Bold ideas fuel Two Fires theme

No, it's not an extreme form of planking - it's part of the Two Fires Festival.

'Fanning the Flames'' is the incendiary theme of the 2013 Two Fires Festival in Braidwood. With ideas such as writing new words for the national anthem and walking the solar system to protest the mining of coal, it seems there's no shortage of inspiration to keep the ideas burning.

The program for this festival, the fifth, ranges from music to dance to literature to visual art - indigenous and non-indigenous - with recitals, performances, panel discussions and films across a range of topics.

John Reid over Mexico Walking the Solar System.
John Reid over Mexico Walking the Solar System. 

The biennial festival, combining arts and activism, was established in 2005 to celebrate and continue the legacy of Judith Wright as a writer, environmentalist and activist for indigenous rights.

Rewriting the national anthem is the pet project of the festival's webmaster, Geoff Davies, who is also a member of the organising committee.

Geoff Davies, committee member of the 2013 Two Fires Festival.
Geoff Davies, committee member of the 2013 Two Fires Festival. 

''We have invited the musicians to make up new words for the national anthem,'' he says.

'' Some of us find the old Advance Australia Fair to be unsatisfactory in various ways. So, I thought, why don't we just start writing new words? No competition, no committee, just people giving it a go. If one version catches on, then eventually it might be adopted officially by popular acclaim.''

This year's festival, while continuing the twin themes of art and activism, particularly in environmental and indigenous issues, has some new features.

For the first time, there is classical music in the festival, with the opening concert In Praise of the Feminine.

Wendy McMahon-Bell.
Wendy McMahon-Bell. 

Directed by Christopher Latham, it features chamber works by women composers including Elena Kats-Chernin, Lili Boulanger and Rebecca Clarke.

There will also be a look at activism in the digital age. One of the participants will be Amelia Telford of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

Bruce Pascoe.
Bruce Pascoe. 

''We're trying to reach younger people and rev up the audience,'' she says.

But there will be plenty to attract older audiences, too. Wendy McMahon-Bell, who writes as Tessa McMahon, lives in Braidwood and has taken part in several festivals.

''I'll be reading at the Poets' Breakfast and I'll also be involved in a session, What Ignites a Poet?, with two other poets, tying in with the theme of 'Fanning the Flame'.''

At the latter event, Jeremy Nelson and Adrienne Johns will join her to discuss their inspirations and answer questions from the audience. McMahon-Bell hopes the audience will get involved.

For the Poets' Breakfast, she will be reading a selection of ''contrasting'' poems, both humorous and thoughtful.

McMahon-Bell is a member of Rural Australia for Refugees and will be part of a group reading poems concerning refugees on the streets of Braidwood.

A retired teacher who has lived in Braidwood for 11 years, she has been encouraged by the way her poetry has been received at previous festivals.

''I felt I had cold feet and it's given me a lot of confidence,'' she says.

Over the past 18 months she has had seven poems published and she has a manuscript ready to submit to publishers.

While indigenous Victorian writer Bruce Pascoe is an old hand, he will be taking part in his first Two Fires Festival. ''I'll be appearing on a panel with Bill Gammage talking about [Aboriginal] land use,'' he says. Gammage received awards and acclaim for his book The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia and Pascoe has also written on the subject.

''I'm currently working on a book about Aboriginal agriculture,'' he says.

The two men will discuss how Australian landform history has been misinterpreted and how Aboriginal people used the land.

''Bill explores the fire aspect of it; I'll be exploring the crops people were growing,'' Pascoe says.

Pascoe, who lives in Mallacoota, will also be talking about his own Aboriginal identity. He comes from the Punnilerpanner people of Tasmania but had to retrace his heritage because his family left the island state.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Melbourne and taught English for several years until confronted by genetic hearing loss.

He has worked in a variety of occupations, including farmer, fisherman, barman, farm fence contractor, lecturer, Aboriginal language researcher, archaeological site worker and book editor. And he has written 26 books - adult and children's fiction, history and education.

Pascoe still teaches, more informally, working with Aboriginal people. ''The need is so great,'' he says.

Artist John Reid, taking part in his third Two Fires Festival, is focusing on another urgent need. He is bringing environmental issues to the fore in a novel way with Walking the Solar System.

''What I do is assume a walking posture at odds with gravity,'' he says. These positions are photographed and filmed to create striking imagery.

''The idea is that if you can sustain the position for a minute you have travelled 1800 kilometres through space relative to the sun,'' he says.

While this happens anyway, the walk is intended to make people ''aware of the vastness of the universe and what a precious enclave Earth is''.

After speaking on the subject at a Fuel for the Fire session in the National Theatre, he will invite the audience to take part in a group solar system walk with a particular purpose in mind: ''To put politicians on notice that geoengineering solutions to climate change are not acceptable.

''We should leave the coal in the ground,'' he says. ''We need to move to energy alternatives.''

Reid, a photographer and performance artist who works at the ANU School of Art's Environment Studio, was a creative arts fellow at the Australian National University in the late 1970s and he and Judith Wright were involved in the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM).

''I knew Judith Wright quite well,'' he says. ''In fact, this was an echo of the current predicament with coal.''

The Two Fires Festival is on in Braidwood from April 12 to 14. twofiresfestival.org.au.