Arts & Culture

The simple plan that gave life to Jugiong Writers’ Festival

Edwina Mason24 May 2021
Attendees at Jugiong Memorial Hall for Jugiong Writers' Festival

Jugiong Memorial Hall has always been filled to the gunnels with booklovers from near and far who travel to the village for its biennial writers’ festival. Photo: Visit Jugiong.

It’s almost impossible to fathom the genesis of Jugiong Writers’ Festival, a biennial event that celebrates reading, writing and really good fun in the inviting little village just 90 minutes down the Hume Highway from Canberra.

Just one person, one idea and several conversations is how the shroud was lifted off the lives of several locals – to their delight – exposing a conclave of published writers living within 50km of each other near Gundagai.

Vivien Thomson and Di Morrissey at 2015 Jugiong Writers' Festival

Vivien Thomson (left) with author Di Morrissey at the 2015 Jugiong Writers’ Festival. Photo: Vivien Thomson.

Vivian Thomson of Muttama tells the story: “This lovely lady from Jugiong, Joy Coggan, had a secondhand book store and knew about all these authors. She said, ‘Well come down and sell your books, I’m having a big day in Jugiong.’

“And that’s how it all started. We all knew each other, but we didn’t know we were all writers.”

That was in 2013 and the second annual Jugiong Book Fair featured four authors: Vivien – a noted rural firefighter – who had penned Ashes of the Firefighters, a book documenting the journey of nine people after experiencing a major bushfire; her neighbour, Freda Marnie Nicholls, the biographic author of Back of Beyond, Love Sweat & Tears and The Amazing Mrs Livesey: The Remarkable Story of Australia’s Greatest Imposter; Stevi James with her novel, A Black Rose for the Angels’ Share; and Peter Luders who’d written Gundagai and the Land of the Two Rivers.

All it took was a post-fair cup of tea at The Long Track Pantry, shared publishing anecdotes, and a longing to do something collaborative and the writers’ festival was conceived, financed in part by an Author’s Roast dinner featuring the local authors who were grilled on their books by guests.

Jugiong Writers’ Festival kicked off in March 2015 because that’s when the joint committee decided Jugiong was at its shimmering autumnal best. The the late Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer officiated it.

Featured during the two days was bestselling author Rebecca James, crime novelist Sulari Gentill, and Charles Bean biographer Peter Rees. Writers also had the opportunity to have their manuscripts assessed by editor Nicola O’Shea.

From little things: it was over a cup of tea at The Long Track Pantry that the writers festival was conceived. Photo: Vivien Thomson.

Since then, Jugiong Writers’ Festival has featured an encouraging line up of regional authors and some big names such as Stan Grant, Di Morrissey, Bill Gammage, Paul Daley, Margareta Osborn and Pip Courtney who have discussed their books, run workshops and then made merry in a village-fair style environment in Jugiong Memorial Park.

“You’d almost call it a boutique writers’ festival … we now have writers who call us asking when they can come,” says Vivien. “But we’ve always capped it because we didn’t ever want the festival to be too big.

“The feedback we’ve always had from participating writers is that the intimate nature of the festival, which is so community oriented, is much nicer and more collaborative [than larger ones].”

However, the ranks of the event’s organising committee have continued to swell, including Gillian Ingall, whose area of interest spawned The Invitation – a Tale of Greed, Adultery and Political Turmoil and Napoleon’s Glass. There’s also Jenny Glazebrook, who writes inspirational fiction for young adults, including the six novels in her Aussie Sky Series about an ex-circus family, their horses and the lives they touch.

Hugh McMaster Memorial Windmill in Jugiong Memorial Park

The Hugh McMaster Memorial Windmill in Jugiong Memorial Park will be the scene of poetry readings and performances on Sunday, 23 May, as part of the 2021 Jugiong Writers’ Festival. Photo: Supplied.

Also on the organising committee is Rochelle Llewelyn Nicholls, whose passion for sports led her to tell the story of Australia’s first pro baseballer in Joe Quinn: Among the Rowdies.

The late Catherine Bragg continues to inspire future generations of poets through her namesake poetry competition at the festival.

This year’s event on 22-23 May is themed ‘Bringing it to Light’ and takes a COVID-19 turn with a program consisting of pre-booked workshops for emerging and mid-career writers, and ‘Sunday Under the Windmill’, which will feature performed poetry readings from Canberra’s lord of performance poetry, Andrew Galan.

Winners of the Catherine Bragg Poetry Competition and Jugiong Writers’ Festival’s Short Story Competition will also be announced on the Sunday, their works published in a festival anthology.

Behind the scenes is a mentoring program run in local high schools by author Jane Carroll.

“I went along was gobsmacked at how engaged those kids were,” says Vivien. “I was amazed at the amount of talent that had emerged in that short time.”

For Vivien, her involvement in the festival has morphed into other creative pursuits.

“It’s amazing because I’m now got caught up in this art world,” she says. “I wrote a little book because I was cranky about something and now I’m painting with wool … it’s put a whole new framework around our community.”

For more information, visit the 2021 Jugiong Writers’ Festival website.

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