Norfolk Island Spring Book Festival
What do Australian writers do to celebrate the Vernal Equinox? If they’re really lucky, they spring over to Norfolk Island for the Book Festival.
Norfolk Island is an external territory of Australia. It’s located in the South Pacific approximately
1600 kilometres north-east of Sydney.
Slightly closer to New Zealand than
Australia, Norfolk’s nearest neighbour is the French possession of New Caledonia.
A small island, just 8 km by 5km, its greatest call to fame,
or shame, is the fact it twice served the British Empire
as a cruel penal colony: First from 1880 to 1814 and later from 1825 to 1855. Lacking a deep-water port, it was both difficult
to settle and escape.
In 1856 descendants of the Bounty mutiny arrived. Pitcairn
Island had become overpopulated and Queen Victoria
granted land to any who wished to settle Norfolk Island.
Today, one-third of the island’s population trace their heritage and culture back to the mutineers and their Tahitian
Nowadays the island is a popular tourist destination. With
a mild climate, breathtaking scenery, and many vacation activities, visitors can enjoy an active or passive holiday. Fishing,
snorkelling and surfing are popular. Duty-free shopping is available in a village atmosphere along the main street of Burnt
Spring Book Festival
The festival, carefully scheduled from 01 – 07 October,
2006, by the Norfolk Island Travel Centre, met problems on the first day. The flight carrying most participants left Sydney three hours late. From the time Susan and I disembarked on
the Island it was rush to meet the coach, rush to our
accommodation and rush to the welcome dinner. Fortunately, it wasn’t a rush to eat the dinner; we enjoyed a relaxed
and comfortable opportunity to meet other guests and two major presenters – Helen Reddy and Gary McKay.
Later they told us about the other major problem. Ita Buttrose, AO, OBE, an eminent Australian journalist and publisher, the main attraction on the festival program,
would be unable to travel from Australia due to a middle-ear infection. That was a blow to our expectations and the quality of the festival.
Nevertheless, the other presenters stepped into the void left
by Ita’s absence.
Helen Reddy: Born in Melbourne, Australia, Helen rose
to stardom in the recording and entertainment industry in the United
States. During her amazing life and career, she rubbed shoulders
with superstars, dined with the Prince of Wales, danced in the White House with the President and became the first Australian
to win a Grammy Award and have three number 1 hits in the same year. Her feminist anthem “I am Woman” is included
in Modern American History high school textbooks.
Helen spoke about her life and read excerpts from her book
“The Woman I Am”.
Wendy Harmer: One of Australia’s best-known comedians, Wendy has written a number of novels, plays and books for children. She hosted the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s variety show “The Big Gig” which ran from the late 1980s to the early
1990s. She’s also remembered as the former host of breakfast radio’s “The Morning Crew”. Her latest
book “Farewell My Ovaries” was featured at the festival, with Wendy speaking on her writing experience and reading
Gary McKay: The foremost Australian author on the Viet Nam conflict, Gary has written several novels and non-fictional histories. He served as a rifle platoon commander in Viet Nam until he was severely wounded in September, 1971.
He spent the following 12 months in and out of hospital. He later served in various staff positions with the Australian Army,
including in Malaysia and Darwin after Cyclone Tracy. Gary also undertook exchange service and military studies in New Zealand and Canada. He spoke about his experiences in Viet Nam and his development as a non-fiction writer emphasising oral history.
A number of group activities were organised during the festival.
These included island tours, a progressive dinner, and special evening entertainments. The standard of these diversions was
On the second last day, we did hear from Ita Buttrose via a telephone linkup from Australia. She was able to present a commentary regarding her new book “Motherguilt” and accept questions from
proved an excellent venue for the festival. The presenters were knowledgeable and approachable. Meals were great and the island
people made us most welcome.
We stayed at the “The Governor’s Lodge”,
about a ten minute walk from the tax-free shopping centre. Facilities were excellent and the tariff included a hire car and
daily cooked breakfast. Our only gripe was the internet connection, not expensive, but very slow.