Epiphany: Byron Writers Festival 2022

Byron Writers Festival 2022: Epiphany

Byron Writers Festival returned in 2022 to great celebration on the lands of the Arakwal Bumberbin and Minjungbal peoples of the Bundjalung Nation.

Artistic director Zoe Pollock and author Emily Brugman (whose novel The Islands has one of the best openings and setting you will be privileged to read) created a high quality, well organised festival with an extraordinary culture of curiosity, intelligence and fun and a lively, warm, engaged atmosphere.

The marquees created a quintessential festival atmosphere

The overall feel was very Byron and very festive.

I was privileged to moderate a session that deeply interested me, ‘Epiphany: Seeing the World Anew’. As the discussion evolved it became transcendent, even sublime, as the authors shared their experiences – and more than they expected – with honesty and eloquence.

‘Epiphany: Seeing the World Anew’

Krystal de Napoli, Yves Rees, Christine Jackman, moderator Joy Lawn

Yves Rees, Krystal de Napoli, Christine Jackman, Joy Lawn

The books in this session by authors Krystal de Napoli, Yves Rees and Christine Jackman are non-fiction, two are memoirs.

These authors are all high achievers and all have strong, powerful voices that continue to nudge us with their insights, and even send up flares to remind us of what we should perhaps be reflecting on and even changing.

Each author has their own change, transformation, way of seeing the world anew and possibly even an epiphany.

They don’t want their readers to reproduce their experience but to understand theirs and then hopefully discover their own.

The authors

Christine Jackman is a people watcher, an undercover anthropologist. A highflyer. She’s a journalist (formerly foreign correspondent for News Corps in New York City), and a communications consultant.

Rushing and having a seemingly successful life, she had no time to socialise, replenish or do anything apart from work. She found busy-ness ‘reassuringly familiar’. For much of her life ‘that inner place of secret stories’ has been her ‘comfort zone’ and she discovered, ‘Silence is the gift you had had all your life that you finally opened.’

Turning Down the Noise: the quiet power of silence in a busy world (Murdoch Books) is her ‘story of unravelling into silence’.

Even though Christine craves silence, she’s honest about her failures to always live what she has discovered about it. She also enjoys pub choir.

Krystal de Napoli’s passion for Indigenous astronomy and science has created a niche where she can feel connected to her Gomeroi culture and community.

One of her career-defining moments was at Byron Bay, where she attended an astronomy convention and met a leader in the field who became a mentor-colleague.

Kyrstal is a public speaker about Indigenous sciences; worked on a BBC radio documentary, Emu in the Sky, was an astronomer tour guide on the first commercial flight towards Antarctica, co-created the immersive dance film, One Starry Night for the Australian Van Gough exhibition, is embedding Indigenous sciences into school and tertiary curriculums, has achieved a Bachelor of Science and is completing her honours degree in astrophysics.

Her debut book is Astronomy: Sky Country (Thames & Hudson), co-written with Karlie Noon, explains the holistic, interconnected nature of Country and Indigenous knowledge systems and the complex relationship between Dreaming, Songlines and astronomical highways.

Dr Yves Rees’ memoir, All About Yves: Notes from a Transition (Allen & Unwin) is informed, considered – and lived.

As a historian at La Trobe University, Yves’ account is reasoned, well credentialed, and researched. It is well written and accessible. One of its finest features is how it opens readers to understanding and empathy.

Yves has transitioned from cisgender to transgender, from ‘within the binary to beyond it’ and is now a trans activist.

Yves has raged about the difficulties created for trans people, but at the same time gives a silent plea, ‘stand beside me, hold my hand in this storm.’

Yves has said, ‘we are all entitled to welcome, respect, care. We should all be able to have accurate ID and somewhere safe to empty our bladders.’

*****

Through their books and during the panel session, the authors share the importance of the natural world to them and their work.

Christine talks about green and blue spaces and their health effects and how ‘Spiritual peace or an awakening could be found in nature’. Krystal writes about Country and how land, water and sky are interconnected, how we need a more environmentally aware population that cares for Country and helps to restore its health. Yves is a hiker and describes how the natural world was pivotal in their transition. They also use nature words – ‘unfurl’ in describing their transition.

All three books feature or refer to space – in different ways (both physical and metaphorical) and to different degrees.

Krystal’s book Astronomy is a must-read book about our skies and Country. It has an exceptional and important perspective, insight and knowledge-base.

When Christine attended a retreat searching for silence she mused, ‘I luxuriated in the sheer spaciousness of having no social or familial obligations’ and realised she ‘just was’, she was happy, had a crystalline clarity’ and felt an ‘ethereal presence’. ‘I had somehow found the space I needed – a space in which I could finally stop.’

Yves found identity in space where they could ‘run wild across the sand …’ to feel free and lucky. Their destination ‘was no fixed point at all, but a vast open plain where I wander, marvelling anew each day at the possibilities’.

Krystal and Christine’s books cover light and noise pollution respectively and how detrimental they are. They both also suggest ways this could be improved.

In Astronomy, Krystal explains how light pollution affects native fauna by reducing reproductive output, wayfaring mechanisms and life quality. It also affects star visibility, is compromising access to sky knowledge and mega constellations (satellites) are destroying dark skies with a new type of skyglow.

This is all largely avoidable and reversable. One thing we can all do is light intelligently and with purpose.

Deep listening is revered and celebrated by First Peoples. Professional relationships take years of meaningful community engagement and deep listening.

To minimise noise pollution, Christine wants quiet spaces, particularly spaces in nature protected. To help awareness and the cause she has become a climate activist.

Silence, or its lack, is obviously a pivotal part of Christine’s book. She loved silence as a child and saw it as a precious, unnameable space where she was ‘free to think and breathe and simply be’ but it is essential in most authors’ lives because ‘writers value quiet places’.

For Yves, ‘gender is relational’, so being alone is freeing. Hence lockdown during the pandemic was a transformational time.

Christine and Yves both write their experience as memoir – much in narrative, story form (and both even briefly mention fairytales). Krystal writes much about story, including the Celestial/Dark Emu and the Seven Sisters.

Story is important in their work.

Yves writes about ‘all the wonder of a fairytale’ as Eddie Redmayne’s body is transformed in the Danish Girl movie, ‘a slow unfurling of womanhood’ and ‘a glimpse of the magic and artistry of reimaging a body’.

Christine describes a natural fairytale setting. The last leg of driving to the pristine One Square Inch of Silence in the Hoh Rainforest in the US ‘was like melting slowly into a fairytale’.

Krystal calls stories ‘vehicles that carry knowledge’. Knowledge is embedded in story, including where to find access to food and water in all seasons. Skies are the ‘stage upon which stories unfold. They inform us about the land below and guide us on where we are going, what we need, and who we are, were and will be’.

To a greater or lesser degree, these books all refer to Indigenous Cultural Heritage and First Peoples.

Krystal explains how everything is interconnected and relational. She speaks up for sustainability, implores, ‘don’t threaten our survival, protect our skies’ and advocates for ‘interactions between the innovative technologies of the West and the holistic, adaptable, sustainably focused worldview held by Indigenous peoples as a way forward through the chaotic times of climate and environmental change.’

The ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ is invaluable in protecting the intangible, such as stories and the heritage listing of celestial emu rock art on land helps protect the emu in the sky ‘through tying an intangible oral tradition to a physical place’.

Christine cites her meeting with Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr – the Northern Territory’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher. Miriam-Rose espouses dadirri – contemplation, ‘inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness’, and reminds us that Aboriginal people learn, not by asking questions, but watching, listening, waiting then acting – ‘being aware’.

Yves gives insight into trans First Peoples around the world.

Our authors seem to have experienced a time of transformation, epiphany or seeing the world anew as a light bulb flash as well as a series of moments and shifts.

Krystal had a very tough childhood and early years. Her mother died young and she faced other difficult issues. She loved Maths and was mentored in this, and was guided into ‘enabling pathways’ in education before discovering astrophysics.  She was transformed by her curiosity about and awe of the sky, the interconnectedness of everything and the importance of the sky in mapping the history of the land, ‘carried through the generations by the power of language, song and dance’.

Christine’s realisation that she needed silence happened in ‘little shifts’. She recognises that change is happening all the time in small and large moments but has also had times of epiphany.

Yves writes that, ‘as with ‘coming out’, there’s no grand announcement that sets off fireworks … Instead, there are a thousand small actions, endlessly repeated, until they harden into something that might be real’ but also shared their time of epiphany in the desert when the realisation they were trans came as almost like a word from God. ‘It’s a destination that’s open, unscripted, full of possibility. It allows me the freedom to evolve and change, to do gender differently each day, to be forever becoming.’

This year’s festival theme is ‘Radical Hope’.

Near the end of their book, Yves uses the evocative phrases ‘crossing a threshold’, and ‘going beyond’ to remind us that ‘Everyone is learning and making mistakes … figuring it out together’.

Byron Writers Festival 2022

Christine hopes that the ‘cacophony of competing demands could be turned into a symphony if I just worked hard enough’.

And Krystal talks about, ‘under future skies’ where ‘Under the skies of the future, all peoples are custodians of Country’.

I, and no doubt others who read these books and listen to these authors, learn and hopefully better understand a great deal about different experiences, world-views and transformation and change.

Thank you to Yves, Krystal and Christine, as well as Byron Writers Festival.

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