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Festival season

There’s supposed to be a number of ‘signs’ that the dry season has finally banished the wet season, or the build down season for another year. (There’s some argument as to how many seasons there are in the Top End. Some say the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’, others the ‘build up’, the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ and others say there’s the ‘dry’, the ‘build up’, the ‘wet’ and the ‘build down’. Indigenous people say there are six seasons.)

One of the alleged signs is an increase in dragonflies, but I’ve seen swarms of dragonflies when there’s still a good month or so of sweaty sleep to go before the dry even looks like letting a cool breeze caress the morning air. Another signifier is said to be the increase in young backpackers cramming the supermarket isles, their foreign tongues rolling past the packets of noodles in sweet harmony. The return of yachts anchored off the sailing club after their long hibernation in the marina or up Sandgroves creek, hiding from the monsoon is said to be another.

I guess we chose our dry season signifiers according to our interests.

The mornings have been cooler the past week or so, and the pool is colder at night than it used to be and I can’t stay in there as long. Really though, for me, the first sign that the dry season is about to breathe cool breezes onto the simmering, greasy air and usher in a new season is the appearance of the Deckchair Cinema program.

Once that’s seen on the counters of the local shops and at the markets, you know the dry season isn’t far away. Once the first festival occurs, then I know the dry season has begun. The Seabreeze Festival on Nightcliff foreshore is generally the festival that signifies the dry has begun.

This is a pleasant community festival held on the cliffs overlooking the Beagle Gulf. Music, recycled art, sand sculptures and more sprawled out for close on two kilometres, framed by the twinkling blue sea and stunning cliffs. It’s a great way to welcome in the dry, and the festival season.

On the same weekend the workers festival, May Day, takes over the Esplanade. Towering five-star hotels peer down at the stage where speeches are made and bands blast the still air, again framed by a tropical blue sea and waving palms.

This year Wordstorm, the NT Writers’ Festival held in Darwin every two years, is coming. This is the first big festival of the dry and will be fantastic.

All capital cities have a writers’ festival, some like Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide attract big names and are held in buildings that resonate ‘literary cannon’; old buildings crammed with style and a well-dressed literati crowd quaffing coffee and loudly expounding on literary theory.

Darwin has a unique and relaxed writers’ festival. Making the most of the perfect conditions of the dry season, many events are outdoors. This year the festival is based around the Botanical Gardens, a large and spacious garden where the Darwin Festival has been held most years.

The Botanical gardens are right across the road from Mindil Beach, where the famous Mindil Beach Markets are held, ensuring festival-goers can have a great meal and watch the sunset from the beach on Thursday and Sunday.

Wordstorm has attracted some big names, Germaine Greer being the biggest. She will hold court at Pee Wees at The Point, Darwin’s most exclusive restaurant, where for a small fortune you get a dollop of food on a large plate, and get to eat it while taking in the sea breeze and a magnificent view.

True to its history and location, Wordstorm will feature numerous Indigenous writers including Bruce Pascoe, Marcia Langton and Archie Weller, who all will be presenting at the Indigenous Australian Writers and Educators Conference. There will also be a large contingent of Writers from SE Asia, especially Timor-Leste, who will share their work and discuss life under various regimes and the intersection between writing and politics.

Leonnie Norrington – who many people will know through ABC’s Gardening Australia but may not know as an accomplished writer who won the Angus and Robertson Award for Young Adult and Children’s Literature for her novel, The Devil You Know – will present a feast of local produce.

There will also be readings by local writers, such as Marie Munkara, who won the David Unaipon Award, as well as less published but equally accomplished local writers, and the likes of Tim Flannery, Alice Pung, Phillip Gwynne, Wendy Harmer, Arnold Zable and Don Walker.

Wordstorm will really signify the beginning of the dry and the start of the festival season, a season that showcases the wonder and beauty of Darwin. So anyone down south who’s feeling the cold of winter seeping into their bones and who wants to have a last fling with the sunshine, come to Darwin for Wordstorm, and maybe, like many of the locals, you won’t go back.

Rohan Wightman is a Darwin-based writer & teacher. He’s been shortlisted for the NT literary awards four times, including this year. He has been published in Going Down Swinging and has been shortlisted in a few other writing comps and won a few less well-known comps. He started writing when he was young but really hit his stride when writing for Squat It, the magazine of the Squatters Union of Victoria, in the late 80s. He has piles of manuscripts but no publisher. His under construction website is www.rohanwightman.com

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Comments

  1. Rohan, you’ve introduced me to a whole new side of Darwin. I must confess that I have never been, but this is something your post and the lure of those ambiguous seasons makes me want to immediately rectify.

  2. Thanks Jacinda, glad I’ve inspired you to think about visiting, you really should, there’s no other place quite like it in Aust. If you can’t make the Writer’s festival the Darwin festival is really worth checking out-it really highlights the beauty of Darwin. If you want to defray your travel expenses try dropping the NT Writers’ centre a line, you could do a workshop on Blogging or whatever literary skills you have and plug Overland to the writing crowd up here.

    Anyway if you ever do make it drop me a line, I’d be happy to show you around and point you in the right direction to some great spots around the Top End.

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