Gonzo Meets the Press #7 May 19,2011
It was the week where women took centre stage in Australia and proved to the world, as if
we needed proof, that they are now wearing the pants on the literary
The Sydney Writers’ Festival, one of the largest gathering of authors on the planet, kicked off proceedings in a packed Sydney
Theatre, with the miracle of Fatima.
Fatima Bhutto is a miracle because she is still alive and well and living in Karachi, when she’s not addressing the
Sydney Writers’ Festival and blasting the Pakistan government and its
relationship with the US. She’s also survived an epidemic of violence and
political killings of members of her family: she’s the niece of the assassinated
Pakistan leader, Benazir Bhutto; the daughter of Murtaza Bhutto, an MP, who was
killed by police outside the family home in Karachi; and the granddaughter of
the Pakistan president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was executed on the orders of
the military ruler, General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.
But the family history has not stopped the author from telling it like it is about Pakistan and the United
States. In her address, A Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Ms Bhutto
accuses Pakistan of a “fundamental lack of justice, an absence of transparency,
and an overwhelming violence conducted and condoned by the State.”
She doesn’t let America off the hook either; claiming 2000 Pakistani civilians had
been killed in US drone attacks since President Obama took office. She’s also
critical of the US raid which killed Osama bin Laden. She says: “If President
Obama’s 9-minute speech of celebration reminded you of George W. Bush with
better diction, you are not alone.” Here’s a link to a podcast of her speech: http://www.swf.org.au/
Another overseas author making waves at the Festival is novelist, Aminatta Forna, who was born in
Scotland but bred in Sierra Leone, and is supporting a controversial move to
establish an Australian version of Britain’s Orange Prize for women’s fiction.
She told The Australian: “All literary prizes have restrictions on them. Americans can’t win the Booker, for example, so why not a prize just for
women? It is highlighting something good.”
The move by a group of Australian women writers and publishers was prompted by the Miles Franklin award having an
all-male shortlist for the second time in three years. Forna’s new novel,
The Memory of Love, is shortlisted for this year’s Orange Prize. It’s a
tale about love, friendship and evil in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s civil
war in the 1990s, which left more than 50,000 dead.
Like Fatima Bhutto, Aminatta Forna lost her father to a repressive regime. A doctor turned political
activist, he was hanged in 1975 on charges of treason against Sierra Leone. I
hope the campaign to set up a prize for Australian women is successful — my
suggestion for a title: The Green and Gold.
Another woman, Lenore Taylor, was the best of a stellar panel of political commentators and one former politician
in a Festival session called A Good Leader is Hard to Find. Taylor, the national
affairs correspondent of The Sydney Morning Herald, was also the only
woman on the panel, but I don’t think this was a case of gender bias!
One of her good lines was that Labor’s asylum seeker policy was “TBC, to be confirmed.
The details are not hammered out. It’s a policy that’s still a work in progress”
so that the government can appeal to both sides of the debate. The audience of
approximately 1600 people (that’s not a typo, it was a big crowd) in Sydney’s
Town Hall gave her plenty of generous applause during the 90-minute plus
Former NSW Premier Bob Carr also had a good response when asked if he
could name a political leader people can trust. He said the relationship between
the people and politicians is based on distrust and dissatisfaction. “It’s the
job of the people to be disillusioned and it’s the job of politicians to
disillusion them,” said the former politician.
And the moderator (which the SWF call a “facilitator,” an ugly word), Kerry O’Brien, had one of the funniest
comments, when in discussing the validity of four-year fixed terms, said “going
forward,” and immediately berated himself: “Oh my God, I said going forward,” to
much laughter in the Town Hall. It was an aside dear to my heart, if you
remember my blog (21/4/2011): Cliches: The Test of Time.”
George Megalogenis and Barrie Cassidy were also good, and Bob Ellis had his moments,
but the combination of his mumbling and a microphone problem meant I couldn’t
hear him half the time (and I was in the front row!). And yes, I am a fan of Bob
And if I may end on a personal note, a friend and former colleague at
the Sunday Program, Ann Buchner, bade a loving farewell to her husband,
Dr Tony Roach, a 48-year-old award-winning scientist and a world-class
photographer (and father of three beautiful young daughters), in a magnificent
eulogy at his funeral this week in Sydney.
It reminded me of the tribute paid by The Australian’s national affairs correspondent, Jenni Hewett, to
her husband, Peter Ruehl, a long-time columnist at the Australian Financial
Review a little over a month ago. Both eulogies were warm, witty, and
lovingly accurate descriptions of their husbands, who were taken from them far
too soon. To update the old saying, behind every great man, it seems, stands an
eloquent woman, capable of doing it all … and delivering brave and beautiful
tributes in the face of overwhelming grief. It’s a profile in courage their
children will never forget.
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have been