Some Reflecting upon the Experience of Appraising Sites for DTE ConFest in the 1990s and the Processes Used in ConFest Site Layout



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Written and updated since 1993. Updated Oct. 2014.



ConFest, the conference festival that commenced in the ACT in 1976 was held on leased land until DTE acquired its own property at Gulpa creek out of Deniliquin in NSW, and a second property out of Moulamein in NSW.


The reflections in this paper come from the experience of appraising over seventy potential sites for ConFest in the 1990s. Sometimes we would have a number of sites to see on the same trip.


Sites would be referred to us by ConFesters, or the land owners, or often by the local real estate agents who had been briefed by us as to what we were looking for.


Estate agents would be given the starting specification for leased land:


·         Around 120 hectares of lightly timbered flat land with little undergrowth providing ample shade and buffer zone around the festival

·         Around 60 hectares (150 acres) of prime festival site with a number of shaded clearings for the market and larger events

·         Good safe swimming water, preferably in a reliable slow flowing river or sizable creek

·         In southern NSW within a 4 hour drive of Melbourne

·         A good aesthetic appearance

·         Absence of thorns, prickles and noxious weeds

·         Access to potable water or provision to create our own

·         All-weather road access to and within the site or okay to create same by agreed process

·         While probably in a flood zone, having a minimal projected risk of flooding

·         Reasonable lease price and conditions

·         Minimal mosquitoes and other pests

·         A buffer of trees so the site is not visible from the road or public access to the other side of river/creek boundaries

·         No close houses (to minimize potential opposition to permits and noise/other complaints)

·         Accessible by public transport

·         Available for lease between October to end of the following April

·         Service town within around 7 kms to 15kms (no closer and no further)

·         Lease conditional upon DTE being able to get a council permit to hold ConFest

·         Reasonable lease price and conditions


The last factor was the prime reason DTE reverted to buying and using our own properties. Land owners under advice from their legal people started requesting DTE acquire massive public liability covers. As well, their legal advisors were counselling land owners not to lease at all because of the landowners being exposed to legal obligation despite DTE’s insurances. Given this climate of risk related fear, landowners’ asking price massively increased, and as a consequence, DTE acquired one property of around 194 hectares and another of around 370 hectares.


When seeking to lease a ConFest site we were mindful of many inter-connecting, inter-linking and inter-depending variables. Some of these are critical. The presence or absence of these critical factors would immediately rule out using a particular site and we would move on to view other sites.


If we were told that all of the above criteria were met we would take the time to drive and check out the key features in the above list ourselves.


Often we can only drive so far into a property and then we have to walk. One can get completely lost in 60 hectares, let alone 120 hectares. In the time before mobile GPS, when one walks a new site with few or no roads on a grey overcast day, where you do not have the sun for bearings, and we’re in a grey box forest, every tree looks the same, and we can soon end up walking in circles.


grey box forest


Gulpa Creek type Grey Box Forest



While the Black Box forest may look unattractive the trees do get higher and more attractive. There are patches of majestic red gum forest and Gulpa Greek is attractive.





Real estate agents may be of no help on directions and often farmers are unfamiliar with the forested areas of their own property. This was before GPS devices.


edwards green.jpg


DTE’s  Moulamein property and one of its ConFest Sites near the Edwards River


After an initial check that the site seemed okay in principle, we would typically obtain permission from the owner to have a long weekend from Thursday night to midday Monday. During this time we would set up camp at a spot that we had selected on our first visit that we know that we can find in the dark on Thursday night.


Our process before GPS units became available was that we would start early the next day before it got too hot and carry a bundle of A4 paper and masking tape. We would tear the paper in half and wrap the paper around a small sapling 2 metre above ground. We would keep our eyes on a similar size sapling that we can see 100 metres in the distance and walk to that sapling and similarly place the paper around that sapling so we have a clear line of site to where our camp is. We would repeat this in a straight line till we had travelled through the site. We would then retrace our steps. Along the way we would note any distinctive markers, say a particular shaped large river red gum, or a large burnt out tree stump. We would repeat this process in different directions adding in distinctive markers on this differing runs.



After a time we would start to become familiar with the site - to become ‘at one’ with it. We would start to have a mental representation of the site within us. We would embody the site. We would become so familiar with the site that we were able to mentally travel the site in our mind’s eye.  We could be taken out into the site blindfolded and upon opening our eyes we could accurately point in the direction of our camp. We could also correctly point in the direction of and know the distance to other site features.


Once we have ‘embodied’ the site we will start doing a cross check on the over 150 variables that are listed in the last section of this page. Many of these variables cross influence each other. For example, if the only suitable place for the market is at one end of the site this would mean that many festival goers will have a long walk in very hot conditions, not a good set up. During Summer ConFests the temperature is often in the mid to high 40s and has gone into the early 50s centigrade (122F). Most people are up to their necks in the water on those days with a damp cloth on their head!


In the past we have had a three zone arrangement. We would endeavour to have at least half to two thirds of the site Car Free. This meant that typically people in this area would not be able to see a car from their tent or as they walk the car free area. This adds immeasurably to the ‘spirituality’ and ‘being away from the mainstream world out in the forest’ feel of the festival.


The next zone was the Gypsy Stay-put Zone where those in campervans and caravans and those wanting to camp near their vehicle and not move their vehicle during the festival would stay.


The outer zone is the Gypsy Access Zone where vehicles can be moved during the festival during day time hours. If those that chose to stay in Gypsy Stay-put find that they have to leave, then they can pack up, leave and upon return stay in the Gypsy Access Zone.


This three zone arrangement is greatly assisted by land topography that has two continuous natural barriers with a few access points. Unpassable dry creek beds may suffice or banks of fallen trees and thick unpassable banks of trees.


Sometimes we have used natural barriers in the topography and closed off other access point by dragging large logs or using the core group cars to make a car-based barrier.


We have many trolleys that people use to get their gear into Car Free. Car Free parking is ideally spread along the edge of the area so the distance to walk in with gear and a trolley is minimal. DTE now owns a bus that is used as a shuttle between Car Free Parking and Car Free during the time people are arriving.


We seek to have the car parking set-up to be self-organising and self-evident and requiring the minimum of control or voluntary people on ‘gates’.


Typically people are briefed on the three zones and the parking arrangements at the welcome gate inside the front gate.


The challenge in appraising whether a site is suitable is to simultaneously embrace and juggle all of the 150 factors and to perceive them in all of their interacting, inter-connecting, inter-depending, inter-relating, and interfacing. The process starts out and remains for a time very tentative. Sensing how the different aspects may fit together. What will not work. What may be adjusted or adapted to make it work.


For example, ConFest tends to have various energies. It has the quiet spaces and the noisier and busier places. Spiritually, meditation, healing and yoga areas like to be together in the quiet area. The Arts Village that includes body painting, massage, life drawing, some workshop spaces, steam tent and mud bath is in the best swimming area. Many prefer the Art Village to be in the Car Free area.


More recently, fire aspects of our permit are limiting have cars and other vehicles in treed areas, that are typical of the River and Creek banks


We need the front gate in a safe place, a place we can get volunteers to easily; and one where security can be maintained, and where temporary camping is available for those arriving after sunset; driving on site after sunset is prohibited during ConFest and discouraged in the set-up and pull-down phases.


To return again to the theme of embodying the site, what follows is some stream-of-consciousness type writing:


This goes back to a time before we had GPS equipment…and a close friend of mine accompanied me in visiting a forested area to check out how we may be able to layout ConFest...a campout conference festival…..and we had been doing this a number of times and we’re discovering how to do this at this new site….and the first time we visited this site we would walk away from our camp and enjoy wandering around and enjoy getting lost and taking ages to find our way back to camp……and I later found the French have a word for this kind of walking….‘dérive’....literally meaning ‘drifting’…...with dérive according to Guy-Ernest de Bord (2011) involving a ‘playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psycho-geographical effects’ experiencing varied ambience....…….the character…..and special atmosphere……or moods created by particular environments… experiencing nature in all its variation…discovering what’s termed ‘enabling environments’.....and initially on these walks the trees all look the same……like my experience of Chinese faces when I was a little boy……they too all looked the same….....and after a time...........I started to discriminate and notice difference….…and after a time walking in that forest we start putting up context markers……paper wrapped around slender tree trunks……and a little later we begin to recognise particular trees…and clumps of trees…....hollows…..slight rises and subtle sinewy dried up waterways……and we learn to recognise markers for the different dried up waterways…….the different black stumps….stumps with new growth…..the clearing with the big tree in the middle where the eagles nest when they are not doing lazy circles above us……and places start to become familiar……and we start noticing difference......…the source of all new knowing.........and recognising difference.…and we start to understand how aspects of the site link to other aspects ……and where we are in relation to our camp…and the direction of and distance to our camp….and different ways we can return to camp…and where we are in relation to other places….and after a time the familiar becomes ‘family’….and we can feel that we are becoming at-one with the site…..and we are having more and more of the site inside of us…and we find that we can travel through the area in our minds eye as we are now starting to have the site embedded within us as well……and we come to have some sense of what some Aboriginals mean when they speak of ‘connecting to and listening to and being part of the land’……


.......and we talk about possibly using land up from a dirt road-junction shown as dotted line and designated x on the diagram below… a car park…designated ‘A’…..for the 1000 plus cars that would be arriving for the gathering…..



……and area A is along the side of a stretch of water in an old river bed that has been cut off by the river changing course…..though it had been replenished from recent overflow from a nearby river…..


…..and we decide to go a new way to this area a (dotted line to the right from our camp) to check out the back of it so as to see how many cars may be parked in the area….and we leave our camp……depicted by the brown rectangle…..and wander along the edge of a stretch of water to the right of our camp…depicted by the brown line……...and then commence wading around up to our waist in a swamp……..seeing the occasional red belly black snake swimming or resting on floating branches …….....and our aim is to check out the swamp and find the start of the waterway and to get to the other bank….and we thought we had started to walk beside the other side of the waterway along the area designated A in the diagram above….....and that we would after a time be able to see our tents on the other side of the waterway. We were in fact entering another area designated ‘B’ in the diagram…...and the area had plenty of trees and bushes along the edge of the waterways so our vision was typically blocked for long views……


…..and we already knew there was another waterway…depicted at the top of the diagram……and assumed we were walking through area A........


And we eventually came to the end of the waterway and then came to the dirt track junction that we’d been to on our previous walk…..depicted as X…..where our brown tracking links with the red tracking…..and my friend and I suddenly realise where we are…and we realise that we had been there before…...and we both experience a sudden shift in our embodied knowing of the site……and we both realise that we had not seen our camp across the waterway because we have just walked down a different stretch of water in another old river bed and realise that there is a body of land…depicted as ‘B’….that we had not realised was there....and that there was in fact three different river courses …..and this also means that we suddenly can use this large new area (B) that is sparsely treed in the middle…and that this area would be ideal and available as a second car parking area…..with implications for the whole layout and use of the site…..and we both talked of the phenomena of the sudden change of the feel of the embodied site……and the instant addition of the third old river course and the land between the top two water ways has a completely different feel to it……and has all manner of implications that we are both now realising…….and you can only fully understand this shift in embodied knowing by experiencing it…..


The above process is profoundly different from imposing a layout on a site that has been predetermined and preplanned  away from the site.


After a time….when 3,500 festival-goers arrive…..they quickly make tracks that become pathways and the main ones become dusty tracks that four to five people can walk together along…and I sense only my friend and I have the profound familiarity with the site that has emerged from our becoming thoroughly familiar with it as an embodied awareness and knowing…….we can go anywhere on the site in our mind… could take us blindfolded into the bush site…....before the paths are made..…..and with the blindfolds removed…...we’d know where we are… we’ve become at-one with the site……


And in the past we typically used a lease site twice (New Year and Easter) before moving on. We were used to relocating. It was magical to discover ConFest in a new Site. We had relatively simple gear to move. Everything was done simply; a few tarps, ropes, some 44 gallon drums, and some pots and pans. Food was kept in a cubic metre hole in the ground lined with wet potato sacks. In it were a bag of carrots, a bag of potatoes, and some pumpkins. We made great and varied stews in a very large pot over hot coals. Stacked to one side of the hole was the long life milk.


Now we are starting to become main-stream. People are beginning to assume they own where they camped last time. We are getting more and more gear. It costs thousands to relocate all of our gear. The very thought of shifting locations even on the Moulamein site is a burden to some; a far cry from the Nineties




We tend to not pay much attention to ‘how we know things’. The following may stretch brains a bit, though it is worth a read.


In everyday life, two modes of knowing may be used

o   Firstly, a manipulative knowing that uses pre-existing 'facts', especially by reducing process to thing (verb to noun). For example, ‘extraordinary passion-in-action becomes simply ‘DTE’.  Dynamic passion in action becomes the never-questioned taken-for-granted; we tend to ‘grasp’ things within the existing ‘square’ in order to predict and control (refer One Dimensional Knowing in Marcuse’s ‘One Dimensional Man’) without even noticing that this is what’s happening.

o   Secondly, and more rarely, a relational knowing that tentatively uses existing knowings and actively explores turning nouns back into verbs – turning ‘things’ into an ever-questioned re-membering as it tentatively and (almost) lovingly embraces, respects, celebrates and immerses itself in all the richness and diversity of unfolding life processes with others and the natural world – going way outside existing ‘facts’ and makers of facts (factors) towards multi-dimensional knowing.

On Changing Verb to Noun


Example, changing:


The lived life passion in action wanting to evolve alternative ways of life on Earth that put on the first ConFest




A thing called DTE or Down to Earth.


The Victorian Cooperatives Act imposes on DTE the notion of a ‘Primary Activity’ which is defined as ‘Putting on ConFest’. You can only be a DTE member by ‘being engaged in the Primary Activity’. The focus is narrowed to ‘Putting on a Festival’.


Originally there was not one but many DTE foci towards better futures being passionately pursued – evolving educational resources, spawning similar Gathering celebrations in every state and territory in Australia. Finding extraordinary people overseas and bringing them to ConFest. For example, Wilhelm Reich’s daughter Eva came to the first ConFest from USA. So, how to re-verbalise DTE?


The Laceweb is resonant with the second form of knowing which may be used with various logics.


o   The task of binary logic is to make a commitment to a choice between two factors.


o   The task of dialectical logic is to experience/explore/embrace the tensions, relations and diverse-unities between two factors.


o   The task of synthetic logic is to move two factors forward by means of their synthesis.


o   The term 'multilectic' encapsulates another form of approach towards using a wider understanding of understanding.


Multilectic logic draws upon the origins of the term 'logic' - coming from the Greek word logos meaning 'reason', originally denoting 'the universal principle through which all things are interrelated and all natural events occur'.


A multilectic approach to understanding uses:


o   process and metaprocess perception (processes for engaging in processes) and has these perceptions open to possibilities

o   sustaining the tentative interplay between the internal and the external, and the present, past and future (re-vision/re-call/re-membering)

o   experiencing, exploring, understanding and embracing the tensions, intensions and inter-relations between diverse-unities


All of this towards forming and embracing senses of wholeness and macro diverse unities. These may emerge from juxtapositions (placing things near each other), inter-relationships and inter-dependencies among three or more 'factors' (separate and diverse independent realities).


These three or more factors/realities are not a point of synthesis of any first two factors.


While each of the above logics may be used, the logic 'par excellence' is multilectic.


Shared multilectic understanding simultaneously explores, embraces and juggles all the factors/realities in tension, intension and extension - with each and all involved taking and sharing multiple points of view - and perceiving them as a whole - without letting go of all but one, or making a synthesis of two. The outcome may be enriched multi-dimensional understanding, action and experience within diverse unities.


We may consider one or more factors, though always in inter-relationship with, and in relation to, the remaining factors. Multilectic understanding has us ever mindful of the inter-connecting, inter-relating, inter-depending, and resonating qualities of all of the factors/realities.


It is when you experience engaging in multilectic exchange with others that the immense richness of this process may be sensed and fully appreciated as a way of engaging holistically with the incredible rich life contexts on Planet Earth.,



Using Multilectic Processes to Set Up a Gathering Site


The process for organically unfolding a large healing gathering site starts out and remains tentative until 'fitting things' begin to emerge and make sense to those involved. These fitting things may be energised and become a vibrant part of the healing gathering experience.


Let us say that we are anticipating a number of thousands of diverse indigenous, small minority people and other intercultural healers from different lands, cultures and ethnic groups, and that these have a number of healing and wellbeing interests. Also, we may imagine that we are able to use about 170 acres of bush that has a rich and varied typography that we have never used before.


Small groups of site enablers set up a small camp and begin to wander the site - becoming familiar - so that the site begins to become embodied in the senses and body. We exert effort climbing river banks, feeling the mud between our toes, feeling the heat kick-back from clay pans and feel the various heights of the water as we wade the billabongs and wetlands. At first we are getting lost in the site - we do not know where we are - and that's delightful. Some aspects do become familiar - we re-cognise and re-member them. We make assumptions that are not true – After walking along side a waterway that goes into flooded forest – and wading into the forest till we relocate the waterway assuming it’s the waterway we are camped on' - until we discover that there are three waterways and we are on the other side of the second, and not the one we thought, and then realising that there is a lot of excellent camping or parking space that we did not know about between the waterways. And on discovering this, things 'click' in our mental maps and this new understanding is added. And with these multiple perceptions, we may begin to look with many inter-related purposes and functions in mind.


The factors/realities set out below are all inter-related. While set out in a linear list, they may more usefully be conceptualised in a multi dimensional framework with connecting energies linking everything with everything.


Some Realities, Aspects and Factors:

·         Outside entities:

o    neighbour(s) immediate

o    neighbours nearby

o    up-stream locals (water quality)

o    down-stream locals (pollution)

o    town folk - business people

o    Business Associations, e.g. Chamber of Commerce

o    Local Businesses (especially food and fuel)

o    town folk - non business

o    flora/fauna survey (protection)

o    Local Indigenous people

·         Local Village Councils - with liaison links to:

o    local village folk

o    hospital

o    ambulance

o    police

o    emergency support

o    any regulatory bodies

·         Site perimeter - edge of the gathering reality

·         Distance and visual access from:

o    town

o    from neighbours

o    road and outside tracks

o    river

o    other outside camping sites

o    prevalence and proximity of speed boats and other boating

·         Topography:

o    high ground

o    low ground

o    steep banks/cliffs (with implications for traffic control and flow and car free camping)

o    wetlands/boggy/marshlands/water-ways:

§  large

§  medium

§  small

§  current depths throughout - especially deep and shallow

§  perimeter shape as depth shifts

§  snags and entanglements under the water

§  speed of water flow

§  quality drinking water and/or alternative sources

§  effect on access with change in water levels

§  presence of pollution

·         Water control points:

o    flow control (in and out):

§  man-made

§  natural

o    access to water supply to raise/lower water levels

·         Nature of water bed:

o    boggy

o    sandy

o    hard

o    mud discharging methane

·         Hazards - logs/rocks/shallows

·         Access road:

o    existing roads

o    location

o    soil type

o    surface

o    water crossings

o    distance

o    traction when wet

o    useable when wet

o    potential bog spots

o    capacity and permission to make roads

·         Front gate:

o    location

o    relation to:

§  natural barriers

§  road

§  traffic access

§  security

§  temporary camping for after dark arrivers

o    limiting:

§  non paying attendees

§  perimeter hopping

o    access to power

o    easy access to volunteers/food

·         Car Free Camping  car park

·         Stay put car park

·         Gypsy Access  car park

·         Market venders access and parking

·         Ease of access to car free zones

·         Dynamic change:

o    changing water levels

o    effect on useable space and how space used

o    effect of rain on:

§  site process during:

§  gathering set up

§  gathering and

§  post gathering dismantling

§  land

§  car park

§  access roads

§  camping areas

§  market

§  market open spaces

§  workshop spaces

§  local flooding

·         New growth no-go zones

·         Protected flora/fauna zones

·         Indigenous heritage zones

·         Presence of branch fall hazards

·         Firewood availability

·         Prevailing winds and dust hazards

·         Fire hazards

·         Open spaces

·         Swimming and beaches

·         Mosquitoes and other pests

·         Prickles and burs

·         Natural barriers - (link to 'containment' - car access - car free zone/campervan village - no camping outside site):

o    waterways

o    large logs

o    wetlands

o    steep cliffs

o    impenetrable bush

·         All the foregoing's relating to:

o    market space - shade

o    placement of sullage pits, composting and rubbish collection

o    car free zone(s)

o    campervan village (car/van based camping)

·         Presence and use of open spaces:

o    workshops

o    fire twirling areas

o    special event areas

o    open large group event fires

o    large dance areas

·         Information

·         Workshop noticeboards

·         Volunteers food

·         Volunteers village – set up and pull down

·         Equipment store(s)

·         Placement of showers and toilets

·         Placing and creating pathways

·         Placemaking

·         Creating localities – people connecting to place

·         Creating cultural localities – people connecting together connecting to place

·         Landmarks, signage and visibility- finding one's way (day/night)

·         Water source and supply layout for pressure throughout

·         Power source(s)

·         Quiet zone

·         Louder zone

·         Loud zone

·         Enabling environments

·         Villages and specific areas - including special topography and other needs):

o    art (near beach)

o    healing (quiet)

o    Keyline (near Healing and Laceweb)

o    Spiritual (quiet)

o    Laceweb/family (quiet, next to safe children's area)

o    Family-Children’s village (central, safe, quiet, good safe shade)

o    Massage (plenty of shade, quiet)

o    Body-work (plenty of shade, quiet)

o    Music (easy access, away from quiet zone, use of barriers, e.g. depressions, away from waterway sound conduits)

o    Morning and evening large group sharing (large cleared area)

o    Events areas - small/large clearings

o    Nothing in particular Village (nothing in particular )

o    Large fire and dance and fire stick area (cleared, level, free of combustibles)

Down To Earth Victoria Cooperative now owns two properties. One at Gulpa Creek South of Denniliquin NSW. This has three ConFest layouts.

The second property is out of Moulamein in NSW on the Edwards River. This site has over fifteen kms of river and billabong frontage and includes historical old buildings – a shearers quarters and a traditional working shearing shed – still being used for shearing. This site has multiple site layout possibilities.

edwards 1.jpg

Moulamein ConFest Site on the Edwards River

edwards river 2.jpg

Moulamein ConFest Site on the Edwards River

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