National Young Writer's Festival -
30th September to 4th October 1999 - Newcastle

30th September to 3rd October - Report by Scott Balson

Thursday, 30th:

I had been invited by the organiser, ABC's Marcus Westbury, who wrote to me in September, "Well I don't think that you do actually bite or I wouldn't have invited you. I am nervous about how some of the festival audience may react, but that's just a big question mark for me. I am completely outraged by the bland lack of debate in the mainstream media (you will notice from my email address that I work for the ABC but I am a web developer not involved particularly in the process of developing ideas). And I am completely aware that there are a whole range of ideas about the corporate takeover of the world that don't get much of a run in the mainstream media - which is one of the main reasons why I organise the festival."

I caught a Sunstate Qantas plane to Newcastle via Coolangatta on a perfect Queensland day.

The picture on the right of the Gold Coast was taken as we approached Coolangatta airport.

I arrived in Newcastle at about 11am.

Marcus had organised transport for me from the Sunstate airport - which was just as well as the airport was a good 40 minute drive from the centre of Newcastle.

My lift was with a young man by the name of Craig Garrett (seen right)... as can be seen I did not make Newcastle in Craig's car. We were just a few kilometers from the airport when it broke down and the NRMA was called.

Craig and I never had much to say to each other - either during or after the car trip.

Luckily another car was dispatched and I eventually made it to to the Grand Hotel (picture right) at about 2pm.

The quaint Grand Hotel was built in 1890. The picture shows the main entrance of the hotel at 2pm on Sunday afternoon - still locked. In fact, it was the hotel that never appeared to open... except for the parties in the bar as you will read later on.

Most festival sessions were held in the City Hall - opposite a small park.

Pauline Pantsdown:

The first session I went to was entitled "Media Laws". It was an address by a giggling and fawning Owen Trembath (left) who's notoriety was his involvement with the ABC and Triple JJJ as a legal adviser. He, of course, was the man who had represented none other than the ABC over the song "Backdoor Man" by Pauline Pantsdown.

Owen gave the background to the appearance of "Backdoor Man" on JJJ. Apparently another transsexual, and friend of Simon Hunt (ala Pauline Pantsdown) had lent the tape to Triple JJJ staff who liked it so much that they played it on air. The song was immediately requested by listeners and replayed.

After Pauline Hanson's lawyers had the song stopped through an injunction Channel 9's Today programme interviewed Simon Hunt and "Vanessa". During the interview they played a piece of "Backdoor Man" - technically breaching the injunction.

Owen said that defamation laws were the most harsh and archaic in Queensland suggesting that this was the reason that the court supported Hanson's action against the song.

He said that it was he who suggested that Hunt produce a new song - "I don't like it". He said that the media were very excited about the idea - with eight lawyers listening to the song which was revised several times before it was released. It was released just weeks before the Federal Election.

The one word in the song that concerned Owen was the use of the word "racist" - but he decided to let it pass as he said Pauline Hanson would have to prove in court that she wasn't and he did not think that she would.

Quote "Everybody in the world knew about this bloody Pauline Hanson woman" - ensuring the success of "I don't like it". He then went on to play video footage showing how within 24 hours the song had been covered by the media making it an immediate hit and pushing it onto the top 50 charts. Of course Pauline Pantsdown was delighted and then decided to run for the Senate in New South Wales.

He then revealed how he had acted as the communication centre between the media and Pauline pantsdown on the meeting between Hunt and Pauline Hanson at Mortdale.

Hanson had kept her movements under wraps. The media were chasing after her, filming her every move and contacting Owen by mobile describing where they were. Owen, who knew the area well was directing Pantsdown... eventually leading to the confrontation between David Oldfield and Pauline Pantsdown.

Owen described how pantsdown was photographed with everyone including the Prime Minister, Jeff Kennett, etc... everybody that is but Lachlan Murdoch who's body guards kept him at bay. "There were rumours that weekend and we wondered if Lachlan Murdoch didn't want to be photographed with Pauline Pantsdown had anything to do with his sexual orientation."

Owen then concluded by saying that he was unsure if Pantsdown had any impact on Hanson's future but said that the Liberal candidate, Cameron Thompson, who eventually won Blair said that Pauline Hanson had lost the seat because she was out of the state and involved in a media circus with Pauline Pantsdown.

Owen Trembath was a real sleaze... even by a lawyer's standards.

The only reason I sat through the session was to record the position of the "other side".

Friday 1st:

BHP Steel Mills Close:

The steel mills had closed the day I arrived in Newcastle.

I was able to gain access and take the photo on the left showing the mills being destroyed just hours after their closure.

1,500 staff had lost their jobs - once 14,000 staff had been employed there... before globalisation hit Australia's manufacturing industry and a dollar a day wages in Asia saw our steel mill moving off-shore.

I then drove to the Hunter and around Newcastle taking the photographs below.

That night the pub below my room was full of young people from the festival. While I tried to sleep they raged... on until 1am in the morning.

Saturday, 2nd:

The rain set in.

There were several sessions that I wanted to visit including one at which Catherine Lumby was supposed to be participating. Lumby, from the Sydney Morning Herald, was the author of the book "Gotcha" - looking at the media and including the episode at the Queensland State election where I caught another SMH reporter, Margo Kingston, posing next to Pauline Hanson. (Kingston has just released a book "Off the rails" about her time reporting on One Nation's campaign in the lead up to the Federal Election).

Lumby had described the festival thus: "The National Young Writers' Festival is the Dean Martin of Australian literary festivals savvy, elegant, hip and extremely well lubricated."

Before the Lumby session I was able to get a rather good picture of the man who runs the Virtual Artists website - the site which manages the "Loud" site. His name is Jesse Reynolds (seen left between Craig Garrett and Gabrielle Kuiper).

After the "Collaborative Publishing" session in which I learnt about a web site called (Gabrielle Kuiper).... Gabrielle was a participant in a session with me later that day.

The Lumby session was titled "Click My Lit" - a young girl, Kylie Gusset, dressed in somewhat faggy clothes and seen here left between Meg Surmond and Jen Hommer was most concerned about her appearance. Lumby, cleverly, never appeared - she was about to give birth I was told later by Marcus Westbury.

When I took the photo she asked if I was Keith someone... and then went on into great detail about how this session had made it in the Sydney Morning Herald because of its title.

The session was about as valuable as a wet paper bag in a delivery room. I walked out half way through as a mindless stream of drivel, mixed with schoolgirl-like giggles, filled the room. I was not alone.

My day was saved by members of 2600 who have an excellent web site which gives pointers on how to bypass the repressive censorship laws introduced by the Federal Government in Australia.

These fellows were genuine hackers. Even during the session they were trying to hack into different things for fun...

I then went across to the Festival room (downstairs) where I was to talk... I spotted Marcus Westbury (left), the festival organiser, getting him to sit down long enough for the picture above left. Marcus was the organiser of the National Young Writers' Festival, Marcus Westbury, is the person who coordinated all 56 or so online projects during LOUD.

Marcus organised the now infamous Loud festival held in January 1998. This on-line festival included the X-Rated postcard of Pauline Hanson which I had been instrumental in getting removed.

He was responsible for the Pauline Hanson image (which was created by an artist named 'The Issue') being published on the LOUD website.

My first session, "Left, Right, Out", at 3pm included Gabrielle Kuiper from the earlier session. A young man, Graham Meikle, chaired the session.

About 50 young people attended. They listened and I was saved from having anything thrown at me despite standing firmly behind the reputation of Pauline Hanson and One Nation - after another member of, Colene Woods, tried to stir up the crowd.

"I would never allow your post to appear on my page," she said. "I don't want a racist, homophobe on my page!"

My second session, two hours later at 5pm, was titled, "Testing the limits".... and one of the three panelists, Melita Rogowsky (in pic on left), did just that. She was well over the limit on Vodka... and admitted it freely to the audience of about 100.

Testing the limits was about censorship in Australia. I was able to relate the story behind the banning of my book "Murder by Media". The audience were excellent, as in the earlier session (apart from the rabble rouser referred to above). 

That night the party in the Grand Hotel bar carried on until 3am.... the next day, Sunday, the festival did not get into gear until nearly midday as the revelers recovered.

Sunday, 3rd:

I had been approached by Nick Leas of the Sydney Morning Herald after my second session - he wanted to do a story on my appearance at the festival. I don't think the story ever appeared. 

While I waited for Nick in the "Octapod" I took this photograph of the magazine rack.

I told Nick that I wanted to take his photograph as I would put it on the net and do the right thing by him if he reciprocated. I called it "The great equaliser."

Later that day Graham Meikle, right, approached me for an interview for his book on political parties on the Internet - we chatted for about an hour.

I attended a couple of the sessions on Sunday before returning to the hotel for an early night. Thankfully there was no party in the bar below on Sunday night!

Session below "Keeping up with critics": Audience, panel: Anthony Macris, John Casimir and Sebastian Smee.

Monday, 4th October:

Before leaving for the airport I took this photograph of an amazing building in Newcastle.

The round building, new, is attached to the very old building right. The building on the right is totally dilapidated.

The flight back to Brisbane (via Coolangatta) was uneventful.

The picture on the right is of the Gateway bridge over the Brisbane River

I arrived back in Brisbane at about 2pm.


I enjoyed the festival and I must congratulate Marcus on a very well organised time.

I did not see the rent a crowd mob I had expected - just a group of young people having a good time and partying hard at night. It was the pink, blue and red hair that I still cannot come to terms with... even after four days with it!

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