Our Byron Writers Festival volunteering or vollie experience began this year as usual with our orientation at Elements Resort. The local Echo newspaper subsequently reported that over 200 vollies were essential for the running of the festival and that our ages ranged from 18 to over 70. We had a photo shoot after donning our vollie t-shirts, bottle green this year – not my fave colour – which will need to be tarted up with a bright scarf or something!
My first shift was for a workshop with the Australian historian Professor Jenny Hocking, who famously wrote The Dismissal about the sacking of Gough Whitlam. Hocking is in a legal battle to get released ‘the palace papers’, embargoed correspondence between the Governor General and the Queen in November 1975. When I finally arrived at the BWF office after Thursday Byron market traffic, I was met with a slight panic – last minute photocopying and delays of speakers, Vollies and participants – an accident at the Festival roundabout. Struggling off to the venue with a box of Pukka tea promotional tote bags, I met the amazing Maz who was trying to get Jenny’s MAC to talk to the data projector. Finally underway, Jenny gave a fab workshop on how to source the secret history on whatever we were writing – and all 15 of us were.
Friday dawned overcast with the odd spit of rain. I became a real festival goer, with a purple wrist band, and filed in with the hundreds of others. The Festival site featured local sculpture and local produce, so some browsing was in order. Crime writer Jane Harper was my number one hit at 9am. Jane’s book The Dry was commissioned by Reese Witherspoon for a film, even before it was published. A more humble writer you could not imagine! While disappointed that Bernhard Schlink was not attending the Festival at the last minute, Sarah Ferguson, who replaced him inspired me to buy her book, On Mother, so I tottered off to the book shop.
In the afternoon, the lovely Vollie poet Louise sat with her pen poised and wrote a poem to a lady with piazazz! I asked her firstly if she was reading Tarot cards and no, but her poem was worthy of a real clairvoyant!
Other highlights that day were Foreign Correspondents, Peter Greste, Debbie Whitmont and Karen Middleton and the excellent Indigenous panel, Henry Reynolds, Melissa Lucashenko and Allan Clarke, First Things First, a Griffith Review publication on the Makarata.
Day 2 and we donned the bottle green t-shirt and snuck in through the entry tent flap early, a privilege bestowed on Vollies. The better half was assigned to lost property and information whereas I was given my clipboard and 16 survey forms by gentle Colin, the survey supervisor. Being a survey veteran, I had a strategy to hit the coffee queue early and tick off at least 5 surveys before giving myself permission to listen to at least one presentation. Peter Greste was hard to beat! In the bask of the afternoon sun, the highlight was Henry Reynolds, the hilarious octogenarian, Tom Keneally and Warren Mundine discussing the Frontier Wars with Anna Clark – why is there no memorial in Australia for the war fought between the first people and the white invaders, on our own soil?
Sunday was the beginning of the home run. I had entered the Flash Fiction competition on Hope and, alas had not won, but as I wandered around renewing Vollie friendships from last year, I came across the winning entries displayed for all to read.
Colin and Fred in the Vollie tent had become firm friends, a male bastion even. My survey strategy was working so I managed to fit in Gillian Triggs and the wonderful Genderless World presenters, Eddie Ayres, Jesse Oliver and Bri Lee, between survey respondents. Several questioned why there was not more debate at the Festival and why it was so left wing!
I left clutching Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason’s Sagalands. The highlight on Sunday was the Viking authors – although apparently the word Viking means people who come from a Vik or bay, not rampaging warriors and the horned helmet was conjured up by Victorian Britons and didn’t exist before the mid-1800’s!
We loved our 8th Vollie experience. Thank you BWF, till next year!