HOSTED in the historic setting of the Scone Arts & Crafts Hall, the 2020 Scone Literary Festival program was launched on Saturday night at a sell-out event.
The launch doubled as an oration in honour of Australia's only Nobel Laureate for Literature, Patrick White, of the White family from Belltrees.
Award-winning Melbourne-based author Christos Tsiolkas, in conversation with Australian commentator and festival patron Phillip Adams, touched on the Nobel prize winner's literary legacy.
Speaking to The Advocate ahead of the oration, Tsiolkas said it was "a real honour" to speak at an event honouring Patrick White.
"I think his writing is phenomenal," he said.
"So when I got that invitation, it just felt like instinct to accept, and it felt like I was honouring the gift that his writing is and not only for myself but for all of us."
A first time visitor to the Upper Hunter, Tsiolkas said it was important to get out of the cities and attend the smaller literary events.
"It's beautiful but it's also a little bit sad because driving up from Sydney you really see the desolation that comes from the drought," he said.
"There's something about the rural literary events.
"What happens in the capitals - they're so big and sometimes overwhelming but I've just really enjoyed the rural events."
The intimate garden of the Scone Arts & Crafts hall was the perfect setting for guests to enjoy locally sourced, cooked and presented food and the hospitality service by students of Scone Grammar School Café.
Jen Tomasetti of Russley Rural Retreat and local farmer and foodie John Taylor worked with Upper Hunter produce such as lamb and garlic from Elmswood Farm, Gundy, wild asparagus from Bunnan Road, smoked brisket, salsa, pumpkin and Nundle trout as well as local wines.
The oration began with a touching introduction by Phillip Adams before Tsiolkas delivered a powerful and thought-provoking speech with over-arching themes of shame and doubt, how they can take a constructive or destructive form and how they can be applied to Australian politics and culture.
"Shame is a dominant theme in my writing itself and I want to talk a little bit about how I'm thinking as a writer, about the culture and politics of our country at the moment and to talk about shame and doubt in relationship to our politics and our culture," he told The Advocate.
He described his speech as a "plea for doubt from all of us, that we learn how to argue better, that we learn how to listen better and that we ask ourselves a few more questions".
"Because it feels like to me, and maybe this is a function of social media, that we're just shouting at each other and I don't think that creates actual dialogue," he said.
If there was one thing he hoped listeners took from the night, it was that "there is a way of arguing about things like politics and ideas without hatred and without fear".
"I think that it's increasingly important that we learn how to do that," he added.
Following the oration, Scone Literary Festival President Janie Jordan unveiled the much-anticipated line-up for the March 2020 program.
The revamped event has now been extended to three days and includes additional attractions to appeal to a wider audience including a Merriwa Literary Lunch, a Young Readers' Program at Murrurundi and Scone Libraries and a Bush Poet's Session at Strathearn Retirement Village.
Major guests for the 2020 program include Kerry O'Brien, Chris Hammer and Matthew Evans who will discuss politics, crime and the future of food.
A full program is available on the festival's website https://sconeliteraryfestival.com.au and tickets are on sale from Wednesday November 20.