Friday, April 19, 2024

Beaches, bush and botanic gardens: Australia’s best regional writers’ festivals in 2021

There are many scenic events to travel for, from beachside poetry to desert dinners and rare bookshops located in heritage…

By Chan , in Travel , at March 20, 2024

There are many scenic events to travel for, from beachside poetry to desert dinners and rare bookshops located in heritage towns.

Meredith Jaffe – author and director at StoryFest, on the south coast of New South Wales – laughs that zoom panels can be a good thing. You only need to dress halfway, starting at the waist.

While the Australian arts scene may be a little different in 2021, as coronavirus restrictions vary across states and change every day, major literary festivals are still going ahead. Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, and Adelaide will all host their events (albeit with some Zoom).

If a year with uncertain state borders taught us anything, it was a newfound love for interstate travel. Not far from our cities is a wealth and diversity of culture and arts, as well as a variety of small, picturesque writers’ festivals that are worth traveling to.

Our newfound love for virtual drop-ins has allowed regional literary events to attract more international authors, and their lineups can compete with those of metropolitan counterparts. Jaffe adds that “we also have unique qualities which play to our strength”: the intimacy of a smaller audience, more time spent with authors, and collaboration with local businesses. All this is set in stunning scenery, venues, and settings unlike any you will find in cities.

Here are 14 literary festivals that we’re excited about in Australia.

Words Out West

Who:  The speakers are Shane Webcke and Nick Earls. Jay Laga’aia will also be on the show; Will Kostakis will be the host, and Anita Heiss from the Australian True Crime podcast, as well as the Full Program.

Words Out West, which held its first festival in early 2020, will return to the region with a lineup that includes fiction writers, journalists, and foreign correspondents. Podcasters, public figures, and podcasts are also included. The program, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Brisbane, includes panel discussions, workshops, and author talks, as well as a full-day writers retreat. The Dalby Cultural Center hosts the Library After Dark, a dinner and drinks event on Saturday evenings with authors.

Somerset Storyfest

Who: The 2021 program is still to be announced, but in the past, festival attendees have included Andy Griffiths, Melina Maretta, Will Kostakis, and Matt Stanton.

For lovers of The city buzz in the coastal country

The Gold Coast’s writers festival is now held in Somerset, a regional town 90 minutes from Brisbane. Storyfest is a festival that hosts more than 130 events in a single week. These include young writers’ meals, illustrator battles, and student workshops. Literary lunches and writing and poetry contests are also held. Esk, Queensland’s historical town in the Valley of the Lakes, is only a 20-minute drive away if you wish to make the trip. Keep an eye on this.

Dialogues during the Castlemaine State Festival

Castlemaine, Victoria; 19 March-4 April

The speakers are Don Watson (Henry Garner), Gareth Evans (Carel Findlay), Tim Costello (Michael Rowland), Helen Garner, and Helen Garner.

For lovers of intellectual stimuli in a regional arts hotspot.

Castlemaine’s state festival is an eclectic mix of art, music, theatre, film, and literature, with its five-day Writers Festival. Dialogues will feature presentations, panels, and debates led by Australian leaders from the fields of literature, politics, and society. Dialogues, which is more than just books, will feature Helen Garner speaking about the art of memoir-writing, Paul Hawken discussing climate change, and Tim Costello launching a discussion about Australia’s aid to third-world countries.

Shakespeare on the River Festival

Stratford, Victoria; 23 April-8 May

For lovers of Shakespeare, rivers

Anyone who loves literature or theatre will be at home. Over 20 events will be held over two weeks starting on Shakespeare’s Birthday, including the Avon Village Faire Day, performances of Julius Caesar, Bard’s Banquet, and the Shakespeare Through the Ages Arts Trail. In the charming and historic village of Stratford, Victoria, there will be food stalls, barbecues, fresh fruit, live music, and workshops.

Clunes Booktown Festival

Clunes, Victoria; May 1-2

Who: The program for 2021 is still TBA. However, Robbie Arnott and Alice Pung, as well as Tony Birch, Jane Caro, and Jane Caro, have all made the trip before.

Wallet:$10 for locals, under-16s, and free.

This is for lovers of local wine, rare books, and beautiful heritage buildings.

The annual Clunes Book Town Festival is held on the first weekend in May. It features book talks, author meetings, book browsing and shopping, live music, and street theatre, as well as wine and food tastings with local businesses. The festival’s slogan is “for the love of books.”

Bendigo writers’ festival

Bendigo, Victoria; 7-9 May

Who? The program will be released on 3 March. Previous lineups included Benjamin Law Min Jin Lee Clementine Ford Louise Milligan

$$:$15 for each session

For lovers of Victorian homes, good food, and vintage trams that talk to you.

Bendigo, another gold rush boomtown that is distinguished by its art and history, hosts the annual Bendigo Writers’ Festival in central Victoria. The festival, which is usually held in winter, will be moving forward in 2021 with a hybrid of live and virtual events that will begin in spring. The festival will feature more than 150 speakers and workshops, as well as a “big-idea session” hosted by famous authors. It also includes food, including breakfasts, brunches, and gourmet galas. Maeve O’Meara, former host of SBS Food Safari, is a past participant.

Margaret River Readers and Writers’ Festival

Margaret River, Western Australia: 14-16 May

Who: Program for 2021 TBA. Previous lineups included Matthew Reilly, Liz Byrski, Anna Funder, Tim Costello, Clementine Ford

$$ : Individual sessions starting at $10; 3-day pass for $195

Food trucks, jazz, and riverside walks are all popular with fans.

The Margaret River Readers and Writers’ Festival is the largest regional literary event in Western Australia. It is located in wine country, about a three-hour drive away from Perth. The festival’s events are based on the theme of Written Worlds, which is a celebration of optimism and opportunism in the face of a world that has recently been quite chaotic. On walks around the mouth of the river, you can hear stories about pooja or country and join workshops led by authors, book discussions, brunches, and movie screenings. All these events are hosted in collaboration with local businesses.

Bellingen readers and writers’ festival

Bellingen Shire, New South Wales; 11-14 June

Who? The program for 2021 is yet to be announced, but previous programs have featured Kerry O’Brien and Morris Gleitzman.

For lovers of artisan markets, tranquil rivers, and slam poems.

Bellingen, located halfway between Sydney, Queensland, and Melbourne, is known for its beautiful rivers and scenery. The festival, which takes place along the Bellinger River and near the Dorrigo rainforest, makes the most of this. The festival’s focus is on Australia’s diverse talent. Slam poet Jason John will be running poetry workshops for people of all ages. The Bellingen Growers’ artisan Market is a must on Saturday mornings. You can plan a long weekend around it.

Words on the waves

Central Coast, NSW: 12-13 June

Who:2021 will be released by April.

For lovers of coastal towns and beach walks with children

Words on the Waves, which is entirely volunteer-led, will celebrate its first year in 2021. The team brings together writers and readers for workshops, book signings, and conversations on the sunny coast of Umina Beach Village. The scenery is breathtaking.


Milton Mollymook Ulladulla NSW 18-20th June

Who: The 2021 program is still to be determined, but in the past, the festival booked Markus Zusak and Leigh Hobbs. Amal Awad was also on the list. Maggie Beer, Jane Caro Jaclyn Morrison, Joanna Nell, Jane Caro.

$$: $20-$60

For lovers of beaches, book talks, and egg and bacon rolls

StoryFest, led by Meredith Jaffe, is a collaboration between small businesses and multiple towns along the south coast of NSW to celebrate stories in all of their forms. The festival this year will include workshops and discussions led by documentary makers, memoirists, editors, and fantasy world builders. A gala night with an international headliner and an Australian movie night featuring the creators and stars of the movies will open. Beach vendors will also serve sausage sizzles, egg and bacon rolls, and other snacks to accompany your book-talk walks.

Cairns Tropical Writers’ Festival

Cairns (Queensland): 13-15 August

Who:2021 Program Coming Soon. Previous guests have included Ashley Hay, Simon Kindt, Julian Burnside, Jane Caro, Richard Fidler, Alexis Wright, Jane Caro, and Simon Kindt.

For lovers of literary dinners with famous thinkers in the tropical rainforest.

The Cairns Tropical Writers’ Festival, a biennial event, is back this year. The 2021 program is not yet available, but previous highlights have included breakfast with Julian Burnside and lunch with Jane Caro. Dinner with Richard Fidler was also a highlight. Alexis Wright gave lectures, and a variety of writers and thinkers led workshops. This festival is unlike any other. It features the Great Barrier Reef, the wet tropical rainforest, and the distinct Australian voices from the region.

NT writers’ festival

Alice Springs (Northern Territory); 26-29 August

Who:2021 is released on 22 June. Bruce Pascoe and Christos Tiolkas were among the previous guests.

For lovers of diverse voices and Top End scenery

The NT Writers’ Festival program is a four-day literary festival that celebrates the landscape. It includes workshops, book discussions, and poetry readings, all set against a backdrop featuring lush botanical gardens, tropical sunsets, and desert skies. Morris Gleitzman, Arnold Zable, and Michael Mohammed Ahmad have praised the festival’s diversity and uniqueness.

“Write Around the Murray

Albury-Wodonga, Victoria; 8-12 September

Who? 2021 is coming up in July. Previous years featured Alice Pung, Amal Awad, Christian White, Arnold Zable, and Catherine Fox.

For lovers of panels and performances, as well as a good laugh.

The Write Around the Murray festival has grown to be a popular celebration of literature and the art world. It offers a busy schedule of panels, workshops, and presentations led by writers, illustrators, and journalists. The Stereo Stories Dinner, a musical narration of short memoirs written by well-known guests and lesser-known writers, is a highlight for festival director Ann-maree Ellis. “Poignantly funny, it’s just all around cheery,” says Ann-Marie Ellis. The three-and-a-half-hour drive from Canberra or Melbourne will be worth it.

Word for Word Festival

Geelong, Victoria: 19-21 November

Who? Program to be announced by September. Previous programs have featured Bruce Pascoe and Kirl Saunders.

For fans of anything Nonfiction

Geelong is a great place to go if you want a festival that focuses on Australian Nonfiction. It’s only an hour away from Melbourne. Word for Word, which is celebrating its eighth annual festival, provides a platform for discussion, bringing together writers, academics, and festivalgoers to discuss topics like the climate crisis and global politics.

Word for Word’s inaugural nonfiction school festival program was held in conjunction with Australia’s premier First Nations publisher, Magabala Books, last year. This year, with more than 4,000 registered students from 41 different schools in Victoria, Word for Word is launching another school program.