Change comes when people are willing to fight for it – and this year’s program is stacked with writers and thinkers who are leading the charge. Whether working to enshrine fairer and more equitable laws from within the walls of Parliament or speaking truth to power from the streets, here are just a few of the extraordinary individuals who will be sharing their incredible stories at this year’s Festival.

Judy Blume

You’re probably familiar with Judy Blume as a beloved writer of children’s and young adult fiction. But did you know her books are also some of the most banned in America? With their frank depiction of menstruation, puberty, sex and sexuality, and exploration of friendship, bullying, jealousy and depression, Judy’s books have been pulled from library shelves for being ‘dangerous to young minds’.

A champion for complex children’s literature that never condescends, Judy’s work has helped generations of kids to see their lives and concerns reflected back at them free of shame or stigma. Her books have even been described as “talismans” to hold onto on the way from childhood to adolescence. Don’t miss this chance to hear Judy reflect on her brilliant, and controversial, career.      

Bernard Collaery

Throughout his career as a solicitor and politician, Bernard Collaery has been a fearless advocate for human rights. He’s been pursued by the Australian Government through the criminal courts for conspiracy to breach the Intelligence Services Act 2001 and awarded the prestigious International Blueprint for Free Speech Whistleblowing Prize – both for the same reason: representing and assisting an Australian spy, known as Witness K, to expose a secret Australian operation to bug Timor-Leste’s government during the 2004 oil and gas negotiations.

Bernard is a leading example of the bravery and integrity of whistleblowers and demonstrates their ability to make a positive impact in the public interest. He joins the Festival to discuss free speech, the justice system and what happens to people when governments have something to hide.

Mehreen Faruqi

Mehreen Faruqi has spent a lifetime defying people’s expectations. A self-described “brown, migrant, Muslim woman from a Pakistani background”, Mehreen made Australian history when she became the first Muslim woman to sit in an Australian parliament, as well as Australia’s first Muslim senator.

As recent events have proven, Australian politics can be a hostile and dangerous world for women and Mehreen has been on the frontline for years. Join her at the Festival to get a firsthand insight into Australia’s damaged – and damaging – political culture. 

Carly Findlay

After receiving an Order of Australia, a journalist asked Carly Findlay what her greatest achievement has been. Her response? “Defying others’ low expectations of me”. As a proud disabled woman, Carly works to normalise appearance diversity and advocate for access for disabled people through dismantling physical, attitudinal and structural barriers.

Carly’s activism shows us that there is a lot of work to be done – and that it should not be done by disabled people alone. Her Festival appearances will amplify the voices of those who have grown up disabled in Australia and shine a light on a diverse, resilient and thriving disabled community. 

Peter Greste

We live in an era where trust in the media – and in journalists – is at an all-time low. And yet every day, journalists risk their lives to bring injustices to light and hold the powerful to account. One such journalist is Peter Greste. Throughout his career, Peter has worked tirelessly for press freedom and the right of the media to report on that which is in the public interest without fearing it will lead to lengthy court cases, hefty legal bills and even imprisonment.

Having experienced government wrongdoing firsthand (he was imprisoned for 400 days in Cairo for allegedly threatening national security), Peter brings his expertise to the urgent subject of journalistic freedom and its critical role in a healthy democracy.

Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

As a proud Kurnai woman and former police offer, Veronica Heritage-Gorrie is in a unique position to expose how racial injustice and police culture intersect in Australia. Her memoir, Black and Blue, recounts a lifetime of resilience and details the racism she experienced during the decade she spent as one of the few Aboriginal members of the police force.

At the Festival, join Veronica for a frank and moving account of her law enforcement career and her determined activism to abolish legislations that wrongfully target and incarcerate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Daisy Jeffrey

As the climate crisis worsens, the youngest of us have emerged as the strongest voices for change. This makes sense. Young people are the ones who will have to face the consequences of today’s inaction, the ones for whom everything is on the line.

Daisy Jeffrey is one such activist who has worked to galvanise Australian youth into taking meaningful action through protests, striking and lobbying for change. Don’t miss this chance to hear from one of the most vital voices on climate change about why hope is essential to the success of the climate justice movement. 

Kirli Saunders

Proud Gunai woman Kirli Saunders writes to heal. An award-winning poet and storyteller, her work explores Australia’s history of dispossession, relocation and trauma, and its undercurrent narratives of colonialism. Kirli also leads Poetry in First Languages, a Red Room Poetry project that invites First Nations poets to learn First Nations languages on Country with Elders.

At this year’s Festival, Kirli discusses the power of writing in First Nations languages, and using poetic beauty to speak truth to our past, find unity and connect to Country.

Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny sees things with crystalline clarity. Whether they’re critiquing the fallacy of objective journalism, highlighting the insidious, nostalgic appeal of the idea of the British Empire or explaining why the rebooted Queer Eye is just so good, Laurie excels in writing the kind of zeitgeist-defining pieces that hold a mirror up to society – and ourselves.

Their latest book Bitch Doctrine is a sharply observed and fiercely funny series of essays that lays out a radical vision of a kinder world and demonstrates that there is room for humour in the activist’s project. If you need an insight into Laurie’s worldview before seeing them at the Festival, be sure to read their essay on an unexpected wedding. You won’t regret it.

Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Lives That Divide Us offers a confronting premise: that the racialised systems of injustice that underpin American society don’t just define its citizens based on appearance and heritage; they also ensure that the assigned category remains immutable, fuelling and powering the system itself. It’s not just racism, Isabel argues. It’s a caste system.

While Isabel’s book speaks to the American experience, the ideas in it are closely applicable to Australia and across the world. For those seeking to gain a clearer understanding of how the racial hierarchies of our past still shape our present, Isabel’s session is an unmissable event.