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The Importance of Local Culture: Observations from This is Not Art and The National Young Writers Fest

The October long weekend marked many a thing. For some it meant a whole bunch of sports and hangovers and yelling at TV screens realising that Queensland was and always will be the superior state for Rugby League (just because they train in Melbourne, they are still Queenslanders) and that Newcastle is also still not an AFL town. But if you look past these two pretty significant events, you might have noticed a sort of surge and cultural hum going on about town. The October long weekend marked a convergence of two amazing cultural festivals and initiatives – the National Young Writers Fest and This is Not Art. Although most Novocastrians may have been unaware of the goings on about town, many people, particularly young people, seemed to flock to the city to take in all that was culturally on offer. I for one, think it was delightfully refreshing to see Newcastle celebrated for what can sometimes be kept hidden underground.

As I’ve said before, many a time perhaps, Novocastrians are very proud, but we are also very private. Many events seem to fall under the radar purely because they have been labelled as ‘you know, if you know, you know?’. For example I just realised there is an entire comedy scene in Newcastle that meets regularly, and it’s actually quite a thriving little community. When I asked a friend of mine why they hadn’t told me about it, she simply said; ‘but you didn’t ask’. This unfortunately, most of the time anyway, is the Novocastrian way.

When I took the time to actually examine the line up and program of what is probably the most significant cultural and artistic convergence of the year, I was surprised, elated and so proud to be a part of something much bigger than I had ever anticipated. There were artists, writers, performers and everyone in between not just from every corner of the country, but in some cases, many had come from various corners of the globe purely to enjoy the festivities that were right here in our home town. Hosting art exhibitions, live readings and performances everywhere from the Lockup on Hunter Street, Newcastle Museum, Watt Space, The Underground, The Royal Exchange and even Civic Park, the town, our town was finally being celebrated for the culture every one else knew we had all along.

Novocastrians might not know and appreciate this certain aspect, but the thing is, we are more than steel and coal. After chatting to some of the organisers of the event however, particularly on the TiNA side of things, they are currently fighting to receive funding for next year. A festival that celebrates our culture and creativity, something which actually encourages us to celebrate our differences, is now relying heavily on the dedication of volunteers whilst simultaneously fighting for funding and resources whilst the Supercars run full steam ahead. Go figure.

I was eavesdropping, as writers tend to do, on Sunday afternoon whilst I was preparing to nap unashamedly in public. There are many things you can get away with in the warmer weather, and napping in public is most definitely one of them. A group of people were all gathered, enjoying the pristine weather, surrounded by the most perfect blue you’ve ever seen and one individual in particular simply said; “I f***ing love Newcastle, it is pure, perfection”. I took a second to look around, half listening to their conversation, half feasting my eyes on the sights and sounds of the town, my home town. And you know what, I most definitely have to agree, even if it took finally seeing the town through the eyes of a culturally aware tourist to realise it.

It’s this love and celebration of culture and creativity which is why I have not yet left, why many of us haven’t left, in over 20 years. And this is exactly why we should continue to celebrate and support all of the things that make us great, not just a tiny portion for the select few.

Written by Laura Kebby

I write words about talented people doing talented things, and translate chatter by putting pen to paper.

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