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Balarr Catching the Light

Architects and aficionados of the written word rejoice, as the 2022 NT Writers Festival (NTWF) returns, this year’s big celebration of words held in Garrmalang/Darwin.

By Tierney Seccull

The 2022 theme is balarr – catching the light. In Larrakia, balarr means to light up or to become light. NTWF Artistic Director Rita Horanyi says the idea sprouted whilst attending an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria.

“I was playing around with a few different ideas, but was interested in ideas of truth-telling and bringing things to light, and moving on from a period of darkness or difficulty, as of course the last couple of years have been a bit challenging,” she says.

“I thought about the Top End, and that we are surrounded by beautiful light. I went to see an exhibition in Melbourne called Bark Ladies: Eleven Artists from Yirrkala, and there were all of these references to rainbows and catching the light. I just thought that was a phrase that captured the Top End nicely, but also these ideas.”

The four-day festival is unique in that it flitters between the Top End and the Red Centre every second year, allowing access for writers and book lovers across the Territory to engage. This change in setting also allows the program to respond to the surroundings.

“The NT Writers' Centre covers all of the Territory, so it’s evolved to take place in alternating locations. It means the nature of the festival changes form, year to year, because we want to offer an experience that is site-specific,” Horanyi says.

“Being place-based and responsive to where the festival is – in two very different places environmentally – is what ties the festivals together. We respond to the environment, and program with that in mind.”

This year, the bulk of the action takes place at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), set to be a hub of conversation and unique experiences with workshops, panels and other special events. Satellite events invite attendees to beautiful outdoor locations.

The Storied Walk by Gurambai is led by community philosopher and poet Kelly Lee Hickey, and includes a stroll along the Gurambai Walking Trail by Rapid Creek. Across the Seas allows you to nestle among the vessels that have carried people to Top End shores at the Colin Jack-Hinton Maritime Museum, accompanied by readings of poems by Ynes Sanz based on the stories of the boats.

The festival stays true to its mission of giving Territorians the chance to engage with people and activities they may not otherwise get the chance to. Special guests include satirist, author and documentary-maker John Safran, discussing his book Puff Piece, while award-winning author Hannah Kent unpacks her book Devotion with ABC Radio National’s Sarah L’Estrange.

“The festival is a really wonderful opportunity for writers across the NT to come together and connect, and to connect with interstate writers and ideas,” says NT Writers’ Centre Executive Director Fiona Dorrell.

“It also allows industry professionals to make connections outside of the NT, and to find readership beyond the NT community.”

Eager to offer something for everyone, across a wide range of genres and experiences, the program champions local – from participating creatives to the outdoor beauty of the Top End.

“There’ll be lots of different forms of storytelling. We have Kuya James doing a musical performance on the Saturday night, and we have Witiyana Marika performing after the Writing in the Sand panel,” Horanyi says.

“At MAGNT, there’s also a Yolŋu exhibition to celebrate 50 years of ALPA at the same time, so it’s just going to be a really lovely weekend where you can delve into different kinds of storytelling and art in the beautiful weather.

"The bar is open in the evening, so you can settle in with a nice glass of wine and share stories. We just welcome everyone to come along and enjoy it!”

2022 NT Writers Festival

Photo: Tim Nicol Photography

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