Keynote 1: Dr Eleanor Hogan

Space, silence and hybridity in Ernestine Hill’s northern vision of Australia

‘They don’t like the great wide spaces – saying with Pascal

“le silence eternal de ces espaces infinis m’effraie”.’

So wrote journalist and writer Ernestine Hill in her notes for The Great Australian Loneliness (1938), a travelogue based on her roaming reporting through northern Australia during the 1930s. A rebuff to the era’s conventional view of the north as silent, empty and hostile, The Great Australian Loneliness depicts life above the twentieth parallel as unruly and convivial, with many hybrid voices to be heard in its great wide spaces in contrast to the ‘smug, colour-conscious White Australia’ of the urban south.

But if Hill’s northern vision expresses a form of what cultural theorist Meaghan Morris calls proto-multiculturalism, from contemporary postcolonial perspectives her writing is marred by paternalistic, orientalising and at times imperialistic notions of race and culturally insensitive language. Her archival material also reveals that she was aware of frontier conflict, which she glossed over in The Great Australian Loneliness, although she entertained more progressive views of Australian history in her later unpublished works.

This paper will revisit The Great Australian Loneliness as a lens for re-viewing the paradoxes and silences of northern identity and history. When read in the context of her published and unpublished corpus, Hill’s northern-inflected vision of Australia displays an evolving consciousness of intercultural relations and national identity.

Eleanor Hogan is a literary non-fiction writer and independent researcher whose work focuses on Central Australia. She is the author of NewSouth’s Alice Springs (2012)and Into the Loneliness: the unholy alliance of Ernestine Hill and Daisy Bates (2021), and co-author of The Internet on the Outstation (2016). She has a PhD in Australian Literature and an MA (Hons) in Women’s Studies from Melbourne University, and an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction. Into the Loneliness received an Australia Council Arts Project Grant 2016, the Peter Blazey Fellowship 2017, the Hazel Rowley Literary Fellowship 2019, and was short-listed for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award 2021.

Keynote 2: Georgina Heydon, Criminology and Justice Studies RMIT

Forensic linguistics: How bad spelling uncovered a secret signature in a murder investigation.

The case, like many others, bagan with a phone call from a detective.

‘Hello? Dr Heydon? I’m a detective at Mackay CIB, Queensland Police. I am not sure if you’re the right person, or if you can help me, but we’ve got a murder victim and an anonymous threatening letter and we think it was written by the suspect because the spelling is really similar…’

Thus began my involvement in a most unusual case. Sadly, the circumstances of the murder were all too familiar – jealous man kills his ex-partner – but the distinctive textual evidence in this case provided an avenue of investigation not usually seen in a homicide: forensic linguistics.

In this keynote presentation, I will provide a summary of the case itself, and then explore the relevant linguistic analysis used to uncover the authorship of the threatening letter.  I will contextualise this case study within the broader field of forensic linguistics and explain the opportunities and, importantly, the limitations of such authorship analysis by drawing on the FBI’s analysis in the Unabomber case, among others.  While some texts, such as in the Mackay case, have the capacity to reveal the secrets of their authorship, in this paper I will explain what might be required to develop a reliable tool for authorship attribution for all texts.

Georgina Heydon is a Professor in Criminology and Justice Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia. Her research analyses the language of police interviewing and other forms of evidential language in the justice system. Prof Heydon is a past President of the International Association of Forensic Linguists and as a forensic linguist, she provides expert evidence on authorship identification and commercial trademark cases. Her current research focuses on the reporting of sexual assault. She is also working with Aboriginal community organisations towards developing a methodology for research field interviews that combines cognitive interviewing and traditional yarning methods.

Keynote 3: Thomas Mayor

Thomas Mayor is a Kaurareg Aboriginal and Kalkalgal, Erubamle Torres Strait Islander man. He was a wharf labourer for sixteen years and is an official of the Maritime Union of Australia and is the author of four books as well as essays and articles published in the Griffith Review, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian. His present works cover both historical and contemporary First Nations struggles, biographical narratives, fatherhood, masculinity, love and race.Thomas was inspired to write his first book: Finding the Heart of the Nation – the Journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth, after being entrusted to carry the sacred Uluru Statement from the Heart canvas to Australians from all walks of life, soon after its creation in the heart of the country in 2017. Thomas traveled throughout the nation for eighteen months with the Uluru Statement, taking it to the smallest of communities to the largest of city gatherings, playing a key role in building the peoples movement for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to what it is today. His first childrens book: Finding Our Heart, is a childrens book about the Uluru Statement. It has been a roaring success because of its contemporary art and powerful truth telling with a uniquely clear call to action.

Keynote 4: Mary Anne Butler, award winning playwright

Wittenoom: the untold travesty of a town which was lied to

Wittenoom is a town in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region, on traditional Banyjima Country. It was built in the 1940’s to house miners and their families who worked at the blue asbestos mine in Wittenoom Gorge.

During Wittenoom’s operating years, asbestos was increasingly linked to cancer and lung disease. Reports of the mine’s unsafe conditions were repeatedly filed by doctors and mines inspectors, with dust levels at the mine and mill regularly monitored at six to eight times above ‘safe’ levels. These reports were ignored by mine management, and Wittenoom’s residents were repeatedly lied to about their safety. Referred to as ‘Australia’s Chernobyl’, Wittenoom remains Australia’s worst industrial disaster, linked to over 10,000 asbestos-related deaths.

My new play Wittenoom tells the untold travesty of this town through the eyes of two fictional characters – Dot and Pearl – a mother and daughter whose stories segue between Wittenoom’s glorious heyday in the past, and the present, when Dot is dying of Mesothelioma, an incurable lung disease caused by blue asbestos.

This keynote address considers the powerful capacity of turning factual research into fictional stories which allow us to investigate and re-shape the voices of the past. It explores how we might shine a light on histories which have been buried by lies, and it reflects on the power of imaginative empathy to bring the dead back to life, so they can tell their own truths in a way which history never allowed for.

Mary Anne Butler’s plays have won the Victorian Prize for Literature, Victorian Premier’s Drama Award, a stage AWGIE and two NT Chief Minister’s Book of the Year Awards. She has been nominated for the Griffin Theatre Award and twice for the Nick Enright Award [NSW Literary Awards]. Mary Anne is a Sidney Myer Creative Fellow, an Arts NT Fellow, Winston Churchill Fellow, Regional Arts Fellow and Asialink Fellow. She holds an MPhil in Creative Writing, an MEd in Arts Education, and is undertaking a PhD in Literature at Charles Darwin University, investigating how we write hope into the creative literature of the Anthropocene.

Guest Panel NT Writers & Journalists

Secrets in plain sight 

Kieran Finnane, Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson

In the Australian outback, truth can be a murky thing—warped by heat and drink, by the passage of time and the traumatic impacts of an often-unspoken history. Truth can be overshadowed by myth, buried by distance, sheltered by isolation, controlled by powerful outside forces. Out here, it can be hard to know what to believe.  

In this panel, three authors grapple with truth, lies and secrets in the outback, a place alive with stories. Alice Springs journalist Kieran Finnane discusses Peace Crimes, her probing account of one of Australia’s most secret military bases and the trial of six nonviolent activists who breached its boundary. It’s an investigation consumed by secrets and unsettling truths that can be found in the open. Throughout, Finnane returns to the question: If so much is known about Pine Gap, why aren’t we moved to do more about it? 

Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson discuss Larrimah, an investigation of the disappearance of a man and his dog from the remote 12-person town of Larrimah. The case is one of Australia’s biggest mysteriesa swirling whodunnit about camel pies, drug deals and crocodiles. Entwined in this story, they find a much bigger one about a landscape that conspires to hide things and about the future of the outback, which—in many ways—has been taken ransom by a myth it can never live up to.  

In conversation, the writers explore the landscape between their books, challenging the relationship Australia has with secrets, particularly in the Northern Territory. They ask: what obligations do we have to the truth, history, memory, myth and action?

Kieran Finnane is an author, journalist and arts writer. Afterarts and film studies in Sydney and Paris, and early employment in television, she moved to Alice Springs where she found her true home in print, writing about the social and cultural life of Central Australia with a commitment to detail, context and recognising complexity. Her books are Trouble: On Trial in Central Australia, UQP, 2016; and Peace Crimes: Pine Gap, national security and dissent, UQP,  2020. Both grew out of her reporting for the Alice Springs News, for which she was a founding journalist. She has also contributed to national publications, such as Griffith Review and Artlink Magazine.

Caroline Graham is a Walkley Award-winning journalist and a lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Queensland. Together with Kylie Stevenson, she has co-written the true crime podcast Lost in Larrimah and the book Larrimah, both of which grapple with secrets, tall tales, lies and the Australian outback identity. Caroline is also the co-author of Writing Feature Stories: How to research and write articles—from listicles to longform and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Australian, The Weekend Australian, Australian Women’s Weekly and Crikey. Her current academic research interests are: the ethics of narrative non-fiction, data-driven reporting methods and the relationship between history, memory and fiction/non-fiction. 

Kylie Stevenson has been working as a journalist since 2001, her articles appearing in The Guardian Australia, The Weekend Australian Magazine, The Saturday Paper and numerous health and travel publications. She has spent the last 14 years working in the Northern Territory, eight of them at the iconic, croc-obsessed Northern Territory News, where she was Editor of the Sunday Territorian. In 2018, Kylie and Caroline Graham created the Walkley Award-winning podcast Lost in Larrimah, and their book, Larrimah, was released in 2021 with Allen & Unwin. Kylie is currently undertaking a Doctorate of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong.