The first Bendigo Writers Festival kicked off with an ambitious bang in 2012, with a busy program packed into four venues. With a very supportive local bookshop – Dymocks Bendigo, run by Harry Hart – and the backing of both City of Greater Bendigo and La Trobe University, we decided to just give it a go. And it went off like a frog in a sock.
Central Victoria already had the fabulous Clunes Booktown event in May, and across the region a very fine Words in Winter program linking so many of the beautiful towns in our region. It was definitely time for Bendigo, with its heritage buildings and strong cultural infrastructure, to step up.
We will never forget David Marr – witty, passionate, engaged and informative – absolutely setting the tone for that first festival and for all that have followed.
We won't forget, either, another keynote speaker whose presence at Bendigo Writers Festival was so impressive and influential. Malcolm Fraser, in conversation with his biographer Margaret Simons, was awesome, just a year before his death, passionate, sharp, entertaining and thought-provoking.
The great Les Murray came in 2014, the beginning of his huge year of publishing and speaking which has cemented his reputation forever in Australian literary history.
Blanche d'Alpuget too, was magisterial, funny, shrewd and a brilliant exponent of the writing life and the importance of books in our cultural landscape.
In 2015, we added two venues to our program, the magnificent newly-built Ulumbarra Theatre, one of the most impressive theatres in the country, and the historic Trades Hall, a little tired, still very proud, a gorgeous place full of echoing voices and passionate debate.
Yes, we're growing, but what we will never lose is the warmth, friendliness and willingness that has, from the start, been our festival's core identity.
In 2015, too, we welcomed our first international guest: the astonishing Tariq Ali, who spoke with La Trobe University's Robert Manne on stage at Ulumbarra on our big Saturday night Festival event. It was brilliant and memorable theatre.
We closed that year with an event to be savoured, and filed in the "I was there" category: artist John Wolseley and satirist John Clarke shared the Capital Theatre stage for a chat – about life, literature, art and environment. We applauded long and hard.
Our theme throughout has been The Good Life: what it means to lead a good life and how that makes life better, for us, for others, for the environment, for the future.
This year, we're also making "much ado about everything"; that's because we think the thoughtfulness and joy of reading, talking, writing and thinking is worth celebrating in whatever way takes your fancy.
See you in Bendigo.