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What makes the Bendigo Writers Festival different?

Brooke Boland

ArtsHub speak to Festival Director Rosemary Sorenson to find out what brings the crowds to Bendigo Writers Festival each year, and what’s planned for 2017.
What makes the Bendigo Writers Festival different?

Image: supplied.

Every writers festival is different, reflecting their local culture through the diverse programming models they use to bring people together.  

Festival Director Rosemary Sorenson describes Bendigo Writers Festival as ‘The Goldilocks Festival’. It’s not too big, nor too small. It’s just the right size to fill the central art and heritage precinct of Bendigo with conversations and meet the demand for cultural activity in the area. In doing so it appeals to festival-goers across Australia. 

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‘When we started out, the intention was to provide a well-organised event for our Central Victorian region, using Bendigo's brilliant art and heritage precinct. What we didn't really anticipate was the burgeoning interest in cultural tourism, and how keen people are to travel to lovely destinations,’ said Sorenson. 

‘It's the mix people seem to appreciate, knowing that a small city is welcoming such a range of writers.’ 

Centrally located in the Victorian goldfields, the regional city of Bendigo is approximately 90 minutes from Melbourne. It is increasingly popular as a cultural tourism destination, with attractions including Bendigo Art Gallery, Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music and Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival. The Writers Festival is yet another drawcard.

The sixth annual Bendigo Writers Festival runs for three days (11-13 August) and features over 90 events, including appearances by international writers such as Elizabeth Kostova and Dava Sobel, as well as talented Australian writers John Safran and Susan Carland. 

It kicks off on Friday night with the panel Where We’re At, featuring Maxine Beneba Clarke, Rebecca Huntley, Leigh Hobbs and David Marr in conversation with David Astle.

View 2017 program here

While the regional location is a drawcard, enticing many visitors to a literary weekend in the heart of Bendigo, Sorenson recognises the additional challenge regional festivals have when programming.

‘There are a few more hurdles for regional locations to attract international guests, and I have to say, some writers still are very wary of regional cities. But word of mouth is a wonderful thing, and we have some huge supporters,’ she said. 

‘Early on, for the sake of our regional population, we set ourselves the task of having some internationals on our program. Only the magnificent support of City of Greater Bendigo makes this possible, so having Kenan Malik, Dava Sobel, Kayla Rae Whitaker, David George Haskell and Elizabeth Kostova on our lineup this year is terrific.’

A combination of several factors sets Bendigo Writers Festival apart as an intimate event that creates conversation between writers and readers. Sorenson said the geography of the city helps create this connection: venues are located closely together on one side of View Street, while across the road there are more cafes and restaurants each year, encouraging people to linger. 

‘This mix of local audiences and visitors is surprisingly effective in creating an atmosphere that is both friendly and buzzing,’ she said. 

‘The size, location and facilities of Bendigo make it perfect for a festival. In the Capital Theatre, we create a "hub" with a bookshop and signing area. Coffee and a great selection of food is just a short walk on View Street and the CBD precinct.’

Affordable festival passes, for either one day or the entire three days, also get people engaging with the festival’s content and events. But there is also the new addition of subsidiary programs and events. This year Ulumbarra Theatre will host the standalone program Good Life Sunday, featuring food and lifestyle topics with writers such as Scott Pape and Angus Stewart.

‘We've tried to schedule things in a complementary way, because we know some people get so engaged in the whole weekend they almost have to take a holiday at the end of it. But the option is there, too, to just go and hear John Safran speak, say, or come to the Closing Event with Judith Lucy, Denise Scott and Kaz Cooke,’ said Sorenson. 

Find out more about Bendigo Writers’ Festival at http://bendigowritersfestival.com.au 

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

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