Champion of human rights, social justice and free speech Reply

By June Ramli

Richard Ackland’s fascination with the world of news and current affairs started at a very early age.

Richard Ackland pic

Richard Ackland: a passion for free speech and human rights

“I remember as a young person that whenever there was a new newspaper, I would sign up and would always be interested in world and social and economic issues. My siblings and parents were not into journalism, my sister became a teacher and my father, he was a businessman. No one encouraged me into journalism.”

But journalism has been his calling. He has been a journalist for the past 36 years and has written for many media outlets. His writings have been featured in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian and The Saturday Paper. He has also presented the ABC’s Media Watch.

Richard Ackland says his passion for free speech and human rights drove him into journalism. On graduating with economics and law degrees from the University of Sydney and Macquarie University respectively, he began his career at The Daily Telegraph in 1970 when it was owned by Sir Frank Packer. He later joined The Financial Review, reporting for the economics desk, in 1972. More…

The power of resilience and strong family ties Reply

By Robert Monks

Muderis pic

Munjed Al Muderis: if you see something is wrong, you need to correct it by the right means. Photograph by Tim Bauer

Munjed Al Muderis, a bright young man, was determined to become a surgeon even in war-torn Iraq. When he was accepted into the surgical training program at the General Hospital in Baghdad in 1998, it was like  “a dream come true”. However, after one  “horrific” day at work, he had to escape Iraq.

One morning in late 1999, a squad of military police with three busloads of deserters arrived at the hospital.  The police ordered hospital staff to surgically remove the top half of the deserters’ ears.  The most senior doctor in the operating theatre refused their instructions so they took him out to the car park and shot him dead.

Munjed made a snap decision to escape. The other two options were bleak: either he agree to perform the surgical atrocity and feel guilty for the rest of his life, or refuse and die. He ended up hiding in the women’s toilets for five hours.  Afterwards he went into hiding at a friend’s place.

His family connections and his mother’s support were crucial in his escape. He managed to get a fake passport and he took a bus across the border to Jordan undetected. His mother met him at the Baghdad bus station just before he left. She was crying and it wasn’t easy for him either. More…

Liane Moriarty talks Big Little Lies Reply

By Amanda Smuin

Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty: the positive force of jealously

Australian writer Liane Moriarty talked about what it’s like to be a suburban Sydney mum and an internationally bestselling author at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. And she has an impressive list of accomplishments.

She is the author of six bestselling novels including Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story. In 2013, her fifth novel, The Husband’s Secret, was a New York Times best seller within two weeks of its release in the U.S. Then last year, she became the first Australian author to have a novel debut at number one on the New York Times best sellers list with her most recent book, Big Little Lies, which has already sold over one million copies worldwide.

It was “pure envy” that drove Liane Moriarty to write her first novel. Her sister is Jaclyn Moriarty, the popular Australian author of books for young adults, whose novel, The Cracks in the Kingdom, won the 2015 NSW Premier’s Award for Young People’s Literature on Monday night.

“When she called me and said that her first novel had been accepted for publication I was very happy for her because I’m very fond of her but I was also desperately, desperately jealous,” Liane Moriarty says, adding, “I know if she hadn’t done it first, I would have just kept giving up after the first chapter.” More…

Recommendation of tough love for the arts Reply

Katherine Brisbane pic

Katharine Brisbane: “Everyone is complaining about how bland the live arts are. The energy seems to have gone into television.”

By Sue McCreadie

She’s been described as the doyenne of Australian theatre, the den mother of Australian playwrights and an elder of the theatre tribe. But Katharine Brisbane is also renowned for speaking her mind and she’s recommending some tough love for the sector.

“What I’m concerned about is where we are going with subsidised theatre and the effect that subsidy has had on the arts. Everyone is complaining about how bland the live arts are. The energy seems to have gone into television.”

Although she retired over a decade ago and turned 83 this year, she hasn’t stopped agitating for change where it’s needed. “I’d like to lead a contemplative life but that doesn’t seem to be an option at the moment.”

She lives and continues to work in a light-filled top floor apartment in a grand Victorian mansion in Redfern, surrounded by books and antiques, among them a grandfather clock that chimes on the hour. The building has been home to performing arts activities for the past four decades. More…

Lesson from a screen Reply

By Vani Gupta

Graeme Simsion

Graeme Simsion: “Most of us have a self-improvement ethic; we would like to be better people.” Photograph by James Penlidis

“‘Professor Tillman, most of us here are not scientists, so you may need to be a little less technical.’ This sort of thing is incredibly annoying. People can tell you the supposed characteristics of a Gemini or a Taurus and will spend five days watching a cricket match but cannot find the interest or the time to learn the basics of what they, as humans, are made up of.”

Don Tillman, the protagonist of Graeme Simsion’s novel The Rosie Project, and its sequel The Rosie Effect, constantly has to deal with the shortcomings of the people around him.

In the Rosie novels, readers follow the experiences and adventures of Don, a genetics professor, who displays multiple markers of Asperger’s Syndrome throughout his questionnaire-based search for a spouse.

Discussing the wide appeal of the original Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion notes Don is a person determined to make a personal transformation. “I think that’s something that all of us relate to,” he says. “Most of us have a self-improvement ethic; we would like to be better people.” Despite the uniqueness of his outlook, Don’s determination intrigues readers.

Graeme Simsion talks openly about his approach to writing, with many practical pieces of advice for authors. He says his background in screenwriting gave him “a very strong sense of story”. For The Rosie Project, he began with a template of a romantic comedy, then asked himself, “What would Don do in this scene?” More…

Going with the flow Reply

Dr Ram pic by Fernanda Teixeira

Kaushik Ram: neuroscience provided him with a foundation to ask questions and find answers. Photograph by Fernanda Teixeira

By Aimee-Lili Peters

He wears a shirt decorated with palm trees and coconuts undone to his belly button, a purple gemstone hanging on a thin black cord. His shaggy hair flops over his eyes and skin smells of coconut oil. Kaushik Ram looks like a typical Bondi surfer, except he’s not. He’s a neuroscientist with a PhD in magnetic resonance imaging and his own business.

Kaushik, 25, grew up in Suva, Fiji in a small village where he spent his childhood climbing fruit trees and not just to pick the fruit. Kaushik would climb with his notebook tucked under his arm to record leaf structures, analyze the mechanics of how insects moved and observe different bird species. His parents would give him a toy, only for it to be pulled to pieces, rewired and redesigned to create a new one. This was when he was eight.  More…

Lady in green Reply

By Oyuntsetseg Olonbayar

Debra Adelaide

Associate Professor Debra Adelaide at her office. Photograph by Oyuntsetseg Olonbayar

A green coffee cup, an old bottle of Pelikan Brilliant Green ink and a green lamp are  on the coffee table in Debra Adelaide’s office. Tall and slim, her curly grey hair falls down around her green earrings and green necklace which match the colour of her cardigan and shoes – all green, her favorite colour.

She is sitting in front of her small office library of hundreds of books at the University of Technology, Sydney, next to which is a large poster of shelves of many more books. She says with smile, “I like readin
g, I don’t have other hobbies, except my garden.”

Debra Adelaide is editor of The Simple Act of Reading, a collection of 21 essays written by different writers, including one by herself.

“I worked on this nearly a year ago. I approached authors to write new works, and also ones who had essays previously published that I wanted to include,” she says.  The Simple Act of Reading involved thinking about early reading practices and books that were special to her. “I was also reflecting on how certain books and authors stay with you for your whole life, and how they influence your own work as a writer in ways you do not expect.” More…

A man of conviction Reply

By Jasmine Crittenden

David Marr

David Marr: “I don’t think I talk in my sleep. I think that’s the one, merciful time for others, when I don’t talk.” Photograph by Christopher Ireland

“The most important political event of my life was the sacking of the Whitlam Government in 1975,” says David Marr. “It taught me how ruthless, how daring, how unscrupulous the conservatives in this country can be in their pursuit of power. It’s been a guiding light for my entire career.”

On the day of Whitlam’s dismissal, David, then 28, was reporting for Australia’s weekly news magazine, The Bulletin. “A wonderful Canadian lady who worked there came around to my cubicle and said, ‘David, the Governor-General has just dismissed the Prime Minister’.

“I said, ‘No, no, no. It doesn’t work like that’. She said, ‘David, I think it has’. I said, ‘No, no, no. The governor-general can’t just dismiss the prime minister’. She said, ‘Oh David, I think it’s happened’.”

Lifting his hands in the air, as though still incredulous, David Marr says the event drove him to write his first book, Barwick (1980), a biography of Sir Garfield Barwick, the Chief Justice who advised Sir John Kerr that he could legally sack Whitlam.

“I had to understand how that man could have done what he did. I wanted to work it out for myself and explain it to others, which is the mechanism for all my big works of non-fiction.” More…

Going gently through dark territory Reply

By Rosanna Kellett

Anne Manne pic

Journalist and social philosopher Anne Manne’s new book explores how our behaviour, and even personality, is shaped by culture.

“I’ve always had a strong desire to communicate, but I also have a really strong desire to be invisible and to disappear.”

Anne Manne is the Sydney Writers’ Festival’s best-kept secret. The soft-spoken, Walkley-Award nominated journalist and social philosopher is at the Festival this year to talk about her newest book, The Life of I: The New Culture of Narcissism, a title that pays tribute to Christopher Lasch’s 1979 best-seller, The Culture of Narcissism. Ms Manne’s book is an equally ground-breaking exploration of how our behaviour, and even personality, is shaped by culture.

In her book, she explores the personality disorder known as narcissism and reveals how a whole spectrum of behaviours it fuels – from selfie-taking through to more pathological terrorist acts –  are directly caused by the social values implicit in our economic system. The book’s argument is that in our hyper-competitive and increasingly disconnected world we are less trained in the art of empathy for the vulnerable or for altruism, qualities too often seen as weaknesses rather than as necessary to our society and the future of our planet.

It’s a natural culmination of ideas, for Anne Manne, who has written widely on many harrowing topics including loneliness, gendercide, disability, parenting and pornography. Her work on the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church is now part of the ongoing Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. More…

Shameless activist born after slaying the past Reply

By Jasmine Crittenden

Alan Cumming pic

Alan Cumming: a story he had to tell. Picture by Kevin Garcia

“Get there early – earlier than you think. Have a Bloody Mary immediately. Find out if extra services are available, like massages or haircuts. Potentially, you’re about to have a n
ear death experience, so you should unburden yourself as much as you can,” Alan Cumming said, advising his audience at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on how to make the most of airport lounges.

The airport lounge is one of the motifs running through Mr Cumming’s memoir, Not My Father’s Son, which he shared with David Marr before a full house at the Joan Sutherland Theatre.

A Scottish actor best-known for playing Eli Gold in The Good Wife, he recounts his life in scenes, moving between his glamorous, jet-setting present and his violent childhood, dominated by his controlling, abusive father.

Simultaneously, he chases the truth behind two family stories. One is the cause of his maternal grandfather’s mysterious death in Malaysia “in a shooting accident”. Unravelled during Mr Cumming’s appearance in a 2010 series of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, the “accident” turns out to be a game of Russian roulette. The other is his father’s suggestion, made in the same year, that Mr Cumming is “not his father’s son”, but that of his mother’s lover.  More…