Written and updated since 1994. Updated Oct. 2014.
The following is a personal perspective on evolving ConFest Sites in the 1990s
When ConFesters arrive at a ConFest site they are a chaotic and complex self organising social system. Everyone is a volunteer. There are no bosses. There are no subordinates. People are very mindful that the site set up is an opportunity to evolve community and to explore how to work well with each other in a cooperating and collaborating way. We are exploring processes that differ from the top down way of the dominant system. It is not a ‘pre-plan the layout away from the site, and then impose the plan’. Rather when the first few arrive we first walk the site. We are becoming familiar with the site as it is, and as it may be as the time for ConFest gets nearer. The site can be very dynamic. It can be changing on a daily, even hourly basis, especially when it is raining, flooding, or when flood water is receding and land drying out. During a brief shower dry dust can turn to slippery mud on a hard base where cars can get no traction. Thirty minutes later and traction returns.
For example, on the New Year 1993/94 when we first used the Perricoota Station property on the Murray River at Moama, ten weeks before ConFest the site was around 70% under water. We had an assurance from locals with knowledge of planned water release levels by the Murray River Water Authorities that the land we wanted to use for the festival would be dry three before our date allowing us three weeks set up.
In the first few weeks only two of us were on site and each day we would be wading the area to gain a sense of the shape of the landforms and how we may best use the place - exploring possible places for villages and the market, swimming areas, car parking and the like. At first we make tentative suggestions as to layout. This layout is guided by the site and by what has happened spontaneously at past ConFests.
The first essential is that we let the site tell us what to do. Then we let the unfolding context tell us what to do.
What are the site’s natural features and how may we fit in with those features? How can we potentially position things relative to those natural features? We intentionally keep everything very tentative as we are doing this walking and talking looking at the features and the constraints of the topography. This is a very organic natural process. It is very indigenous. We are not in an imposing mode. It is more of the looking for the fitting and the placing of potential localities.
We have the sense of the various energies that ConFest attracts. There are the quiet people and the more vigorous sound makers. There are the workshop energisers and enabler facilitators. We know what the various villagers like to have in their village. For example the pagan village people like to camp in a ‘grove’ type atmosphere near a clearing preferably with one small ceremonial tree in the middle. They like to be able to clearly see the full moon at Easter time. If we select a tentative site with these features for the Pagan Village people, when they all start to arrive typically they really like the place as it is the best location for them on the site. It may have for example, a grove of trees for shady camping near a clearing ideal for ceremony with a clear view of the full moon at Easter, being a reasonable distance from the market, beach, arts and other workshop venues. They can drum and the site has just the atmosphere they love.
The same applies to every other village. We know their preferences and we maximally fit these preferences. When done well, the ConFesters do typically congregate within the various village spaces as they have been tentatively suggested. When thousands of people all arrive in a few hours they essentially do whatever they like to do. ConFest and ConFesters have the context emerge now whereby between one and two thirds of them have been before and they know how it all works.
There are the typical natures of the various villages that the ConFesters generate when they arrive. There are the following:
The quieter kinds of villages:
· Tai chi
The medium noise villages:
· Arts village
· Nothing in particular
· Crazy hat
· Family and children
The more noisy villages
· Acoustic music
· Drumming (and this at other locations as well)
· Singing dancing
We use the blue plastic packing tape to mark out tentative spaces for villages by tying the tape between trees around the tentative space above head height so when others arrive no one will hit or trip on the tape while walking at night. This typically stays as a marker.
This tape comes in a large roll number of 1,000 metres long
We then staple A4 size paper signs on to the tape saying this is a possible place for say, the Pagan Village. Workshop spaces are marked as well as event spaces large and small. Some areas along the water ways are marked as ‘no camping’ to create places to stroll and take in the water reflections and ambiance. Some areas are marked for conservation.
There is a map about site layout at the welcome gate. It shows the three parking zones:
· Car Free (furtherest into the site)
· Stay-put Gypsy
· Access Gypsy (closer to the front gate)
The map also shows the tentative village layout and the various zones of relative quietness. No one is giving people directives about what you can and cannot do. There is a pervasive spirit of ‘here we evolve our community life together’. ConFesters can choose to camp where ever there is camping space.
In walking the site we are sensing where the ConFest paths may emerge. Paths have very ancient traditions:
o A way to get between places.
o A place for easier walking without tripping.
o A way to locate our self and others.
o A way to see the local features.
o A means to take in the best features of the locale
o A way to discover the locale and each other was we walk and talk
o Enabling walking meditations
o A way to meet others passing by
o A way to meet others on the wayside
On one occasion when grass on the site was high, a perceptive person brought an old robust domestic Victor Motor Mower and someone very familiar with the site and with a feel for all of the tentative villages and other places took the mower for a sensible walk. After a few hours of ConFester walking, the mown ‘pathways’ became the ConFest paths. The paths had maximal shade. They wandered past all of the enchanting and interesting places. The maximised the visual feast of ConFest. While only the width of the victor motor mower originally, some of these segments of the ConFest mown ‘path’ became major tracks where you could walk five abreast, made wide by foot traffic.
In selecting workshop and conference spaces we again have a sense for the special sacred feel of the space. We are looking for spaces beside paths for easy location. We are looking for places with special vibe, and attractive aspect and attractive view. We look for natural clearings with a natural surrounding boundary of trees. We look for the absence of dangerous overhead branches that may fall. We look for tree based anchor points for erecting shade tarps. We especially check for local over-ground water flow and natural drainage ways. In the past, folk have not allowed for this and more than once we have ‘lost’ most of our workshop spaces when they became pools of water.
This is an emerging document and will be enlarged.