Jeff Steinmetz reports from Australia’s Regional Burn …
Yes, there are Kangaroos on the edges of the forest, home of the Australia Regional Burn, “Burning Seed”.
Jeff here, fresh out of the Australian bush (The Matong Forest). I’m writing about the experience while it’s still fresh in my mind, ripe with connection and excitement to be part of something in its early formative years. Now in its third year, SEED drew 600 participants to its week-long burn in the Matong State forest near Wagga Wagga, NSW. This location provides a journey of about six hours from either Sydney or Melbourne.
The trip took shape while we were on the Black Rock Desert, where we were able to network with Regional contacts from around the world. My travel partner Wally Bomgaars (aka Odwally), Playa Safety Council Manager, also made the trek, and worked to craft a custom Ranger training with Melbourne-based Will Marshall, team lead for the Burning Seed Rangers (Wally and his culinary arts were also appreciated in the kitchen and the event – Seed didn’t know they were going to get a chef too!). Traveling together with Wally, it was my hope that the Burning Man Project would continue to personally connect with the Regional events. It was a time for me to listen to their team, embrace their differences, and generally be available to understand areas where the Project can be helpful. The long and short of it – they have something special brewing in Australia.
In true do-ocracy fashion, there are leaders surfacing in Australia, creating theme camps, running Rangers, building center camps, designing their RooMan effigy, working with local officials, setting up communications teams, speakers providing seminars, performers performing, and people creating afterburn events in their cities. Quite simply, they asked us for help with knowledge transfer, sharing of resources, and help facilitating knowledge-sharing both amongst their team and with Burning Man Headquarters.
SEED participants were camped along a paddock (a vast meadow), with the RooMan (or ManARoo) placed at the edge of the forest. The ceremony that kicked off the event connected the participants to the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people, led by Uncle Chappie, a local member of the Wiradjuri people. The smoke billowed and thickened as the circle of participants placed native tree branches and leaves upon the ceremonial fire, and the week’s festivities began.
What happened over the next five days amongst 600 people can best be described as real-life social networking.
We live behind technology and social networks in order to connect year-round, but it does not replace the personal connection that humans need and thrive on. By the end of the event, you begin to see familiar faces, and dance with familiar friends that were once only a strange glowing face at a camp fire. The faces become familiar and connections are made with the stories that are shared. The environment provides a space for radical expression, allowing the community to grow together organically, without judgment.
Theme camps such as Bean Bag Babylon, Cuddle College, Kids Camp, Trash Mansion, The Tea House and a variety of seminars further deepen that bond with the now not-so-strange newly-found international friends. Humor and JackAssery (fun and silly prankster antics) crosses borders as well … I have a Red Earth City Citizenship certificate from the “Department of Useless Documents” to prove it.
One interactive art piece in particular caught our attention – paintings were hung within a space that allowed you to record a comment about what the painting meant to you. The recordings were available at listening stations for each piece, and you were able to listen in on the thoughts of those that passed before you.
At the close of Burning Seed, we listened to community leaders old and new, imbued with a fresh inspiration to bring the ethos of the Burn back to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and New Zealand (check out www.kiwiburn.com). They returned wishing to do more, to connect more, to build more, to be more. There are even rumors that they may have their first mutant vehicle next year. Greeter, Ranger and volunteer Amelia told us her goal: “I want to change the world.”
“Did you see everything you wanted to see in Australia?” asked a Burner in Sydney. My answer was a simple yes, I met the people I was meant to meet. No expectations.
Culture can’t be owned by one person, it must be shared. As the Regional Burning Man community grows, the culture is shared across borders and continents. The act of gifting is also alive and well across borders. As participants begin to understand that gifting does not imply a return or an exchange, it turns transactions into interactions and generosity into a currency.
A great deal of energy goes into making a pilgrimage to the Black Rock Desert. The trek of 7500 miles on a 14 hour flight from San Francisco to Australia is enough to make you wonder what motivates people to make pilgrimages to festivals, gatherings, and in this case, a Burn. The Regionals provide a platform for their big ideas and art projects, without the logistical overhead of traveling overseas to the Burn in the Nevada desert. If you wish to be part of something early, sprouting from the seeds planted by the Burner community, start making plans now for Australia Burning Seed or a Regional near you. For more information about the Regionals, visit http://regionals.burningman.com.
For fun, here are some Black Rock City terms, localized for Burning Seed:
RooMan – The Man
Red Earth City – Black Rock City
Breakee – Breakfast (best served with bacon in either location)
Paddock – Playa
Trees – Trash Fence
Psy Trance – Psy Trance
LPG – Propane
Caravan – Travel Trailer or RV
Loo – Porta Pottie
2012 Quick Facts:
17 Registered Theme Camps
16 Art Pieces
30′ tall RooMan burned on Saturday
Temple burned on Sunday
Over 25 Rangers
Friendly visit from 2 local police
Warmest temp during the day 27 deg C or 80 deg F. Lowest Temp at night 2 deg C or 35 deg F