This is the narrative of dedicated readers -- three St. Albans' book clubs -- with a vision which they brought to fruition in 2013.


St. Albans is tiny, with a famous pub -- Settlers Arms -- a church, an historic B&B or two and the restored Price Morris charming cottage (elf-contained). An historic School of the Arts, high on a hill  and a river -- the Macdonald divides the village -- topographically speaking. If you have yet to make your way to St Albans, you are missing a world all unto its own -- a parrallel world once you cross the Hawkesbury River on the Webb Creek ferry. 300  'hardy residents'. Isolation. Silence rarely found in today's world and a landscape beautiful beyond words. 


  A scene from St.Albans village


In 2013, the three book clubs came together to run a book swap and the rest is history. A simple sentence makes such an endeavor sound easy -- but this Festival is anything but easy.

In 2014, the swap expanded into a day long 'Book Feast' with writer, Kate Grenville (The Secret River) and local writers meeting in the village's School of the Arts. By 2015, the Writers' Festival grew legs and stood on its own -- 25 authors speaking over three days. For 2016, the delicious menu serves up 60 writers speaking in 60 sessions!  There are names you will recognise and a few newly minted authors you will want to know. We love the group's PR line:  "Celebration of the book as opposed to the celebrity" penned by Nikki Gemmell in 2015.


For more details read the synopsis by Catherine du Pelous Menage, artistic director


  2015 presenter


In 2013, the three book clubs in the tiny Hawkesbury village of St Albans decided to get together to run a book swap. The village is home to about 300 permanent residents and many ‘weekenders’.  St Albans is in the heart of ‘Kate Grenville country’ where her book The Secret River is set.  The area was developed as farming land in the early days of the colony, with good access to the Macquarie towns of Windsor, Richmond and Wilberforce. This led the indigenous Dharug and Darkinjung peoples of the area being dispossessed and worse, the subject of The Secret River.


The book swap rapidly became a  day long  ‘Book Feast’ with Kate Grenville and local writers in the village’s School of the Arts. In 2015 the Book Feast metamorphosed into a fully fledged Writers’ Festival with its own website and 25 writers speaking over three days. 2016 will see nearly 50 writers speaking in over 60 sessions.


The story of this success lies in the quality of the writers and the hard work of the organisers and volunteers. The Festival receives no arts funding so is self-funded, relying on donations and ticket sales. This year they have the valued support of Virgin Australia in flying authors in from other parts of the country.


If there is a theme to the festival it’s the theme of stories.

We have true stories – from the memoir, biography section and history sections; Jane Caro, Tim Elliott, Fiona Wright, and Richard Glover whom I sure you all know, and Robert Macklin who belongs on the history shelves will talk about a Hawkesbury area native son, Hamilton Hume


Fictional stories– from emerging as well as well-known novelists (David Dyer’s The Midnight watch (or the Titanic book as I can it) has been really well received , The Teachers Secret is Suzanne Leal’s second book and Emily Maguire has just published her 6th book. Rod Jones will also be there. ,We also include writers of women’s popular fiction (Judy Nunn and Lisa Heidke) and rural romance (Karly Lane) rarely present at writers’ festivals.


Of course crime and thrillers are amongst the most popular types of fictional stories) and they are represented of course, by Sulari Gentill, Candice Fox, Bruce Venables and John M Green.


  Attendees 2015


Australians are huge travellers and Tim Cope was very popular so we have three very different travel tales this year– two on foot,  in Spain carrying sins – that’s Ailsa Piper– and one rediscovery of an ancient indigenous path, Bundian way and the last one is an account of travelling Across Africa on a motorbike.


Another new area is food. Australians are the biggest buyers of cookbooks in the world –There is a cookbook session with Sydney restaurateur Simmone Logue and she is the caterer for this year (how often can you hear about a cookbook while eating the food it describes?). Food has to be grown before it can be cooked so there is also have a session on growing food, and food fashions not just today but in the past of our country both the indigenous past (The oldest foods on earth) and the early days of European life  here with Jacqui Newling’s wonderfully titled Eat your history. The historic Settlers Arms Inn will be cooking a menu from these books on the Saturday night.


As we do not live on bread alone, the festival will be talking economics with Richard Dennis (or should that be Econobabble – interviewed by our local and Macquarie University professor  Geoffrey Hawker). Sarah Ferguson and Aaron Patrick will talk about about the best way to change prime ministers.  Matt Condon will be reminding audiences about a grim time in Queensland politics, and Jennifer Rayner will talk about what awaits young people. Hugh Mackay will give a broader social perspective as always, this time speaking about religion.


   2015 Presenter


Gardening is another local passion, and Wendy Whiteley will be telling the Festival about her now not-so-secret garden and there will a brand-new biography of Brett Whiteley in a session on artists biographies. Let’s not forget poetry. Health permitting,  Les Murray will be  reading his poems around the campfire -


This year the festival starts on Friday with a session on memoir given by editor, novelist and memoir writer, Madeline Oliver who spoke at the festival last.


This area’s history continues to inform the Festival.  After Kate Grenville, Stephen Luby, the producer of the TV series spoke about filming the series in 2015 and this year Trevor Jamieson, the actor who plays the indigenous elder in both the play and the TV series will be in conversation with Stan Grant. The Welcome to Country here is more than formulaic words, taking place on the sandy bed of the Macdonald River with the music of the didgeridoo and a smoking ceremony.


 A  scene from St Albans village


This year St Albans will attract around 500 visitors. As one of the big attractions of the Festival is its intimacy, numbers need to be monitored carefully. Even not-for-profit organisations need to balance their books so the Festival organisers must juggle atmosphere and numbers to keep it viable. As Nikki Gemmell a returning visitor from 2015 wrote ‘we love a festival like St Albans. Because of its intimacy. Warmth. Celebration of the book as opposed to the celebrity.’ 

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while I walk in the frosty morning air -- passing beautiful horses and barren trees. In the deep chill and dim sunlight I think about what may come . . a new place or activity. . . a new friend to meet over coffee. . . an earthy Hawkesbury red (Bull Ridge Estate or Tizzana wines) to sample. . . a new exciting read and or a new BBC mystery to watch while rugged up in a blanket, with flickering candles keeping the darkness at bay. Ah, the joys of winter. . .




Address: 100 Ridges Lane, Richmond
Phone: 02 4588 5000

Early every Thursday, the Sydney Polo Club opens its gates to the community for a free walking group - an hour-long walk escorted by staff. Walkers meet at Sunnybrook Barn at 8:30am for an 8:45am start. No matter the season, the walk is invigorating and fun.

The terrain is primarily level, so the walk is easy, but be forewarned, these walkers do not dawdle. One would say, a spirited pace is de rigueur.


What better way to kick off than through a grove of stately trees, past newly cut paddocks, a lovely lagoon, all with a view of the Blue Mountains? Your companions along the way - probably looking for a bit of exercise - are fine polo ponies. The ponies (horses, really) move in groups to the fences surrounding their paddock. Beautiful woeful eyes and long sleek noses, these are magnificent animals.



A highlight of the walk is the finish through the stables. Immaculate and pristine - well, only one touch of poo disturbed the otherwise spotless floor. These stables are fit for the kings and queens of the equestrian world.


My companion-walkers volunteered that in each season, the landscape is stunning - autumn brings an array of beauty when the leaves change colour. In winter, a frosty morning makes for a magical fairyland in the paddocks. Spring and summer, the skies are brilliant blue and the walkers keep coming.


You are also invited - Thursday mornings, meet at the office gate for an 8:45am start! A great way to begin your day in such stunning environment!


Scenes of the Hawkesbury are beautiful in the stillness of winter: the mountains of Mount Tomah, the rolling hills of Kurrajong and Freeman's Reach or the winding sandstone roads of Wisemans Ferry. The river sits silent and dark, awaiting spring. 


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