If you’re not vigorously pencilling dates in your diary to got to see your favourite Aussie and Kiwi writers, historians,singers and actors, you obviously aren’t aware of the upcoming Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature & Arts, which is being held for the first time ever in London, from May 29-June 1 at King’s College.Produced by Amphora Arts, the four-day programme is packed with cultural treats and, according to festival director Jon Slack, should be a hit with Antipodeans and Londoners alike. “This is more than an occasion for expats; there will truly be something for everyone,” Slack explains.“Established names and rising talents in the fields of literature, history, music, dance, travel, art and film will explore what Australia and New Zealand mean both to people living here and to those back home, not to mention our very deep historical links with Britain. Indigenous writing and cultural issues will be featured from both countries as well, ranging from traditional storytelling through to the exciting work being produced by indigenous writers today.”

Highlights from the festival include a solo performance from BAFTA award-winning Australian singer/songwriter Emily Barker, a series of theatre performances from Aussie and Kiwi writers, and historian Ross McMullin discussing the build up to WWI and the impact of the Great War on Australian and New Zealand national identity.

TNT speaks to some of the festival’s participants about Antipodean culture,what inspires them, and their top picks for the event…

Emily Barker
Singer/songwriter Emily Barker explains that Australia can provide a great deal of inspiration…
“I’m from a small country town in the south-west of Australia called Bridgetown. I grew up on a farm by a river called The Blackwood with three siblings and no television. To entertain ourselves, we rode horses through the bush and our mum taught us how to harmonise and play a few chords on the family guitar. We’d sit around and play old folk songs and sing together,” Barker says. “I started to sing publicly when I was 14 years old and auditioned for the Year 9 band. I struck a deal with the only other musicians in the school at the time: they played metal, and so it was agreed I would sing Metallica covers if they played Aretha Franklin songs. So it made for quite an, er, ‘interesting’ set! That was the beginning.” For Barker, the festival is a chance to talk about the meanings, inspiration and literature behind some of her songs. “For me, one of the primary challenges of songwritingis to try to convey a message, story, emotion or experienceinto such a condensed format,” she explains. “What you choose to leave out is as vital as what you include, and I guess the song is only successful if you manage to get your message across clearly. So to be able to go into more detail about where the songs have come from will be a gratifying thing for me to do and, hopefully, an interesting thing for people to hear about. I think it’s only really festivals like this that give writers and musicians the opportunity to present their work in such a different and interesting way.“Since leaving Australia 11 years ago with a backpack and a desire to see the world, I’ve been very preoccupied with the idea of ‘home’,” she continues. “My latest record, ‘Dear River’, explores this theme most fully and a lot of the songs are set in, or inspired by, Australia. ‘Dear River’ felt like a very important record for me to write in that it helped me define what home meant to me. It also felt important politically as there are quite a few songs on the album that talk about the history of colonisation and the continued oppression of Indigenous people in Australia. I think this subject is important for the rest of the world to know about.” And who is she looking forward to seeing at the event? “I’m a big fan of Tim Winton. In fact his book, Dirt Music, inspired one of my songs, ‘Disappear’, so I’m really looking forward to seeing him talk.”  

See Emily Barker: Books Beneath the River on Saturday May 31, 5.30pm-6.30pm

Zoe Caldwell
Zoe Caldwell is the co-founder of theatre company IronBark. For Caldwell, the upcoming festival is the perfect setting to promote Australian culture in the UK. 
“We set up IronBark over here to represent Australia in the UK, and we have come on board with the festival to curate the theatre side of things,” she explains. “Our programme will be at the Bush Theatre on the Friday and Saturday the week before the festival. We focus on Australian playwrights, so we have hooked up with another company called Shaky Isles, which is a New Zealand company, so they are going to help bring on board the New Zealand side as well.”Although IronBark isn’t announcing any of its items at this stage, Caldwell reveals that lots of different writers have been given the theme ‘Going Bush’ to interpret however they like, and that festivals-goers will have a mixture of Antipodean and UK talent to entertain them.“We’ve been working with Jon Slack for a while, and that is why he brought us on board. Although we do focus on Aussie writers, we also have a bit of a network of people who are based here and use local cast and crew, so we are merging Australia with London,” Caldwell explains.“We had this desire to get Australia’s work out over here because it isn’t produced as much as maybe it should be. English is a common language, so it should translate, but we feel that it is quite lacking and wanted to try to have conversations about why that is the case,” she adds.Caldwell explains that there is a unique feel to Australian writers, who tend to draw their inspiration from Australia itself – using the country’s stunning scenery to create a variety of stories. “I am being general here, but Aussie writing and stories are very much a part of the land, and to do with the land, and that is where they come from. Sometimes that knowledge of the land doesn’t always translate, so maybe that is hard to imagine [for people who aren’t from Australia],” she says.“There’s a huge number of people from Australia and New Zealand here, and in the theatre I work with a lot of people who have come to the UK from Australia to expand their horizons – there is a real thirst for it. There are some amazing stories that are being told and written by Australians that I think should be heard over here. People from back home will relate to them and want to hear those stories – and importantly, people who aren’t from Australia or New Zealand should hear these stories too, because it isn’t just parochial people writing about their back gardens, it is people who are writing stories about big stuff and important issues.” 

See IronBark presents Going Bush on May 23-24 at The Bush Theatre bushtheatre.co.uk 

Ross McMullin
Ross McMullin is a historian and biographer who will be giving a talk based around his book Farewell, Dear People.
“The hackneyed notion that Australia has a limited culture still seems prevalent to some extent in Britain, and correcting this impression through events such as this festival is certainly worthwhile,” explains McMullin. “With such acclaimed writers as Anna Funder, Helen Garner and Tim Winton involved, it’s obvious that the festival has secured novelists of the highest renown. My session on WWI includes the remarkably prolific historian Paul Ham; having not previously met Paul, I’m looking forward to doing so at the festival.”  At the event, McMullin is keen to catch the ‘Stories from the Past’ session featuring Anna Funder and ML Stedman, as well as the talk, ‘Antarctica: Truth and Legend’. “One of the biographies in Farewell, Dear People tells the story of Robert Bage, a talented engineer who distinguished himself during Mawson’s expedition to Antarctica shortly before WWI. As a result, I was asked to chair a session on Antarctica at last year’s Sydney Writers Festival, where one of the speakers was Jesse Blackadder, who has written an interesting novel about women venturing to Antarctica. Jesse is involved in the Aus/NZ festival session on Antarctica, and it will be splendid to catch up with her.”

See Farewell, Dear People: Forging of ANZ identity in the Great War with Ross McMullin along with Paul Ham and Lord David Owen on Friday May 30 and 11.30am-12.30pm

The Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts takes place May 29-June 1. Most events are being held at King’sCollege London, Strand Campus, WC2R 2LS. Tickets start from £10per event, £45 for a day, or £110 for all three days. See the websitefor the full schedule ausnzfestival.com

Photo by Adam Shamsul, www.ivereadthat.com