Out of the house

Entertain them, the Little Melbourne way

I really enjoy school holidays, but even so, kids bouncing off walls is no fun for anyone. So, I asked Jo from Little Melbourne if she’d like to suggest some fun ideas for the school break. To my delight, she did, and so here are some really different, fun ideas for keeping the kids entertained.

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If you’re in search of something that ‘little bit different‘ these School Holidays then check out Little Melbourne’s recommended activities and events happening in and around Melbourne.

A Day at the Circus – School Holiday Program
Roll up the circus is coming! During the September School Holidays, the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) is offering a series of full-day activities comprising circus skills workshops, performances by renowned children’s entertainers, fun circus games and classic circus films.
When: 26th September – 2nd October

Arts Program
Let the budding young artist in your family explore a world of creativity with three jam packed days of fun, facilitated by leading artists, including classes in music, puppetry, circus, animation, and visual arts. Held at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.
When: 4, 5 and 6th October

Northcote Kids Festival
With 55 performances over 13 days, and workshops in theatre, music & performance, there’s something inspiring for all ages at the Northcote Kids Festival.
When: 25th September – 9th October

Georgie Porgie Cooking for Kids
Georgie Porgie Cooking for Kids is a hands on and interactive introduction into cooking aimed at the 8-12 year old crowd. George will teach you about how to find the best ingredients, and the secrets behind making a delicious meal.
When: 3rd October

Petit Atelier + Twisted Tastes Holiday Program
Get your kids out of the house and into the studio, with one of Petit Atelier’s inventive Art and Craft Workshops! There’s an exciting range of activities to stimulate your blossoming artist and solve the “Mum I’m bored” dilemma!
When: 26th September – 7th October


Little Picassos in the Garden at Babycinos Cafe
Gardening 4 Kids and Mini Picassos are teaming up these September school holidays for some gardening and art workshops for the kids. Your creative little green thumbs will be kept busy with planting, garden art and story time activities.
When: Wednesday 28th September and Friday 7th October

Bollywood Workshop at The Arts Centre
Learn how to move your body and twirl your hands to the exotic sounds of India in this simple and energetic Bollywood routine with Parvyn Kaur Singh & Josh Bennett. While taking a breath from dancing, you can listen to the soothing sounds of instruments such as the sitar and dil ruba (bowed sitar) and learn how to beat-box Indian-style on the table.
When: Wed 28 September – Sun 2 October

Looney Tunes Live! Classroom Capers
This hot new musical will have you on your toes. It’s a barrel of laughs for the whole family. Starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, Sylvester, Taz, Marvin the Martian and Porky Pig. Don’t miss this fun-filled up-close-and-personal lesson of classic gags that made Looney Tunes a must-see class act!
When: Scattered dates over September – October

Is this where Thomas the Tank Engine Lives? Natured Kids Program
Sessions have related songs, stories, activities, craft, with time afterwards for you to relax, play and picnic in nature.
When: Tuesday 20th and Wednesday 21st September

The Enchanted Maze
An explosion of mind blowing 3D fun, giant twisting tube slides, towering topiary hedges, a spine tingling indoor maze, an sweet filled lolly shop serving old fashioned humbugs, acid drops and hand made boiled sweets, a cafe and stunning gardens and you’ve got yourself a great family filled day out!
When: Throughout the Holidays and beyond

The Living Library
True stories from real people.

In The Living Library you’ll meet a friendly librarian, borrow a ‘living book’ (or two or three!) and discover all kinds of true stories. Sit down together in the cosy library to hear about books’ lives, adventures and misadventures!
When: Wednesday 28th September – Sunday 2nd October

Reptile Encounters at the Queen Victoria Market
It’s not every day you come across pythons and crocodiles at the Market. But when you visit the Market during the first week of the School Holidays, you can expect to meet these as well as lots of creepy crawlies!
When: Tuesday 27th and Thursday 29th September

Crayola Creative Hub at Harbour Town Melbourne
Calling all creative kids! For the first time in Melbourne, the colour of Crayola, Australia’s number one children’s art and craft brand comes to life in a fun and interactive LIVE event. Kids can check out the ‘Lights, Camera, Colour’ tool that turns photos into a black and white colouring page for printing, then road test the latest Crayola products and take home their completed works-of-art, FREE!
When: 3rd – 9th October

By the Pond Launch at Spring Open Day
By the Pond‘ launch is being held at 10.30-11.30am at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens, Spring Open Day on Sunday September 25th. Alex Papps (fabulous Play School presenter, also very fondly remembered as Frank on Home and Away) will be launching ‘By the Pond’. We’ll also have an indoor/outdoor screening with live entertainment to get the kiddies hopping, buzzing and quacking about, and finish up with some craft activities.
When: 25th September

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Little Melbourne is a great place to find out about what’s on and happening in Melbourne for parents and their little ones.

The wide range of activities means there is a little something for everyone, and budget conscious suggestions are frequently included. If you’re keen to get the kids out of the house, have a browse on this great site.

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Galanti – a perfect finish to a perfect day

We found a wonderful new restaurant in Highett last night, a lovely trattoria and bar called Galanti. Well worth sharing…

Before I start, to be fair, you should know that we were in a very good mood when we arrived. It had been the most incredible day, with Evan’s basketball team winning their grand final and Evan scoring MVP for the game. Matt is their coach, so it’s fair to say that the whole family was pretty over the moon. I was so proud of Evan, for all his hard work and so pleased that Matt had had such fun helping this great group of boys to leave the court with a winner’s trophy.

The win was followed by a team lunch, noisy and celebratory, after which I needed a little sit-down. After I caught my breath, I thought it only fitting that we took Evan out to celebrate his win. But where to go?? We racked our brains… an old faithful? Somewhere new? Junky or fine dining? I’ll admit we’d still not quite decided where we were going when we piled into the car.

Then Matt threw out a wild card – how about this new little place, Galanti’s that he’d seen being renovated in Spring Road, Highett? An unlikely spot for a restaurant, but it had looked impressive from outside…

We drove a few minutes around the corner, and parked outside the Italian eatery. It looked good, but I still wasn’t quite sure so I got out of the car and had a look for a menu in the window. No menu, but they were playing Coldplay, and the waitress gave me a smile. I was was convinced.

We were greeted warmly and shown to a cosy booth in the corner. The kids were made really welcome, always a good start when dining with small ones and Oscar was thrilled to be given his own menu to peruse.

The service was friendly, prompt and careful. The menu offered a wonderful range of authentic Italian fare, including a nice selection of kids meals. We indulged in entree, mains and dessert, wine and coffee and we were all extremely satisfied with each course. Matt raved about the prawns, Evan asked for more pasta, and I loved, loved, loved the tiramisu. It’s rare that everyone at the table is equally happy with their meal, but in this case even Oscar finished off a whole plate of meatballs (no small feat, as seen here.)

The restaurant itself is spacious, and set-up beautifully. No detail has been overlooked, and as such you feel that real pride has been taken in this family establishment. There is even a little private dining booth, perfect for parties and cosy dates, a nice touch.

You can find Galanti at 23 Spring Road, Highett (just around the corner off Highett Road). Their phone number is 03 9553 1573, if you want to chat to them about a table. Pop on by, I’m sure they’d love to see you.

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Ladies and gentleman, kids of all ages…

Thanks to the kind folks at Rushcrowds, the boys and I made a spur of the moment decision to go along to Silvers Circus, Sunday just gone.  I was lucky enough to pick up a free double pass from Rushcrowds which meant that all I had to do was pay the kids’ way, making it a really affordable outing.

On entering the tent I realised that we were extra lucky, as we were shown to ringside seats. This meant that we were wonderfully close to the action. We were only centimetres away from being hit by flying hula hoops and rouge juggling balls and it made acts like the ‘Globe of Death’ particularly thrilling, being close enough to hear the crazy metal globe creak and sway as three motorbikes spun wildly inside it, sounding very much like a bottle full of angry bees.

I’ll admit, I mainly agreed to go on this outing because Oscar kept shouting ‘circus, circus, circus’ like a madman every time we drove past Southland shopping centre, but I’ve got to say, once I was there I had as much fun as the kids. It’s been a very long time since I went to the circus,  but the glitter and stage make-up, the costumes and general carny-culture immediately reminded me of what a big deal it is to go to the circus when you’re a kid. I was entranced and thoroughly entertained.

Evan was too cool for school…he’d been to the same show this time last year and as such he kept offering up spoilers, telling me what was coming next. Oscar was wide-eyed, absolutely transfixed. He laughed at the clowns and clapped along on cue, but more often than not he sat with eyes wide and his little hand covering his mouth agape,  a real mixture of enjoyment and trepidation. He had an absolute ball.

The show itself includes a great variety of acts, and is suitable for all ages. In keeping with circus-norm, there are no animals, just a lot of clever people.

The two-hour show was filled with juggling, extreme hula hooping, and magic tricks complete with white doves and beautiful vanishing magicians assistants.

There were insane daredevils too, which had me on the edge of my seat. Evan thought I was a real dag when I covered my eyes, quite certain that the showy young man running the ‘Wheel of Steel’ was going to plummet to his death. Evan assured me that his stumbles were all part of the act, but I still I wasn’t so sure. I was quietly relieved when the act was over and done with, his feet firmly planted back on the ground.

There really was something for all of us, and I’m really glad that we went. It was nice to do something a little unplanned on the weekend, and the boys really seemed to enjoy the afternoon out.

Check out the Silvers Circus website for show times. On the weekends, Silvers Circus run day-time shows, which are pretty perfect for the little ones. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye on Rushcrowds for discount tickets and free passes!

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Thanks for the memories MWF

I’m feeling a little bit lost today, now that the Melbourne Writers Festival is done and dusted.

I’m sure that all the authors, festival staff, and volunteers are breathing a collective sigh of relief at having orchestrated a most impressive event, coordinating over 300 sessions and 400 authors. I on the other hand am feeling a little bit sad that it’s all over for another year.

So, please indulge me while I tell you about the enlightening, entertaining and at times fiery weekend I had at Stories Unbound.

First up on Saturday was the session Essaying Options featuring an impressive panel of exemplary practitioners of the art of essay writing; Richard Flanagan, Robert Manne, and Marieke Hardy, and panel chair Alison Croggon.

For many years I believed essay writing to be mainly a chore borne by university students, the result of which was often printed on cheap printer paper and mercilessly marked by red pen. Then I discovered Orwell’s work and realised that an essay is so much more than a means of assessment. In their best form they are well researched and carefully constructed pieces aimed at truth-telling and change-making. I liked Richard’s description, that an “essay is a short piece of writing with something wrong with it,” going on to explain: “What’s wrong with it is that it is provisional, they have a humanity, they attempt to devine something about this world.” Essay’s can, over time, effect great change in individuals and in society.

I enjoyed the mixed styles of the Richard, Marieke and Robert. Richard demonstrates a raw, yet well reasoned emotion, Marieke uses a rye humour to engage and Robert places much hope in politics: “Politics is our way of acting collectively. We can’t live without politics if we hope to achieve things…we have to fight for decent politics.” I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the different ways in which they choose their subject matter, how they work to effect their audience, and what they hope to achieve through their work.

As with many of the festival’s sessions, the discussion moved into talk about the internet and it’s effect on humanity, argument and politics. This was a nice lead-in to my second session for the day Assange: Man and Myth, at which the panelists investigated the freedoms and conundrums presented by the internet, particular as it relates to freedom of speech, human rights and journalism.

The session seemed to have lost a little of it’s intended structure, as a result of Andrew Fowler being unable to attend and I suspect his biography The Most Dangerous Man in the World was going to be the anchor of this discussion. Nonetheless Suelette Dreyfuss, Joel Deane and Tracee Hutchison conducted an informative and feisty presentation.

Somewhat to my surprise, this was the most fiery session that I had attended throughout the festival. Suelette was passionate in her defence of Assange, and her complete commitment to WikiLeaks. Joel seemed more focused on the ‘definition’ of Assange: “The question must be asked as to whether or not Julian Assange is a journalist or not” and it was this question that raised the most ire amongst the audience.

At the end of the day, this session was largely a discussion about the ethics of journalism, and in particular the sticky question of protections offered to whisleblowers, a rare breed of informants on which WikiLeaks is heavily reliant. The panel talked around whether Assange was an anarchist, a rule-breaker (Suelette’s assessement), or a rebel-rouser (Joel’s suggestion) and argued heatedly on the need for responsibility in journalism, even in this new type of ‘leaks’ reliant reporting. Tracee expressed her concern: “This seems to me troublesome, this gloves-off approach to free speech, if there is no responsibility taken,” and Suelette disagreed strongly that Assange and WikiLeaks in fact demonstrated great responsibility, although she didn’t really seem to say how this was so.

I walked out of this session quietly pleased to have been privy  to such a passionate debate.

Last up for me on Saturday was a delightful conversation between Julian Burnside and Arnold Zable, and it was a perfect way to finish the day. As Burnside said at the outset, “Arnold is a fine writer, and an amazing storyteller” and he in keeping with this description, Arnold kindly shared the story of his writing, his history, his family and his love of music.

The appeal of this session was simple really…it was fascinating to hear about the moments at the heart of his stories, and how through his travels “moments of amazing symmetry occur, and things just come together.” Each story would seem to have a profound core, an “eloquent episode” that informs it.

In short, I have been enticed by his latest Violin Lessons and so it would seem, this collection of stories is yet another title for my reading list. I’d also have loved to be able to get to a performance of Cafe Scheherazade (adapted by Therese Radic) being shown at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne until the 11 Sept 2011.

I didn’t want the festival be over so I had a last hurrah on Sunday. I was extremely moved by The Pity of War, a session at which the audience was given a perspective of what it is to be at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The presentation focused on the monetary, humanitarian and political costs of remaining at war in these regions, and touched also on the issue of fair and truthful reporting in conflicts such as these.

The recounts, facts and figures gave me chills, and horrified me.

Being challenged to think so deeply really seemed a fitting way to finish off my MWF, and after this session I packed up my notebook and slowly, reluctantly left Federation Square. Until next year.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on Stories Unbound, and that you were able to get to some sessions as well. If you’re interested in hearing any of the sessions, keep an eye on the Melbourne Writers Festival website, as podcasts will be made available over time.

Thanks to MWF for giving me the opportunity to cover the festival, it has been an amazing privilege.

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Coming up soon, I’ll be reviewing Anita Diamant’s novel The Red Tent, and Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee and I’ll be updating my reading list with some new discoveries.

Also, don’t forget to enter the competition to win a copy of Room, by Emma Donoghue. Full details of this month’s give-away can be found here.

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Mythbusting at the MWF

On a good day I learn something new. On a really good day, I might get a few ah-ha moments. An excellent day is full of new facts…and that was my Sunday.

The issue of gender, as it relates to identity, equity and ability is an emotive one. I certainly know it’s a topic quick to raise my ire. It’s a passionate topic, but still, it is one best treated with intelligence and reason. The two sessions that I attended on Sunday did just that.

Dissecting Gender presented neurological, biological and psychological perspectives on what it means to be male or female, and explored whether or not we are in fact hardwired to be fundamentally different from each other. The resounding answer of the panelists; Jane McCredie, Rob Brooks and Cordelia Fine was clear – no, we are not.

Any such science that suggests that all males and all females are and must perform and behave in a particular way is at best mistaken, and at worst fraudulent.

McCredie, Brooks and Fine are, without doubt, committed to their work in this in field, each having published works seeking to dispel the many myths surrounding what it is to be a man or a woman. Interestingly, McCredie is even more inclusive in her study, investigating what it is to be “outside the binary” of gender, considering situations of ambiguity in gender allocation and idenfication.

Reassuringly, Fine assured us that although women have on average, a smaller, lighter brain than men this doesn’t in fact act as a determinant of success or intelligence in any field: “Claims about gender differences are based on incorrect, and at times fabricated data,” states Fine. Brooks argued well to dismiss the outdated notion that we are slaves to either our nature or our nuture, assuring that many options remain open to us all. And McCredie was decided: “Science should apply to us all, and not just to those that fit neatly within the accepted stereotypes…stereotypes seem not to apply to many people.” Further, she asked the question, how do any of us come to understand who we are, and what it is to be male or female. Science, in all it’s certainties and averages has not yet been able to explain many of the complexities that create differences between us all, let alone between males and females.

I left this session feeling encouraged…my little brain was not necessarily less powerful, and any stereotypical strengths and weaknesses would seem to be more likely about self-fulfilling prophesy or stereotype threat than about an overarching biological or neurological predisposition.

In this mood, I took my seat in the BMW Edge to listen to Sophie Cunningham. I had heard very good things, and was excited about being at this session. The crowd seemed to be feeling the same way, and I got the sense that the audience was eagerly awaiting inspiration, and perhaps a bit of illumination.

Many things were made much clearer to me by Sophie’s presentation A Long, Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism, not the least of which was the scale of the issue of women’s invisibility. Sophie provided a set of most incredible and infuriating statistics relating to women’s place in literature, business, fine arts and law. Example after example illustrated the extent to which women have disappeared, and the degree to which we’ve simply gotten used to it. Frightening stuff.

Cunningham laid blame for this in both the political and cultural sphere, and made several suggestions as to how this imbalance might be addressed. One of these solutions was featured in The Age today, namely the Stella prize, a women’s only literary prize. I will be watching this with great interest. Her conviction was strong, and she disputed the belief that women need simply to be more assertive: “You can be as assertive as you like, you’re still starting from a lower base,” citing examples of starting wages of male and female graduate lawyers and the distinct difference therein. It would seem that equality will take more than a loud voice and a forthright personality.

I was personally quite moved by her views of women’s self perception, our habitual self-loathing, which damages our chances and holds us back by diminishing our self-confidence in contexts such as work, earning and education. In Sophie’s opinion: “This self-doubt is political, it’s like tinnitus and we have to learn to ignore it, we must learn to block it out.”

I was moved by the presentation, and buoyed by the rousing reception that Sophie received. I trust that this is a sign that, should it be needed, the forth wave which Cunningham referred to would be fervently supported by a new generation of woman.

Did you attend any Sunday sessions? What were the highlights for you?

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It just keeps getting better at the MWF

I liked Friday’s sessions a lot, but I liked Saturday even more. If my enjoyment of the festival keeps increasing at this rate, my head might well explode by this time next week…

I arrived at Federation Square at dusk, ready for a few of the later sessions on the program. The Square looks really amazing at this time of day, and the feeling you get when you look around is quite special. In one sense it feels as if the space is winding down for the day, with families wandering wearily home after a full day of activity, and in another sense there’s a feeling of anticipation for the night to come, with groups of friends meeting, ready to descend on the restaurants, pubs and clubs of the city centre.

After having a little chat with the lovely Mel Hobbs, I made my way to ACMI Studio 1 for Tasmania’s Call, a panel session featuring Natasha Cica, Sarah Kanowski and Michael Vetch. This session held particular significance for me, having grown up in Tasmania. I have often wondered what path my life might have taken had a stayed there, particularly in regards to my education and my writing. The panelists had some really insightful things to say on how Tasmania sees itself, and the dynamics that are working within this unique State.

The panelists shared their thoughts on the uniqueness of Tasmania, and they all seemed to agree that Tasmania is indeed very different to many other parts of Australia, environmentally and culturally. Michael ventured that it might be “something about being on the absolute edge of the known world.” As such, it produces literature unique to place, it’s environmental rawness and distinct isolation cannot help but influence the thoughts and deeds of those living and creating in this special place.

Not all the panelists agreed that Tasmania is any more unique than anywhere else, with Sarah suggesting that “Tassie needs to find something beyond it uniqueness…” and to identify with more than just being very different.  Despite this, they did all agree that the geography of the State, the effect of being on the very edge of the world created a sense of wildness perhaps not felt in towns like Melbourne or Sydney. Michael believes that “Tasmania prides itself on its isolation” and Natasha recalled how difficult it used to be to leave: “It cost a huge amount to travel to Melbourne, and it was very difficult to get to the mainland.” As a result, many Tasmanian’s choose never to leave, creating a kind of happy introspection.

I’m looking forward to getting hold of a copy of Natasha Cica’s Pedder Dreaming on its release, and I was greatly encouraged to hear that she thought real change in attitude in and about Tasmania was evident. I’ll also have a look into Michael’s new book The Forgotten Islands (2011), a travel memoir about the isolated islands of Bass Strait when it’s released.

I was so pleased to hear from Sarah Kanowski, editor of Islanda literary quarterly that publishes the very best contemporary writing – fiction, essays, memoir and poetry. I picked up a copy of their Winter Edition, and I plan to feature it in a blog post in the near future.

After this session, which made me feel a little bit homesick for Tassie, I attended the John Button Oration – The Fire Within. It was quite a privilege to hear from the most accomplished Honourable Michael Kirby. His progressive and eloquent discussion on a range of issues such as public education, the introduction of a bill of rights, and the current debate regarding same-sex marriage was enlightening and inspiring.

He has an incredible way of teasing out the threads of an issue, making the facts and feelings obvious from each other so as to be able to better understand the true nature of the argument at hand. What an amazing man, and amazing speaker.

The oration was well attended, and very well received. I’m so glad I was able to go. I am now looking forward to reading his forthcoming publication, A Private Life, a collection of essays which he describes as a picture of “his inner life.”

Today I’m looking forward to a little feminist discourse (what better for a Sunday afternoon hey?) as I’m going to see Dissecting Gender and Big Ideas: A Long Long Way to Go – Why we Still Need Feminism.

I’ll report back tomorrow, so stay tuned.

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My first day at the MWF

After much anticipation, my first day at the Melbourne Writers Festival went down a treat. I was so happy to be there…I’ve been wanting to attend this festival for years, and for one reason or another not been able to.

So this year is the year, and I’m going to half live there if I have my way.

I strolled into Federation Square, nice and early, and enjoyed the quiet buzz of anticipation. I’ve decided that I really quite like Fed Square, it’s such a unique space and perfect for this kind of event.

At 10am, I took my seat in the BMW Edge room to listen to Kate Grenville share her thoughts. As I’ve said before, I think Kate is an incredibly wise woman, and amazingly eloquent. She was also really influential in my own learning-to-write process at university, so I was very excited to hear what she had to say.

The main focus of the conversation was her newest novel, Sarah Thornhill (the third in Grenville’s trilogy about early Australia) although this discussion quickly gave rise to serious considerations of Australia’s dark history.

Being so committed to the process of research, Kate left no stone unturned in her research for The Secret River (2005), The Lieutenant (2008) and Sarah Thornhill (2011) and as a result discovered disturbing truths about the history of white and indigenous Australia, and about her own family’s involvement in these dark days. I think it’s fair to say that much of Kate’s recent work deals poignantly with the notion of the Australian identity, and all that that entails. She seems also to be fascinated by the notion of an individual having no past: “These first generation Australians found they had no ‘back’ to go to, Australia was their home.” This presented many challenges to her most recent protagonist, Sarah Thornhill, but also new opportunities.

I was enticed by her recount of how her novel, Sarah Thornhill came about, how “the cosmos” made sure that it happened by ensuring she was in the right place at the right time to learn the story of Sarah. I was equally engaged by the promise of treatment of the harshness of the Australian experience, including experiences of love, hard work and dangerous childbirth: “I thought, let’s write about childbirth the same way that men write about the battlefield.” She has certainly presented a tale of a strong, resourceful woman.

I was also really pleased that she was able to share a few pearls of wisdom on the process of research and of writing. A piece of advice that I’ll take to heart and practice:”Go where the energy is…” if you feel like writing, write…if you feel like going to the library, go and read. Words to create by.

After a short break, I wandered back into BMW Edge to hear from Lindsay Tanner, former Finance Minister and author of a new book, Sideshow. Tanner is passionate about the often detrimental effect of media on politics, and is highly critical of the sideshow that political coverage has become. “Politicians are changing without even realising it.” said Tanner “Today requires a challenging balance between entertainment and politics, and having the talent to manage both.”

It was really interesting to hear first hand, the effect that commercialisation, sensationalisation and ‘dumbing down’ can have on willingness and ability to run this country well. Tanner pointed out that “Television demands good pictures,” and went on the explain that this influences (often negatively) where politicians go, what they do, who they meet. Nothing looks as good as “sitting on the floor of a childcare centre” and this in turn can effect decisions that politicians make about where to direct their attention.

After this session, I had a little bit of time to kill so I looked over the shoulders of an eager little crowd to see a real live artist, Matt Bissett-Johnson. Matt is a Melbourne-based  political cartoonist who is regularly featured in a wide range of publications, including The Age and The Melbourne Observer. It was wonderful to see his process, and to have a bit of a giggle at his visual punchlines.

Don’t Feed the Artists sessions are being run from 12 to 3pm Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of the festival and will feature Matt Bissett-Johnson, Alex Hallatt, Judy Horacek, Jon Kudelka, Bruce Mutard and Mandy Ord.

I’ll be back in the Square this evening to see a couple of sessions; Tasmania’s Call and Big Ideas: John Button Oration. I’ll be sure to let you know about these two sessions tomorrow.

Have you made it to any sessions? What did you think?

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Nice start…

Really enjoyed the sessions I went to today at the Melbourne Writers Festival (despite the little health-blip later in the afternoon).

Watch out tomorrow for a review of Kate Grenville’s In Conversation session, and of Lindsay Tanner’s views on politics and the media.

Federation Square is such a great venue, and the festival is being run wonderfully. I’m looking forward to getting back to see some more events over the weekend.

Did anyone make it to the Shaun Tan event tonight?

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And let it begin!

And so it begins, two weeks of fun, discussion, reading and writing. I’m at the Melbourne Writers Festival and currently waiting to hear Kate Grenville. There is a real sense of anticipation in the air.

Stay tuned today for a run down on the sessions that I get to today. I hope you’re able to think about getting down here yourself this weekend.

Shopping for books in Perth, a delight

Today’s Be My Guest is the lovely Karyn from A Penguin a Week, sharing her love for a good book sale. Her wonderful post and pics made me feel warm and toasty reading over it…the fab Perth setting made such a wonderful change from the grey old Melbourne backdrop my pieces normally have. Thanks so much Karyn for letting us know what’s going on over in WA…

This weekend, two of the best things about Perth in winter coincided. On days of the most pleasant winter weather, in which the sky was the most brilliant blue, and the temperature stayed in the low 20s, the charity Save the Children held its giant secondhand book sale in the Undercroft of Winthrop Hall, at the University of Western Australia. It’s a picturesque setting, with its location beside the Swan River and its beautiful old limestone buildings, extensive lawns and groves of trees.

The opening evening is so popular that you have to arrive early and queue to get in; by the time the doors opened, the queue snaked around the building, and was about 250 metres long, revealing an eclectic mix of booklovers: older couples, young students, businessmen and families.

Once a certain number have passed through the door, new people can only enter as others leave, and so the wait can be frustratingly long.  But I cannot think of a more pleasant place to be forced to queue in.

The book sale runs for six days, from 5pm on the Friday afternoon, until 4pm the following Wednesday, and they have many thousands of books for sale, with the stock regularly replenished: as books are sold, new boxes appear and the tables are re-filled. It means there is no best time to go, and repeat visits are essential.

The excitement comes from not knowing what you will find, but knowing whatever it is, it will be a bargain. My search is for old Penguins to complete my collection, and they were priced between $2 and $3 per copy, prices I rarely find anywhere else these days. But they also had beautiful hardback art books for less than $10, and old and collectible hardback books for around the same price. And they have tables devoted to many other categories: children’s titles, foreign language, religion, cookery, travel, crime, Australiana, textbooks and many more, as well as vinyl records, CDs, maps, and sheet music. On Tuesday remaining books are sold at half-price, and on Wednesday you can fill a box for $15.

I was there when the doors opened on Friday afternoon, and again when they opened Saturday morning. And this year I was very lucky: I found 69 numbered pre-1970s Penguins to add to the collection, and 19 other early Penguins from ancillary series like the Classics and Pelicans. And for my young daughter, who has also caught the collecting bug, 12 Enid Blyton titles and a few early Puffins.

I was particularly excited to find 3 new Michael Innes’ titles, including his first mystery novel Death at the President’s Lodging, which I have heard is one of his best. It was a review of this book by Jane at the blog Fleur Fisher in her world which first enticed me to read Michael Innes, and he has gone on to be one of my favourite authors. I have been searching for a copy ever since. I plan to start reading it tonight.

It’s not unusual these days to see reports of the demise of the book, the suggestion that it is a redundant technology, soon to be replaced by the enthusiastic embrace of digital downloads and e-books. And though I can see the practicality of e-book readers, I think these grim predictions ignore the emotional attachment people feel for physical books. The enjoyment of a book can be multifaceted, not just related to the reading, but also to the searching, finding, collecting, owning and displaying. The Guardian flickr group devoted to bookshelves shows how much people love their books, and the crowds at the book sale this weekend only confirmed it.

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Karyn keenly collects numbered Penguin paperbacks from before 1970. I am smitten by her bookshelf (you can see it here) and her blog, A Penguin a Week which shares her journey as she reads her way through her collection. A fascinating concept, and wonderfully constructed set of reviews. Thanks so much Karyn for documenting your love of Penguin paperbacks, it’s one I share.

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