Opinion: Firm friendship and a great festival to enjoy

Here we were, seven of us, rugged up against the bite of Bendigo’s winter. Five of us met as young mothers in an exercise group, looking forward to meeting our first babies in a few months’ time. Those babies are now celebrating their 50th birthdays. Where have all the years gone?

These friends, now scattered far and wide, have come together for the Bendigo Writers’ Festival. They all love books and ideas, and while no longer together living in the same town, we still share the pleasure of long-time friendship.

On Saturday evening as we came together to dine at a local restaurant, a young woman walked over to us.  “This is so obviously such a special group, please tell me why?” We told her about the very long years of friendship, the support group we still are to each other. “How lucky are you,” she said quietly, “I hope I have something this  good when I’m your age.”

We found time on Sunday morning to participate in the launch of  Sonia Anthony and Amy Doak’s new cookbook A Sense of Place, which is written in praise of local farmers and their produce which chefs Sonya and Nick use in their hatted restaurant, Masons. What a venue to launch one’s own book in the magnificent surroundings of the Ulumbarra Theatre.

The Writers’ Festival was as inspiring as it has ever been. In fact, we agreed it simply basks in a deservedly excellent reputation every year.

We dipped in and out of various events, choosing speakers discussing topics of interest to us, and scattered ourselves around different venues.

Meeting for a coffee or lunch break during the day, but saving our evenings for time together when we discussed with much earnestness various ideas gathered through the day.

Festival speakers were requoted and their words pored over once again.

The odd adjudicator received a thumbs down. But overall, it was a great weekend of ideas, of writers, of readers, all enjoying the power that words and ideas bring us.

I could easily label it a festival of ideas as much as a writers’ festival – they were indistinguishable at times.

We clapped the criticisms poured on weak political leaders by a number of speakers, and the lack of compassion for refugees in particular.

Calmer, quieter, more thoughtful speakers often made the most sense when there were several speakers in a session.

Speakers spoke of the toxic self-belief of our federal politicians at present. We must do better than this, and we know we can.

There were discussions and questions on the role which social media plays today. There is no going back. We have to learn to live with it, manage it, teach our children and grandchildren how to manage it.

I have great confidence they will do so, as every generation in the past has met and managed the new challenges of their generation.

We had them too. When television first began, the entire landscape changed – particularly in how we used our leisure time.

Then came computers and mobile phones, and on I could go. It has been a lifetime of change.

Writers’ festivals allow us the opportunity to hear from thinkers and writers who can help guide us to adjust in this new environment of social media, technology and the changing landscape of communications.

It is fascinating and challenging at the same time. We all plan to return next year.