Bendigo Writer’s Festival 2016

IMG_0425This weekend was the Bendigo Writer’s Festival, and I attended three events that were all worthy of spending my money on (something I’m not good at doing often). I’ve forgotten how satisfying it is to sit and listen to someone else’s insight and get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a successful writer, journalists or presenter, even just someone who’s produced something. On the Saturday I missed out on seeing ‘Knowledge is Power’ because the session was full, so my good friend also keen to soak up something new came along to ‘Stories in the Dark’ at the Ulumburra Theatre where we literally sat for 50 minutes in the dark and listened to a part-documentary, part-story telling audio clip. There were sounds and voices to accompany scenes and dialogue and even though I still think Australian writing is often quite dry and discusses the same things, it was still good to hear other perspectives and be inspired to do the same.

‘Still Sassy’ with feminist writer Anne Summers was on Sunday morning, and it was based on points she brought up in her 1975 book ‘Damned Whores and God’s Police’ that were, sadly, still prevalent today. Summers spoke about how men need to learn to accept women as peers rather than their counterparts and that we should change the way we learn about each other rather than distorting differences. She also insisted for women to feel that they are equal to men through the reinvention of our relationships in the areas that are lacking in order to see any significant progress. I entirely agreed with her, as women are a function of the universe in the same way as men are, or an animal is, even a plant. What separates us is entirely physical and remains insignificant in comparison to actual personality, emotion and ability! As Summers said, it’s depressing that this disparity still exists and women deserve to finally be free of violence and unwanted sexualisation and to feel as if they can make their own choices about things.

Overall, it’s important that today’s women are being put into influential roles so that others are inspired or find even an inch of enthusiasm and confidence as a result. For this balance to occur, we are to find a healthy connection and mutual respect between genders. Even 40 years after the book, Summers experienced a passive rejection in a letter in regards to funding for women’s refuges in Australia from the current government, and added that our Liberal party is largely male dominated (this won’t change now for a generation.) It is sad that it’s not more balanced, as we need to inspire fellow humans to be what they want to be despite their differences. Seems as if these kinds of ideas have been discussed repeatedly and have almost become cliché, but it’s so simple and definitely hasn’t reflected any real change.

It was good to hear an older woman’s perspective about equality, as I’m sick and tired of the brutal, sadistic and distorted sexualised nature of girls my age claiming to be ‘feminists’ but are only creating more of a gap.

At the Bendigo Writer’s Festival on Sunday afternoon, writer of ‘Beyond Belief’ Hugh Mackay spoke to the community about the significant presence of religion all round the world and how it has transformed dramatically in a modern era. Mackay begun listing statistics that he featured in his novel about the prevalence of Christianity in Australia; “61% of Australian’s identify as Christian, but 8% are attending church,” “68% of Australians declare belief in ‘God’ or some higher power” and that “88% of a society generally accept a church in their neighbourhood.”

Since our world has been through a massive shift of individualism and materialism, religion has become more opposed to a modern world. Although, in some regions, religion has been buried so deeply in their history, traditions and stories and will struggle to cease to exist. One reason why religion will survive is because of a strong sense of tribal identity and community and when faith is ‘healthy’ it can strengthen culture and connections. He defined a ‘healthy’ faith as a belief in something closer to ourselves and something that is human rather than a higher power or figure that is greater than us or unachievable (people have realised this over time and are more hesitant to believe so literally in teachings.) “It’s like asking Superman to give you flying lessons,” he said, “he knows how, but you never will.”

Mackay spoke about the ideas in religion, particularly Christianity, that were being rejected because of a realist attitude in society and describes how spirituality and belief has been more recently directed towards the self. As it is in our biological destiny to be in a community, Mackay encouraged a new stance on faith and religion; “faith is not about certainty, it’s about recognising you have to put it in something larger than yourself.” “Most people’s views are dogmatic. I’m not interested in what you believe in, but more what you put your faith in, and does that faith hope for a better world?”

Often, people strongly following religion aren’t always acting morally and Mackay referred to the government current treatment of refugees and Bendigo’s refusal of the mosque; “we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t cooperate. People should be able to feel religiously at home and if we do that for them, then it’ll be easy for refugees and Muslims to integrate and then feel accepted. If we deny them that, we are going against all we want for ourselves.”

Mackay closed his talk stating that beliefs are acting as barriers between people and should be more about aspiring for peace – “we all just want a better world for ourselves.”

 

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