Melbourne Writers Festival 2019 – the middle bit

Two more events!

Powerful Landmarks

In a stroke of scheduling genius, MWF organisers put Enza Gandolfo (author of The Bridge) and Kristina Olsson (author of Shell) together to discuss how built structures can be representative of difficult pasts and uncertain futures.

Enza reflected on a lifetime living in the western suburbs, and that when the Bridge fell down, “…everyone was working class, so we all knew someone who worked on the Bridge.” She was surprised that the story had not been told, but added, “I had to be careful because it’s a tragedy in living memory – I had to get it right.”

In contrast, Kristina lives in Brisbane but was drawn to writing about the Sydney Opera House after taking Swedish relatives there – they climbed all over it, admired it, were proud of it. On the ferry to Manly, Kristina looked back at the Opera House and felt her heart shift – “I didn’t want to write about the Opera House, but to use it as a lens.”

Both authors were careful about their research. Enza chose not to interview anyone, because if she’d done so she would have felt obliged to tell their story. Kristina absorbed herself in research and then put it to the back of her mind, “…because it was a novel, fictional, and I wanted the characters to tell the story.”

The discussion turned to the concept of ‘class’ in Australia. Of the current political climate, Enza said, “I’m concerned by this concept of ‘have a go’. It ignores the obstacles.” She went on to say that she thinks it has taken so long for stories about things such as the Bridge to be included in popular culture because they are stories about the working class. Kristina was particularly interested in the place of ‘art’ with the working classes – her family, all working class, would talk eloquently about form and beauty – “Everyone with a beating heart has a feeling about these things.”

Enza concluded by saying, “Often working class people are represented in jobs they hate. But the men on the Bridge were very proud of their work. They loved the Bridge.”


It was a full house for Australian scholar, Dvir Abramovich, and acclaimed historian, Deborah Lipstadt’s discussion about the rise in antisemitic sentiment the world over. Host Sally Warhaft began by asking the panellists about their experience of antisemitic behaviour. Deborah quickly replied, “Not that much, although I did endure six years of David Irving and his sneering.” That said, she’s had her share of comments that include “…’you people’….basically, the anti-Semite who likes Jews!’

Dvir posed the question, were there now more anti-Semites or were they just feeling more emboldened? On antisemitic feeling in the present and the past, Deborah said that she compares antisemitism to herpes – “…it’s always there but lies dormant. It comes out with stress or in hospitable environments.” She went on to say that Trump promotes antagonism and division, giving antisemitism opportunity to thrive.

The discussion moved to the issue of having swastikas banned in Australia. Sally said that she’d rather know what’s in front of her, and Deborah agreed, saying that she wanted people to openly condemn the swastika. Dvir stated that the idea was put forward to generate discussion but added, “Make it a hate crime. It’s not just graffiti, it’s done with intent.” Deborah agreed – “There’s no neutrality about a swastika. You must be outraged by them.”

The discussion looped back to ‘veiled’ antisemitism, with Dvir referring to comments of the ‘some of my best friends are Jews’ variety. He wryly noted, “Did you ever hear someone boasting ‘some of my best friends are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants’?” Mic drop.

(Sorry, another tiny-people-but-beautiful-ceiling pic.)

11 responses

  1. I like the sound of the first event. After 20 years in London where EVERYONE is obsessed with class I find it really interesting to be in Perth where the working class seem to be incredibly affluent, no doubt from the mining boom; I know this would blow the minds of all my British friends!

    • Ys, it was certainly an interesting part of the conversation – the ‘working class’ was a common element in the stories but not the most obvious, so made me think about the books in a different way. It’s a theme that is repeated in the book I’m reading at the moment – Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader – the limners are the creators of such fine art, yet are also the ‘workers’, albeit skilled, and are therefore not the ones who enjoy their creations.

  2. I might have gone to the Olsson & Gandolfo event because I like both these authors a lot and (as you know) loved both their books but I have been to hear both of them talk about these books before, Enza in fact, twice. (I blogged the event which was back in June 2018 so the book’s been out a good while). A lot of the MWF programming for LitFic was like that, as in (for me) been there, done that. Getting into the city is so ghastly at the moment, I have to really, really want to do something before I brave the chaos.
    The Spouse went to the Lipstadt event. I wasn’t well enough, alas, because I think she’s an amazing woman and her message is vitally important. He bought the book so I’ll read and review it in due course. (I’ve reviewed Denial, if you are interested in the story of That court case.)

    • I think you can overdose on hearing particular authors, especially when they’re on the circuit promoting their book – what more ‘new stuff’ can they say?!
      I also bought Lipstadt’s new book – I’ll get to it eventually. Did you ever watch the film version of Denial (I think it’s on SBS Ondemand)? Not a patch on the book but interesting now that I’ve seen Lipstadt speak.

      • Yes, ‘overdose’ is a good word to use because you only do it if you love whatever it is.
        I can’t remember seeing the film of Denial, but I remember being deeply engaged with the issue when it was actually occurring (i.e. before the book was written) because the stakes were so high. We cheered when he lost!

  3. The rise of nazi parties and the emboldenment of politicians at the extreme right wing of mainstream – and the undoubted interaction between the two – is extremely troubling. I don’t think right wing Israelis help by labelling all criticism of them as anti-semitic. The expansion of Israel into Palestine via ‘settlements’ is illegal and should be reversed.

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