Burning Seed

The following review was published in the Narrandera Argus on 4 October 2012

Matong State Forest was once again the venue for the Burning Seed festival, which ran from 26 September to 2 October.

Burning Seed is the Australian version of Burning Man, the famous US festival which creates a temporary city in the Nevada desert. While it sometimes looks and frequently sounds like a music concert, the principles of the event distinguish it from almost everything else on the calendar except the best bits of Christmas, Clean Up Australia Day and Guy Fawkes Night.

The 10 principles of Burning Man focus participants on being good citizens of a short-lived community, united by common ideals rather than a common taste in music like most festivals. The music being played at the various theme camps was eclectic, from acoustic percussion through to blues and folk and, of course, the penetrating 'doof' of electronic dance music, ranging from slow dubstep through to funky house and pummeling psy-trance.

The principles shape the event into something special. For example, the principle of leaving no trace means that Burning Seed is unique in being held within a NSW state forest. Quite an achievement when you consider the focus on fire. This year the organisers consulted with the Rural Fire Service to set a date before harvest and the fire risk season.

Other principles include "radical self-expression," "radical inclusion" and "radical self-reliance" and these mean the event is, well, pretty radical. There are outrageous outfits and, for a few, no outfits at all. For some clothing was optional but for many others it was an opportunity to dazzle.

The principle of decommodification is also wild. None of the theme camp bars, food vendors or brewers of tea and ale would accept money for their goods. There were workshops in a wide range of arts and interests but there was a potency in the idea of gifting that meant that once you received a gift, you felt obligated to share your skills or talent with the greater community. It fostered a feeling of good will that was infectious, with participants actively seeking opportunities to share.

This "experiment in temporary community" used the principles in such a way to create a sense of social cohesion while encouraging self-identity and it was extremely effective. Many were attending their second or third Burning Seed and spoke of how each event saw more and more open tents or people bringing something new. Every spectator was given opportunity to perform and, with only a few hundred people, you began to see how people found roles over the weekend.

One bloke I met explained he'd picked up a hitchhiker the day before and been given a ticket to the festival. He was already planning to attend in 2013 with his daughter because he thought it was important to her education. That weekend he spent a lot of time ensuring the communal fireplace didn't go out and put on a reptile show for the Kids Camp, which probably flouted the no pets rule but was very popular.

A couple of locals from Matong enthused about Burning Seed but were concerned that people in the area didn't understand the philosophy behind the event. They observed that some local visitors had left empty beer cans on the ground rather than leaving no trace. Unless you take the time to read the principles, then it must be bewildering for some residents to understand why people travel from all over Australia to a party amongst their Cypress Pine.

Obviously burning stuff appeals to a lot of these people and the burning of the man on the Saturday (or 'roo this year) and the Temple on the Sunday, as well as all the fire twirling and incendiary sculptures almost make fire a headline feature. They are spectacular blazes but to my mind Burning Seed doesn't really have a headline act or attraction, it brings out the best in those attending. Which is why I'll be going back in 2013 and, if you're game, you should too.