Friday, July 06, 2007

Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007

There was a rich concentration of ABC figures, not to mention some truly awesome catering, at the Festival's opening reception this evening at the State Library. The first person I spotted, mainly because he was one of the tallest people in the room, was Ian Henschke from the SA edition of Stateline, who is an extremely old mate from university days, and then that work-horse, war-horse and hardy perennial Phillip Adams -- who worked bloody hard this evening: as a longtime member of the Festival's Advisory Committee he'd fronted dutifully on opening night and then in the car on the way home I heard him conducting a brilliant, at times quite emotional, and apparently live interview with the luminous 26-year-old author and former child soldier from Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier.

Norman Swan was there, and some of the Chaser boys, and the elegant, watchful Peter Mares from The National Interest, who bears an extraordinary resemblance to Australian opera singer David Hobson and whose father Tim taught me 18th-century literature in 1974. (At this point I reflected on the rich layering and lamination of memory involved in attending this kind of cultural event in your home city: here I was at the opening of a Festival of Ideas in the same building in which I used to study after school, and we were about to move a few doors down North Terrace to the campus of my alma mater.)

Premier Mike Rann gave a really excellent speech (note to self: find out who wrote speech, and whether it was the Premier himself) in which he acknowledged the presence and role of the Festival Bloggers, at which Gary Sauer-Thompson, Tim Dunlop and I all looked a bit surprised by the fact that this seemed to elicit none of the usual anti-blog sniggering among the crowd -- so either the tide is turning, or Adelaide is, as usual, a bit ahead in the open-mindedness stakes. The Premier said the sight of the Chaser boys was making him extremely nervous as the last time he'd seen them it was at the ALP National Conference, where one of them had been dressed up as the ghost of Mark Latham and chased him up the Ladder of Opportunity.

We then moved on to Elder Hall, where the first thing that happened was a funny, moving, intricate Welcome to Country by four young Kaurna men who talked, sang, danced and magically conjured up ceremonial fire on the stage, which made me wonder nervously how much the Festival had budgeted for insurance given that Elder Hall is a nineteenth-century warren, very big on wooden staircases and panelling and full of expensive musical instruments.

Then Peter Mares introduced the man to whom this year's Festival is dedicated: Elliott Johnston AO, QC, the dedication 'in acknowledgement of the contribution that he has made in Australia to the pursuit of justice for all under the law, and to achieving equality for all before the law.'

Johnston, frail and elderly but obviously with a firm grip on the occasion, said that when first invited to speak on this opening night he had said he wouldn't, but that the Howard Government's latest intervention into Aboriginal affairs had made him change his mind; a former Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal deaths in custody and before that a colleague of Don Dunstan's in implementing sweeping law reform in South Australia including Aboriginal rights, Johnston performed a briskish fisking of the government's plans and then sat down.

Upon which Peter Mares introduced the five panelists who would be speaking on the subject of China and India and their projected futures, in the festival's first full session: 'The Elephant and the Dragon'. But that should get a proper post of its own. Tomorrow.

If you would like to post a comment on any of these Festival posts but aren't too familiar with blogs yet, just click on the word 'comments' at the end of this post. Choose the 'Anonymous' option, which will save you having to go through a confusing registration process, but it would be nice to sign your name at the end of the comment. Please keep comments civil, and not too long!

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