Australia & the Cheltenham Literature Festival

I am growing more intrigued by the Cheltenham Literature Festival by the minute — it’s held in a town in the UK called, drum roll please, Cheltenham (not to mention the jazz, science and music festivals held through the year). And, they’ve been going since 1945 to boot.

Add to this, a most interesting detail about the literature festival: this year’s theme is defining moments, and in addition it has a country focus every year — this year, Australia and Germany were chosen because they are worlds apart.

Germany is an enigma to me — I mean, I went to Berlin a couple of years ago and the city was nothing like I expected (nor is Berlin indicative of every city in Germany, I realise). But, more and more this year (through the Greek debt crisis and the refugee crisis), Germany has been more on my radar. I sometimes think World War II looms large in the country’s history still, but that would do a disservice to the people who are, for instance, welcoming refugees into their country.

I am undeniably proud of being Australian, and my defining moment as such was when I stopped saying I was a South African who moved to Australia and called myself Australian. Australia is home now.

Which is why it’s so hard to admit how things have changed since I moved here. There are more random occurrences of racism in places like trains and buses and the news often has Muslim leaders having to call for calm when a terrorist attack hits the headlines. Things have changed; the world has changed and so has Australia — and not for the better.

Australia’s Children: The Lucky Country? is one of the events at the festival and this is exactly what it discusses: migration, the Stolen Generations and Ten Pound Poms — events which have shaped our history.

The amazing Christos Tsiolkas is festival director this year, and will be discussing The Slap and his new novel Merciless Gods at his event. There’s a quote in the review I linked there that gives me pause:  Again and again, these stories probe the idea that contemporary Australia is a country built on the inadmissible, a place where unspeakable shames and unacknowledged wounds lie just below the surfaces of its many intersecting cultures.

That’s Australia in a nutshell, I think.

But, on to other Australian stuff at the festival: Clive James and Les Murray will be talking about their work at separate events, though to be fair, Les Murray is going to be helping celebrate Clive James at his event too, as you do if you’re BFFs with Clive James!

Something I would have killed for — and many Aussie kids probably would love — is the Ultimate Gap Year Guide. Granted Monica Stott and Will Jones will be talking about a gap year in Australia, but events like these always prove interesting for the alternate POV they’ll give on the place we call home.

A 100 years on, Gallipoli is still and always be one of our defining moments as a country and this line-up would be incomplete without talking about it.

There’s of course, discourse on the Aussie larrikin, and the food flavours of Australia — which YUM. I doubt one session will be able to cover everything we have to offer though (note to all festival organisers: there should be a food literary festival. In Sydney, please. With books and food. Lots of both).

Rounding out the Australian sessions are events with Geoffrey Robertson, QC — who even if you don’t know his name, you’ll know his face; and a discussion on climate change, which given our reputation right now with it, will be interesting. Those wind farms are just so darn ugly aren’t they? That’s sarcasm dear readers. Yes, our former PM and Treasurer valued only how our Australian landscape looked and not so much ensuring its beauty for the future.

So here I will be in Sydney constantly refreshing the #cheltlitfest tag on Twitter trying to keep up with everything happening at the festival. SOBS. Here’s everything in a handy guide, and if you’re going, I’d love to hear about your experiences!  What do you think of it? And the line-up?

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