Category Archives: Events

Truth Telling

Over 120 people gathered at John Curtin Art Gallery last weekend for the Truth Telling and Taking Action symposium about the current situation for asylum seekers in Australia.  It was hosted by a group of service providers, advocates and the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University.

It was a day of storytelling.

Asylum seekers, on many different types of visas, told of their daily lives and how challenging living on these different temporary visas can be. My overwhelming sense was one of uncertainty and worry.  People wake up every day and wonder whether they will be called in to discuss their visa and if they are safe.

How can Australia torment refugees like this?

There are thousands of people seeking asylum living in the Australian community.  Some of these people have come to Australia by plane and sought asylum afterwards. Some of them have come to Australia by boat. The way they came affects whether they are detained, the conditions of their visas, and how their claim for protection is determined.  It’s very complicated.

The Refugee Council of Australia will be spearheading a major campaign from Thursday 14 March leading up to the Federal election called I Choose to be Humane – treat people like people.  All the presenters described how there is a real opportunity to be heard and make a difference in the next few months.  You’ll be able to access the campaign at www.choosehumane.org.au so register your interest now.

Easy-to-read facts and information are also available from the Refugee Council website.  This is one thing we can all do – be more informed about the debate and people’s lives.

Here’s the definition of some common visa types that might be helpful in understanding this issue.

Bridging visa (BV): Temporary visa granted to allow someone to live in the community while they wait for their refugee claim to be finalised.

Temporary Protection Visa (TPV): Three-year temporary protection visa given to someone who came to Australia by boat and is found to be a refugee. At the end of the three years the holder can only apply for another temporary protection visa.

Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV):  Five-year temporary protection visa that can be granted to someone who came by boast and is found to be a refugee.  At the end of five years, they may be eligible to apply for a permanent visa if they meet that visa’s requirements, but only if they have worked or studied in a designated regional area for at least 3.5 years.

The symposium coincided with Refuge, a Perth Festival exhibition which runs until mid-April, featuring two poignant and timely works – Candice Breitz’s Love Story and Angelica Mesiti’s Mother Tongue. They both utilise cinema and art to present the complex experiences of their immigrant and refugee subjects through music, performance and the spoken word.

Asylum-Seeker-Protest-Rally

A big weekend of stories and ideas

Regular readers and those of you who know me, understand I am a big supporter of Literary Festivals around the world.   They bring readers and writers together in exchange of stories and ideas.   There’s time for laughter, sadness and reflection.  The Perth Writers Week has just concluded, and I have to say it lived up to expectations.  Here’s some of the writers I interviewed and saw in action which might provide some good reading tips.

What fun I had with children’s writer Dianne Wolfer as we discussed navigating children’s literature at the Perth City Library.   We were lucky enough to have a really engaged group of librarians, teachers and parents attend, all of whom contributed their own ideas and suggestions.  Dianne will be blogging soon about a resource list of ideas she has put together.   I’ll send links once I get it.

Dianne Woolfer and Rosemary Sayer

Dianne Woolfer with Rosemary

The highlight of the festival for me was attending a Sunday breakfast chaired by the fabulous Alan Dodge, former Art Gallery of WA Director and art historian.  Amanda Curtin, Gail Jones and Amy Sackville were the guests and it was a wonderful opportunity to travel through their books each with an art focus.   The conversation was entertaining and informative – it was a really lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

Alan Dodge, Amy Sackville, Gail Jones and Amanda Curtin

Alan Dodge, Amy Sackville, Gail Jones and Amanda Curtin

On the last day I chaired a panel with a variety of authors who all grappled with the concepts of freedom, identity and language. Heather Morris, Future D Fidel, Balli Kaur Jaswal and Carly Findlay, are very different people who have written vastly different books. It was interesting however to identify and explore some commonality within the themes we discussed. I highly recommend their books.

Heather Morris, Future D. Fidel, Balli Kaur Jaswal and Carly Findlay

Heather Morris, Future D. Fidel, Balli Kaur Jaswal and Carly Findlay

If you have never been to a writer’s festival, look out for one near you.   You can go by yourself or with a friend.  It’s an opportunity to hear from authors and thinkers you know or find new ones to get to know.   You don’t have to do anything other than buy a ticket, turn up and be prepared to enjoy yourself.

Our Imagined Selves

I am settled back at my desk for the new year and working steadily towards concluding my PhD on the life stories of people from a refugee background.

Because of my study focus (anyone who has undertaken a PhD will relate to this) I’ve restricted many other activities for a while. I am, however, pleased to be participating in two sessions at the Perth Writers Week coming up later this month. The theme of this year is Our Imagined Selves, which so perfectly encapsulates to me the process of delving into a great book.

The fabulous Dianne Wolfer and I will be discussing what every parent, grandparent and any other family member needs to know about children’s literature, on the evening of Thursday 21 February at the Perth City Library.  I don’t know about you, but I always scratch my head when it comes to choosing books for the younger members of my family, so I am really looking forward to our chat.  Dianne is an excellent writer and is probably most famous for Lighthouse Girl, but my personal favourite is Granny Grommet and me. 

Then on Sunday 24 February I will be facilitating a group session involving very different people from different countries, with amazing stories. Infinite Worlds, Infinite Words brings together writers Balli Kaur Jaswal, Carly Findlay, Heather Morris and Future D Fidel to discuss the relationships between language, freedom and identity.

One of the aspects I love about this festival is the eclectic collection of writers and topics. We have the outstanding Chinese poet Zheng Xiaoqiong sharing his work and thoughts on the vexed issue of translation; Hugh Mackay and Greg Sheridan in a lively discussion with Bill Bunbury; Benjamin Law, Ursula Martinez & madison moore talking with Ruth Little on challenging narratives of identity and family; and Gail Jones, Susan Midalia and Greg Fleet talking about style, substance and humour with Laurie Steed.

There really is something to suit every literary taste. I hope to see you there!

INFINITE-WORLDS-INFINITE-WORDS-BANNER

Balli Kaur Jaswal, Carly Findlay, Heather Morris and Future D Fidel

 

Spotlight on Burma

As part of the Perth Writers Week at the Centre for Stories there will be an evening of reflection and readings hosted by local Burmese intellectual Chris Lin, that puts the spotlight on Burma.

This event includes a selection of translated creative works read by Holden Sheppard and Michelle Johnston and is a great opportunity to understand more about Burma. Light refreshments of traditional Burmese food will also be served. The event is free but reservations are essential via the Perth Festival website.

Spotlight on Burma is part of PEN Perth’s interest in human rights and the responsible freedom of expression in our Indian Ocean region. PEN is a non-profit organisation with chapters all over the world that works at the intersection of writing and politics. In particular, PEN campaigns for the release of wrongfully imprisoned writers and advocates for the responsible freedom of expression.

The Burmese military government has had a long history of silencing its critics.   I wrote about Paul Kyaw one of the leaders of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 in my last book More to the Story – conversations with refugees. Paul and his family were accepted as refugees over 20 years ago and he remains an active advocate for the Karen people both in Australia and overseas.

As a former journalist, top of my mind is the false imprisonment of two Reuters journalists in Burma. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Ooo have spent a year behind bars on trumped up charges. The court recently rejected their appeal and sentenced them to seven years in jail for breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act. You can read more about their plight on the Al Jazeera network.

Even if you can’t attend the event in Perth, I encourage you to follow their story and to consider joining your local branch of PEN.

kyaw so oo and wa lone at sentancing

Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone (File: Thein Zaw/AP photo)

Small places, close to home

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”                                                                                                               Eleanor Roosevelt

I just love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt as it captures the essence for me of what human rights are all about.

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, so it’s a good time to be thinking about those small places. Human Rights matter in our local communities, our neighbourhoods, at our work, during sport and when we are out socially. It’s in these places that we need to think about the equal dignity and worth of every person we meet or interact with as we go about our daily lives.

To mark the day, I’m heading off to the Centre for Stories in Perth to hear three very different speakers and to learn more.  My colleague at Curtin, Misty Farquhar, is one of the presenters. As well as facilitating LGBTIQ+ inclusion training and other projects to support the community, Misty is the founder of Bisexual+ Community Perth, is a TransFolk of WA Board member, and frequently presents on RTRFM’s All Things Queer program.

This year, International Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

declaration image

As a writer I love that it is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.

At this time, as we watch far right and populist governments take control in many countries around the world, I feel it is more important than ever to know what’s going on around us and to speak up.

My own country of Australia contravenes several articles in the Declaration in relation to asylum seekers and the protection of the children who are refugees. Each day I wonder how I can live in a country where this can be possible, but then I look around the world.

In the US Donald Trump separated refugee parents and children at the Mexican border and banned Muslim immigration. In Burma we saw the persecution of thousands of Rohingya people and more than five million children risk famine in war-torn Yemen as food and fuel prices soar.  Save the Children has warned that an entire generation may face death and “starvation on an unprecedented scale”.

Many of my Hazara friends from Afghanistan are watching in horror as the Taliban once again gain more power in their country and persecute the Hazara minority and other members of the community who do not support them. 2018 has seen a further increase in violence as the Taliban continue to make territorial gains and target the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces bases and outposts. Researchers point out that despite the effective destruction of Islamic State, the influence and scope of terror groups is greater now than it was in 2001.

It’s easy to feel powerless – just one person who can’t do anything. I used to feel like that. But these days I feel the absolute necessity to be informed so I can speak up, correct mis-information and call out discrimination and bad behaviour when I see it. Even in those small places. I hope you can too.

International human rights day logo

Readers first

There is nothing more joyful than dropping into a comfortable chair with a good book. The added benefit for me is that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. Stephen King wrote a wonderful memoir called On writing: a memoir of the craft. In it he said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

One of the things I love most about the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival is that it puts readers first. I think that’s why it draws such large audiences. As a reader you are immersed in five days of pure literary pleasure. I attend as a writer, moderator and as a reader. These photos will hopefully show some of the festival atmosphere.

At Ubud I always discover new books from writers I already know, but I also meet new authors and thinkers. Here are my recommendations from the festival.

I was privileged to interview one of my favourite authors – Gail Jones. The Death of Noah Glass takes you to the intersection and difference between families in a time of grief. As well as being beautifully written, it is a visual and sensual reading experience.

On the same panel as Gail was Fatima Bhutto. Her new book The Runaways is one you won’t be able to put down.   You’ll never forget Anita Rose, Sunny and Monty whose lives intersect in the desert and where their closely guarded secrets will force them to make a terrible choice.

Both Gail and Fatima would be excellent book club choices.

I also have books from two new authors in my reading stack. Giuseppe Catozella from Italy has sold more than half a million copies in 40 countries of his latest book Don’t tell me you’re afraid. I’m also reading Ground Zero: When the Journey Takes you Home by the wonderful Indonesian writer Agustinus Wibowo.

I love pulling books off my shelf to read and to browse. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil for morning tea I found myself browsing among the supply of children’s books that I keep for our grandchildren and found an old favourite in Dr Seuss who says: “ The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Ubud 2018 entrance

Ubud 2018 – Entrance (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Gillian Triggs

Rosemary and Gillian Triggs (photo by Vifick Bolang)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Jane Caro room

Ubud 2018 – Audience (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Jane Caro

Jane Caro and Rosemary (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Gail Jones, Anurahda Roy, Rose, Fatima Bhutto

Gail Jones, Anurahda Roy, Rosemary, Fatima Bhutto

Ubud 2018 drawing in the audience

Ubud 2018 – portrait in progress (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Feast and Fiction

I always enjoy writers’ festivals that are innovative with their programming, and the Ubud Readers and Writers festival coming up on 24-28 October fits the bill.

Now in its 15 year, I continue to be impressed with how this festival stays true to its goal to transcend cultural and geographical borders to create a truly global community. I always say the Ubud Festival is where East truly meets West in literature.

This year, not only do I get to interview Professor Gillian Triggs, former president of the Human Rights Commission in Australia, and Jane Caro, one of my favourite social commentators, but I will also be hosting a dinner where I interview three internationally acclaimed novelists.

Where else would you have Anurahda Roy from India, Gail Jones from Australia and Fatima Bhutto from Pakistan together in one session? Despite their different heritages and styles, in varying ways each novelist explores common themes of life and death, home and belonging. Individually they are all literary stars but hearing conversations with all three in one evening over a sumptuous dinner should be a feast for the mind and the body.

Each writer will be speaking with me during a different course at dinner at one of Ubud’s pre-eminent restaurants, Bridges. Over entrée I’ll interview Anuradha about her novel All the Lives we Never Lived; during main course Gail Jones will join me to discuss her latest book The Death of Noah Glass; and over desert we’ll gain insights into the turbulent Pakistani dynasty that is Fatima Bhutto’s family and her forthcoming novel The Runaways.

I’ll review some of the authors and their books in the coming months. This is one festival that must go on your bucket list!