Dark Mofo launches on Thursday with its gathering of the country's provocateurs-in-chief, Dark + Dangerous Thoughts. Curator Laura Kroetsch talks Mona's big ideas festival with FRANCES VINALL.
Give us an idea of what you had in mind when you were curating this year's speakers for Dark + Dangerous Thoughts.
It used to be that our tribes came from the political left or right, or through the church. But in the past 15 or 20 years, that's really broken down. Now, how we identify has become much more specific: race, gender, class. We were curious about the pros and cons of people identifying in smaller, and smaller, groups.
We're trying to look at both sides of ways that people identify. We tried to - not set [the speakers] against each other, but to make sure we're looking at both sides.
Do you think there's a risk with these sorts of festivals of preaching to the converted?
I do think that sometimes, there is a tendency on the left of not wanting to listen to the right. You often hear people say, 'you're just giving them a forum'. And we're not talking about the extreme right [as speakers at D+DT], we're talking about conservatives. So, I don't think that we are preaching to the converted. I certainly saw a lot of head shaking last year. [Laughs]
How would you encourage people to approach D+DT?
For most of the sessions, they begin with what we're calling a 'sermon', which is a 20-minute talk about a position. Then the panel that follows it takes a different position. So for one I would say: hear it out. Listen to the sermon, listen to the panel, and during the break, think.
If humanly possible, just try to listen. I don't think the festival will be shouty - it got a bit shouty last year. I mean, look. I'm as guilty as anyone of getting frustrated at a speaker I don't agree with, but I definitely am learning to just sit and listen.
Also, it's not all doom and gloom. The trans[gender] session is just going to be fascinating, and positive, about what it means to raise a trans child. 'Are you black enough?' [with Stan Grant, Nakkiah Lui, and Briggs] is going to be funny, and lively, and full-on. We've tried to make it a festival that is about interesting ideas, and that you are allowed to laugh. It's okay. You can laugh.
What do you think the positives are of people identifying into tribes in different ways than they have in the past?
One of the positive things is that people who were hidden, not acknowledged within the culture, and often discriminated against - particularly to do with gender - have found a place in the sun. I also think it has moved these discussions into the mainstream. In the last 10 or 15 years, the way we've seen politics talked about has really changed - 15 years ago we never would have been having a conversation about trans children.
I think the bad bit of it is that we don't work together enough. When you say 'I am this': 'I am a trans person', 'I am a working class person' or 'I am a left leaning person', 'I am a right leaning person', we make groups that are too small and I worry that we won't have the ability to work together. When it was 'left' or 'right', it was a very broad umbrella. And I'm not saying the umbrella was fair, a lot of people got lost under the umbrella. But I do worry that our tribes are getting too small, and we've started to identify people as a single thing. No one is a single thing.
We've also stopped talking about the working class. And we have this cultural problem where no one is talking about what we're going to do with these working class, angry, unemployable, uneducated white men. In all this conversation about identity, white men have become a bit forgotten.
Do you think the election results will play into how people receive these themes?
[Laughs] One of the things that I found really interesting is that for a year, we thought that [voters] were going to swing to the left. That decidedly did not happen.
That's another thing about identity politics is that we make assumptions. One assumption that got made in Australia was that immigrants would vote for same-sex marriage. People assumed that because you're an immigrant, you must be left-leaning. Because you're a minority. But why would immigrants automatically be left-leaning? Some of those cultures are very conservative.
I always try to question. You know? I really believe this - I wonder if it's true.
There's a real sense of ... bewilderment at the moment, in the left. I guess that's a reason to go along to D+DT, to try and understand more of the conservative viewpoint.
One thing that we have is a panel on the soft right and women's issues, which is now really pertinent. It's a libertarian and a soft right person talking about the pay gap, gender equity, all those kinds of issues. Now all of a sudden we really need to listen, because that's likely the way we're going to go.
Is there any particular talk that you're most looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to two things. One, we have the Hobart minister of [Pentecostal church] C3 coming to do a sermon on why you should be a Pentecostal, which I think is going to be really interesting. I asked him if he would defend religion: [to make the argument that] the church is still the way to live.
Then on the Sunday we have Frederic Martel coming who has written a book about homosexuality and the Vatican. He's going to be talking with David Marr, and I think that that will be utterly compelling. It's such a terrific book and it's such an amazing subject.
So, religion. [Laughs] That's what I'm looking forward to.
How much of a role do you think religion still plays in people's sense of identity in Australia?
I think it plays more than we're giving it credit for. The rise of [Pentecostal church] Hillsong has been absolutely extraordinary. Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing religion in Australia. It's a religion that says no sex before marriage, no abortions, no gay marriage, and it's the fastest-growing religion in Australia. And it's young people. Look at Justin and Hailey Bieber - they're Hillsong people.
I also think that the fact of the matter is the Catholic church is the second-largest provider of healthcare and education in Australia. So, whether people go to church or not, Catholicism is enormous in Australia, because it controls education and health.
It seems almost brave of that Pentecostal minister to come and present his point of view.
Oh yeah. He is fearless. He is ex-military. He said yes in half a second. He really wants to do it - because he believes. He generally believes that he has the path to redemption. I don't know in what other walks of life, including politics, you can have that kind of belief. Like, if you follow me, you will be redeemed - it's that straightforward. I'm like, that's amazing.
Are there any talks or panels that you think would appeal to a more regional audience?
I definitely think that 'the Lost Boys' will be really interesting, which is about men who fall through the cracks. A lot of the time these men do come from more regional parts of the country.
On Sunday, I think that the session about the media is going to be really fascinating. Damian Cave who is the Sydney bureau chief of the New York Times will be there, and Claire Lehmann who is the founder of Quillette which is just about to go international. So they'll be talking about where we perceive media bias to be. And none of them are going to agree. [Laughs]
Any last message to encourage people to come along?
I genuinely believe that Dark + Dangerous Thoughts is a unique ideas festival. You are going to hear from people that you won't hear at any other festival. There's a value in being challenged: maybe you'll agree with the ideas, maybe you won't, but they will be fascinating conversations. So if you are thinking about the world, come.
And also some of them are just going to be funny. Benjamin Law's going to be funny, Luke McGregor is going to be funny - we're going to talk about sex in the suburbs. I get to do that one. I don't know which one of us is going to be more embarrassed.