Earls backs Greer over controversial comments

Germaine Greer.
Germaine Greer.
Brisbane author Nick Earls.

Brisbane author Nick Earls.

A leading Brisbane author has backed Germaine Greer, saying more people should be aware that 47 per cent of Queenslanders cannot read a complex newspaper article or the instructions on a medicine bottle.

The figure was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2007, after its comparison of literacy rates in the state from 1996 to 2006.

Greer has been criticised today over her contentious comments at last night's opening of the Brisbane Writers Festival, in which she launched a scathing attack on the literary world, saying 47 per cent of Queenslanders could not read newspapers, follow a recipe, make sense of timetables, or understand instructions on a medicine bottle.

"You cannot have a good time at a literary festival when that is the underlying bedrock truth," The Courier-Mail quoted her as saying.

Author Nick Earls has backed Greer, saying more Queenslanders should be aware of the grim figure.

"There are a significant number of adult Australians – far more than a lot of us thought, certainly far more than I thought – who don't have reading skills that allow them to do moderately complex things," he said.

"Not surprisingly, my personal style is not identical to Germaine's ... but she's over the years highlighted a lot of issues in her own particular way.

"In terms of raising this statistic as a problem, I think we should do that any time we can."

Greer reportedly said the Brisbane festival was embarrassing in its promotion of local authors in the past, and was considered more "worthy" than fun.

"It's as if you are trying to say we want to be irrelevant," she said.

"Why should Brisbane be the subject matter? What kind of cultural cringe is this?"

Earls, however, said one of the main purposes of the festival was to unite local authors with those from abroad.

"When I've been to writers' festivals in Vancouver some of the writers there have been from Vancouver – that makes sense to me," he said.

"I think one of the things the writers' festival does that is very good is that it bring writers from around the world and around the country and locally and puts them all in the one spot together and that's what a lot of the world's great writers' festivals do.

"Brisbane is no more, or no less entitled to its place in the world of publishing than anywhere else."

Griffith University writing and publishing lecturer Sally Breen also supported Greer, saying the feminist encouraged listeners to ‘‘look out rather than in’’.

‘‘That statistic is not Germaine’s statistic, it’s from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. She was asking why doesn’t the festival do more to address that issue?’’ she said.

‘‘That statistic is quite stunning ... and I think she was trying to get us all there to think about the fact that we’re in a state in Australia that has a really low level of literacy.’’

Dr Breen agreed the Brisbane festival was somewhat too parochial.

‘‘It just seems sometimes that it’s the Brisbane Writers Festival, but it’s also Queensland’s festival,’’ she said.

‘‘There seems to be a concentration on Brisbane. She was asking, what is this obsession with looking inward? And are we really making that much of a mark compared to other festivals in the world?

‘‘As Germaine often does, she was challenging us to raise the bar. Just because you have one doesn’t mean that it’s always good.’’

Earls dismissed Greer's suggestion that the festival was not fun.

"I obviously let Germaine down yesterday, and the day before, by having fun with the school students that were there," he said.

"At the same time as targeting people who need greater literacy skills as adults, part of that has to be celebrating books and reading.

"It's been great to see literally thousands of schools children having a great time here - grabbing books, buying them and reading them."

This story Earls backs Greer over controversial comments first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.