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Up From Down Under December 2006 Column

December Issue 2006

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


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 wives.


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 Pine.


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 excerpts.


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 excellent.


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 listeners.


In Conclusion


Norfolk Island 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.


 Copyright 2006 by The Muse Marquee. All rights reserved. All authors hold individual ownership & copyrights of any material contributed. No unauthorized usage of any published material within the Muse Marquee unless permission is first granted by copyright owner of said material