By all accounts the Byron Writers Festival was a huge success and the smattering of drops which fell from the sky in the first day were kept at bay by sunshine for the rest of the event.
The 23rd edition saw Indigenous authors dominate the best selling books list at the festival with Bruce Pascoe’s slow-burning Dark Emu, published six years ago, forging ahead in sales. The book was only overtaken by No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani after he had spoken early Sunday morning. Other books which did well at the cash register were The Yield by Tara June Winch, Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing by David Leser and Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko.
Though Boochani couldn’t be at the festival, he appeared on two large screens via live-stream from Manus Island to a full-house, a room overflowing into the courtyard of the largest venue, with over 600 people ready to hear every word at 9am on Sunday.
Boochani spoke of the torment of being trapped between a religious dictatorship and a new kind of western fascism. ‘I wrote No Friend But The Mountains to take the readers into the prison camp to live with us,’ he said. His powerful message to ‘read the book and ask other people to read it’ resonated loud and clear, with a standing ovation ending the sombre and powerful session.
Bruce Pascoe’s sessions were also overflowing at the festival. ‘People are aching to love their land,’ he said. ‘But how do we love Australia?’
His book Dark Emu and the version for younger readers Young Dark Emu detail the complex agricultural systems that sustained Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
Miles Franklin winner Melissa Lucashenko’s session with The Yield author, Wiradjuri woman Tara June Winch also attracted capacity crowds and the legendary Uncle Jack Charles, whose memoir Born-again Blakfella is set for release later this month, inspired a standing ovation at the Festival.
‘Stories help us make sense of the complexity of our world,’ said Festival Director Edwina Johnson. ‘Byron Writers Festival provides a space to find meaning and connection, to reflect on the importance of stories and their telling and to engage our hearts and minds.’
A common theme throughout the Festival was messages of hope and optimism, summed up by Damon Gameau on Sunday afternoon when discussing the climate crisis, ‘I feel with every fibre that we’re going to get through this,’ he said. ‘And I’d say that to any child now.’
The festival featured more than 140 writers, thinkers and commentators who came from across Australia and around the world to Byron Bay for a packed program of inspiring, engaging and enlightening storytelling and discussion.
Record ticket sales saw more than 12,000 patrons attending over the entire Festival period that included 121 sessions on the Festival grounds, 15 workshops, 17 satellite events, the Schools Program (Primary and Secondary) and the Byron Writers Festival Road Trip to regional towns.
Local journalist and Echo stalwart Mungo MacCallum received a standing ovation when fellow local journalist Kerry O’Brien paid tribute to Mungo for his services to journalism.