At the end of the first day of the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival I was walking back from the tent where Paul Kelly and Archie Roach were performing some musical collaborative moments with my camera in hand. I stopped and enjoyed the Belongil wetlands scene, noting that someone had left a chair presumably where they’d sat enjoying their lunch or a solitary moment within hearing distance of one of the large festival tents.
Inside each of the five tents the panelists are accompanied on stage by an empty chair, and as is customary with this festival, the opening remarks by the chair of each session refers to the biographical details of an author who has been persecuted, jailed or killed for their craft. There was a large number of Syrian journalists and authors in other countries where dictators silence dissent with imprisonment and/or the bullet.
I found the symbolism both very moving and uniting, reminding those present that while we were in a free and democratic country listening to journalists, war correspondents, novelists, musicians and poets, elsewhere in the world these people are persecuted, jailed, go missing, are tortured and/or killed – because they have written unpalatable truths. -AJC