CBD: Sorrento Writers Festival aiming to take Melbourne’s mantle

CBD: Sorrento Writers Festival aiming to take Melbourne’s mantle
CBD: Sorrento Writers Festival aiming to take Melbourne’s mantle

This week Melbourne Writers Festival cranks into action, and organisers hope to put weeks of bad publicity about an exodus of board directors and admin staff and a ban on audience questions behind it.

But the 38-year-old event is in danger of being eclipsed, thanks to the buzz around a two-year-old upstart that now finds itself the flavour of the month.

Corrie Perkin has big plans for the Sorrento Writers Festival. Credit: Eddie Jim

In just its second year, the Sorrento Writers Festival, held over the Anzac Day weekend, is close to eclipsing Melbourne’s main event, having sold 15,743 tickets and staging 135 events not counting school events, with 190 speakers.

Meanwhile, MWF’s latest annual report reveals ticket sales went down about 20 per cent from the previous year, but produced a surplus off the back of increased government funding.

“We are going to beat Melbourne Writers Festival and be the biggest in Victoria,” said Sorrento Writers Festival founder and director Corrie Perkin, who started the event after COVID-19 lockdowns and stiff rents forced her to shut her bookshop in Hawksburn in 2021 after 12 years. Fighting words.

And now the Mornington Peninsula festival, once derided by some in the literature community as “Prue and Trude putting on a writers festival for their rich friends”, is contemplating parking some tanks on the Melbourne Writers Festival lawn.

“Do we have a couple of Sorrento Writers Festival events in Melbourne during the year?” Perkin mused.

Probably a matter for the not-for-profit’s board, chaired by businessman Peter Inge.

Sorrento highlights included the blubfest which ensued when former Insiders host Barrie Cassidy interviewed former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty and transport magnate Lindsay Fox – who are best friends – in the session Between Us: Two friends discuss the ties that bind, which left the trio with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Meanwhile, Melbourne Writers Festival artistic director Michaela McGuire kicks off her event on Wednesday with award-winning US author Michael Cunningham. MWF says it has had a year of record-breaking ticket sales, with multiple events selling out within days of going on sale, and nearly one-third of events sold out. The festival told us all this without saying how many tickets get sold.

Melbourne Writers Festival artistic director Michaela McGuire.

Melbourne Writers Festival artistic director Michaela McGuire.Credit: Chris Hopkins

“The Melbourne Writers Festival is a wonderful institution with a very strong brand and we hope they have a great week this week,” Perkin said.

As The Age is a festival partner, we cannot help but agree.


Kerryn Phelps, a former Australian Women’s Weekly health columnist and Today regular, has had quite the career arc since her days running the peak body for doctors, the Australian Medical Association. She was also briefly a federal MP, after beating Liberal Dave Sharma in the 2018 byelection in Wentworth, following Malcolm Turnbull’s political downfall.

Kerryn Phelps in 2018 during her stint as a federal MP.

Kerryn Phelps in 2018 during her stint as a federal MP.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Phelps’ win wasn’t repeated at the 2019 election but provided a blueprint later for the teal wave, and during the pandemic she became an outspoken proponent of COVID-zero and mask mandates.

But later, after suffering a vaccine-related injury, her public utterances took on a more jab-critical hue.

Kerryn Phelps’ deleted post on X.

Kerryn Phelps’ deleted post on X.Credit: X

On Monday, Phelps took to social media platform now known as X with a post that seemed more in line with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation than the genteel champagne socialists of Paddington.

Phelps quote-posted Jewish anti-immigration influencer Eli David, which featured a clip of British Islamist preacher Anjem Choudhary claiming that Sharia law would replace democracy in the UK, France and Belgium within decades.

“Wake up Australia [flag emoji]” was Phelps’ message.

We asked Phelps whether she believed Australian democracy was at risk of being replaced by Sharia law, and received a lengthy essay, some of which we’ve quoted below.

“I deleted the tweet after some noxious responses and felt that the message needed more detail,” Phelps told CBD. Fair call there. Phelps, who noted she’d fought against discrimination throughout her career, continued: “I appreciate the opportunity to provide that detail.

Kerryn Phelps

Kerryn PhelpsCredit: John Shakespeare

“One of the greatest threats we face right now is the radicalisation of young people, particularly through social media. Yes, it is time to wake up to this threat.”

Phelps then went on about pro-Palestine protests at university campuses in the US and Australia, and told CBD they were “not benign gatherings”, and accused demonstrators, through their sloganeering, of supporting a terrorist agenda and calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.

She also claimed concerns about the conflict in Gaza had spilled over into an increase in reports of antisemitism, and that the boundaries between free speech and hate speech had been blurred.

“This is no time for complacency,” she said.

Former Fund chair Greg Combet.

Former Fund chair Greg Combet.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Which is all well and good, but Kerryn, Sharia law usurping Australian democracy? We are none the wiser.


How many honorary doctorates is too many? Ask former Labor climate change minister and now Future Fund chair Greg Combet, who already has two from the University of Newcastle and the University of South Australia.

Now Combet has just received an honorary doctorate from UNSW to add to the tally.

Combet, who ran the ACTU before entering parliament and worked with industry super funds afterwards, received heady praise from UNSW chancellor David Gonski, who called him “one of the most impressive people I’ve met”.

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Source: theage.com.au

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