Seeding a Rainbow Gathering
10 January 16
Participating in the Seed Camp for a Rainbow Gathering is one of the best experiences I have had in Australia. The girls and I have been revelling in the hard work, camaraderie and connection we find in seeding this month’s Tasmanian Rainbow Gathering.
(Pictures to come)
Seed camp is a small group of people who pool their time, resources and skill to “seed” — introduce ideas and create spaces — wonderful places which will benefit the temporary, intentional community that forms in a Rainbow Gathering. We announce ideas, declare communal spaces, build infrastructure and set-up the traditions and routines that will define the culture. We’re backed up by dedicated locals who — because of work or family commitments — can’t make it to site but instead shop and transport what we need, sourcing building supplies and secondhand materials, making bulk orders of foods and ferrying hitchhikers and backpackers around.
We arrived on the site in the northern parts of Tasmania after a hot, difficult day driving from Hobart. The girls and I had two friends travelling with us in the bus — both Rainbow Family that we met at the 2011 Singleton Singleton gathering where I birthed Elijah.
When travelling to a Rainbow, fresh and bulk foods are always appreciated — especially if they include yummy luxuries like dates and sultanas! It was a joy to shop with Mystery and Nicki — first selecting large quantities from a Margate fresh grocery store before browsing the aisles at a bulk-foods warehouse in Hobart for commercial quantities of tinned goods, dried fruit and pasta.
The drive north — although hot — was also enjoyable. At a gathering last year, we started exploring the 36 questions to fall in love with someone, and we used the travelling time to restart the conversations, with the girls also participating in answering the questions, revealing perspectives and ideas that I had never before heard articulated.
However, outside Deloraine the bus overheated. As we stopped and let it cool down, a van of other friends also heading the Rainbow Gathering pulled in behind us. Aneira and Mystery helped diagnose and suggest remedies for the bus, and the RACT mechanic who came by couldn’t offer anything else except the possibility of a tow into Deloraine.
After consulting with my friends, I decided to limp slowly towards the gathering. However, the bus overheated again outside Devonport, and I was lucky to just stutter through a busy intersection before I could pull properly off the road.
By now it was after business hours on New Year’s Eve, so the tow truck drivers were all unavailable. Aneira and his van continued on the next 30 km towards the Rainbow Gathering, and I stayed at the bus with the girls and Mystery.
Another friend Kelli drove out with her van and picked up the girls, taking them and their gear into the Rainbow Gathering where Nicky had arranged a sleeping space for them in a tipi before setting up our tent. So Mystery and crashed in the bus, watching the amazing animated The Little Prince and falling asleep before the fireworks popped above us at midnight.
In the morning, a tow truck driver was available, and Stuart deposited us and the bus on the side of the dirt access road to the site. We walked down the forest access road and then turned off onto a proper walking track that took us into the valley.
Huge floods have carved out a double-decker of plains on the inside bend in the river. The side is bordered on one side with a covenanted nature reserve and Crown land through which the Dooley Track winds its way along and across the Wilmot River.
In terms of Rainbow Gathering site, this is the absolute best that we’ve seen. It has a cool, temperate rainforest gully where tree ferns dominate the middle story, creating perfect nooks for tents and little, enclosed campsites. Acacias line the riverside, providing shade for the tents that dot the periphery of the lower plain.
We marked out a centre point for the sacred fire, created a circle with round stones, dug out the fire pit and then proceeded to clear the area of thistles. I drew concentric circles around the fire and cut them into quadrants. We walked each section carefully, using a mattock to pull the thistles up by the roots and then collecting them into a bucket before depositing them into the middle of the fire pit. They’re drying and will be the kindling for the lighting of our first sacred fire tonight on the evening of the New Moon.
Since Rainbow Gatherings happen from New Moon to New Moon, the Family that gathers on site beforehand are the seed camp. A clean-up crew continues after the Rainbow Gathering has ended, dismantling structures and restoring the site to its original (or improved) condition.
We aim to have minimal impact on the land, and we’re occupying this space — private property — with clear guidelines from the owners who wish to preserve this property so the forest can continue its creep up to the riverbank. However, already faded tracks are forming in the mossy grass as we make the 100-metre walk from our tent to the chai space where the seed kitchen was set up until the proper construction was complete.
We’re living out of our tent — instead of our housebus — for this summer, and it’s fun but challenging to be away from some of the comforts of our mobile home. The girls have had to adjust to not being able to draw on personal food supplies, sleeping on the ground in the tent and using the pit toilet that is dug high on the bank, covering their poo with lime to keep the flies away and then spraying their hands with a sanitising tea-tree-oil solution.
Hygiene is taken very seriously at Rainbow Gatherings, because otherwise communal living can result in communal illness. We spray our hands with tea-tree before doing anything in the kitchen, before serving food, before eating, and after going to the toilet. Lice sometimes goes around the gathering — we often greet each other with a heart-to-heart hug where the left sides of our bodies meet (instead of the more natural way of hugging where our right sides meet) — but the risk of lice isn’t a compelling reason to stop hugging!
We’ve already identified lice in Seed Camp, it came in on the head of a beautiful blonde — an newly enthusiastic Rainbow sister who previously worked in retail, dated wealthy men and had consuming-obsessed friends with whom she ultimately found her conversations shallow and meaningless. Now she’s enjoying a lifestyle of healthy eating, meditation and community service.
As we work side by side on multiple projects, we talk, and I like to ask people how they were first introduced to the Rainbow. A young Adonis named Jake tells of his dedicated emo phase before transitioning into a stoner/hard-core gamer. Here he’s just completed an amazing humpy by harvesting forest materials from across the river, sharpening stakes, arranging them into a tipi shape, weaving the structure with wattle branches and covering it all in tree-fern fronds. He carries a large knife on his belt and fashioned a new rake handle from a newly carved staff. I wonder if this Earth-friendly shamanic searching is simply another phase before he moves on to a three-piece suit businessman’s life or something else. It’ll be interesting to observe, and I ask him to connect with me on Facebook so I can follow his adventures.
Although the workers at Seed Camp often have tools hanging around their waists, they still have the luxury of using petrol tools and power tools. Vehicles still drive freely around the site before the opening when they will park in the carpark for the duration of the gathering. At some Rainbow Gatherings, it’s possible to live on site for a month without encountering a single motor vehicle.
This Seed Camp has four legendary and experienced builders. One quickly worked out that he wasn’t needed in a capacity that he’d held before, so the other three soon divided up the projects, consulting each other on engineering aspects, coordinating their resource-management and trouble-shooting supply issues. It’s a joy to observe how each has their different style and respects the strengths of the others.
This is the first time I’ve seen Juliet in action. She’s a tall Amazon of a woman who can hold her large chainsaw steady down the centre of a long log, perfectly slicing it into two. She’s brought a complete tool-set — and the equipment to charge it and works longer and harder than just about everyone. She’s designated an arts village around her tent, for although she’s all about engineering and construction during seed camp, when the gathering starts, she’ll switch into an artsy frame of mind.
We’ve constructed a double-tarped kitchen area, complete with gas burners and a keyhole fire pit for cooking, long chainsaw-milled counters for chopping, a double-door preparation counter and a semi-enclosed pantry shelf for spices and kitchen tools.
The food is kept in a separate tent, and slowly the group grows accustomed to cooking large quantities of rice, buckwheat, pasta and sauces. It only takes one or two people with ideas of how to prepare food that stretches beyond the average diet, and they share their knowledge with whoever comes to the kitchen to work on the two meals of the day — breakfast and dinner.
Early on, our small group consenses to limit this Rainbow Gathering’s food calls to two. We start preparing the meal then pause to yell “Food Circle”, alerting the Family to the possibility of a feed within the hour. When the food is ready, the call “Food Circle NOW” is sent echoing across the valley.
Rainbow Gatherings rely on word of mouth to spread most messages. We have announcements at meal-times and hold respectful listening circles in which everyone is given enough time to share what they need to. When it comes to work matters — or food — we’re not so subtle. Whoever is in the vicinity of the kitchen is told that it’s time to call. There’s always a quick count to three to get our timing aligned, and we cup our hands around our mouths and shout out in a measured meter as loudly as we can. Others, upon hearing the call, repeat it. In this way, a call from the kitchen bounces along the valley, perhaps repeating five to seven times. The girls have started joining together and echoing the call like their taller friends.
All Family decisions are made by consensus, which means that if one person disagrees, the decision cannot be made. This means we often talk over things a great deal, but there is satisfaction in learning diplomatic reasoning, clear articulation and the graceful acceptance of others’ ideas, wisdom and experience.
By setting consensuses (consensi?) early in the Seed Camp, the smaller group creates the feel for the rest of the gathering as it’s unlikely their decision could be overturned by an opposing consensus. It’s not majority-rule, it’s consensus! Although it can sound absurd to those who aren’t used to the way it works, it’s the way I make decisions with the girls within our small family unit, and it assures that everyone is happy with the outcome!
Similarly to when we crewed before Confest 2014, the girls are advantaged by arriving on site before most of the Family walk in. They quickly learn the sites of the designated communal areas, settle into the routines and discover all the good places to play — all before they are surrounded by a couple hundred new people.
At this seed camp, we already know a large quantity of the Family members — they’re either friends from past gatherings or new friends from our summer camping spot near Mt Field in the southern part of the island. As the only children within camp for a few days, the girls make friends with those who’ll play along. These are special friendships and apprenticeships with amazing young people who live inspiring, adventurous lives within a conscious appreciation of the world.
The girls have quickly learned which trees are exciting to climb, which areas of the site require shoes and where the best playing spots are in the river. After walking downstream in the river, I’ve identified a couple deep swimming holes and share them eagerly during one meal-time. The Wilmot is an unusually warm river for Tasmania as it heats up in the sun as it flows shallowly over a round stone bed for most of its course.
Wherever there is Rainbow Family, there are always musical instruments. The acoustic instruments come out in small groups, but most often around the circle of a fire — after mealtimes when we sing and share openly. We already have world-class musicians within Seed Camp, and I know that since musicians attract other musicians, we’ll have an amazing variety of excellent music shared during the next month.
Each day, more people walk in. Some are eagerly anticipated — if someone wants to electronically stay in touch with the outside world, they make the fifteen-minute uphill climb to the top of the ridge where the cars are parked — others are complete surprises. There are reunions and happy first-meet-ups, as both experienced Rainbows and complete newbies arrive. It’s exhilarating to be buoyed by the new energy and optimism that accompanies each beaming newcomer.
It takes at least a day to settle in to Seed Camp. People arrive, put their bags down, explore the site and chat. They locate a place to camp, set up their tent, arrange their space and sit for a while to ground themselves. Some fly interstate with one young woman arriving from Western Australia after an overnight flight. Others have just driven off the Melbourne-Devenport ferry. Rideshares are arranged online and many simply hitchhike into the area. The locals have been so helpful with dropping Rainbows off at the gate — surely the area is abuzz with the stories about our gathering, but although they’re welcome (everyone’s welcome!), few will actually be curious enough to come and check us out.
The Rainbow vision is shared from person to person. We want to make this Rainbow Gathering an example of a world’s-best-practice Rainbow Gathering. We have a magical site, we are all creative people, and we are motivated to practically assist in turning ideas into a reality as we deal practically with the realities of living closely with different personalities.
One man has come with all the spices for making huge pots of chai, and he quickly identifies a cool space for his Hippy Hop Chai Shop. He strings up some tarps and digs the fire pit for the water pots, and then we start to gather there for the initial Seed Camp kitchen and then drumming and singing circles. The Rainbow Family songs are mixtures of spiritual chants and earth-friendly melodies. They’re usually simple and we sing a lot — before eating, around the fires, as we work. It doesn’t take long for new Family members to learn the more popular songs (played mostly in the chords of C, D and G) and someone purchased a bulk lot of a small book that contains lyrics and chords to offer around.
At the last Tasmanian Rainbow Gathering, I spent a lot of energy on a Welcome Centre where we greeted newcomers and shared the vital information with them before they came onto the land. At this seed camp, I’ve been asking for help to create a special Welcome Lounge which is an inviting place to hang out so that new arrivals are always greeted enthusiastically. A builder has draped a large tarp over three bush-pole beams, and a donated piece of carpet covers the ground. We’re storing the donated craft items — currently scraps of fabric and balls of wool — and the lending library of secondhand books at the Welcome Lounge. I have visions of further enhancing its value with information signs, a map of Rainbowland and a kitchenette where we can provide water, cups of tea and popcorn to those who have just made the fifteen-minute walk in.
Most of the materials used in the construction are acquired secondhand in the first place, then recycled and passed from gathering to gathering. Rainbow Family members carry tarps, ropes, large cooking pots and other communal equipment across the country from one site to the next. At this site, the kitchen tarp is a huge vinyl banner advertising the 2014 Melbourne Cup while the welcome lounge is draped in the happy shiny faces of Jetstar crew on an orange background.
There’s an ironic element in deliberately camping out in the bush with a minimal amount of technology, eating fresh and organic vegan meals, spending time on spiritual improvement, connecting deeply with other individuals and welcoming new Rainbows under the air-brushed faces of a huge advertisement. I’ll bring down my step-ladder from the bus and lay out the coloured permanent markers so that creative people can vandalise the poster and turn it into something beautiful, humorous or both. I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s modified!
The days pass quickly. People are alternating work with rest, talking with play and we move from space to space as the shade and temperature changes, contributing what we can and learning more about each other. A young family comes onto site and starts clearing away fallen tree branches next to the kitchen. Soon it’s a kids’ space, and a hammock is hung in the trees. Women sit and cut sheets into bunting to string alongside the tarps while others macrame dreamcatchers into wreaths of acacia branches. Found feathers are suspended from them and they’re strung along the tracks and outside personal tents to beautify the grounds. Rakes are used to clear the pathways of debris and solar lights are suddenly planted at dark junctions. We wrap wool around pole beams and decorate signs that identify the communal spaces and slowly this wilderness is transforming into a thriving village.
Close to eighty people from at least fifteen nations will gather tonight for the opening ceremony where we light the sacred-fire-that-must-not-go-out. The youngest Rainbow is two and the oldest is over sixty (I’ve chosen not to clarify). We are professionals, tradespeople, artists, musicians and dreamers.
Sentimental Rainbows often carry ash from one sacred fire to the next, but this crew is more practical, so I think that’ll be missing from our ceremony. Although the sacred fire isn’t supposed to go out, we’re operating under a fire permit and will be dousing it and the cooking fires on high-fire-danger days. We may be a disorganisation of anarchists, but we’re sensible when it comes to bush safety.
At this time, Tasmania is catastrophically dry, and so the bushfire risk is very high. We’ve established a connection with the local fire brigade, have set up proper fire precautions with at least two garbage bins full of water at each fire location and maintain a strict policy of new personal campfires. We educate the newcomers to the bushfire risk and talk about emergency responses if we couldn’t evacuate the site in time.
The wildlife is slowly adjusting to our presence on their land. We’ve seen a couple of Tasmanian devils and possums, and the hopping pademelons, bandicoots and potoroos come out at night. One time while walking down from the carpark where I check for bushfire updates, I had to pause and let a long black tiger snake cross the car-tracks in front of me. It made a soft zipping sound as it slithered unhurriedly across the road, and I felt awed to be such a close witness.
After a day of working, talking and swimming in the river, we gather for music around the fire. I look at the faces of the people and know something about almost each one that makes them special to me. We are Rainbow Family because we accept and celebrate the diversity within our group and encourage the creative and inspirational to rise within each individual. The Rainbow Family have supported me in birthing, in mourning the loss of David and Elijah, in healing, in giving away a baby and in supporting my daughters’ individual paths.
It’s a privilege to be here at Seed Camp, to witness the start of something so wonderful where — for just a short moon cycle — we live communally as a loving and cooperative village. The girls thrive at Rainbow Gatherings, and I grow in love and appreciation for all the beautiful people who choose to reveal themselves to me. I am convinced this year’s gathering in Tasmania will be the best ever! If you’re in the vicinity, come and join us!