The room is buzzing with excitement as more and more people pour in the Staple Manour, and an unmistakable desire for going beyond the superficial and ‘getting into the deep’ lingers in the air for both audience and artists alike.
‘There were too many people with such brilliant ideas—we didn’t know where to fit them, but we knew we had to have them on the show anyway’, says host and festival co-director Lex Hirst. And boy, do we see some mind-blowing ideas today.
Spoken-word poet Soreti Kadir gains the audience’s roaring approval with a fast-paced, personal speech about cultivating the power of the African diaspora. Recounting her experiences as a youth ambassador in South-East Africa and her birth-place, Ethopia, Soreti tells the story of how she was identified as an Australian and of a woman who could not stop thanking her for what she did for her country, despite Soreti only being there for a week. ‘There are so many communities who feel indebted to whites even though they haven’t really met a white person,’ says Soreti. ‘It is only empowerment that leads to long-lasting change. The workload needs to be led by the community, and everything from ideas to execution needs to belong to the community—creating the illusion of an idea that doesn’t exist is crippling.’
Chloe Alison Escott starts off her speech by inducing peals of laughter in the audience with the many faces of Kanye West. ‘Some writers find their field and stay there forever, but some get restless and try everything,’ she says. First showing a blank page, she uses making her own Super Mario game as an analogy to life—Mario starts small and vulnerable, he starts knocking on bricks and his curiosity is rewarded with coins and mushrooms; at first he is hesitant, but when he does touch it, he grows twice as tall and strong. And thus is life. She also mentions another feature of a custom-made Super Mario game—you can upload any level that you create, provided that you personally complete the level that you built—’you cannot make the world struggle over anything that you have not triumphed over yourself’.
Tom Doig shares his experience while visiting the La Trobe valley after the burning of the Hazelwood coal mine which lasted for a month and a half. One of the many stories that stayed with him was about an ambulance that refused to take a sick woman to the hospital. ‘You’re not a proper journalist until your subject vomits peanut butter toast and orange Fanta on your John Farnham tapes,’ he jokes. But on a more serious note, the ambulance incident was ‘everything that is wrong with the bureaucratic system’. He went to the La Trobe valley to find out about the mine fire, but came out it with people’s traumas in his head and in his chest. ‘Many of the interviews with the locals at the La Trobe Valley are not in my book, because the book is very small and their stories were very big.’
Topology is the mathematical study of the properties that are preserved through deformations, twisting and stretching of objects without tearing. Emma Rayward defines it as ‘the study of continuousness, connectedness and nearness of objects in space.’ She wows the audience with her ideas of how narratives in creative fiction are experiments on how one body can be made equivalent to another, and how bodies move from self to other. ‘My skin is my manifold, contorting and twisting into space. The body that excretes sweat, blood and semen is also the clean and proper body.’
Lastly, Adeline Teoh, who claims to be on the verge of being ‘not-so-young-anymore’, shares wise words on going downhill. A former poet, turned freelance writer, Adeline points out that there are two types of writing brains—one that ‘works for you’, and another that asks the question ‘are you really writing as a craft?’ She emphasizes on always, always remembering that the whole point of being a freelancer is so you can do things that you enjoy. ‘Do it for that, do it for you. Don’t be afraid of going downhill, because the thing about going downhill is that you gain enough momentum to come back up again.’