The Cairns Tropical Writers Festival presented a spectacular program last weekend to compensate for the disappointing delays and rescheduling due to the pandemic. The team, the volunteers and the leadership of Jules Steer all combined to offer a diverse and exciting program to the eager local audiences and to the flyins like myself.

The allure of time in the tropical north Queensland region was strong and as you can see by the outstanding lineup of nationally recognised authors, there were not many who passed up the chance.

How do you choose? Between my community conscious host Anne, an ex-boss and previous Festival mover and shaker, Ross Clark, and a couple of local authors I had the pleasure of meeting and workshopping with on a previous visit, I had plenty of sound advice to help my choosing.

My respect for Anita Jacoby’s track record and expertise as a producer and tv current affairs initiator was increased after hearing her in conversation with Kirsty Nancarrow. It was great to start off the festival on such a high note – what inspiring women in their fields. The room soon filled up.

Then the wonderful disabilty advocates Carly Findlay and Dr Dinesh Palipana. Wow! What a privilege to be in the same room as them.

I absolutely love the tributes Carly gives to her angel of a mother and how close they are through thick and thin. The positive vibes in the room were electric……and the sales of their books I am sure would have soared!

Then it was good to see a few more men join Tony Park’s Session to hear about his writing journey and highlight animal trafficking in Africa and travels around the world.

Alongside the sessions so beautifully manned by the volunteers in The Pullman Conference Centre rooms, were the author displays, book signing tables and the Cairns Independent Bookshop sales corner with its piles of the books of the visiting authors.

We needed time to process the first three sessions, so we headed over the road to the Casino for a quick bite and a natter…..always good to hear the perspectives of others who heard the same authors.

Then it was back for more. Sasha Sarago left an indelible impression on me from her shared story of beauty and the impact on women of colour in making their story a positive lived experience. Her inner beauty shone brightly. I am reconsidering the question of cultural appropriation in the world of fashion after listening to and hearing Sasha’s messages.

Yes, we are definitely in the Tropics!

Sasha Sarago and Jules Steer – Festival Team President

Then came Jane Caro in conversation with Nicole Aberdee……and a great yarn about Jane’s book The Mother. My gracious host, Anne had loaned me her copy of the book when I arrived in Cairns and I was able to finish it before I flew back to Brisbane on Monday. Delving into DV, the grief of the loss of a life partner and the issues around mothering and being a mother stretched to breaking point. The Mother is an easy but thought-provoking read. Jane as always is an energised person to listen to.

What a delight to end the Saturday program with The First Nations panel and information session on The Voice and the Qld Treaty Bill which was presented in Parliament on Wednesday. What a wonderful mix of youth with Samara Jose, lived political experience and current committee member of The Treaty, Sallyanne Atkinson, and National Proponent of The Voice, Thomas Mayo…..and it was exciting for me to have Joanne Schmeider chair the discussion – an education colleague from the 80s and 90s, it was great to see her continued involvement.

What a first day! And there was more to come. My activist hosts Anne and Ian champagned our way through the throng eagerly anticipating an entertaining night over dinner (very enjoyable) with great MC and muso David Hudson, a fabulous local Welcome to Country, and the ever-popular Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabbe. Such a smile-popping night! Those of us who had come to a fair distance was certainly not disappointed – it was a totally engaging night of storytelling and fun.

And so to Sunday’s program.

A more subdued crowd, again predominantly women, gathered ready for a feast of storytelling on Sunday.

Anne and I headed into the advertised session of Nikki Gammell with Jane Caro with an open mind. Not disappointed. Nikki tends to polarise readers, but this session gave an insight into her beyond her writing, and we both felt a different attitude by the end of the session – and perhaps Jane Caro’s praise and accommodating interviewing style had a lot to do with it.

The Green Team really did a great job, reflecting the tropics. Our Word Fest Toowoomba aprons are yellow….representing Sunshine on the Downs. Aprons are obviously the go-to festival attire.

Having thrown a dart at the options for the next session, I was treated to the history of the law and law coutrs in Cairns by Bev Reaston, and the process of collaborating with an editor when Bev and Claire shared their journey in publishing the non-fiction work. This is a beautifully crafted work, designed for a specialist audience.

Then, local author and distinguished Doctor, Caroline de Costa regaled us with tales of her diverse life advocating for women’s health and her murder mystery series featuring local tropical landscapes and an interesting detective who happens to be Aboriginal. Of course, it was down to the bookshop to check these out! A fascinating woman who has made outstanding contributions in her field. Now a regal 80-year-old, Caroline is a ball of energy as she continues to develop her series. She strikes me as a tropical Ann Cleeves. 😀

We replenished our fuel intake by slipping away to The Chambers Bistro……fittingly reflecting the previous session. Highly recommend the interesting menu choice and combinations of ingredients.

I was determined not to miss Chris Hammer’s session, as I have relinquished going to @Words Out West in Dalby where he is also appearing, and which is only an hour’s drive from home in Toowoomba, in favour of the considerable travel to get to Cairns. A one-hour drive to Ipswich, then 1.5 hours of train travel to the domestic airport to the Jetstar Friday Frenzy cheap return deal 2-hour flight, then hosts driving 20 minutes from Smithfield to collect me from the airport, and the reverse to get home again. The inordinate amount of pleasure this Tropical Writers Festival has given me outweighs all the travel time…..hope Anne feels the same as my very much appreciated driver in Cairns.

Chris Hammer’s session was a ripper. What a phoenix to rise from so many journalistic and publishing setbacks. And his first novel Scrublands has just gone into screen production. Great news! I won’t need to go to Dalby now. I got a speeding ticket coming home from the last one, so a repeat of that has been averted.

Needing a bit of downtime I was walking up the stairs when who should be coming down were Sam Woodgarth and Mila Douglas – local debut authors and now friends after a previous editing workshop together. What a treat! Needless to say Sam attracted loads of attention. 😀 Happenstance is real! Best wishes for the success of both debut novels……..Dragon Skin 1 …. I have pre-ordered on Amazon. You can keep up with Sam on https://pagancatpublishing.com/ and Mila’s proof copy of Dancer at the End of His Bed is soon going to be a page-turner.

And then suddenly it was the final session of the Festival. 

Grace Tame – a very interesting ride through her life, her Autism and ADHD labels, her time as Australian of the Year and THAT famous facial expression standing beside PM Scott Morrison. A roller coaster ride for the audience as well.

So it was back to the bookshop to choose books for my family back home, filling my tote bag and trying to look hopeful at the airport weigh-in. Only 1 kilo over. Thankfully the thoughts I was loaded with from such a well-planned and presented festival didn’t count on the scales!

Congratulations to EVERYONE involved in such a successful festival. I have learnt a lot and will take stock for our own festival to come. Thanks especially to Val Schier for her time and shared knowledge.

Keep an eye out for the next Cairns Tropical Writers Festival in 2025.