Wednesday, 17 February 2010

New desires and nude desires.

Tree hugging, communing with nature and finding a fifth dimension. Ori Golan attends a Confest gathering to find out what it’s all about.

First, I should perhaps present my credentials: I am a journalist, a mathematician and a former dog handler. I am also Jewish and, despite the fact that the Jewish calendar has a holiday specifically dedicated to trees (Tu B’shvat), I have never hugged, talked to –or even climbed – a tree.

So it was a little out of character for me to spend four days in the company of tree huggers. In fact, it was the wackiest and most unlikely thing I had ever done, camping with herbivorous hippies on a huge property in a place called Moulamein, near the Victorian border.
Getting there was easy: I caught a lift to the campsite with Sophia, whose campervan runs on vegetable oil.

Around 2000 confesters converged on their campsite this year at the end of December. A vast majority among them are regulars – you could tell by the way they waved to each other and the hugs and kisses they shared (it was only towards the end that I realized that most of those people I had seen hugging and kissing, were, in fact, total strangers to one another), but newcomers were definitely made to feel welcome.
Confest is run by, and for, individuals in search of an alternative lifestyle. Indeed, I found that every aspect of conventional life had an alternative. Shower was the lake, toilets were compost pits, accommodation was a tent, and clothing was optional. I was most definitely out of my comfort zone.

But it was an extraordinary experience.
I met weird and unconventional people. Some of them are Tarrot card readers; some are numerologists; others commune with nature, or the dead. One fellow, a young and slightly lost-looking chap, explained to me how he found a fifth dimension while on some hallucinogenic trip.

While some wore casual clothes, most wore little more than sun glasses. Nudity in confest is pretty much everywhere and for a prude such as myself, the experience was rather confronting. Well, at least for the first few minutes. Then it became just a minor detail hardly worth noting. There were some characters, however, whose nudity was definitely noteworthy. One man had a big yellow smiley drawn on his penis and his rather weird looking woman-friend had a string of pearls coming out of…well, I think you know where.
Not everyone I encountered was a tree-hugger or mystic. I met Max, for example, who is a carpenter and who leads a rather conventional life, as does Pete, who’s a science teacher and normally wears clothes. The most striking aspect of confest is its inclusivity. The participants were of all shades, backgrounds, beliefs and colours. They were old and young and in-between; male and female and hard-to-tell; straight and gay and undecided. They were Australian and tourists; spiritual and bland. And they came in families, in groups, or - like me - on their own. What united all the participants was the desire to take some ‘time out’ to unplug. And unplug is apt, because there is no reception at confest, so mobile phones are pretty useless. There was not a computer or a laptop in sight.

So what does a confester do during the day? Well, the answer is: pretty much what he, or she, desires. You could be frantically busy or you could choose to do nothing at all. You can sleep all day or help prepare a communal meal at Bliss campsite. You can read a book (there’s a library on site) or chat to a total stranger about love, sex, global warming or vegetarianism. You may like to help in the running of the place. Volunteers are always needed: either to sell tickets at the entrance (entry is $70 per head), or distribute toilet rolls to the makeshift pit-toilets; assist at the information desk or distribute packed lunches to other volunteers on duty.
You could also decide to spend time at the Art Village dipping in a communal mud pit or sweat it out in the improvised steam room. On the other hand, you may prefer to try out the life drawing area where you can be either artist or model; painter or painted. At the far end of Tranquility camp, around 30 massage tables are in constant use by professional masseurs as well as clueless wannabies who get on-the-spot training. At night you can hang out in the Chai Tent, join a drumming session or dance the night away.

Confest also offers a wealth of workshops which run from dawn to dusk, some with titles like ‘recreating the world’, ‘sacred geometry’ or ‘chakra activation’. The more esoteric themes included ‘loving your genital’, ‘tantric sex’ and: ‘releasing your inner child’. I did not attend these but I did hear quite a lot of screaming – or was it moaning? – coming from those tents. The ones I did go to was the yoga classes, which was fun, and the Men’s Circle where men took turns to talk about personal issues. I found it fascinating and, in parts, very moving.

New Year ’s Eve saw us dancing to fire twirlers and partying until midnight to world music. Then, a few minutes into the new year we were treated to the most spectacular thunder-and-lightening audio-visual display the gods could provide. Torrential rain followed. The party continued regardless. People danced and covered one another with mud. This was pretty primordial stuff. It was certainly a far cry from the other New Year celebrations I had spent in Australia so far. I just loved the idea of the old year being washed away and making way to a new, calm and cleansed year.

In the final analysis, what is confest? The truth is, it is what you make of it. It can have universal and individual meaning. It can be a metaphor for life, or a very practical life experience. You can be anyone and anything and no one will judge. For me, confest was about confronting my prejudices head-on; pushing the boundaries and extending my limits. It was about experiencing things I had not imagined possible; meeting people I would ordinarily never meet. At Confest I was able to rethink my values; open my mind and make sense of my inhibitions. And ,finally – but no less importantly – I had great fun.


Tracey said...

Sounds like fun although I'm too much of a prude to go nude! Wish I was there! (or maybe not.) Does my naked ambition count at all?

Anonymous said...

Im going up in a little under a week to the easter confest, very unsure about how it will be since its my girlfriend who is the more free spirited of us. but your article has both rattled up some interesting questions and setlled my mind at the same time. Thankyou

Anonymous said...

Someone was raped there this year. I guess this also happened in 1995 said...

more social nudism all year round in Sydney go to for details