It was spectacular weather for the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival last weekend when writers, readers, publishers and the like converged for what director Jonathan Parsons believed is ‘quite possibly on track as the biggest attendance ever’.
After last year’s financial woes that almost saw the festival close its doors, it’s a welcome relief for festival organisers and testament to Parsons’s vision ‘to bring the festival back to its core. It was about getting back to the heart.’
Parsons was the first festival director to be employed out of the region, and when organising the event, he lived between Brisbane and Mullumbimby.
Although coming into a high-profile role in a small community, Parsons felt supported while performing his role as director.
‘It’s a unique area. It’s very local but it is connected to the rest of the country, and internationally; in that way I never felt like an outsider.’
Bob Brown was clearly the hit of this year’s event, with festival goers packing tents to pay homage to the recently retired Greens leader.
Local identity Rusty Miller declared the highlight of this year’s festival was when ‘Bob Brown walked into the tent and everyone stood up and clapped for him – he got a standing ovation. It made me cry.’
‘How a man can have so much respect and how meaningful his presence was. It’s something we are missing in politics, someone who has stood up for something in public without changing his values to meet popular consensus,’ Rusty said.
While Parsons agreed with Miller’s sentiment that it was a festival where Bob Brown and (retired High Court Judge) Michael Kirby were clearly the stars, ‘all of the tents were full, people were listening and engaging in all sorts of topics, often with writers they may not have heard of.
‘The program was about ideas and bringing sessions around a particular theme. In a way I guess it is an ideas festival explored through the form of writing,’ Parsons said.
It wasn’t just festival attendees who experienced enthusiasm about the event; writers continued to express their admiration and fondness for the Byron Writers’ Festival. Making his fourth appearance at the festival, Morris Gleitzman was resolute about what it offered: ‘a heady mixture of intellectual stimulation, rewarding interaction with readers, romance and a stiff neck from the width of the tents’.
Lawyer turned crime writer and international guest Shamini Flint concurred: ‘It is such a relief,’ she said ‘to come to a country where people still read books. But I am shocked you can’t get food after 10pm. Luckily you can still get a beer!’