I went to the Greek Australian Writers Festival today. I was late getting there and missed out on the first two sessions. I attended the rest of the sessions. There was a lot of discussion. I didn’t keep any notes and just listened/watched with attention. Here are some quick thoughts on each session, and I have cut and pasted part of the description of each from the program which is available in full here.
Session 3: In Children of the Revolution, Greek-Australian academics, writers, poets, artists and photographers re-imagine and re-interpret ideas of identity and place and what it means to be Greek in the diaspora. This publication introduces a diverse range of voices with new knowledge on the second and third generational diasporic experience.
I enjoy mixed panels and this one certainly was buzzing with differences of ideas. Panellist Dr Helen Vatsikopoulos (who I know from UTS) posed the question whether Greeks are now considered white or are they still “wogs” (for non-Australian readers, this is the derogatory term that Greeks have been called by Anglo Australians for many decades). Lots of conversation ensued about the reclamation of this term, about various experiences of racism across Sydney and Melbourne, the rural experience as well as the diaspora migrant in Greece experience of not fitting in, and though Greek acceptance as being “white” now might be fine, it should not disappear the terrible and often violent experiences the older members of our community had so many years earlier. I really look forward to this publication.
Session 4: Andrew Pippos’ debut novel Lucky’s was shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious awards: the Miles Franklin and the Prime Minister’s Literary Prize. He is a lecturer in creative writing at UTS. A former journalist, his essays and short stories have appeared in many publications.
I read Lucky’s several months ago (Reading Note 43) so I was interested to hear the author talk about his book. He was interviewed by his thesis supervisor Tony Macris – both of whom are UTS staff though I have never met either. Theirs was a quiet and gentle talk about how they go about their writing, their influences as well as their pace of writing. I was taken by Tony Macris discussing how being Greek was deliberately not a part of his many decades of writing and his journalistic career, however he is now finally writing about his own heritage. I felt this statement as I am currently trying to pull together on my public libraries research and how my own Greek heritage may have influenced it.
Session 5: Costas Taktsis, one of Greece’s most important post-war writers, wrote his famous novel The Third Wedding largely in Australia. One of his closest friends was the Australian painter and gallerist Carl Plate. This session was a Q and A with Carl’s daughter Cassi Plate.
This was such an interesting story for me. I have never heard of either Costas Taktsis, his book To Trito Stefani / το τρίτο στεφάνι or Carl Plate let alone their letter-writing friendship and Costas amazing life where Sydney was central to his experience. I was most taken that he considered himself to be Greek-Australian despite only living in Sydney for 7 years, and that Cassi Plate said that in Australian society where all the Anglo-Australians were desperately trying to get out of Australia to be over in Europe, Costas was desperately trying to return (which he never succeeded after being deported).
Session 6: This is the Sydney launch of The Stoning, biologist Peter Papathanasiou’s debut crime novel. A work of outback noir…
I think this was my favourite session of the day. Papathanasiou spoke so convincingly and clearly of his writing, his routine (amaziningly he works full time, and has 3 children and said that his books get written after midnight!), and his adoption (his biological father was his adopted mother’s brother) and his connection to Greece. His Greece is like my Greece, not of islands and water but of mountains and forests. I found his approach to sensitivity readers was very sensible and not at all fussed. I don’t have the fortitude to read his gritty crime novel but I will definitely seek out his memoir about his adoption.
Session 7: Internationally renowned scientist Professor George Paxinos is an environmental activist and his eco-fiction debut novel explores the battle between humans and nature that threatens our planet’s survival.
I missed the introduction to this session but hearing Professor Paxinos discuss the true danger of climate change, Australia’s disastrous approach to the earth, and the danger humans pose to the earth (well Hello Anthropocene!) over the next millennium was chilling. It was a sombre end to the festival for me.
It was an interesting day where I saw only a few people I knew. It was lovely to see a friend/mum I have known through my kids’ school who has published her own book (I bought it because Yay! to local writer success). I also saw an old friend whom I haven’t seen for nearly 15 years. We spoke for quite some time and it made me feel so warm for our old friendship.
To add to that, the event was held at Little Bay. Just over half an hour drive from my home. The last time I went to Little Bay was when, 12 years ago, I met a friend and we transported his double bed mattress, tied loosely and dangerously to my car, and drove it to Marrickville where I was living stopping every time the mattress started slipping off the roof racks. I had forgotten how stunningly beautiful Little Bay is. Being late also meant I missed the Welcome (or Acknowledgement?) of Country, so I really appreciated the speaker from the panel (I can’t remember who it was) who pointed out that though we were meeting to discuss Greek-Australian storytelling, the event was being held in a place which is home to the oldest continuing culture in the world, with over 60000 years of storytelling by the Dharawal people, putting into the shade the also proud Greek tradition of storytelling. That is such an amazing foundation to the day’s events. No wonder Costas Taktsis wanted to desperately return to Australia.