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By Angelina Kosev and Tom St John


The sun is bright, the crowd is plentiful, there are children running around and the sound of what could possibly be a xylophone is wafting out of all the buildings – it is children and family day at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, but I am walking towards the refuge of Julian Baggini’s talk on free will. Perhaps this is a different type of playground (one for the existentialist, the nihilist, or simply the interested; all of whom were spotted here).

Baggini has an interesting way of making huge ideas – free will, for example – simple metaphors, turning them into completely understandable ideas that even your casual media intern could grasp. The ultimate decision, however, as deduced by me throughout this talk, is that free will is not at all an illusion but a completely intangible idea. Baggini provided us with an anecdote about his cat, who receives exactly what he needs in a day and nothing more, surely he can exert whatever free will he wants, being an animal with all his needs taken care of? But me, your simple media intern, was wrong to agree, because Baggini’s cat has never had to make a choice, and don’t we associate that with free will? But then, aren’t there binding elements in choice? The talk was both comic and deeply engaging and insightful, opening questions and shutting down others.

Meanwhile, at the Curiosity Stage, Australian author Gail Jones spoke about the idiosyncratic world crafted by famed Russian author Vladimir Nabokov. The fantastic thing throughout the Writer’s Festival has been the opportunity to hear impressive authors in their own right give their own interpretation of other artists that have influenced their work. From his theory of spiral time, to his pessimistic musings, to his simple descriptions of coloured pencils, Jones worked through the defining characteristics of one of the great Russian novelists of all time.

In mid-afternoon David Dyer took the Curiosity Stage to link two events not often seen as connected in history – the sinking of Titanic and the Suffragette movement. The sinking of the Titanic, and the chivalrous “women and children before men” gave rise to a growing concern that women were ungrateful in demanding the vote. Moreover, it illustrated the growing fracturing within the Suffragette movement on class lines. The huge industrial loft was at full capacity until the end, a fantastic end to one of the highlights of the Festival.

The late afternoon saw workmen start to take over the wharf, beginning to dismantle posters and remove signage. An adult size Maisy – beloved character of picture books – is still entertaining a few children, but there is an obvious decrease in patrons. I sneak into one last talk – about the difficulties of poetry and publication – with the aid of my media badge. I listen in on readings by Kent MacCarter, Michelle Cahill and University of Sydney academic Kate Lilley and later step outside to watch the sun leave the wharf. Most of the attendees, instillations, children and workmen are gone. In about an hour Hanya Yanagihara will be giving her closing address and I begin to look forward to next year’s festival.

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