over crowds at the Memorial Hall, Cedar Bar and the Youth Hub from Friday through to Sunday.
The big-ticket events that filled Mem Hall to capacity were the Poetry Slam, finally won by a woman much to Liz Routledge’s delight; the keynote address and panel on journalism featuring former foreign correspondent Peter Greste; and capping it off delightfully, an evening with Australia’s living treasure, Michael Leunig.
Introducing this final session, festival organiser Seth Jordan said that when the committee sat down a year ago to draw up a wishlist of speakers, Michael Leunig was right at top of it, so they had been overjoyed to be told that he was “intrigued by the concept of Bellingen” and had accepted the invitation.
“We’ve left the best till last,” Seth said on Sunday evening, and the crowd who sat spellbound by the softly-spoken whimsical philosopher-artist-poet seemed to agree.
Leunig, who began his career as a cartoonist at The Age in 1969 when he was only 24, explained that the poetic mystique that was to become his trademark first entered his drawings as an anguished response to horrific news reports from the frontline of the war in Vietnam.
“This is what the stressed-out brain produces ten minutes from deadline … a man riding away from the troubles of the world on a duck,” he said.
His editor, who had rolled into the office after a big night out, let it through, saying, “I don’t understand it, but I like it”, and thus began a remarkable 50-year body of work in which quirky, whimsical figures depict the ongoing struggle of the human spirit.
In response to a question from interviewer Debbie Spillane, Leunig said “it was really touching” to wander around Bellingen seeing his drawings featured in shop windows and to have people in the street greet him with warmth, friendliness and appreciation.
What impressed you most at the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival? Was there a remarkable session, speaker or new idea that made your brain pop, or an insightful, poignant or funny remark that you are bursting to share? Fill out the form below to tell us about it. You can also send a photo if you like.