Elaine Brown is a former leader of the Black Panther Party, as Minister of Information and Chairman. She is the author of A Taste of Power (Pantheon, 1992, now an E-book) and The Condemnation of Little B (Beacon Press, 2002).

Elaine is CEO of the non-profit organisation Oakland & the World Enterprises, Inc., dedicated to launching and sustaining for-profit businesses for cooperative-ownership by formerly incarcerated and other people facing monumental social barriers to economic survival.

Elaine was the Executive Director and Founder of the non-profit education corporation Fields of Flowers; Co-Founder of Mothers Advocating Juvenile Justice and the National Alliance for Radical Prison Reform.

She studied classical piano for many years, including at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music, and has recorded two albums of original songs, one for Motown records, Until We’re Free, and her 1969 album Seize the Time, which includes “The Black Panther Party National Anthem,” (The Meeting), re-released in 2007 as a CD by Warner Bros., and now on iTunes.


Paola Balla is a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara sovereign woman, of Calabrese and Chinese heritage and is currently a PhD researcher based at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit, Victoria University. In 2010 she developed FCAC’s Indigenous Cultural Program, and has previously worked as a Senior Curator in the First Peoples exhibition at Melbourne Museum and on numerous, highly acclaimed exhibitions including Blak Side Story at FCAC, and the exhibition Executed in Franklin Street for the City Gallery, which was Highly Commended in the Australia and New Zealand Museums and Galleries Awards for Indigenous Projects 2016. Paola has twice been the recipient of Victorian Indigenous Art Awards in 2011 and 2014.

Paola’s art, work and PhD research is about raising awareness of Aboriginal women’s status as matriarchs, artists and healers, and focuses on addressing impacts of trans generational colonial trauma for women and children.

Tania Canas_WEB

Tania Cañas is a member, previous Director, and now provides advice on Art and Theatre Policy and programs, at RISE Refugee. She is also a PhD student, sessional tutor and lecturer at the Centre for Cultural Partnerships, VCA, University of Melbourne and sits on the Editorial Board for the International Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Academic Journal.

She recently completed a research assistant internship at New York University’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics as well as from a research graduate school in the Netherlands, ‘Stolen Memories: Museums, Slavery and (De)coloniality.’

Tania’s research and work focuses on theatre as sites of resistance, self-determination and decoloniality, primarily with refugee, asylum seeker and ex-detainee communities in Australia. She has presented at conference both nationally and internationally including University of California- Berkley, DePaul University-Chicago and the university currently known as Rhodes – South Africa. She has also facilitated community theatre workshops in prisons, with youth, female and LGBTQ groups in Northern Ireland, The Solomon Islands, the USA and South Africa.

Tania has been published through academic journals and her monologue script, ‘Untouchable’, was Currency Press Australia 2013. Her work has been published through international platforms including e-flux as well as translated into Russian and German for Berlin based theatre publications Dramaturgische Gesellschaft (01/16) and Theater Heute (03/16).


Margaret Harvey works across the medium of live performance and film, creating and re-creating stories as a performer, writer, director and producer. She is of Saibai Island heritage in the Torres Strait – Ait Koedal and Samu clans – as well as English heritage. Margaret is a PhD student (Theatre Performance) at Monash University. Her interest lies in interdisciplinary live performance that is inherent in the culture of her people from Saibai Island and the processes that contribute to a culturally safe environment for knowledge to be transferred. She is also passionate in documenting and archiving stories of her people for her people.

She has directed and produced many documentaries for NITV, from Central Desert to Arnhem Land, down to Melbourne and up to the Torres Straits. Through Multicultural Arts Victoria Margaret co-produced and facilitated the making of Ubuzima BushashaNew Life, screening at ACMI, with seven short films about refugee life within the Burundian Community of Melbourne.

Recently she assisted directed the 2015 Circus Oz show But Wait There’s More and in 2014 for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, she directed and co-devised the critically acclaimed My Lover’s Bones, an ancient gothic horror story about Jargon the bunyip of the Quandamooka people, set in modern times.


Maria Katsonis is a senior executive in the Department of Premier and Cabinet where she leads projects in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. She previously was Director, Equality where she provided high level policy advice to the Premier and Minister for Equality on LGBTI social justice.

In 2008, Maria experienced a severe episode of clinical depression that required hospitalisation. While she now lives with a chronic mental illness, she leads an active and purposeful life. She is an Ambassador for beyondblue and has written about her mental illness and recovery for The Age and Guardian newspapers.

She is the author of The Good Greek Girl, a memoir about her experience of depression and rebellion against a traditional Greek upbringing. Her latest book is Rebellious Daughters, an anthology she has co-edited which features true stories of defiance and rebellion from Australia’s finest female writers.

Maria has a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is a Public Policy Fellow at the University of Melbourne.


Jerril Rechter is the CEO of VicHealth. She has extensive experience in leadership across the areas of government and not-for-profit sectors.

Jerril is a World Health Organization Advisor and is Chair of the International Network of Health Promotion Foundations. Her current Ministerial appointments include being Chair of Victoria’s Justice Health Ministerial Advisory Council, membership of the Liquor Control Advisory Council and of the Work Health Advisory Group. Jerril was also a member of the Advisory Panel for the recent Inquiry into Women and Girls in Sport and Active Recreation. She regularly presents at state, national and international conferences and events to share her experiences in health promotion, leadership, the arts, and the potential of innovations to improve health and wellbeing for everyone.

She has served on various state and national boards and committees, including VicHealth’s, as Board Member from 2004 to 2010. Her past Ministerial appointments included the Victorian Eating Disorders Taskforce, Australia Day Committee Victoria, Australia Council for the Arts Deputy Chair Dance Board, Arts Tasmania Board, Brand Tasmania Board and the Community Leaders Group Tasmania.

Jerril is a recipient of a Centenary Medal, Tasmania Day Award, and Fellowships from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Australia Council, Harvard Club of Australia, the Australian Davos Forum-Future Summit, and Williamson Community Leadership Program (Leadership Victoria).

Jerril has held executive positions at Leadership Victoria, Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, Footscray Community Arts Centre, and founded Stompin Youth Dance Company. In 2015, Jerril won the Victorian Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Award in the Victorian Government and Academia category, and was also a finalist in the same category for the national awards. Jerril has been named as a finalist in the 2016 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards


Sadaf Saaz is an entrepreneur, feminist, activist and poet. She grew up in the UK, and studied Molecular Cell Biology at the University of Cambridge. She now lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh with her husband, where she promotes South Asian arts and culture, learns Indian Classical Singing, and is a strong advocate for women’s rights. She is co-founder and producer of Hay Festival Dhaka. In 2013, Sadaf published Sari Reams, her debut collection of poetry in which she confronts injustices inflicted on women along with verses of passion and also a deep love for Bangladesh.


A local Deathwalker, Zenith Virago is a respected pioneer and acknowledged expert in the fields of holistic death and dying, and funerals that are transformational rites of passage. With more than 20 years’ experience, she provides comfort, information and guidance to assist us through the natural and the sacred, the inner and outer journeying as we come to the end of our life. With a lightness of being, compassion and integrity she accompanies many people and those that love them, through our final and ultimate experience. Her enthusiastic and empowering approach allow for a richer exploration, whilst assisting people to reclaim their rights and their rites of passage. Zenith lives in Byron Bay, celebrating life and death, seeing her work as a privilege and an important part of her life’s journey. It gives her a deep love and gratitude for the wonderful mystery of which we are all a part. Zenith is also the EO and founding member of the non-profit Natural Death Care Centre, co-author of The Intimacy of Death and Dying, and subject of the international documentary, Zen & the Art of Dying.

Full Festival Program and Bookings HERE.

1- West Writers Our Stories 2016, Image by Rachel Main

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