Notes From Australia

2011-09-15T13:21:57+00:00 September 15th, 2011|

In Canberra - photo by Andrew Sheargold

I’m just back from an amazing tour of Australia, where I talked about Hamlet’s BlackBerry in all kinds of places, including two writers’ festivals and more media outlets than I can count. I’m thrilled the book has touched a chord in Australia, a culture I came to love, and I want to share some of the highlights of my three weeks there.

First, a little background. In 2008, Australian journalist and media scholar Matthew Ricketson wrote a newspaper piece about my essay, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry,” which I wrote as a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center. When I expanded the essay into a book and it came out in Australia, Matthew reviewed it in The Australian newspaper. He’s now a professor at the University of Canberra, where he’s assigned the book to his students, and thanks to him, the university underwrote my trip. My wonderful Australian publisher, Scribe, welcomed this news and organized an extensive itinerary for me.

It began in Melbourne, a great city where there seems to be a bookstore on every block. I spoke at the Melbourne Writers Festival, a terrific annual gathering that was my introduction to how much Australia loves books and the people who write them. I did a panel about technology and the future of journalism, and an “in conversation” with Ricketson, which was broadcast by the ABC (Australia’s national television network) and is watchable here. (See this brief “highlight” clip for the best account of the Internet Sabbath I’ve ever given.) In addition to the festival, I got in a few swims at Melbourne’s Edwardian City Baths, a public pool like no other.

Next I went to Canberra, where I spoke twice at the university and also at Australia’s National Library – the latter presentation is now a podcast. Judith Ireland of The Canberra Times wrote a thoughtful piece about my visit, which also ran in the The Sydney Morning Herald alongside a video interview with SMH Tablet Editor Stephen Hutcheon. I had a spirited conversation with ABC Radio’s Louise Maher, a gifted interviewer. And I spent some time at Australia’s stunning Parliament House, where Katharine Murphy of The Age newspaper kindly showed me around the press gallery and introduced me to some of the nation’s leading political journalists.

On to Sydney, where I appeared on several excellent Australian radio shows:  “Mornings with Margaret Throsby” (a one-hour conversation with the legendary host, interspersed with my desert-island classical music choices); ABC Radio Sydney’s “Drive with Richard Glover” (a lively chat with the hugely popular host and all-round great guy); and “PM With Mark Colvin” (a deep media thinker who engaged me in an incisive dialogue about the perils of digital slavery).

I was scheduled to have a brief coffee with Australian MP, technology leader and protean public figure Malcolm Turnbull. The planned fifteen minutes extended to an hour, at which point Turnbull proposed we walk over to Hyde Park and shoot a video for his website. The delightful result is impossible to convey in words – if you watch it, try to imagine a major American political leader (many Australians told me they see Turnbull as their dream Prime Minister) having such a good time in his own YouTube production.

I also gave a talk at Sydney’s Customs House. The room was full, the Q & A was remarkable and many books were sold.

The last stop was Queensland for the marvelous Brisbane Writers Festival, which began with a 3-day retreat at the Sanctuary Cove resort for the writers who had come from abroad. After various adventures including a rain-forest hike, we went into Brisbane for the festival. As in Melbourne, I was blown away by the energy of the city and the generosity of the festival organizers. In addition to speaking on panels with wildly accomplished writers, and happily signing a lot of books, I had a probing radio chat with polymathic Brisbane author and journalist John Birmingham and, patching me in to Adelaide, the ABC’s charming Carole Whitelock.

Like any society, Australia has its problems, but it exudes a vitality that the rest of the world could learn from right now. As I walked around glorious Brisbane on my last day, I wanted to bring some of that spirit home with me. Here’s hoping I get to return one day soon. Thank you, Australia.