On the pristine, sunny June long weekend just passed, hundreds of people enjoyed the Bellingen Readers & Writers Festival – a popular annual cultural event which features only Australian authors and celebrates all things literary. Some of our big names who’ve written largely about climate change were there – including Bob Brown, Jonica Newby and Paddy Manning.
The festival wasn’t held last year due to COVID so in keeping with COVID guidelines, this year the talks were held in smaller venues but there were more opportunities to hear particular speakers as they teamed up and gave multiple talks. Most of the venues were at the Bellingen showground and there was a ‘festival’ air about the place with lots of food and entertainment on site.
Co-chair of the festival, Adam Norris, said: “We’ve never had a festival consolidated in one place before. People were still be able to wander back and forth into town, of course, but we also had a lot of food vans, coffee carts, tables and chairs for them at the Showground.”
Climate change was a hot topic
When it got down to the nitty gritty, there were workshops, talks, forums, book launches and competitions. At the non-fiction talks, there were a lot of interesting talks to choose from, including those featuring Bob Brown, former Greens Senator, Julian Bernside, well-known barrister and writer, Paddy Manning, journalist and Dr Jonica Newby, science reporter on the ABC’s Catalyst for 15 years and writer.
Bob Brown spoke about a range of interesting topics in his session with Julian Bernside and Paddy Manning. Brown said: “Kevin Rudd said climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time… It’s a very exciting and opportune moment in global history.”
Julian Bernside added: “Empathy is a common trait of Baby Boomers. Climate change is the largest threat – to ignore climate change right now is to behave selfishly.”
When Dr Jonica Newby spoke in another session, she referred to her book – Beyond Climate Grief. She said for her, the bush fires we experienced in January of 2020 were extremely upsetting and she knew she had to do more: “No one ever joins the dots between the event, the tragedy and the science – with everything leading up to the pandemic,” she added.
“I’m just saying this is a debate we need to have and the science is piling up,” Newby said. “Heat is one of the biggest killers – even more than floods. I think people have heard about the climate change debate for 20 years and they’re ready to hear the real story.”
“In the top end of Australia, there’ll be areas in the Northern Territory which will be uninhabitable by 2050 to 2070. The Forecasts are terrifying… By 2070, on our current track, there’ll be virtually no snow left in the Snowy Mountains. Within ten to 15 years, the number of nights below freezing will be halved,” she added.
“We often feel think about climate change with fear. But you wouldn’t back away from a loved one in denial. I was guilty of denial myself so I went up to Nimboida and that changed everything. Eighty per cent of us feel overwhelmed by an urge to help and there are a number of ways I talk about it in my book, where we can find the courage and active hope to tackle this,” she said.
As she finished, Newby cited one of her favourite quotes from Mahatma Ghandi – “Whatever you do will be insignificant and yet it’s essential that you do it.”