The Country Line Up to Newcastle
After savoring a small taste of Sydney life, we took a train up to Newcastle, a city at the very end of Sydney’s Country Train line. Sydneysiders draws a clear and divisive line between the cosmopolitans and the “bogans” (Aussie slang for “hicks”) as you can either take the Countryline or the Cityline train up the coast. Expecting to find nothing but mullet-heads and high tops, I was pleasantly surprised when Marian and I laid eyes on Phil Smart and his partner, Fiona’s, Rolodor Café. Covered in bright murals designed by a local artist, the Rolodor was clearly a bastion of creativity, a pure labor of love. Just as I saw the glimmer of places I loved reflected in Sydney, the Rolodor and its eclectic charm reminded me of my favorite cafes in my San Francisco Mission neighborhood. I felt even more at home when I heard that my friend Holly from San Francisco, who’d recently moved to Newcastle to spend some time with her mom, had met Phil and Fiona earlier that week when they connected over the Burning Man sticker on the coffee maker behind the counter at the café. Similar to my experiences at Burning Man, where there seems to me to be more of a connectedness between encounters and events, delightful synchronicities sprung up for me everywhere in Oz. It made sense to me that on a travel through a new Burning Man world, I would feel like I was in Black Rock City.
Out in the middle of New South Wales, Phil and Fiona are quite a dynamic Burner duo. Not only have they created a vibrant community around their eclectic café, they also have grand plans for cultivating the Burner community in greater Australia. Back in June 2009, they participated in the first Seed Gathering in Bellingen, NSW where a small, like-minded group converged, planting the seed for what they hope will eventually grow to be an expansive Australian Burning Man community. From the Seed Gathering sprouted a plan to hold the first Oz Burn in 2010. Based on our time spent with Phil and Fiona, they are clearly poised for success.
As Phil and Fiona excitedly shared their plans for the upcoming Oz Burn, I began to develop a sense of the Australian Burners’ approach to creating community. Truly, they are patient, aware of the intrinsic value each person plays in creating a sustainable community. While they see the Oz Burn as having the ability to grow into a large event attended by thousands, they do not overlook the inherent value in starting small, nurturing the seed of community. They emphasized the importance of sustainability and of Australia’s role in the Burning Man community’s larger whole. If the growth of the international Burner community is to be sustainable, the regional communities need to grow at a rate that does not overtax volunteers and natural resources, while still allowing Newbies to be acculturated into the values of radical inclusion, non-commodification, and a respect for the environment. Thus, in addition to their respect for the vitality of the community, the Australian burners also have a strong respect for the land, one that can be traced back as far as the aboriginal ancestors of Oz. Based on my background working behind the scenes of the Burning Man organization, I recognized a commonality between the OzBurn team’s regard for the environment and the Leave No Trace ethic of my co-conspirators in Black Rock City. The fact that the Australia burners were moving forward with the core values of the Burning Man Project as central guiding principles made me feel even more at home.
Though brief, our trip to Newcastle was a growing experience for me. Our conversations with Phil and Fiona helped expand my understanding about the Australia community and provided me with a lens through which I could view my encounters with other Burners on the next leg of my journey. I also took pleasure in meeting Fiona’s son and daughter who reminded me of my brother and I growing up and in spending time in a family home. Fiona’s son, Will, and I became fast friends as he entertained me with tales of rouge peacocks, robotic dinosaurs and murderous magpies. Before I left, Will gifted me a magpie feather from his collection, the first of the two special gifts I would receive on my travels. As in a Hollywood movie, Fiona and Will waved goodbye to Marian and I as our train pulled out of the station and we ventured back to Sydney and on to Melbourne.