Monday musings on Australian literature: Northern Territory Writers’ Centre

Back in June, I wrote a post on the ACT Writers Centre, and indicated then that I would gradually write about other state centres. So, today I am writing about the other pseudo-state aka territory centre, the Northern Territory Writers’ Centre. I’ve chosen this as my second one because I think the Northern Territory is often overlooked in terms of cultural activity – and yet, there’s clearly quite a lot going on in this region.

On its website, the NT Writers’ Centre describes its goals:

The NT Writers Centre encourages vibrant literary activity in the Northern Territory, developing and supporting writers in all genres at all stages of their careers. We value quality NT writing as a unique component of Australia’s literary wealth and recognise Indigenous writers and storytellers as a core component of this.

Its main activities are:

  • NT Writers’ Festival, its “cornerstone event”, which alternates between Darwin & Alice Springs
  • Territory Read, its biennial book awards
  • Andrew McMillan Memorial Residency and Eco House Residency, which are two writers residencies
  • Workshops and other events

NT Writers’ Festival

This year the Festival was held in Alice Springs, in May. Its theme was Crossings/Iwerre-atherre (with Iwerre-atherre being an Arrernte, word for “two roads meeting, neither blocking nor erasing the other; two-way learning or travelling together.” Speakers included Kim Mahood and Bruce Pascoe (both of whom I’ve reviewed on my blog), plus many indigenous and other writers (including Indonesian writer, Agustinus Wibowo.) A lovely diverse line-up.

Olive Pink Botanic Garden

Olive Pink Botanic Garden

This year they also, for the first time, shared festival sessions via live streaming to “libraries and other venues across the NT.” A great initiative, but I wonder how successful this was – technologically, I mean.

Many of the events were held in the gorgeous Olive Pink Botanic Garden, which I’ve visited a couple of times. One event, for example, was titled “Up with the Birds: Poetry readings at the café”. I reckon I could have made that, as it wasn’t too early at 8am! The poets were Anthony Lawrence, Meg Mooney, Bruce Pascoe, Kaye Aldenhoven, and the poems were apparently about “how our feathered companions have crossed the hearts and minds of poets.”

Territory Read (and other literary prizes)

These are biennial awards, with the next ones due in 2018. They are not wealthy awards, with the total prize money offered in 2016 being $9000, and are only offered for works by NT residents. The awards are:

  • Chief Minister’s Book of the Year Award: can be won by a book in any genre. The 2016 prize of $5000 was won jointly by Clare Atkins for Nona and Me (published by Black Inc.) and Mary Anne Butler for Highway of Lost Hearts (published by Currency Press)
  • Best Non-Fiction: for non-fiction prose: for any non-fiction prose work.
  • Best Young Adult or Children’s Fiction: for a published book in either genre, and they say that if a picture book wins, the prize money is split between author and illustrator.

The Writers Centre supports or contributes to other literary competitions, including, for example, the Darwin Poetry Cup. In fact, from reading their site, and searching the ‘net, I sense that poetry is quite a going thing in the Territory. Australian Poetry, for example, supports (or, has supported) a Cafe Poet residency in the above-mentioned Olive Pink Botanic Garden.

Writers Residencies

The two residencies they offer are:

  • the Eco House Residency at the Darwin Botanical Gardens which is for “all writers outside Darwin” and is a three-week residency which involves staying in “an old-style elevated house” inside the Gardens.
  • the Andrew McMillan Memorial Residency which is “open to any emerging writer who is an NT Writers’ Centre member” (or, a member of any other of the national writers centres). It’s funded by a bequest from writer/journalist/museum Andrew McMillan, and is at Larrimah which is a tiny settlement around 500 kilometres south from Darwin. McMillan often stayed here to write away from distractions.

I was intrigued to note that, as well as work on their project, the writers from both residencies must “write a 500-word blog post for the NT Writers’ Centre website”.

Workshops, etc

Like all writers centres, the NT Writers’ Centre runs all sorts of workshops, and they are clearly aware that writers need to be skilled for contemporary consumers of literature. So, for example, one of this year’s workshops was on podcasting, and was run in conjunction with the 2017 Darwin Fringe Festival. The end result was Podcasts from the Fringe.

Another upcoming workshop uses modern technology to reach writers, which is probably particularly important in such a relatively large but sparsely populated state. It’s an online writing group, which will run for three months from September 2017. It’s for writers in all genres or forms, will provide feedback, and is about “drafting, reflection and constructive criticism in a structured and supportive online setting.”

I’ve enjoyed this little foray into another part of Australia and discovering what seems to be another vibrant literary environment … I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

15 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Northern Territory Writers’ Centre

  1. I am certain I would be inspired to write something magnificent if I got to stay for three weeks in the botanical garden!

    I must say I was a little worried about your photography skills for a second because the poor emu looked so blurry. So I clicked on the photo and see it is a really cool wire sculpture. And mu faith in your photography has also been restored 🙂

  2. You say writers prize for Territorians only, and I think that is good policy, I don’t see why states offer prizes to outsiders, though maybe (Lisa’s post on Tas prizes) having the criterion of ‘about’ the state makes sense.

    • Hmm, interesting comment, Bill. The big states do make their prizes national, but some of these include a category or two for local product. I think that’s a good way to go, IF you have the funding. But if you only have $9-10K all up, then supporting your own is probably the way to go.

  3. PS Bill, I think that eligibility is the tricky thing when it comes to limiting prizes to insiders. The Melbourne Prize does, and I have yet to find out what makes one eligible. Australians move around a lot, plus of course there are heaps of ring-ins such as myself, and many who now live in such-and-such a State were born and/or educated and/or worked elsewhere for greater or lesser periods of time.
    *chuckle* Now that we know that Barnaby Joyce is really a Kiwi, all bets are off!

    • Yes, good point Lisa, re eligibility. I think I’ve seen, in the past, some just requiring current residence for a certain number of years, but I haven’t investigated this on depth.

      Oh, and I was thinking Joyce as I started reading your comment!

  4. Literature is well alive and I think it is great that NT are assisting and helping all in NT. To me, it is a good idea for the NT to generate prizes for their local talent. Hopefully the writers who do receive these prizes live in the NT, at least most of the time.
    Slightly off topic, but I am very happy to attend my local library when they hold events for Australian authors to discuss their books; but even but moreso when they are from Victoria.. Last night at my library, I saw Susan Carland discussing her book, Hislam. A Melbourne Muslim women (converted when 19), trying to explain how strong some Muslim women are in fighting sexism within their religion and outside in the community.

  5. Back in the 1970s I remember when Bruce PASCOE was producing little booklets of Australian Short Stories – his own writing plus that of lots of other Australian writers (and I was buying each edition as it appeared in my local news agencies) fulfilling something of the late 19th/early 20th century Bulletin role of publishing that era’s literary talent…verse, stories. But in more recent years his acknowledgement of his Indigenous ancestry – Victoria/Tasmania – has much informed his perspectives – Dark Emu – of course. Just the other night on SBS On-Demand I watch Warwick THORNTON’s documentary movie exploring the significance of the constellation of the Southern Cross – tracking it across Australia through various Indigenous understandings – including Bruce PASCOE discussing it’s meaning in south-east Australia/Victoria.

  6. I would love to go to a writer’s festival or workshop with more Aboriginality. I lobbied the Hobart Theatre Royal manager for several years at each yearly launch of the subscriber series to bring in more Aboriginal work. All we ever get is Bangarra, who are ggreat , but I know there is more out there. This year a dramatic play was offered and I made sure to tell him thanks and I would be there. It sold out. We don’t get much of Aboriginal works of anything. If I am wrong please correct me. (Yes, I had to laugh about Barnaby Joyce). How I wish Tony Abbot was a duel citizen of anywhere!!! Oops, political. 🐴🐴🐴

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