More than 1000 people entered the doors at the Wheeler Centre over the weekend to catch a glimpse of big literary names such as author Christos Tsiolkas, journalist George Megalogenis, and many lesser known, but just as promising, rising stars in the Greek community.
The festival showed no signs of lagging over its two days with audiences engaging in very different topics and themes.
Convener Konstandina Dounis was overwhelmed by the strong audience turnout.
“We had very, very humble expectations of audience turnout,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
The sold out opening night boasted big stars of the literary and academic world, Christos Tsiolkas and Nikos Papastergiadis in conversation.
Over 260 people came to hear the conversation on Writing, Multiculturalism and Cosmopolitanism, which saw both authors reveal their troubles with Greek identity and writing.
Antipodes Festival Manager, Penny Kyprianou says opening night was a highlight of the festival.
“Definitely securing someone like Christos Tsiolkas for opening night was fantastic,” she says.
With the apt use of a ‘slap’ metaphor, the writers easily weaved their way through Greek and Australian issues, all using their own life experience as examples.
Audience member Beth McLoughlin, 47, was drawn to the event for Tsiolkas’ progression as a writer.
“I was interested to hear his understanding and constant flux of being a Greek Australian,” she said at the end of the talk.
Over the two days, audiences were treated to a wide range of topics; politics, writing for the Greek perspective, women in literature, immigration and religion.
Although an expensive pursuit, the committee realised its potential early on and eagerly pushed the project.
Convener Dounis says “when you first float an idea around, it can just dissipate or it can take off, but the committee absolutely, unequivocally embraced it from the word go”.
Committee co-chair Leonidas Vlahakis says the board was glad to back the festival as it showcased the best of the Greek community talent.
“The Antipodes Festival was certainly happy to make this investment this year as a sign of support for a group of artists that we feel have been somewhat under-represented in the past,” he says.
Despite its Greek bearings, the festival heralded voices from all over, including non-Greeks and the youth, which normally get overlooked at niche festivals like this.
Festival Manager Kyprianou wanted to stress early on in the festival’s beginnings that there would be “enough for different audiences and different generations”.
“People are really interested in the topics that these writers are writing about. If we can target that we can definitely get more of a non-Greek audience,” she says.
Showcasing the Greek perspective from an unlikely source, the tribute to Arnold Zable, an award winning Australian writer with a Polish-Jewish background, was a highlight of the Saturday night.
The tribute took a different route than the other events by including a musical presentation to Zable’s work and ethos.
For second and third generation Greek Australians, connecting with their culture might be more difficult. The festival helped to bridge like minded people, of all age groups for a forum about their talents.
Convener Konstandina Dounis couldn’t thank the young audience enough for supporting the festival.
“If anything came out of this festival is that the second generation and the third generation came out in force,” she says.
Australian Slam Poetry champion Luka ‘Lesson’ Haralampou really appreciated the effort the writers festival went to include local talent.
Having just finished with a big global tour with performances in the US and China among others, Haralampou jumped at the chance to showcase his work to a local audience.
“It means so much to me that my work is appreciated by the Greek community here in Australia,” he says.
Outside the festival’s purpose of giving the audience a chance to see these great icons of Greek literature, the festival was a great way to bring the authors together.
Before and after the talks, you could see the writers definitely lapping up time with each other and seeking advice on future projects.
Kyprianou tells Neos Kosmos, “I think [the writers] were really craving this sort of forum; they got a chance to meet each other, buy each others books and share inspiration and how they struggled with getting published and where they could go to get their work”.
As the festival’s first year, the future of the Antipodes Writers Festival depended on how well it was received this year.
With the healthy numbers and the interest generated from the community, the Antipodes Festival Committee will look to repeat the festival and possibly expand it for the future.
Co-chair of the Antipodes Festival, Tammy Illiou says there is room to improve and change.
The committee is keen to introduce writer workshops (in particular for schools), to include more interstate writers and possibly obtain international names for the list.
To promote up-and-coming writers, the committee will call out for writers to come forward and showcase their work.
The Antipodes Writers Festival definitely adds a different tone to the already growing Antipodes event calendar. With the Glendi at the start of the year and the film festival to come, the events calendar for Antipodes is growing and growing.
Kyprianou believes “we now have enough events to bring in different audiences.
“We have a Glendi for those who do want to come and hear Greek music and pick up a souvlaki and then later in the year we have a Greek film festival”, she says.
Overall, the festival shows the true talent that’s in and around the Greek community.
What came out of the festival unknowingly was this encouragement for all to keep writing.
A close and vibrant community, the Greek Australians are very talented and the Antipodes Writers Festival rightly promotes our place in national literature.