All the way up to Confest at Gulpa Creek, near Echuca on the Murray River, we expected to see a line of slow moving Combi vans and housebuses. But there was no sign of either a queue nor many hippy vehicles. Rattly, mobile wrecks were outnumbered by new Holdens, suburban assault vehicles (SAVs) and the odd Mercedes Benz. Clearly the face of alternative lifestylers is not what we expected.
Confest has been going since 1976. It’s all about providing a space for “… healing, personal growth event; a sharing of ideas about what it means to be a ‘happy’, ‘whole’ human (from humus meaning earth) being.” The alternative lifestyle festival attracts thousands of spiritual healers, drummers, naturists, hippies, cranks, and the odd straight person at both easter and new year.
There is no set programme. Instead the volunteer organisers provide venues for workshops, and participants offer something if they feel inclined, all for free. Most of the workshops didn’t appeal to me, but there was no pressure to do anything so I rested and read a lot. I attended a feldenkrais session, and participated in the spontaneous choir – more a fluid, mass performance experimenting with sound than a traditional choir with its focus on songs.
The swimming hole, mud bath and massage tent were constantly busy, as was the marketplace. As well as selling food, chai and tie-dies, the marketplace was a place for interaction, spontaneous dancing, music and drumming. The food was cheap and healthy, served without tomato sauce, cancer cola or a neon sign in sight.
The incessant drumming did get on my nerves – strange how tolerance was a one way street for some of the drummers: the need for loud self expression over-rode other people’s desire for quiet. Another little irritant was the lack of privacy in the pit toilets. Apart from that, I’ve got to admit it was great being close to nature, camping simply beneath the stars and gums, and being in a non-judgemental environment, with no boorish or aggressive behaviour. Not sure if I’ll follow in Dave’s footsteps and come back, but you never know.
As we were in the vicinity of the mighty Murray River, we went for a walk in the Barmah State Park which winds beside the river. The area was subject to an unsuccessful claim by the Yorta Yorta people for native title, and home to numerous sites of importance nation/ tribe. Away from the river there was nary a sign of any water. The red gum forest through which we walked relies on episodic flooding to survive, something which is infrequent as the water is largely taken for farming and horticulture. Despite the sparseness and aridity there was a quiet beauty about the area.
Homeward bound, we travelled far out of our way to visit the Jamieson Brewery. See the beer hunting photo album for a brief description.