La Trobe Presents at Bendigo Writers Festival

Since 2011, La Trobe University has partnered with the City of Greater Bendigo to bring Central Victoria one of its most significant annual cultural events, the Bendigo Writers Festival.

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said it was fantastic that the University was once again partnering with the Bendigo Writers Festival, running between May 4 and 7 in 2023.

“This year, for the first time, the program includes ‘La Trobe University Presents’, a series of sessions that feature La Trobe staff and alumni, and authors who have published with the increasingly influential La Trobe University Press,” Professor Dewar said.

“These have been curated by La Trobe’s Professor of Public Engagement, Professor Clare Wright. Also, for the first time, Black Inc, who are our partners in La Trobe University Press, will co-present two compelling events on the subject of law and reconciliation and on writing books that defy forgetting.”

Festival director Rosemary Sorensen said La Trobe University’s relationship with Bendigo Writers Festival has been a benchmark for the way in which public intellectuals can contribute to such events.

“Bendigo is a university city, and it's not just any university. With Professor John Dewar as Vice-Chancellor and with the campus so active in its city-wide influence, it was important to have La Trobe's support,” Sorensen said.

“It's evolved wonderfully, with Robert Manne's Ideas and Society series and support for the schools program through La Trobe's former education academic Sarah Mayor Cox being stand-out contributions.”

That collaboration is taken a step further this year, with the appointment of Professor Clare Wright OAM as the festival’s Guest Curator.

As well as being La Trobe’s Professor of History and Professor of Public Engagement, Professor Wright is the author of four books: The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka; You Daughters of Freedom; Beyond the Ladies Lounge and We Are the Rebels. In 2020, she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for services to literature and to historical research.

Bendigo Writers Festival director Rosemary Sorensen said that Wright’s appointment as Professor of Public Engagement came at just the right time for the festival.

“Clare totally understood what was needed and she threw herself at the task with such energy it reinvigorated us all,” Sorensen said.

“Clare has long been an asset to our literary culture and understands books and writing as well as the importance of well-researched history. Without Clare, this year's festival might not have been quite so big, quite so brilliant nor quite so ambitious.”

Professor Wright added, “being Guest Curator has landed smack bang in my sweet spot: the fusion of my academic, literary and community engagement interests. I’ve loved the opportunity to connect talented researchers and authors who are undertaking significant research and writing projects with broad audiences who are hungry for meaty ideas.

“Back home in the Russian-Polish Jewish ghetto, I would have been the village matchmaker. I’m a public intellectual by profession but a stickybeak at heart! The chance to work with supremo Festival Director Rosemary Sorensen has been a wonderful collaborative experience.”

Twelve of the 17 sessions curated by Professor Wright feature La Trobe staff or alumni, with the latter including Catherine Deveny, Phil Cleary, Don Watson, Barry Jones, Jock Serong and Tasneem Chopra.

Selected session summaries

First Nations First (Friday, May 5, 11am. Capital Theatre) How do we put First Nations people at the heart of Australian culture and how might it influence our literature? Writers Evelyn Araluen and Claire G Coleman, and cultural researcher Jilda Andrews, join host Neane Carter.

Festival Gala: Dream On (Friday, 5 May, 7.30pm. Ulumbarra Theatre) Clare Wright invites extraordinary thinkers to imagine no limits: Megan Davis (co-chair of the Voice to Parliament campaign); Frank Bongiorno (author of Dreamers and Schemers); La Trobe graduate researcher, Akuch Kuol Anyieth (author of Unknown: A Refugee’s Story); and Joelle Gergis (ANU climate scientist and author of Humanity’s Moment).

Memoir Industrial Complex (Saturday, 6 May, 10am. Capital Theatre) Fearless writers Akuch Kuol Anyieth, Shannon Burns and Catherine Deveny discuss the form with host and fellow memoirist, La Trobe researcher Yves Rees (with whom Professor Wright makes the La Trobe-produced Australian history podcast Archive Fever).

Independents Days (Saturday, 6 May, 1pm. Capital Theatre) Can the rise of the Teals change the face of parliamentary democracy forever? Former independent MPs Phil Cleary and Cathy McGowan, and author of The Big Teal, Simon Holmes à Court, join host La Trobe Professor of Political Communication, Andrea Carson.

Seeing and Believing (Saturday, 6 May 2023, 1.30pm. Bendigo Bank Theatre) What is the role of documentary film-making in public debate and truth-telling? Film-makers Sally Aitken, Phil Craig and Tosca Looby discuss with host – and Head of Documentaries at Screen Australia – Alex West.

David and Goliath (Saturday, 6 May, 3pm. Capital Theatre) How does a contemporary writer tackle a story of biblical proportions? Paul Cleary, Joelle Gergis and Antony Loewenstein consider an epic struggle between adversaries with disparate power and resources, with host, La Trobe’s Dr Liz Conor.

Not Then, Not Now, Not Ever (Saturday, 6 May, 4.30pm. Capital Theatre) How have the past six decades of feminist activism shaped Australian politics? Cultural historian Michelle Arrow; early feminist and former President of the NSW State Legislative Council, Meredith Burgmann; director for the Global Institute of Women’s Leadership, Michelle Ryan and host Frank Bongiorno unpack just that.

Two Worlds(Sunday, May 7, 10am. Capital Theatre) Don Watson tells Clare Wright the story behind his new biography, The Passion of Private White, from Neville White’s student years at La Trobe University, to his return from the Vietnam War and immersion in the lives of the Yolngu people.

Forgive and Forget (Sunday, May 7, 1.30pm. Capital Theatre) Memoirists Helen Garner and Shannon Burns talk to Sophie Cunningham about whether writing true stories is an act of forgiveness – and, if so, for whom?

Heart to Heart (Sunday, May 7, 3.30pm. Capital Theatre) Two writers firmly on our ‘National Living Treasures’ list are Barry Jones and Tom Keneally. The pair talk to Clare Wright about their storied careers and what continues to inspire them.

La Trobe University Press Presents

Black Lives White Law (Saturday, 6 May, 11.30am. Capital Theatre) Can legislation be an instrument of reconciliation? Historian Kate Auty, legal scholar Megan Davis, criminal defence lawyer Russell Marks and First Nations Elder Aunty Kella Robinson discuss with host Neane Carter. This event is a co-presents with La Trobe University, curated by Professor Wright.

Forgotten People(Saturday, 6 May, 3pm. Trades Hall) A tricky balancing act must be achieved when a writer seeks to both create a work and do justice to the stories of those with no voice. Refugee Sadam Abdusalam, novelist/journalist Paul Daley and lawyer/advocate Russell Marks discuss the books that defy forgetting.

Interview opportunities

From La Trobe University:

  • Professor Clare Wright OAM
  • Dr Bec Strating (from 24 April)
  • Dr Yves Rees
  • Professor Andrea Carson (from 26 April)
  • Dr Liz Conor.

Media enquiries

La Trobe University: Claire Bowers –, 0437 279 903 or Courtney Carthy

Bendigo Writers Festival: Ali Webb - +61 438 190 328