When my friend Rach told me about Confest I knew I had to go. It’s a hippie festival out in the Australian countryside with no phone reception. Confest is like a lost society that values fun, collaboration, nature and spiritual growth. Rach talked so enthusiastically about her experience naked in a mud pit and joining the ‘spontaneous choir’ I just couldn’t miss it.
That was in Easter 2014, not long after I moved to Melbourne. I’d only been in Australia a couple of months and was very open to new experiences so I said yes to as much as possible, especially anything with a spiritual, alternative or eco slant. I’ve been strongly drawn to go to Confest again this year. However the ten hour road trip from Sydney is putting me off. If you’re considering going, it’s definitely worth it. It’s a really unique experience. I’ve been reflecting my first Confest trip lately and felt compelled to write it up as it’s such a special festival. Warning; this is a long one.
The long drive almost put me off but a friend assured me it was worth it, and said it’s a great thing to do when you’re at a crossroads in life as I was (in the process of deciding to stay in Australia or return home as planned)
Confest ended up one of the craziest adventures of my life which changed me forever, and wound up in Melbourne hospital days later. I’ll write about that part separately at a later date; I wanted to write up the Confest experience first. It was a pivotal time in my life for many reasons and really catapulted my personal development with some huge personal and spiritual breakthroughs. I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about it until now as part of it was both traumatising and illuminating, terrifying and fascinating at the same time.
What is Confest?
In a nutshell Confest is a ‘clothing optional’ alternative lifestyle camp festival surrounded by kangaroos and bush, with a creek running through it. It’s built on co-operative principles and has been running since the 70s. There’s a mud pit, chai tent, drum circles, classes in everything from tantra to permaculture, massage and cuddle puddles. The whole festival and all classes are run by volunteers. Huge fire-fed spas and steam tents, community kitchens and campfires are everywhere. So many absurd characters! There’s no phone signal so it’s a chance to unplug and do a digital detox. Confest was instrumental in making me more open, loving and accepting of people and I really believe part of what helped me become far happier than I had been living in London.
In my opinion Confest is a lot more authentic and in keeping with it’s roots than some other festivals which seem to have become too big, commercial and attract too many hedonists, narcissists and people getting wrecked. People speak of the ‘spirit of Confest’ and there really is a powerful feeling of being part of something.
Image: Carl Power
Easter Confest 2014: The long version…..guts and all! (almost!)
The journey to Confest is part of the whole experience. As you leave the city behind and drive into country Australia you start to relax and excitement builds. The journey from Melbourne seemed fairly long but was easy and enjoyable. It took us around 5 hours including stopping for lunch in a strange dusty town that seemed like it was from another era.
As we neared the Confest site we were stopped and breath-checked by police. Apparently Confest causes a big stir in Moolamein, the remote little country town near the site where it’s held each year, and the police are on high alert for drugs.
It’s a ‘clothing optional’ festival, which quickly becomes apparent as you drive through the gates into the dusty road to be welcomed by happy naked ticket collectors waving. The sign ‘welcome home’ had a strange kind of resonance with me and I had the feeling that this was the start of something significant.
It felt like suddenly being in a 70s film! There were various absurd outfits and characters wandering round such as fairies and people in tu-tus.
Somehow we arrived as it was getting dark. We pitched our tents in the ‘Adelaide Camp’ as it looked like a good quiet spot amongst the trees. However in the morning we got woken by screaming kids very early, so I decided to up sticks and move my tent miles away, behind some bushes just beyond the carpark. I’m a light sleeper and like my own space!
There are lots of classes in all things spiritual, green, healthy, alternative and some just plain weird. I seem to remember one about ‘marrying the earth’!! People offer their time for free to impart their knowledge and skills in free classes. There were a few clashes in classes I wanted to see. The class timetable was a chalk board where people had written classes in free slots. Interesting to see how some made theirs stand out, and different styles and methods of describing them.
The classes I did, as far as I remember, were:
This was a disheveled hippyish guy talking about tantra as a general philosophy. Since being in Australia I’d met loads of people who were into tantra, but nobody that great at explaining it. Suddenly after moving to Melbourne it was all I heard about. It seemed to be this strange intangible thing nobody quite agreed on. So I joined the class to learn more….I struggled to concentrate as I was tired, then when it spiralled into wild conspiracy theories he lost me and I wandered off. I remember somebody had written ‘Tantric Nose-picking’ as a spoof class on the chalk board, and the ironic humour reflected some of the unquestioning enthusiasm for this seemingly undefinable philosophy.
Tapping your potential
One of the most interesting classes was about conscious living and wellness. I found this class when I decided to walk through the forest and go towards whichever class drew me in. The teacher was an older guy with white hair, and the the things he was talking about coupled with his tone and enthusiasm really engaged me. He described how certain ‘highs’ and states could be experienced without drugs. Any state you can achieve through drugs, you can achieve naturally! Great! Sign me up, I thought! I memorised the name they gave themselves and now they’ve finally created a (terribly designed) website http://www.laceweb.org.au/ which says “Laceweb is a New Social Movement supporting people going beyond existing to Living in ways tapping the fullness of potential.” Still on the ‘to research further’ list!
I had been to a cuddle puddle before, at sex camp (aka ‘Celebrating Sexuality’ – another blog post waiting to happen!!) It’s all about physical contact, consent and, obviously cuddling. Everyone was generally warm and welcoming with just a couple of people reserved and unsure. We got in partners and practiced different interactions including saying no in different ways, with and without justification for example. At one point someone got their iPhone out, and a guy I’d been chatting to and I stared at it like it was obscene. It seemed so strange to see a shiny phone in this setting where people generally weren’t using any technology, and everything was rustic and muddy. Like something from another world.
I’ve been really interested in permaculture since reading about it years ago and realising it’s a far more sensible and sustainable alternative to agriculture. It’s defined as “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.” by permaculturenews.org. I started the class but it was fairly advanced and assumed some prior knowledge so I got distracted by something else and left. It’s still something I’m keen to learn more about.
To give a flavour of the type of classes on offer, here are some from previous years which sound interesting from the official website:
- Flexibility & Habit
- Awareness Through Moving
- Joint Strengthening Gymnastics
- Karate breathing and Wellness
- Light Energy
- Moving and Emotional Flexibility
- Emotional Flexibility and Choice
- Partner Gymnastics
- Pilates and Emotional Healing
- Relating Well with Others
- Healing Arts in Storytelling
Early afternoon I decided to check out the infamous mud pit. As I walked through the trees with my friends we heard shrieking and laughter echoing around the creek which was full of naked people of all ages and backgrounds frolicking. Next to the mud pit there were a few fires with naked people gathered round, and a large temporary steam room made from a sort of plastic tent fed by a pipe with steam heated by a fire.
I am fairly prudish in some ways and was hesitant to get naked at first. I had bumped into Dan, a guy I’d been seeing previously in Melbourne who had introduced me to many mind expanding things! He was happy and naked and lured me into the river. He was surprised and impressed when I stripped and ran in, shouting “you’re a superstar!” I didn’t know he’d be there but I wasn’t surprised to see him as it’s his kind of thing. I was glad we could be friendly and chilled with each other. Funny given I’d been pretty much in love with him a few weeks prior. But lots had happened since then!
Naked eco sauna tent
The muddy creek water seemed cold at first but it was good fun and felt freeing to be naked amongst nature, if a little awkward at times. We splashed each other and mucked around for a while. After the river Dan and I went into the sauna tent. We jammed ourselves in amongst at least fifty wet naked bodies, some muddy. We made a couple of random connections and I got into a really nice conversation with a guy about health and age. Funny to meet someone while butt naked in a steam room and chat like that.
Fires by the river
After another quick splash in the river I wandered over to the fires and bumped into a hot American guy I’d met at sex camp. He was also naked. We’d done a tantra class together there which had been kind of awkward. He was there with his new polyamorous girlfriend and I felt suddenly self conscious and exposed to be naked around him. (“Don’t look down, look at his face, look at his face”) He’s now a good friend and we later laughed about it!
The mud pit
Next, the highlight of the festival: the mud pit, and mud tribe!!! I left my clothes and stuff near a tree and slid into the big mud pit on my own as my friends weren’t keen. It felt so bizarre to sink into the cool wet mud naked. It was great fun and I got into some banter with people in there. After about ten minutes wallowing in mud some excited people announced that the ‘mud tribe’ was about to start.
Image: Carl Power
Mud Tribe. Again, naked. Covered in mud.
Mud tribe is a big group of people who get covered in mud, paint, leaves and sticks, led by a man wearing a big crazy hat. He told us to act like we were part of a remote tribe that had never seen modern technology. (being at Confest makes this easier to imagine!) Everybody was to speak in tongues only. I’ve rarely laughed so much for so long. We ran through the camp terrorizing unsuspecting people and storming classes in progress. Imagine being mid-way through a tantric yoga class and thirty-odd mud-covered naked people run in, speaking in tongues and inspecting things like they’d never anything like it before. People generally looked alarmed initially, then either laughed hysterically, looked annoyed, confused, shocked or scared! One guy ran up to a bike and circled round it staring, acting fascinated and spinning the wheels like he’d never seen anything like it before in his life. By the end my cheeks ached from laughing!
Where are my clothes?
When mud tribe had disbanded I wandered back to where I’d left my clothes and stuff (including valuables) to find that they were gone. In a past life I’d have panicked. But I decided to trust that they’d turn up, and figured Iz and Rach had taken them and kept them safe for me. I was kind of glad to be free of them. In the mean time I had the issue of finding them…naked. I still had crusted mud all over me. I felt happy and free but very naked, with no phone, clothes or anything. Not that phones are much use with no network. I walked back into the the main part of the festival where people are generally clothed so I stuck out a bit more being naked at this stage. (the river and mud pit are in a wooded area, and the main festival is mainly cleared land.)
I bumped into Mark, another guy I’d met at sex camp. The crew that go there tend to go to a lot of festivals, particularly this kind. I’d only met this guy fairly briefly but we’d connected and he seemed cool. He offered to lend me some thongs (flip flops) and clothes. His van was only a few metres away, he said….
Mark had a properly kitted out campervan and gave me some food and a chilled can of fizzy coconut water with vodka which seemed like an amazing luxury treat at this festival with no modern technology.He lent me a poncho to wear over my mud-encrusted naked body! The registration plate of his van was ‘Trippy’. I asked why, and he said people called him Trippy but said he wasn’t sure why. (I would later find out!) We chatted about eco houses and alternative living.
Massage class amongst the trees
We decided to go to a massage class together. There was an area with massage tables set up surrounded by trees. You need to get in early as it’s understandably popular. Mark had some great massage experience and taught me a few tricks. I remember looking over to see a naked couple sitting in the grass nearby, gazing into each others eyes and thinking how kind and open and beautiful and natural the girl looked, then realising it was my friend Sarah! It looked like a scene from a 70s hippy festival! At this stage I got the vibe that Mark was expecting something would happen between us and I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. The stuff about knowing what you want and consent from the cuddle puddle was running through my head… ‘maybe means no’.
After the massage class we hung out for the rest of the day. Walking through the festival practically everyone we passed knew Mark, and said hi with smiles.
The ‘awesome kitchen’ is a community kitchen where everyone helps and contributes in some way, but people are free to come and share the food. It’s run by some amazing open friendly Israelis who taught me how to make some flat bread on hot stones. I helped to make and stir a huge pot of aromatic rich spiced coffee with cardamom.
Next we went to the main clearing (I think I was still wearing only Mark’s mud encrusted poncho at this stage!) I finally saw my friends again and chatted for a while. They seemed a bit flat…probably because their airbed had gone flat the previous night!!
Mark introduced me to an old guy with a huge white beard called Peter Gleeson who runs the ‘spontaneous choir’ which was about to start. It’s like a flash mob choir where everyone joins in, directed by Peter. There’s real interaction and people move and arrange themselves in different ways from sitting in a circle to making a human tunnel where you walk through and everyone whispers loving things to the people walking through. It was amazing to see so many open loving faces, and some people in tears of joy! Everyone moves and makes sounds together and the energy builds and drops and takes you on a journey.
Image: Carl Power
We went to the chai tent and chatted to some people we knew, then got some food from one of the few stalls dotted around. As it became dark I remember people (some naked) dancing round fires, and drumming. Fire has a such a hypnotic timeless power.
Image: cow don’t sleep
The rest of my Confest experience was a crazy, scary but illuminating experience which I’ll go into in separate post. But even without that experience Confest really helped me to open up, trust and see the best in people. As well as introducing me to lots of ideas and helping me to realise things about myself and life which I continue to explore today.