LET THE GOOD TIME ROLL: Having fun at the opening night of the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival are (from left) Byron Shire Mayor Jan Barham, writer John Bailey, former leader of the Greens Bob Brown and Paul Thomas.
LET THE GOOD TIME ROLL: Having fun at the opening night of the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival are (from left) Byron Shire Mayor Jan Barham, writer John Bailey, former leader of the Greens Bob Brown and Paul Thomas. Jann Burmester

Literary Festival hits new heights

THERE was a lot riding on this year's Byron Bay Writers' Festival.

With last year's literary event running drastically over budget, and with a new festival director at the helm, the 2012 festival was make or break.

But with three days of glorious sunshine, record ticket sales and some of the brightest and most talented local, national and international writers, last weekend's festival has soared to new heights.

Writers from every state in Australia, except the Northern Territory, as well as the US, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and India, all added spice to an eclectic program of conversations, book launches, food events, workshops and a sculpture show which turned the North Byron Events site into a visual feast.

One of the largest crowds ever seen at the festival packed out the SCU Marquee on Friday to hear former Greens leader Bob Brown talk about his life and his loves with renowned Australian journalist Kerry O'Brien.

Mr Brown spoke about his love of the bush as a kid; his tough teenage years as a young homosexual boy; how he contemplated suicide and his ultimate escape to London where he found some peace and was finally told by a psychologist "to just be himself".

Mr Brown also spoke passionately about his environmental and ecological work with the Greens Party.

He told the packed crowd that his greatest milestone had been the victory at the Franklin River in Tasmania.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby also drew a huge and admiring crowd on Saturday when he spoke about his life, loves and the law with chair Mick O'Regan and Daryl Dellora, the award-winning documentary filmmaker of Michael Kirby: Law, Love and Life.

Sunday's Righting The World panel with Katherine Boo, Niromi De Soyza, Andrea Hirata and Ian Lowe and Byron's debut author's session with Jessie Cole, Shamus Sillar, Lisa Walker and Amanda Webster also drew appreciative crowds.

Festival chairman Chris Hanley said the past year had been very challenging and everyone had worked extremely hard to get things back on track.

"This is definitely one of the most popular festivals we've had and I'd like to thank the community, our sponsors, especially Macquarie Bank, and the weather for co-operating," he said.

Festival director Jonathan Parsons said the weekend had been "fabulous".

"We had the three biggest days at the box office in the history of the festival and the feedback we are getting from the audience and the writers, well it's just so positive," he said.

"Of course we were so lucky with the weather, considering it's been raining here for about the past three months.

"It's just so thrilling for me in my first year as director to have had such a successful festival. I'm just delighted, but I couldn't have done it without my wonderful team, the committee and volunteers."

Mr Parsons said Bob Brown had been a huge drawcard, as was Katherine Boo, Niromi De Soyza and the local writers. He said the children's program had also been incredibly popular.

Turn to pages 33 & 39 for more festival photos.


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