Confest Mash Up 2014 – Moulamein, Australia


…Kristen comes in, looking worried.
There’s something going on out there behind the shed, Kristen says.
What is it? I ask her.
I don’t know.  I heard shouting.  Something sounded like breaking glass and car doors slamming.
Confest has had a few problems with vandalism on the site in the last few months, Kristen tells me.  She thinks there could be something going on…

Jonah’s birthday party.  Jonah is my son.  He’s eighteen years old.  Jonah is six foot three, bearded and dreadlocked.
We crack a beer and talk excitedly about our upcoming trip together.  We’re going to hitchhike to Confest, then, after the festival, fly to Malaysia and spend a couple of months roaming around Asia.
It’s going to be J-man’s first time out of Australia, and also his first time hitchhiking.

(Top: Confest, Easter 2014.)

The birthday party is very emotional for me.  The little baby whose nappies I used to change is a man.  He swears, drinks, smokes and chases girls.  I’ve been waiting for this eighteen years.  It’s time to hit the road together.
I’ve written a speech.  It’s not that kind of party though.  Jonah’s mates are all whooping it up.  It doesn’t feel like the right moment for sentimental dad stuff.  I decide to post it on Facebook later instead.


(Me and J-man at his eighteenth birthday party.)

Facebook Status Update: 19 December 2013:

Hi J-man! I wrote this to say at your party last night, but it wasn’t that sort of party, so I saved it for FB. See you soon,  dad.

First time I held you in my arms, I thought,
Jesus, this kid’s got a big head! I hope he grows tall or he’s going to look like a freak his whole life.

That was ages after you got into the world though. For a long time you were in a little plastic box. You were so tiny. Frail. A giant head, but the rest of you would have fitted in my hand. Your arms and legs were pink and skinny like breakfast sausages.

Your face was all screwed up and red. You looked pissed.
‘It’s cold and itchy out here! What the fuck?’

After a few weeks we did get to touch you, and eventually we got to hold you. Hug you. Change your shitty nappies. It was an exciting time.

As soon as you got out of that plastic box and started breathing on your own, you started rehearsing. You were mainly doing Ozzie Osbourne and Guns and Roses covers. I tried to get you to rehearse during the day, but you were always a night owl. Your mum and I didn’t sleep much.

When you were about eighteen months old, you suddenly stopped screaming. Your mum and I were grateful for a good nights sleep, but we noticed you were getting all red in the face again.

It was the middle of the night and you were running a thirty-eight degree temperature.
We took you to the hospital and they put you in intensive care. They were very calm and reassuring, which really freaked us out.

Your powerful lungs were full of fluid, the doctors explained. You were drowning. They would operate and put a pipe in your chest.

Your mum and I took turns sitting beside your hospital bed 24/7. You were so quiet, but I couldn’t sleep.

I hired Rocky 3 on VHS video to watch in your room while I sat there through the night. The tape was all chewed up and unwatchable. I was so upset about that video. I cried about it for three hours.

I’d never thought I’d miss your Axl Rose impressions, but I did. Sitting in that quiet hospital room, listening to your laboured, shallow breathing.

Go on kid, give me a little gunners.
Just a few choruses? Even something from Use Your Illusion is OK.

You got better. Your voice got strong again. I’d like to say I never minded hearing you scream after that, but I’d be lying.

At least you eventually learned how to scream a tune.

When you were five you started school and you immediately hated it. You hated a lot of things when you were five.
You hated cornflakes. You hated sand. You hated baths. You hated sunscreen and seatbelts and haircuts and bedtime and getting up early for school.
Your mum and I decided to live in separate houses so we could get along better. You really hated that.

Sometimes when I was bossy you told me you hated me too. But I knew you didn’t mean it, because some nights, when I was reading you your bedtime story, you would put your arm around my shoulder, look up at me with your big, brown eyes, and say,
I love you dad.

I loved you too kid.
I loved you so much .
And you loved me back, even when I screwed up. Even when I got tired, or depressed, or scared.

You got older, and screamed less, but we still liked to say we hated each other. Because love is a bit wimpy.
You’d be like,
‘I hate you dad’,
all sweet and gooey with a big hug,
and I’d be like,
‘I hate you too, my darling son’.

When you were ten, I made you a t-shirt that said I HATE YOU, and you laughed your head off.


(J-man in the tent I gave him for his tenth birthday.)

Also, when you were ten, I was directing a play. You visited me for a week and came along to the theatre to watch some rehearsals.
My play didn’t make any sense. It was all people yelling at each other, and beating each other up, and random screaming. You loved it.
You really wanted to be in the play, and I wanted you to be in it too, but the performances were during school term, and late at night, and also it might have been child abuse…
So we made a video. I set up my camera, and wrapped you in a black sheet, with just your face sticking out.
What do I say, dad? you asked.
Whatever you like, I answered.
So you did.
You did impressions of the presidents of Russia and America, abusing each other. You play acted being a drunk and ranting soldier. You did a routine where you channeled Jack Nicholson throwing an actor’s tantrum.
After half an hour, the video tape ran out, so I said, cut!
I cut it together and put a TV on the stage, and you were in the play.

I entered our video in the Byron Bay Film Festival. Two thousand movie buffs watched your fuzzy, pixelated, ten year old face raving at them and screaming abuse. They decided to give our video a prize; Best Experimental Film.
I was so proud of you that day.

The older you got, the prouder I felt. You learned to play music. You learned to draw. You learned to make beautiful things with your mind and your hands.
And you were happy.

All I ever wanted for you was happiness. To be happy, and laugh out loud at life, and love with all of yourself.

Often, over the years, I wasn’t the dad I wanted to be. I made big mistakes, and I often felt like I didn’t know how to be your father. But, you grew up happy. Your heart is light, and your mind is open, and you know what life is for.

Sometimes I feel like you are more grown up than me. I think it’s because, as you grew older, we got to be more like brothers than father and son. Also, you have more hair on your legs than I do.

Now you are an adult. I’m so relieved. I’ll never have to give you bad advice again.

I don’t want this to turn into an Oscars speech, but there are a few people to thank.
I want to thank your mum. I know she loved you like a demented stalker from the moment you drew breath, and she was always much better at the parenting gig than me, or just about anyone else I know. More than anyone, your mum shaped you, and nurtured you, and scolded you, and she did a f#$king amazing job!
Your second dad, Nigel, I also want to thank.
I really don’t know Nigel, but I know he’s been a great dad to you. I know Nigel’s a great dad, because of the way you are, and also because he’s your step-dad, and the worst thing you’ve ever had to say about him was that he wore Licra pants sometimes.
Your grandparents, your uncles and aunts, your friends, your teachers…
So many people in your life helped to make you the person that you are in different ways. I want to thank them all from the bottom of my heart. I want to thank them for helping to make that tiny, red faced, sausage legged baby into my best mate.


(Me and J-man hanging out when he was nine.)


(J-man en-route to Confest.)

Our first day on the road together, it’s pretty obvious J-man and I are not gonna get rides as a duo.  We are both massively tall.  We are both scruffy, long haired and bearded.  He has dreadlocks to down to his tits and I have tat’s all over me.
After about an hour of waiting I suggest we leapfrog.  Jonah looks a bit apprehensive but agrees to give it a try.  I walk down the road a bit.  Ten minutes later, a car pulls up.  It looks familiar.  It’s Jonah’s mum, Julia, my first ex-wife.  She is headed to Bateman’s Bay with Nigel, her partner, and their kids.
I offered Jonah a ride, Julia says, but he said you were waiting for a car with two seats, and we’re pretty full up.  I guess he thinks it’s uncool to get your first hitchhiking ride with your mum.
I guess so, I laugh.

I get a ride pretty quickly and that night I find myself in Bega.  I haven’t seen Jonah all day.  The sun is setting.  It’s time to find a camp site for the night.  I’m questioning the kindness of leaving J-man on his own on his first day hitching.  He doesn’t even have a map.  I feel like a pretty lousy dad.
But you’re not his dad any more, are you?
Well of course I’m still his dad.  I’ll always be his dad.  But it’s good for him to figure stuff out for himself.  He’s a man now.
The sun dips below the hills.  Just as I’m deciding to give up waiting and pitch camp, a truck pulls up and a familiar dreadlocked head pokes out the window.
Hey you old hobo! Jonah yells cheerfully.
It’s good to see him. I guess.

(Photo: a real chip off the old block. J-man takes to the hobo life like a duck to the muck.)



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It takes about three days to hitch to the Confest site. J-man and I travel separately after our night camping in Bega. By the time I get up to Moulamein, I’m not sure where Jonah is at. I figure he can’t be too far behind me. Two days back I saw him on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. The truck I was riding in couldn’t stop where he was waiting, because the shoulder was too narrow.


(J-man makes breakfast. Classic hitchhiker food: goji berries, shortbread and sugar on stale bread. Yummy.)

I spend a night in a farmers sun room, and another night camped near Barham.
The further inland I go, the slower it is getting rides. The traffic gets thinner and thinner. The roads get narrower and dusty.
Finally I’m on the lonely stretch of tarmac between Deniliquin and Moulamein; the Pretty Pine Road. I’m nearly there. Just before sunset, I score a ride in a truck.
Twenty minutes later, I still haven’t spotted the front gate of the Confest site. I’m sure it wasn’t this far out of town… It’s getting dark.
This is where I turn off, says the truck driver.

I climb out of the truck cab and squint into the twilight.  This bit of the Pretty Pine Road looks pretty much like every other bit of it.
Maybe I already went past the gate?
I start walking.  Twelve kilometres later, my long suffering feet are killing me.  It starts to rain.  I pitch my tent on the roadside and turn in for the night.

In the morning the rain is a bit lighter.  I figure I must have missed the gate in the dark the night before, so I start walking back the way I came.
Someone has put a big red barrel on the side of the road, near a gate.   That must be it!  Then I see Jonah walking away down the track behind the gate.
Oy! I yell.  Jonah!
He turns and sees me.   We give each other a hug.
I say, you little bugger!  You beat me here!


(J-man busting some riffs at the crew kitchen.)

The first couple of weeks on the confest site we do maintenance jobs, and help set up the music and art venues.
This confest is anticipated to be the biggest ever, and the level of anxiety and friction amongst the committee members has cranked up proportionately.
This is my fourth Confest as a set-up volunteer, but I’ve never arrived on the site more than a few days early before.  The committee expects more than four thousand people to come.  There is a lot to do.

(Below: channelling my inner carny! Thanks for capturing me at my classiest J :-)


I always struggle to define Confest when people ask me what it is.
A festival of ideas?
A festival of ideology?
A counter culture summit?
An alt-lifestyle expo?
It is probably all of these things, as well as a fantastic live music event and the best party in Australia.



(Above: The mud tribe madness is a long Confest tradition.)


(Above: The Vibes Tent.)

Wednesday night.  There’s a few more people on the site now.  Maybe thirty, or forty?
We’ve finished putting the Vibe Space together.  It’s always the epicentre of the music at Confest. I’m walking past the camp fire and someone says,
Hey E-man, I think your girlfriend is here.
I jog over to my tent, and there she is.  Jo drops her backpack outside the tent and we embrace, grinning.
You made it! I say.
Oui! she laughs.  I hitchhiked all by myself.
I’m so proud of you! I tell her.  You’re a real gypsy now.

Jo has been working on a dairy farm in Victoria since Rainbow Gathering.
We haven’t seen each other for weeks.  It feels great to be together.
We make a hearty meal in the volunteers kitchen and swap stories.  As we laugh and cook together, there is a bright, passionate energy between us.  Every time we look at each other we can’t help smiling.

The Wednesday night jam session.  The party hasn’t even begun, but the music is already happening.  It starts out with me and J-man and a couple of others, playing the blues, and riffing on old standards.  A couple of drummers join in, and the music gets a shot of funk.  Tony, arrives with his guitar and throws his cool flamenco sound into the mix.  As the night gets on, and we have a few smokes, the sound starts to spin out into a free form soundscape, rippling, pulsing.  I’m bending raw, metallic notes out of my harp, making the little instrument whine like a distorted synth.
Jo snuggles up in my lap, wrapped in my her sleeping bag.  She feels sleepy and warm, pressed against me.  The music hums around me in a warm cloud.  The men and women I’m playing with share their love of music, each other and the forest around us.
Beautiful?  Yeah.

Me and Jo amble to our tent, tripping over sticks in the dark.  The still air is cold.
A light mist from the river prickles on our skins, as we undress.  We find each other’s faces in the dark.  We are both breathing fast.
We press as close together as we can.  The cold air around us clamps our burning bodies.  It feels like we are welded to one another.


(Above: Jo couldn’t resist the face painting tent.)


(Above: Jo is braiding J-man’s beard. They bonded.)


(Above: Another classic hitchhiker meal. Easter Sunday lunch.)


(Above: Just can’t stop smiling… Thanks for the pic Lars.)

I host a Confest workshop.
Hitchhiker Meet-up is all about experienced hitchhikers getting together, swapping stories, and inspiring newbies to give low budget travel a go.  I’ve run the hitchhiker workshop a few times at Confest, and it keeps getting more popular each time.   Each time I do it, a few people come along, who have never tried hitching, and get really excited about giving it a go.





(Above: Confest is all about doing your own thing.)

The night before the official festival opening.
J-man and I sit beside the camp fire.  We play music for a while, then just sit and talk.
Jonah falls quiet for a while.
Yes, mate?
I know I got myself here, and I’m really proud of myself for hitchhiking and everything, but I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t told me about it, and encouraged me to give hitching a go.  Thanks dad.
You’re very welcome, mate.  I’m so glad you’re here.
Except when I fart in the tent.
Yeah.  Except that.
We laugh.
I’m having the best time, Jonah says.  I’ve been working hard, but I have so much energy.  I love some of the people I’ve met here.  And the music is cool…
And the party hasn’t even started yet, I say.  It’s gonna get crazy.


(Above: The Confest beauty spa. Thanks for the pic Marie.)


(Above: It ain’t Confest without some nude pump maintenance.)

Everyone is tired and turns in early.  About eleven thirty I get the munchies and head over to the kitchen.
I’m making a peanut butter sandwich when Kristen comes in, looking worried.
There’s something going on out there behind the shed, Kristen says.
What is it? I ask her.
I don’t know.  I heard shouting.  Something sounded like breaking glass and car doors slamming.
Confest has had a few problems with vandalism on the site in the last few months, Kristen tells me.  She thinks there could be something going on.
OK, I tell her, putting on my best brave face, I’ll go check it out.
Just as I go to the door to go outside, it is thrown open, and Dodgy strides in.
Bloody Franc has spilled beer all over my fucking van!  he gripes.

Dodgy and Franc are two guys I met at Rainbow Gathering in Tasmania.
Franc got a ride up to the Confest site with Dodgy in his van.  They went dumpster diving on the way.  Franc loves to dumpster.  He found boxes of fresh fruit, bread, vegetables, and in a bin behind a bottle shop, six cartons of beer!  Despite Dodgy’s protests, Franc crammed all the food and beer into the van, piling it up on Dodgy’s mattress.  At some point when the beer bottles were thrown into the bins, some of the bottles must have broken, because when Franc unloaded, there was a big puddle of beer on Dodgy’s bed.  The resulting swearing and door slamming Dodgy indulged in was what freaked out Kristen.
I give Dodgy and Franc a welcoming hug.  Kristen is mollified by a kiss on the cheek and a six pack from Dodgy.
Dodgy, Franc and I crack a beer.
Happy Confest, lads! Dodgy says solemnly.


(Above: me, conked out in the workers hut. Thx for the pic J-man.)





(Above: There’s always music happening at Confest. Thanks for the awesome jams gentlemen.)



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