Mildura Writer’s Festival artistic director, Paul Kane

LOCAL PERSPECTIVE – Director reflects on 25 years of festival love…

By PAUL KANE*

When I attended the first Mildura Writers’ Festival in 1995, at the invitation of the poet Philip Hodgins and his friends Stefano de Pieri and Donata Carrazza, the notion that I would return every year thereafter would have seemed a fantastic prediction, in both senses of ‘fantastic’: as an improbable fantasy and a very wonderful one. Now that the improbability has turned out to be true, so has the wonder of it. 

I immediately became an enthusiast of the festival and the region and by 1997 was given the title of Literature Coordinator because Stefano and Donata didn’t know what else to do with me: like the proverbial bad penny, I kept turning up. Fortunately, I could make myself useful, as by then I had been active in Australian literature for over a decade (having helped establish the American Association of Australian Literary Studies) and could suggest who to invite (and sometimes who not to). 

A few years later my position became more permanent and I was now the Artistic Director of the festival, with the responsibility of selecting the writers and shepherding them through the weekend. Of course, as people in Mildura know well, sheep herding is one thing, herding cats quite another (writers are essentially cats).

At first, it was a challenge to convince prominent writers that a festival in Mildura was something they absolutely must experience. I suspect the culinary delights of Stefano’s kitchen was the main draw. But eventually word got out amongst the writers: this festival was special for all sorts of reasons. 

Not long ago, in Melbourne, a writer was heard to say that he hated the Mildura Writers Festival. When asked why, he said “Because they’ve never invited me!” (He was invited the next year and was thrilled to come.) 

Every year now I get plaintive requests from writers wanting to be included but, alas, we can only accommodate a very few. This is by design. 

Our optimal number of writers each year is eight or nine. At various times people have tried to get us to expand, but bigger is not necessarily better. From the start, we wanted to emphasize camaraderie, conviviality, and excellence. If you’ve ever been to one of the large metropolitan festivals, you will know that they can be bewildering, exhausting and even, at times, alienating, since the audience seems cordoned off from the writers. Writers themselves do not always enjoy such events, as they can have an air of competitiveness and stressful performance about them. 

Over the years, I’ve noticed writers arrive all decked out in a sort of psychic armor, ready to do battle with fellow authors and obnoxious audience members. It doesn’t take them long to change into something more comfortable and casual, won over by the friendliness and gratitude shown them by everyone involved.

I once held a special session just for the writers so they could talk among themselves about writing and literature. 

What they wanted to talk about was the festival. They couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it: we didn’t encourage publishers to attend; we forbade literary agents; it didn’t seem to be about promotion, since as we refused to hold book launches; we didn’t care about literary fashion; we weren’t interested in large numbers. 

And yet we took exquisite care of them. “What,” they asked me, “is the motivation behind this festival?” My answer was simple, “Love,” I said. There was a stunned silence in the room, and then Barry Hill spoke up: “I’m sorry,” he said, “but would you repeat that?”

Love. The festival was founded in love of literature and what it offers us—which is to say, how it helps us live our lives. 

There is love certainly among the people involved in running it, an extended family who care deeply about one another. Our two annual awards, the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal and the Tina Kane Emergent Writer Award honor the love we have for each of them; and then there are the people from Mildura and the region, and increasingly from around Australia, who return year after year out of their love of literature but also, clearly, because they love the festival too.

 They know they can trust it to give them something rare: excellence, yes; and also joy and affirmative sorrow, which literature affords us when we pause to remember who we really are; and a sense of community, people joined together in a common enterprise, to celebrate what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

This year is my final year as Artistic Director. It is time for me to step aside and let others renew the vision. Although I could not make the trip to Mildura from New York this time, nor could others come to the festival in person, we were able to take Mildura to people online in their homes around Australia and elsewhere. 

Somehow it seems fitting to me, since Mildura has been a kind of home, a place where I’m made to feel at home by people’s warmth and generosity – or, in a word, by love.                           

* Paul Kane has been artistic director of the festival for 25 years

 

YOUR SAY

A key step in our water reform journey 

Sir, 

With the size, complexity and controversy of the reform to secure the future of the Murray–Darling river systems and their communities, I find it hard not to get caught up in the detail of the many pieces of work required to roll out the Basin Plan. 

Each of the Plan’s milestones contributes to the long-term reform that will ensure water is used sustainably. 

This reform always has been—and must be—about achieving a healthy working Basin for the benefit of all Australians now and into the future. 

Last month we marked a significant milestone in the world of water management in the Murray–Darling Basin, with the MDBA receiving the final nine water resource plans from the New South Wales Government. 

Water resource plans are integral to the Basin Plan at a catchment level, by setting out the rules for how water is used, how much water will be available to the environment and how water quality standards can be met. 

They also provide transparency so we can all be confident that water is being managed properly and fairly. 

Particularly significant is the fact that for the first time we have a pathway to bring floodplain harvesting—the practice of capturing and storing water that flows across the floodplain—into the regulated system in NSW. 

This means the NSW Natural Resource Access Regulator will be better able to control that use and we can ensure it stays within the limits set in the Basin Plan. 

When the Basin Plan was established, we had a good understanding of how much water needed to remain in the rivers to improve the health of our environment, but governments knew the accounting for some types of water use had to improve. 

It hadn’t been possible to accurately measure how much floodplain water was collected and used, and it could therefore not be monitored in the same rigorous way as other diversions have been, such as directly pumping from rivers. 

New South Wales, like Queensland, has been working hard to better understand how much water was taken from the floodplains before the Basin Plan and how much is taken in present times. Accounting for this water is the first step to enable governments to transparently monitor water use to ensure overall limits are not exceeded. 

This will happen by way of a licencing framework in NSW from 1 July 2021, which will prevent any further growth in this form of use and make it possible for floodplain harvesting to be wound back where necessary. 

Ultimately, this means we will be able to better achieve a healthier environment, and that’s a definite win for the rivers of the northern Basin and everyone who depends on them. 

Our role now at the Murray–Darling Basin Authority is to thoroughly assess all of NSW’s 20 local plans to ensure their consistency with the Basin Plan, using a clear process set out in the Water Act 2007 so that the plans pass all legal tests—in the same way we assessed the plans from Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and the ACT. 

These governments now have accredited water resource plans in place and the Basin Plan is in legal operation in these jurisdictions. 

This assessment task will be no small feat, with considerable work required over the next six months to thoroughly evaluate each plan and prepare a robust recommendation for the Water Minister in line with the 55 statutory Basin Plan requirements. 

We’re heartened by the progress to date. The NSW Government is to be congratulated for hitting this critical milestone as collectively all governments and the MDBA move forward to achieve a healthy river system that will provide food and fibre for generations to come. 

Phillip Glyde
Chief Executive
Murray–Darling Basin Authority

 

Pandemic care for older residents

Sir, 

The coronavirus pandemic is having a significant impact on the way Victorian’s live and work, the impact also affects our older residents or people who live alone and who require supported care. 

There may be members of our community who would normally rely on family or friends from hotspot areas for regular visits to assist with home care. 

Travel to our region may not be possible due to the Stay-at-Home restrictions imposed on metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. 

Any person in this circumstance is encouraged to contact our local Home and Community Care program provided by councils. 

HACC offers a range of home care services, including domestic assistance, meals/shopping, pharmaceutical deliveries, social support, home maintenance and transport. 

General well-being and mental health is also supported through socialisation. 

The threat to our regional communities from people travelling from hotspot areas is something we need to continue to be acutely aware of and unnecessary travel is discouraged. 

We need to ensure our elderly and vulnerable citizens can access alternate supports during this time, so please reach out if you need further information for yourself or someone you know. 

Tania Maxwell
Member for Northern Victoria

 

State must carry rail fiasco can

Sir,

It is pleasing to see that Liberal Democrats’ Tim Quilty has spoken out in support of the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

His statements: “I spoke in Parliament late last year on how the promises of a new era in Victorian rail freight has fallen victim to the Andrews Government’s pathetic fiscal management” and “$440 million of taxpayer money has disappeared down the drain on this project and I am sick of waiting for nothing to happen” are correct and highlight how badly the State Government has mismanaged the MBRP.

However, trying to lay a large portion of the blame for failure at the feet of the Federal Government with the statement, “Instead of the Federal Government wasting money on studies of fast rail that will never be built, they should be supporting the vital freight infrastructure of the MBRP instead” is not addressing the problem at all given the Federal Government has been calling for the business case for many, many months from the Andrews Government.

The Auditor-General was scathing of the Victorian Government in the Freight Outcomes From Regional Rail report on the MBRP released in March 2020. 

It is quite clear from this report that the state mismanaged the project.

The MBRP is for a state-owned line, not a federal line. The Federal Government was very generous in providing funds to the state for the initial project, the Federal Government does not usually fund repairs to state lines.

Because the Andrews Government made such a mess of the project the Federal Government asked for a business case from the state to demonstrate that if it was to invest more funds that it could be certain that the state was actually able to deliver the second time around.

It is now up to the Andrews Government to produce/allocate the funds to fix the mess it made and present its budget and commitment to the Federal Government and seek some supporting funds.

The problem is the state has been too slow in producing the required business case and the funding required and it has missed the Federal Government timelines for budget consideration.

The problem lies fairly and squarely at the feet of the Victorian Government and it needs to act first.

Glenn Milne
Red Cliffs

 

QUICK BITES… From the Mildura Weekly Facebook Page

Juice health rating

Vince Dimasi: The fact we are even having the conversation shows how out of control the bureaucracy has become.

 

Tighter NSW border

Kylie Masierowski: Sydney making the rules and don’t think about our towns this side of Albury/Wodonga.

 

COVID updates

David Frank Gray: Stop saying Victoria its Melbourne and surrounding areas we should not be punished because they have it.

Joanne Brennen: That makes complete sense increase testing somewhere that has no cases.. Talk about wasting resources.

Trish Amee: We don’t know there are no cases until we test.

Enlim Rohan: Mildura will be a part of Victoria when we start receiving equitable state funding.

Mark Cory: Since Victoria ends at Bendigo anyway, why don’t we have highways closed from there?

 

New border zone

Angelo Halacas: Stupidity at the highest level! This is what happens when pollies don’t live in the real world. I wonder how unconstitutional all of this is?

Casey Romeo: Do NSW actually know their own state? Euston is not near Liparoo, it’s opposite Robinvale (Vic) and rely on their supermarkets etc.

Helen Gowers: Typical reactionary crap from Gladys in NSW – no consultation with border communities just arbitrary lines drawn on the map completely ignoring the needs of people in these border towns.

Nicholas Floudas: There’s stupid and then there’s this.

Irayna Lee: It’s so messy and depressing. I’m up in arms myself! Surely essential necessities can’t be taken from us!

Sharyn Arnold: What do the farms up to Pooncarie do?

Karen Leary: Exactly! Go to Broken Hill to grocery shop?

 

Masks for hospital

Judy Harper: Great job girls.

Michele Bos: A great idea.

Judi Harris: Wonderful decision. Well deserved. Congrats Dean!

Sharon Morrell: Very well deserved! A huge ‘Congratulations.’