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.
David Marr – witty, passionate, engaged and informative – absolutely set the tone for that first festival and for all that have followed. Since then, we've almost doubled our guest list and carefully managed each day's program, to maintain the friendly, intimate atmosphere of this true festival experience.
We won't forget many of the events and speakers across the years: the late Malcolm Fraser, was awesome, and the sorely missed John Clarke brilliant.
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.
In 2015, we added two venues to our program, the magnificent newly-built Ulumbarra Theatre,and the historic Trades Hall, a gorgeous place full of echoing voices and passionate debate. In 2017 we're ready to spread our wings, heading to nearby towns Dunolly, Maryborough and Eaglehawk, taking great events to superb heritage venues.
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, on stage at Ulumbarra. It was the start of something big: in 2016, we crossed live to London, to hear Julian Assange in conversation with Robert Manne.
Our mascot in 2017 is bunjil, the wedge-tailed eagle, and we're asking and celebrating "Where We're At".We believe that writers festivals might very well be good for you, but, mostly, they're just good.
See you in Bendigo.