Almanac Review: Adelaide Writers’ Week 2021 – Powerful Word Fest



For the past three years I have attended Adelaide Writers’ Week. It is  a part of the Adelaide Festival, which includes Womadelaide, and has been occurring for over sixty years. Womadelaide this year was presented in a modified format.


The weather once again did not disappoint with temperatures mid to high 20s for most days and ideal for outdoor events.


Writers’ Week takes place over over six days and is set in the delightful Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, part of Adelaide’s beautiful Park Lands beneath shady trees and awnings. Attendance is free of charge. The site is an excellent setting providing  an ambient atmosphere for stimulating and articulate conversations covering a wide range of topics and books.


Usually writers both nationally and internationally participate in the the program but with Covid this year overseas authors were streamed live onto large screens on both main stages.


Social distancing and other Covid measures were employed and worked effectively with little or no impact on the event. With a limit of around four thousand participants everyone was conscious of doing the right thing.


On two main stages and a couple of smaller event spaces over one hundred separate sessions were scheduled providing a wide, varied and interesting program to select from.


Contemporary issues were the main topic of discussion for most sessions;  many were of a political nature surrounding decisions and actions of governments in areas such as climate change, the environment, and other  social concerns aroused considerable comment and questions from the audiences. With two former Prime Ministers and a former cabinet minister in attendance promoting new books espousing and justifying their particular points of view or positions on controversial events during their time in parliament and since, was certainly welcomed by the many political pundits in the audience. Julia Gillard had a huge crowd for her session ‘Women and Leadership’ and judging by the long queue lined up for her book signing she easily sold the most books at the festival. Her talk on the role of women in leadership roles was enlightening and engaging, speaking so elegantly and knowledgeably on the topic.  I did not attend Malcolm Turnbull’s session but from a distance it was noticeable  he had a good audience. From discussions I heard I assume he spent most of his time justifying positions he adopted as PM. Christopher Pyne was, well, Christopher Pyne!





Don Watson was a visual presentation from interstate but that did not detract from the quality of the session. An erudite writer of wisdom and wit he provided an insight into a lifetime of  diverse and entertaining writing he has created. His stories and accounts of events had me riveted. I rushed out and purchased his $50.00 book Watsonia straight after the session! For me,  he was the highlight of the festival.




One of the fabulous aspects of an event like this are the hidden gems. One such gem was ‘The River Runs Dry’ a look at the Murray-Darling Basin, its catastrophic plight and the devastating findings of the SA Royal Commission. The three presenters were esteemed and well respected members in their relative fields. Richard Beasley was Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, and author of Dead in the Water a humorous, serious, and very, very angry account of his experiences. Margaret Simons, celebrated journalist and author of the Quarterly Essay Cry me a River; and Grant Rigney Director of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations. Each spoke with passion, knowledge and conviction with regards to their concerns about the MDB and had no hesitation in pointing their fingers at those responsible for the calamitous situation. The science is being treated with scant regard by politicians particularly the National Party and has become extremely politicised. As is often the the case, the presenters were speaking to the converted. Powerful session. I bought the book.






‘The Meaning of Money’ session with Rick Morton and Royce Kurmelovs spoke about the issues of living in poverty and the effects that situation had on their own lives. You wish that politicians and government policy makers could attend sessions like this and hear  first hand experiences articulated forthrightly with passion and concern but without anger, just the facts and figures and suggestions how the situation can be remedied. Thought provoking session, again I bought their books.









Geoff Goodfellow is a working-class poet who is not ashamed of his humble beginnings.  His account of how he overcame many of the adversities in his life when he discovered poetry in his mid 20s was enlightening. From the school of hard-knocks, he is a loud, boisterous conveyor of the nitty-gritty of life and he tells his story well both in poetry and prose. An entertaining session about growing up in a working-class suburb.  Although not as widely known as many of the authors participating this year, he was gratified by the fact he has sold over forty thousand copies of his books worldwide, far better than many of the  so-called ‘best selling authors’ in attendance he proudly, and cheekily, boasted. Bought the book!





Jenny Hocking emeritus professor at Monash University is a distinguished historian who for many years battled for the release of the ‘Palace Papers’, the correspondence that occurred between the Palace and Governor-General Sir John Kerr, with regards to the sacking of the Whitlam Government in 1975. Her talk was both captivating and intriguing, and she had the audience spellbound with her revelations of the going ons in the background leading up to the dismissal of Whitlam. Definitely time for a republic!




ABC journalist and author Louise Milligan presented a powerful and compelling account of her  experience as a witness in the Cardinal Pell case. To hear  her first hand account of the unrelenting and  intimidating pressure administered by high profile defence counsel to her in the witness stand was outrageous and appalling. Her book strongly advocates a change to the adversarial system and its impact on the delivery of justice in our courts such as she encountered. Louise Milligan left her audience numbed by the confrontational nature of her time in the witness box. Gripping!


Two of the countries foremost political journalists, Laura Tingle from the ABC, and Katharine Murphy from The Guardian examined the state of leadership in Australia during their session, ‘Wither Australian Leadership?’. The state of leadership in Australia certainly came under strong fire, particularly with all  the sexual allegations arising in Canberra over the past week or so had both journalists in their element discussing all aspects occurring in the Canberra ‘bubble’.



It was wonderful to finally meet the legendary ‘Rulebook’ in person with a coffee and chat at the nearby cafe by the Torrens River. And I bought his book!



I also caught up with another legend at Writers’ Week, Brian Wise, presenter of ‘Off the Record’ on 3RRR, publisher of Rhythms magazine, and leader of many tours to New Orleans for JazzFest. We discussed the possibility of going to JazzFest later in the year where the event has been re-scheduled. Time will tell on this one.



For further information about Writers’ Week check out their website HERE.



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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. Thanks Colin.

    I found the Geoff Goodfellow book to be a really good read on growing up in the working class suburbs.

  2. Great stuff Colin. Will put the Rick Morton & Geoff Goodfellow books on the reading list. Brian Wise is a national treasure. Rhythms Magazine and Off the Record have guided my listening for decades.
    Must get back to the old home town once Covid and the old Labrador pass.

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    Thanks Colin. I should have given it more consideration. I now regret not attending as it would have been my first. Missed WOMADelaide this year as well, no decent seats left by the time I got around to investigating. Still a bit reluctant around crowds.

  4. Nicole Kelly says

    Thanks for the overview, Colin. It sounded like a great event and so diverse.
    I have just finished Julia Gillard’s book ‘Women and Leadership’ and it was a fabulous read – would have been great to be able to listen to her!
    Enjoy getting through your expanded To Be Read pile!

  5. Sounds like you had a blast, Col.

    We are well past overdue for a republic.

  6. Wonderful, Col. Just sent the passage and the book cover on the Murray Darling disaster to a former colleague and her son who is farming in southern NSW. He has just published an article on the social and economic consequences of current policy settings.
    So much more to read, learn and inwardly digest, thanks very much.

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