Disclaimer: I do not write on behalf of the burner community, nor am I a spokesperson or member of an affiliated committee. As an independent writer and burner, the following words represent my personal views, thoughts and experiences only.
At 3pm we pulled up the dirty track to Matong State Forest, bleary-eyed after our five-hour drive from the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Signs that looked as if they’d been hand-painted by children marked the path. At the end stood a couple of greeters in wacky attire. Yep, definitely burners. My boyfriend and I squeezed hands, a blooming in our chests.
God, that thrill of anticipation is so, so good. You know the feeling. When you’ve been driving past miles of farmland, trying to get kicks here and there from spotting alpacas, and finally you get to the gates of where you’re going.
We had arrived, a reality only sweetened by the fact that our morning had not been kind to us. Among other trials, we’d dealt with a 5am wakeup call, an exploding water container, a dodgy croissant – thanks, Pierre – and a rapidly rising concern that we should have better prepared for the 90’s trance b2b DJ set we’d put our names down for…
And also – somewhat oddly – a music-less drive.
It was the first time he and I had driven to a doof without the rhythmic spasms of kick drums threatening to blow up his radio speaker.
But then, this wasn’t a doof. It was a burn.
The difference is stark.
This year was my third burn. Though I’m not a “burgin” (burner virgin), I’m not exactly a veteran either. Regardless, my boyfriend and I are familiar enough with burns – plus burner events – to have built up no small degree of reverence for Seed. I think it’s this that might have been what that gentle, silent drive up to NSW was all about.
As we crawled along the russet path of dust, the greeters turned from colourful shapes in the distance to life-sized people peering into my boyfriend’s car window.
“Welcome!!! Welcome, lovelies!!!”
A sudden onslaught of genuine goodwill, it had the effect of propelling us immediately into what I like to call the Burning Realm: a dimension where time and space seem to dilate and everyone’s just really fucking nice.
A few minutes of repartee passed – games, questions, the securing of wristbands, a wild, screaming jump through a makeshift portal.
And then we rumbled into Red Earth City, ready to dredge up all the treasure we could find at the bottom of our tired, work-flattened spirits…
We’d need it if we were going to create the best Burning Seed ever.
APPLES AND ORANGES
That’s the thing about a Burn. You don’t merely experience it for yourself; you create it. For yourself and others.
A Burn is created for burners by burners. It’s a completely DIY romp into radical self-expression and participation (two of the core tenets), not to mention a headfirst jump into the sheer possibilities of collective ingenuity…
It begs the question: “How good can it get?”
Or better yet: “How good can we make this?”
A temporary community that challenges and plays with the limitations experienced in the real world, it’s not a rave in the bush. There’s a strong gifting culture and your part in it is the purpose.
As written on the official website:
“People new to Burning Seed often assume that a Burn is like a festival – a mostly passive experience where event producers organise everything and you just need to rock up for the show. Instead, a Burn is creating by its participants, not for them…”
You are not merely the reveller. You are the maker.
Some helpful notes point to the more practical considerations:
“Together, we pool our resources, skills, ideas and imagination to create the funding, the city, the entertainment and the experience itself…We also take care of our day-to-day needs and the environment, while we’re there and when we leave…”
What part of this means is that there is absolutely nowhere at Seed you can buy food or water. In fact, there’s no commerce at all. It’s a cashless society. You bring everything you need from home. And then you take it away with you, garbage bags full of empty tuna cans and tissues covered in black, dusty boogers included.
A Burn is a labour, yes – but it’s a labour of love.
This fact alone already renders a Burn a pretty unique beast.
And yet, I certainly won’t pretend to deny that a Burn does share many of the qualities we’ve come to know and love in the Aussie doofing scene.
There’s a sense of communion, a distinct salt-of-the-earth groundedness, an incredible diversity of mind-blowing artistic talent and no shortage of silliness.
But that’s where the similarities start to dwindle…
A doof, for example, is a music-centric bush party for the community. A burn, on the other hand, is a community-centric gathering for the sake of a positive social experiment.
While some truly cerebral music events and parties can (and do) happen at a Burn, it’s not the end game like it is with so many doofs and dance events.
Any musical happenings, spontaneously thrown or otherwise, merely reflect the general joie de vivre that’s intricately interwoven with everything else that makes a Burn a Burn: creativity, connection, absurdity, participation, immediacy, innovation, inclusivity…
Qualities reflected in “The Ten Principles”: the reason why and how Burning Seed even exists.
In 1986, a small group gathered on Baker Beach in San Francisco. It was the summer solstice; one man deemed a bonfire ritual appropriate. So they sat on the beach and burned an 8-feet tall wooden man.
This was the first iteration of Burning Man – that wildly alien weeklong gathering held out in the middle of the Nevadan desert every year. An event that, some believe, used to belong to bohemians and free spirits and is sadly now the domain of Instagram celebrities and the Silicon Valley elite.
Members of this initial group would later go on to create ten principles to define their cultural ethos: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation and Immediacy.
If Radical Inclusion is a success, I suppose hippies and Elon Musk could party happily together? Maybe they do. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been to the Man.
But I digress. The point is that Burning Seed is an official regional Australian version of Burning Man. As such, the principles remain unaltered.
Discussing these principles to the degree of depth deserved would necessitate an entire piece of its own.
Needless to say: if you’re not prepared to engage with the principles, you’re not prepared to burn.
Piggybacking my unwieldy form across the paddock late one night, we could have known my dear friend would fall. But the giggles were well worth the scrape on her knee.
So were the enchanting strangers we’d encountered along the way.
Testimony to Seed’s foreign origin perhaps, it felt like almost every third person you ran into this year was from another continent (or another planet.)
In the space of an hour on Thursday night, I met an American from the Midwest wearing a cute LED backpack, what appeared to be a giant, fluorescent amoeba (inside which I’m sure a human was hiding) and a reiki healer I’d first met at a party years ago.
The crowd is incredibly miscellaneous, yet it feels like everyone’s family. It probably helps that Burning Seed is a lot smaller than Burning Man.
Instead of an alkaline playa, we roam a dusty paddock. And instead of 70,000 people, there’s only but a fraction of this number.
But the marvels on display are still splendidly endless: from art-cars and sculptures, to cabaret performances and crude bars doling out slap shots (note: as a member of this man’s crew, I can promise he is a sweetheart) and even a giant pool…
One can spend an entire day as a butterfly, floating from theme camp to theme camp, and never fully see the breadth of all that there is to see at Seed.
It’s only even more astonishing to consider that this collection of experiences – from the absurd to the exquisitely beautiful – has popped up in a matter of days.
Still, curated with love over the span of entire months, by intensely talented engineers, artists, producers, volunteers, and the rest of us. The feats on show are no less mesmerising or impressive.
Each year has an overarching theme, and this year’s was ‘Zoophemism.’
Interpret that one how you will. Though I’ll admit, in my case the theme was quickly forgotten upon entry. Over the years, I’ve come to see Seed through my own thematic prism:
Pure, delicious madness!
These were my personal highlights at this year’s Seed…
The Megaloceros of Light
The Megaloceros of Light was an awesomely large moose structure a few of our architect friends designed and built for Seed. Illuminated at night by incandescent light bulbs, the moose commandeered an awesome presence on the paddock. We were later told someone had actually proposed there! As the sun went down one night, our crew gathered under the moose’s watchful eye to enjoy some progressive DJ sets and cups of wickedly strong punch by the ‘Descartes’ Day Cart travelling bar.
Raves at Toasted Fairies
I might be biased, considering this is the theme camp I call home. But there’s no more suitable way of saying it: the parties here are mad. A faerie cave for techno, 90s rave, hardstyle and psytrance, it’s my place to dance. During the day, the cave transformed into a peaceful spot for workshops, colouring in and insightful talks. The talk on how to make existentialism work for you positively exploded my synapses.
The Temple Burn
The Effigy Burn is pure magic. As the fire dancers surrounding the structure spin trails of light, you can feel the energy rising, the music pulsing beneath you, all of it leading to a crescendo of fiery splendour.
But it’s the Temple Burn I love most.
Leading up to the Temple Burn this year, people scribbled all sorts of messages on its walls. There were stories of grief, loss, love and heartache. There were positive affirmations and testimonies of hope. Some of the words I read here sent shivers up my spine. A sponge of an empath if there ever was one, I found the collective energy in this space really heavy. A lone violinist’s sonata was the soundtrack to my sobbing as I sat in front of the Temple one pale morning, ruminating over my own life’s sorrows, as little or big they might have seemed in comparison to all I had read.
But, above all, I was overcome with gratitude that such a safely held space for release even existed.
When the temple finally burned, emotions were varied. Some experienced an immense outpouring of relief or grief at letting go, others – exhilaration!
Some people simply watched the burn intently, and as I watched them in turn, I saw the fire’s dance reflected in their eyes and I wondered what kinds of secrets were buried there.
By the end of my Seed, rambunctious partying had given way to long nights of clumsy psychoanalysis and revelations back at our campsite.
These conversations were not always painless. A Burn has a way of breaking me and reshaping me, much like the way the messages in the Temple are burnt to become ashes and reintegrate into the environment in a new way.
But it’s safe to say that some of my friendships are deeper now than they ever were before. My soul is a little more whole, my mind somewhat soothed, my heart burning anew.
That’s the alchemy of Seed.
At Seed, the anxieties and walls you put up in the real world can be (with your radical consent, of course) deconstructed and challenged.
The freedom that flows from that temporary confrontation is truly profound. After several emotional realisations, what can then follow is a sublime leap of personal growth.
At least, this is how my friends and I felt about it this year. But who knows? We might just be freaks.
Burning Seed is not a gated, elitist neighbourhood, but nor would I say is it fair play for self-entitled experience tourists. It’s a community built on principles that, for important reasons, are protected and held very dear.
All are encouraged to respect the history, explore the principles meaningfully and tread with grace. And remember: a burn is not a doof. Though, as the adorable little girl from that old taco ad says: “Porque no los dos?”
I love and will continue to love both.
When you burn with love, the experience has a way of changing you for life.
Mind you, there’s a good deal of healthy irreverence at these Burns, too, so you know what?
Fuck yer Burn!
(But not really, because I love it.)
* I’d like to personally thank all participants of the Burn this year for their incredible hard work, their attention to detail, and their practical and emotional support, specifically the scores of crews and volunteers who tirelessly toiled to make Seed even happen. A special mention goes to the Toasted Fairies who are without doubt my favourite theme camp on the paddock.