April 13, 2022 Rhonda Pryor

Decency, Common Sense, Fairness, Vision

Thoughts on Adelaide Writers' Week

One of my most favourite Australian painters, Clarice Beckett. Just being herself: real.
Passing Trams, c. 1931, oil on board


Words – and stories – have always influenced me as a visual artist. Words are but one of the things that produce images in the mind along with odours, colours and sounds. Images, shapes, ideas start to float around, generating vortexes of possibility. Having attended Adelaide’s Writers’ Week last month, and having reflected further on the topics discussed, it’s clear the strongest themes floating around the ether were Common Decency, Common Sense, Fairness, and Vision.

You might think these topics are rarely discussed with authenticity in the public sphere, and I certainly can’t blame you. Because they aren’t. Political party agendas; fossil fuel, mining and gambling lobbying; to name but a few culprits, have entrenched slippery weasel-word ‘explanations’ for diabolically irresponsible actions (and inactions).

And I think we’ve had enough.

It was so refreshing to hear impassioned, clear, reasoned discussion about the nonsense we’ve accepted from our leaders. And doable steps that, should we choose to take them, will change things for the better. It never seems to be a case of “Great idea – how can we make it happen?”, but “We’re already doing our fair share” or “We’ve already spent blah dollars on this” or “I reject that assumption”, and on and on ad nauseum.

So, if words work for you – and I’m assuming they do as you’re reading this now – following is a rundown of the some of the discussions (and related books) that resonated with me.


Words from the Wise

A discussion with Nobel Laureate Peter Doherty and Barry Jones about the role of science in informing responsible policy to appropriately address the challenges of the future.

Books:            What is to be Done?, Barry Jones

                        An Insider’s Plague Year, Peter Doherty


The Big Switch

Saul Griffith on electrifying (cleanly) everything that needs powering up. With a detailed plan on how to do it. A brilliant, logical and practical discussion.

Book:             The Big Switch, Saul Griffith


Holding the Hose

Interviewed by journalist Kerry O’Brien, Richard Flanagan gave brilliantly gentle, thoughtful and authentic insights into his views on inequality, freedom and the dangers of conformity. And was given a well-deserved standing ovation in return.

Books:            Toxic, Richard Flanagan

                        The Australian Disease: On the Decline of Love and the Rise of Non-Freedom, (essay), Richard Flanagan


Australia’s War on Whistleblowers

Lawyers Bernard Collaery, David McBride and lawyer for Julian Assange Jennifer Robinson discussing justice, transparency, and decency. The punitive punishments doled out to those who buck the system, and thereby embarrass the powerful, is not only disgraceful but applied opaquely and ruthlessly. Insightful and passionate.

Book:             Oil Under Troubled Water: Australia’s Timor Sea Intrigue, Bernard Collaery


Bad Energy

Ian Lowe and Jeremy Moss, in conversation with Natasha Mitchell, explaining the moral questions underlying energy policy, how nuclear energy is not the answer, and highlighting the moral harm done by industrial energy production. Clear, informative and persuasive.

Books:            Carbon Justice, Jeremy Moss

                        Long Half-Life, Ian Lowe


Good International Citizenship: the Case for Decency

Gareth Evans (former foreign minister) talking with Kerry O’Brien about the imperative for good international citizenship, generosity of foreign aid, responses to human rights violations and a call for decency in the way we engage with the world. A fabulous discussion.

Book:             Good International Citizenship: The Case for Decency, (essay), Gareth Evans


Policy Drift

John Daley (CEO of the Grattan Institute) and Martin Parkinson (served in policy development under six prime ministers) in conversation with Paul Barclay about the need for courage, vision and commitment from our nation’s leaders.

Book:             A Decade of Drift, Martin Parkinson


Full Circle: a Search for the World that Comes Next

Scott Ludlam putting the case for a new form of ecological politics in order to handle the challenges all global citizens face.

Book:             Full Circle, Scott Ludlam


Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America

Journalist Alec MacGillis outlined his fascinating investigation of the labour practices of Amazon in the US, and how these practices have eroded communities, some cities, and American life generally. All for the sake of consumer convenience. If you thought the film Nomadland was eye opening…

Book:             Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America, Alec MacGillis


Grift, Lies and Influence

Fiona McLeod (Chair of the Accountability Round Table) and Michael West discuss the lack of accountability in public life, and the ways in which community interests have been undermined by some corporations and leaders.

Book:             Easy Lies and Influence, Fiona McLeod


The Reckoning

Journalist and author Jess Hill and Grace Tame (former Australian of the Year) in conversation with Jo Dyer (Director of Adelaide Writers’ Week).

Book:             Quarterly Essay #84: The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing Australia, Jess Hill

                       Look what you Made Me Do, Jess Hill


And I can’t but end with something a bit lighter, but something that equally touched on all those values mentioned at the start of this piece:

Love Stories

Trent Dalton gave the most delightful spiel on how he came to write his latest book. The whole story of how he came to be in possession of The Blue Olivetti Typewriter is, in itself, worth buying the book for. A heart-warming, uplifting testament to what really makes the world go around. And don’t we all need that now?

Book:             Love Stories, Trent Dalton


And something to leave you with:

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.
― George Bernard Shaw

So true George, so true.


Simple, honest, unpretentious observation: William Scott, Frying Pan and Eggs, 1949, oil on canvas

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