World Agenda

Last updated: 5 october, 2009 - 14:47 GMT

The Forum in Australia

Bridget Kendall

Bridget Kendall and click The Forum team are in Australia to record an edition of the BBC World Service debate programme, during the click Festival of Dangerous Ideas. She reflects on some of the behind-the-scenes planning for the event.

Friday, 2 October

I awoke this morning to the sound of tropical birds chattering in the gum trees. My sister's house in West Sydney borders onto National Park land, and I looked out to see white cockatoos and the blue-green and scarlet plumage of king parrots, glinting in the early sunlight.

The red dust storms are now past history but the latest worry is about the tsunami and earthquakes in the Pacific. Not that Australia is really at risk. It is surrounded by a circle of volcanic activity - a fiery ring on the map in the morning papers. But that doesn't stop everyone scanning the news anxiously.

Bridget Kendall and her panel guests

(L-R) Ien Ang, Larissa Behrendt, Bridget Kendall and Robyn Archer

I took a cab down to the city centre to meet the team, producers click Emily Kasriel and Radek Boschetty are as curious as I to see what awaits us at the Sydney Opera House – our fantastic venue for the show’s recording.

The Utson room – our room – is magical. The interior and big bright colourful mural were designed by the same Danish architect who dreamt up the iconic white curves of the roof. Floor to ceiling plate glass on one side gives a view straight out over the harbour water. It's as though we are in the hold of a ship, white sails billowing unseen above us. And the acoustic is beautiful. No wonder they put on chamber concerts here. Just right for a radio programme.

Saturday 3 October

Awoke still tired after last night's Opera House dinner for the organisers and participants of the Dangerous Ideas Festival we are part of. There was much talk of how Sydney is thirsty for more intellectual debate. Hence the Festival.

Spent most of the day working on the script. Every Forum show needs a lot of preparation. Not just reading and research, but a lot of thought into possible lines of questioning.

Our panel is three well known women thinkers and performers - click Larissa Behrendt, an Aboriginal lawyer and member of the Supreme Court of New South Wales; click Ien Ang, a professor of cultural studies of Chinese descent; and click Robyn Archer, a singer, writer, and public arts advocate.

Interestingly, two people have said they think it's "dangerous" merely to have a women only panel. Why? Because Australia is still so macho, they explain. I am puzzled. I have come across so many capable and assertive Australian women, well able to hold their own. Perhaps they stand out more in mild mannered Europe and find it harder to get heard in their own country, though I'm not convinced I've got to the bottom of that one.

I attended the event of the night, click Christopher Hitchens – who controversially maintains that "religion poisons everything". The packed crowd was enthusiastically anti-clerical. He was a rhetorical tour de force. I wonder if you'd fill a concert hall that size in London for a talk on such a serious, if provocative, subject. I suspect you'd struggle...

Sunday, 4 October

The Utzon Room at the Opera House

The Forum audience in the Utzon Room of the Sydney Opera House

The day of our programme arrives... I always get tense. And wouldn't you be nervous if you had to host an event at the Sydney Opera House?

Radek, who is possessed of an acute ear, a mastery of technical wizardry and a dogged attention to detail, has for the second day running got up early to go over to the Opera House to check technical arrangements. Meanwhile Emily and I looked over the script.

The audience filed in at 4pm. By 4:15 it was standing room only.

The discussion was fascinating, and the audience the best we've had for a Forum show. We probed issues of Australia's changing identity and injustices towards the indigineous population, ties with Britain and the relationship with the rest of Asia. There was plenty of self criticism and introspection - not what the outside world normally associates with Australia.

The old stereotypes still hold to some degree, though. When I asked the audience if they thought white men still ran Australia, a forest of hands went up. Just one brave soul voted the other way...

Today was a good reminder, though, that no matter how interlinked we all are now by our phones and computers, there’s no substitute for being there. We could never have had today's in-depth discussion about Australia in London. It's not till you actually go somewhere that you really get a feel for what makes a place tick, and what simmers beneath the surface.

click Go to The Forum homepage

click Read about producer, Emily Kasriel's Australia experience

click The Forum in Australia is a co-production with ABC radio

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