Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A tale of two trips: Perth and Castlemaine

I recently visited Western Australia for the Perth Writers Festival. You can read my reflections on language and festivals in today's West Australian, in 'Gift of literary moonshine'.

But I'll say a few words about my panels, which were illuminating and entertaining (for me, at least).

Men talk about happiness, Perth 22/2/13
First up was a panel on happiness, with Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking and Geoff Gallop, ex-WA Premier and Sydney University scholar.

Oliver and Geoff were far more informed about happiness than I, but we all agreed that chasing it doggedly is a fool's quest.

The chat was hosted by Late Night Live host Phillip Adams, who interviewed me recently about Philosophy in the Garden. You can listen to the session on 'happiness' on ABC Radio National on Thursday 7th March, 10pm (or as a podcast).

I also spoke on a panel with poet David Morley and novelist Stephen Scourfield: 'Landscapes of the Imagination'. This was a blast. As I write in the Western Australian, David and Stephen are erudite and sensitive devotees of the landscape, and it was a real pleasure to listen to their words and reflections.

I also visited Christ Church Grammar School, where I gave a short tutorial on Nietzsche to some very bright (and enormous) high school students.

After years of correspondence (between Melbourne and London then Melbourne and Brisbane), I met novelist Susan Johnson, though far too briefly. (Next time, Susan, in Jerusalem Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide.)

I also had a good long conversation, over a take-away cuppa, with fellow philosopher Tim Soutphommasane.

Chatting to James Meek was a pleasure, too, after reading his fine London Review of Books journalism. (I've just begun his new novel, The Heart Broke In.)

Anita Heiss tells me I jogged past her on the Swan river. (I was, like, totally in the zone.)

Mr. Cthulhu, the Swan river jellyfish
Perth itself was not radically different to other Australian capitals, but the Swan river was a revelation: an enormous, brackish snake, filled with jellyfish and pufferfish.

The kids complained regularly and loudly about the Perth water, which was chalky. (I didn't mind, as long as it was copious and cold.)

Goofy but wet and happy
Speaking of water, one of my highlights was swimming in the Indian ocean at Fremantle's Bathers Beach. Only a small cove, it was still sublime to throw myself, after so much shuttling and ferrying, into the water's gritty thuds.

The kids also had a ball, being pummelled by the waves, coughing up a lung, then yelling (over the noise of the surf) for more.


Yapping at the
Castlemaine library
Today we returned from Castlemaine, in northern Victoria's goldfield's region.

I gave a reading last night at the Castlemaine Library, 'Emily Dickinson: The acres of perhaps', from Philosophy in the Garden.

The audience had some excellent comments and questions, including notes on Dickinson's room in Amherst, and the origins of Dickinson's privative behaviour. (I also answered this for  The Velvet Nap.)

I failed to answer one question, on Dickinson and epilepsy. Instead, I spoke about writers' use of ailments (real and imagined) to gain solitude. It's a good question, and biographer Lyndall Gordon's take is here. Sometimes I get distracted..

Sophia drawing with her
characteristic intensity
Nikos and Sophia enjoyed Castlemaine, particularly its slow, spacious atmosphere. They did some lovely drawings at Castlemaine's art gallery, which has a fantastic collection of Victorian and Edwardian paintings, as well as some works by Rick Amor (whose work I really dig).

Nikos climbing with his
usual diffidence
We dropped into an Italian cafe, Origini's, which had everything we needed: coffee, cheese, grilled vegetables, cakes, old trees (to climb) and pebbles (to build with).

I also met writer Julia Stirling, a Castlemaine local, and we chatted about the craft and business of writing--Julia told me Brett Whiteley referred to art as "a difficult pleasure".

Oh, yes.

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