It’s been a “dispiriting” start to the new year for the team from the Booranga Writers’ Centre, who learned just before Christmas they would no longer receive funding from the NSW Government.
According to president David Gilbey, the decision by Create NSW may have “killed the Booranga Writers’ Centre”.
“After having worked so hard with Create NSW, only to be rudely given the finger with no clear and satisfactory answer, I wouldn’t be surprised if the committee decides that – well, if the funding is not there for the organisation, then the organisation is not there,” he said.
“I may be proved wrong, but if you take away the meagre financial support for our two part-time positions, then it’s just too hard for the people on the voluntary committee to continue.”
Founded on the Charles Sturt University (CSU) campus in 1994 as the Wagga Wagga Writers Writers, the Booranga Writers’ Centre has served its members across the Riverina for three decades.
Each year the centre holds writing residencies, publishes the annual anthology fourW and supports local and visiting writers with venues, book launches and regular reading events.
“Over the years we’ve played a modest but significant part in Wagga’s cultural identity,” explained Mr Gilbey.
“I can’t help feeling that they [Create NSW] don’t really understand the kind of richness and the contextual connections that Booranga Writers’ Centre has fostered in the region.
“We work to promote the very things that they say their policies are wanting to enhance.”
Business manager Dr Greg Pritchard occupies one of the part-time positions that will have to be cut and described the decision as a “real blow to the writers of the region”.
While he agrees the centre’s future is uncertain, Dr Pritchard remains hopeful they will continue in some form.
“The university [CSU] supports us generously through the use of their post office and they maintain this facility,” he explained.
“We get some support from Wagga City Council and there is some project funding, but grants for literature are pretty rare.”
The centre’s team participated in public meetings held throughout 2023 to help shape the government’s new cultural policy.
“The call from creatives in the region was for more funding for regional areas, not to defund one of the Riverina’s key cultural organisations,” Dr Pritchard said.
“It’s very disappointing after a really strong year with an open day, about a dozen open mic events, workshops and we’ve just been sending out the new anthology of new writing – fourW thirty-four.”
The next step is to convene the committee later this month to weigh up the options and Dr Pritchard said it would be up to the members to decide on the centre’s viability.
The remaining funding will allow them to at least continue for the next couple of months.
“We may be able to continue to fund the fourW through subscriptions and things and we can host the writers in residence, but we won’t be able to pay them the stipend,” he said.
“Part of the program is a presentation at the Curious Rabbit (cafe) and that leads into the open mic, and we’ll still be able to do those but it will all depend on whether people are willing to volunteer their time.”
Independent Member for Wagga Wagga, Dr Joe McGirr is on leave but is “concerned” about the matter and has taken it up with the government.
Wagga-based Nationals MLC Wes Fang said he was surprised by the decision from the NSW Labor Government and plans to take the matter further.
“The Liberal and National parties were strong supporters of the writers’ centre and had continually funded the program,” he said.
“I’m unsure why, the first time the Labor government has been asked for a continuation of that funding, it’s not occurred, but it certainly flies in the face of the comments that they make about supporting the arts in the regions.”
Region has reached out to NSW Minister for the Arts John Graham without response so far.
Watch this space.