The 20th annual Northern Territory Writers Festival (NTWF) begins on Thursday, featuring an impressive line-up of storytellers from across the Territory.

Aiming to celebrate NT stories, the festival embraces storytelling in various forms, including panel discussions and spoken word performances.

Fiona Dorrell, Artistic Director of the 2020 NTWF, said the festival is dedicated to amplifying Indigenous voices of the Northern Territory.

“We have a lot of really special Indigenous artists, so making space for those Indigenous voices amongst our writers is really important,” she said.

Held in Darwin, the theme for this year—Gunamidirra garawa birditj, Larrakia for ‘when the tides turn’—is more fitting than ever, with COVID-19 morphing and reimagining the festival in almost every way.

Originally meant to be held in May, NTWF has shifted to an almost exclusively Territorian line-up due to current state and international border restrictions.

Dorrell said switching to focus on the NT writing community has been a huge positive in the grand scheme of things.

“We had a whole bunch of interstate and international guests booked in, but thanks to COVID, almost all of our artists are Northern Territory-based,” she said.

“It was exciting to see the program come together on the strength of our local writing community.”

The festival will host a number of free online discussions with interstate and international writers alongside the live and local events.

The program includes poetry from a group of Arrernte women, whose collection has just been published, as well as Gay’wu Group of Women from North East Arnhem Land whose book, Songspirals, was longlisted for the Stella Prize earlier this year.

Laniyuk, a beloved writer and poet from Anula, is also set to join audiences online for an author Q&A, and Aunty Kathy Mills, a prominent activist, poet and songwriter, will launch her debut poetry collection Mookanunganuk.

This will be Aunty Kathy’s third year participating in the NTWF.

“My explanation is I’m a mood writer—where my mood takes me, I record it. I don’t think it’s poetry, but that’s my form of reporting. It’s hard to explain,” she laughed.

Mookanunganuk embodies the decades Aunty Kathy has spent campaigning for Indigenous rights; she said the collection speaks to Reconciliation.

“Aboriginal people have always had to learn English and find a way to express ourselves through their language,” she said.

“We must be able to talk to one another on equal ground and they need to start learning our language.”

Aunty Kathy is hopeful her words will reach others who think like her.

“It’s like when the rain comes down and it mingles with the earth, and our fresh water goes into the sea. Here I am throwing this out to anyone who might be able to relate to it and exchange stories,” she said.

The festival will take place from October 1 to 4 in the new George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens. The rest of the program can be viewed here.

By Imogen Kars