Celebration of words attracts record crowds

Human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Roberston was a major draw at the festival on Friday and had the packed audience well and truly on side. PHOTOS: Gary Chigwidden.
Human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Roberston was a major draw at the festival on Friday and had the packed audience well and truly on side. PHOTOS: Gary Chigwidden.
The tears and heartache of having to cancel a full day’s program at last year’s Byron Bay Writers Festival was but a distant memory for director Jeni Caffin as last weekend’s brilliant blue skies drew record crowds to the 13th annual literary event.

Held for the first time at Belongil Fields, there was standing-room only at many of the marquee events on Friday and Saturday.

“Last year we had umbrellas everywhere because of the rain, this year the umbrellas were out for a different reason,” Ms Caffin said.

“It was quite warm on Friday and we needed the umbrellas for shade.

“While there have been some challenges with the new site, I am generally happy with how it’s working.”

The public opening lecture on Friday with ‘festival star’, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, drew a massive crowd.

Mr Robertson told the crowd he never thought he would be opening a writers festival in Byron Bay.

“I have never been here before and thought the only thing that people read here were tea leaves and tarot cards,” he said.

The weekend’s sessions covered a diverse range and genre of topics, with more than 100 invited writers and authors from Australia and overseas providing lashings of laughter and humour among more serious discussions on climate change, the writing of war, undercover cops spilling all, and bad boys of sport as role models.

Highlights included Saturday’s session on ‘You couldn’t make this up: facts wilder than fiction’ starring retired policeman Domenico Cacciola; former road manager for the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead Sam Cutler; and stand-up comic Tom Gleeson.

Mr Cutler told the audience that he had been the ‘voice of sanity and calm’ among members of the famous rock band The Rolling Stones.

He told the audience that his debut novel ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ featured plenty of girls and lots of illegal drug use.

“That’s why I look so haggard,” he laughed.

Other popular sessions which drew huge crowds included Gretel Killeen’s hilarious presentation and readings from her new book, ‘The Night My Bum Dropped’; ‘Grumpy Old Men: getting it off their chests’ with internationally renowned philosopher Peter Singer, local journalist Mungo MacCallum and playwright David Williamson; a session with Wendy Harmer; ‘Bad Boys: athletes and sporting stars as role models’ with surf writer Sean Doherty; popular sports author and presenter Roy Masters and Matt Nable, former professional rugby league player; and ‘Why writers want to tell and readers want to listen’ starring Byron Bay musician Carl Cleves, gardening author and former presenter of ABC TV’s Gardening Australia Mary Moody and Irfan Yusuf, a lawyer and freelance commentator on issues relating to the Muslim communities.

Ms Caffin said the festival had been a joy and a celebration where people felt ‘as one’.

“There was such a great vibe and spirit on site and I am absolutely thrilled with how it all turned out,” she said.

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