High Country High

Left Toowoomba with a sense of expectation as we headed south past the tree-lined carpet of purple Jacaranda petals along Ruthven Street. Driving to Glen Innes to the High Country Writers Festival would take 4 hours, but the drive would take us through a few towns brimming with nostalgia, so it was with a sense of expectation about seeing the familiar sights but also anticipating the new. Very little traffic at 7 am on a Saturday morning, so it was a smooth getaway.

Waved to my birthplace of Warwick, then was a little saddened by the number of farms, orchards and businesses that looked decidedly like covid casualties as we travelled into Granite Belt country at Stanthorpe – five years after exchanging our hobby farm at Mt Tully for the suburban life of Toowoomba, I had very mixed emotions.

Wallangarra was little changed, and Tenterfield’s beautiful heritage architecture never fails to delight, so it was a very pleasant place to stop and stretch before continuing the next leg to Glen Innes. The countryside was green and the landscapes very appealing.

Glen Innes is obviously a popular stopping destination judging by the number of motels dotted along its highway entrance and exit, and the wide, wide main shopping street holds plenty of history in its sweep. My chauffeur and LSM (Long Suffering Male) mainstay support easily found our destination – The Book Market. With time to spare before the Festival began, I indulged my passion browsing the shelves and chatting with delightful, quirky owner, Badger, and enjoying the signage, the HUGE range of second-hand and the very reasonable prices. Managed to find Wicked London and Scottish Clans, both in great condition and with a0 nod to my recent overseas foray. On the ‘luring’ table outside I spotted a book I thought LSM would like to add to his family history research collection about the early Victorian goldfields and life for immigrant families such as his Simcocks line……so much for restraint…..and I hadn’t arrived at the festival yet!

Then it was on to The Makers Shed at the end of a quiet block in Grey Street. What a quality addition to the creative artisan scene in the region. Owned and operated by Michael Burge and husband Richard, this duo have created a space not only for showcasing beautiful wares from local artists and producers, including Richard’s beautiful silver jewellery, but also providing an intimate location for writers, book clubbing, a very elite book sales outlet for new releases, and a place for collaboration with the others in the regional writing, reading, storytelling, workshopping realm. It also provides an outlet for Richard’s delicious culinary delights which stem from his considerable chefing background. He was the perfect host…. and the gourmet sandwiches, jam drops and chocolate brownies were a treat.

Michael Burge’s repetoire is large, his influence in writing about homophobia and its impact is considerable and acknowledged by the writing fraternity, (Tank Water and Write Regardless) and his drive and discerning choices for the 4th year of the High Country Writers Festival are spot on. His easy manner and hands-on approach as the Festival Director have created a means of engaging with great presenters and moderators and bringing a regional audience on board. What a result!

It was wonderful to connect to the New England Writers Centre, and prolific children’s writer Sophie Masson (Inside Story) and Lyn from the centre, as well as Michael, are on the Word Fest Toowoomba collaboration radar for our 2023 program. It was also a chance to meet and chat with Ian Wynne about the influence of his South African journalist background on his writing. Was drawn to his work The Seventh Vial and its association with a Palm Island character-intriguing contemporary theme of genetic terrorism. Collaborative local support from the Council has really helped sustain the momentum of the Festival and The Makers Shed activities, and was roundly applauded.

So then it was on to the Community Hub at the other end of the block for the Festival sessions. A well-designed centre for many community activities, with technology on tap, meant the distances for authors from far away places was not an issue……and we, the audience, were entertained by great authors, themes, moderators, and q & a style opportunities. Well done Michael for the program design.

Matthew Condon’s experience as a journo and presenter showed as he moderated the CSI New England session. We heard from Emma Partridge (The Widow of Walcha) and Walkley Award Winner Kate Holden (The Winter Road) about the processes, and the extensive research that went into their work. Fascinating! Just as riveting was the session moderated by Kirsty Reading on the Historical Fiction and the Search for Home of Julie Janson (Benevolence), the counter Indigenous perspective to Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, and the prolific Nicole Alexander’s work on a grazier dynasty’s boom and bust as well as the history of the Murray River paddle steamers (The Last Station). Also fascinating!

The sun was shining on Glen Innes as we came out of the very cool air-conditioning in The Hub, and it was easy to see why so many creative souls enjoy being here.

Armed with a hugely generousal from the Noodle Bar, we hunkered down at the Glenn Innes Motel – LSM admiring the meticulous Pointilist style Emu Dreaming print he had found at the Gawuar Art Gallery and enjoying watching the cricket test. Me? My head was trying to process all that I had done during the day, and of course reading.😃

And so to Sunday – with a little bit of touring to the Standing Stones to stir my strong Celtic heritage, and stopping for cherries and apples at Stanthorpe, my weekend will feel like this burst of joy ……..