“Indigenous
Culture //

The festival of fire

Stella Ktenas falls down, down, down into the Burning Seed

Burn 5
Burn 6
Photo: Hayley Scrivenor

A right turn past the umpteenth paddock of Patterson’s Curse and we glimpsed, in the distance, carnival tents in a thicket of trees. There is nothing else out here in Matong State Forest. “This must be the place.” The man at the entrance to our Never, Neverland takes our tickets and asks us to exit the vehicle and step through the ‘Welcome Home’ door quaintly attached to a single wall out here in the middle of nowhere. I was ‘Home’.

Burning Seed, the Australian version of the American lifestyle and art festival Burning Man, was a week of blissful whimsy, sumptuous light displays, nostalgic sounds, and majestic sculptures. Burning Man runs on ten principles: Gifting, Decommodification, Radical-inclusion, Radical Self-reliance, Radical self-expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. These principles penned by the Founder Larry Harvey in 2004 are to be abided by as all attendees attempt to live as a loving and functioning community for a week.

Soon after entering, we passed the Woman: a giant wooden effigy to be burnt at the end of the festival.  She was immense, she was radiant, the first ever female effigy featured at a Burning event. A space was found next to the Red Earth Brewery, our tents were mounted, and we installed our own dome to rival one 50 meters up from us. Walking around, people were at ease to smile, make eye contact and engage in small talk. This talk, though small, was a big leap from Sydney life where the person sitting next to you on the bus callously pretends you don’t exist despite the blood pouring from the gash on your arm acquired when trying to climb over them into the vacant window seat. Meeting new people, learning of their stories, growing to care for them – this was idyllic.

Across the festival grounds were themed camps: scattered oases offering workshops, music, activities, and beverage. One of the best was the Trash Mansion camp which was furnished as a derelict mansion and featured two luxuriously decorated bars with skull shaped beer tap handles, as well as a stage, lounges, chandeliers, and paintings. I have many a fond memory from Trash Mansion, from life drawing male models to dancing and hula hooping the night away, to my special experience as one of the 20 Burners out of 1000s provided with a tasting of the magical fruit. We sat cross-legged like 6 year olds – interesting angles were observed of the nude gentleman of the party – and were gifted a tablet of concentrated Synsepalum dulcificum, a berry which causes sour foods to taste sweet. We were taking shots of vinegar, and ravenously devouring grapefruit, lime, and lemons, as if famine had struck.

Burning Seed runs on the philosophy of gifting. I was freely gifted luxurious soy lattés each breakfast from a Nowra couple, free gin & tonics all day at the Mint Country Club, and endless whisky shots at The Loco Saloon as my friends lost at Black Jack. This gifting was quite the curiosity. When I wasn’t busy receiving gifts I contributed words to the Wooden Temple, built to pay respect and to be burnt in silence. I also experienced a rebirth travelling through the wooden vagina sculpture. I attended a knot-tying workshop, experienced outdoor cinema, and fell silent in awe of a shooting star. Saturday evening was THE NIGHT: the one you had been daily siesta-ing for, the one where you knew you would not stop till well after dawn. Gathered around at a safe distance from the Woman we marveled at the fire jugglers, and then fell collectively into raptures when the pyrotechnicians set her aflame, her arms, breasts, and skirt. Burning bright, the sky heavy with ash, she then fell and a rupture of celebratory noise exploded into the night, just in time for the nudity. Following tradition we and the nudists walked, or dangerously danced, a revolution around her burning embers. The night was a blur of dancing, lights, and elation. The day after, I approached the Woman’s remains and collected a handful of her ashes. Such a grand, imposing figure now reduced to a pile of grey. I was humbled.

I was still not ready to leave this land of nymphs and dreams, but an overdue essay brought me back.

Burn 5
Photo: Hayley Scrivenor
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