There’s something liberating about not looking in a mirror for five days straight. Make-up, showers, even clean teeth seem kind of redundant here at Newkind. In any case, you know exactly what you look like because you can see yourself in the 400-odd souls who are here with you.
“Many of us are feeling understandably fragile, because we’ve been fighting against corporate greed and the horrendous treatment of animals, children, women, the environment – sometimes all of the above – and it’s hard to see an end in sight. We’re a bit exhausted.” by Dominique Antarakis
It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, as long as it’s comfortable. Those of us from the northern states tend to be sporting more layers. It’s still summer in Tassie but apart from a few short hours during the day, it’s seldom particularly warm. Our proximity to the Southern Ocean (which you can see from the campsite) sees to that. Locals are more likely to be wandering around in t-shirts and beanies. Hard core. At least to this city-slicker.
There is no advertising, nothing for sale; no coffee carts or gozleme women. The price of admission covers three square meals a day, all ‘plant-based’. Chickpeas, pumpkin, potato and lentils feature heavily. Ditto brown rice and oats. The mixed salads are a revelation – crunchy, subtle, a crisp, raw contrast to the carbs. We have all brought our own plates and cutlery. Well, most of us. I didn’t get the memo so spend the first couple of days scrounging spares left lying around, until a friend arrives with a container for me.
The event is drug- and alcohol-free. This appears to faze no one. There’s also a level of trust, though, that as we’ve all agreed to the rules before arriving, no one’s likely to break them. There are a few smokers, but not one butt on the ground. No trash at all. As a zero-waste event every effort is made to eradicate waste – and it’s clearly working.
Composting toilets. Solar power. Any leftover food is scraped straight into the compost bins placed conveniently next to the dishwashing station. As a water-saving measure, there are spray-pump bottles (pretty much the only plastic in evidence), some with bubbles, some with water for rinsing. The only hot water is from a tap near the kitchen labelled ‘tea and coffee only’.
The showers are cold.
Outside the loos hang bunches of dried lavender which releases a subtle fragrance when you rub it between your palms. Lavender is a natural antiseptic, I’m told.
I’m struck by how gentle – softly spoken and genuine – the men here are. They’re outnumbered by female attendees, but not significantly. The tone is set by Erfan Daliri, Newkind founder and organiser.
In his keynote on Day 5, he tells us how he spent nine months in a cottage in a remote part of Tasmania device-free, growing his own food and making cups of tea.
“I’m not looking to be comfortable,” he says. It’s clear he feels things deeply. He suffers with those who suffer. There was a point in his life when this could have broken him. Instead, he took his pain and decided to channel it into making an impact and gathering a tribe around him to help others make an impact too. From this epiphany Newkind was born.
There is a lot of talk of localisation and community and connection and the power of working together. A sense of urgency that unless those of us who ‘give a fuck’ band together we’ll never reach the tipping point required to truly change the system. There is a lot of talk about the ‘system’.
There’s a session on parenting for a peaceful world by the wonderful Robin Grille, who suggests that looking after the world’s children is the best way to prevent so many fucked-up adults. “And isn’t prevention better than treatment?” he asks us. “We don’t have time to treat 7 billion people.”
There is a direct correlation between collective childhood trauma (esp. physical abuse within a patriarchal model) and the tendency for nations to experience conflict. See Russia. Ditto the USA. Ditto the Congo. This theory also probably explains people like Peter Dutton. Ditto Donald Trump. Ditto Vladimir Putin. Not enough hugs as children, clearly.
Consensual hugs are abundant at Newkind. There are a lot of gentle people here in need of hugs, so most requests are met with a positive response.
Many of us are feeling understandably fragile, because we’ve been fighting against corporate greed and the horrendous treatment of animals, children, women, the environment – sometimes all of the above – and it’s hard to see an end in sight. We’re a bit exhausted.
On the bus from the airport, one woman, Nikki, tells me: “I’m not a greenie, but I’m a Green. Last election I had my tyres slashed. I love coming to Newkind because I don’t have to hide who I am. This is my tribe.”
For much of the week Nikki wears her Greens t-shirt. Others wear t-shirts from Amnesty, Sea Shepherd, the Adani campaign, and other festivals. There is a lot of hemp and second-hand clothing in evidence. Dreadlocks, tatts, nose rings and small, barefoot children with tousled hair and shining eyes. They look well loved. These are our future leaders.
One presenter can barely contain his excitement talking about the future of solar. “Within the next few years,” he tells us, “we won’t have solar farms, but solar forests. And we won’t need to replace solar panels. Solar will be exponentially more efficient and even less wasteful than it is now.”
The tech for this new way of capturing and storing solar power and turning it into energy comes from ancient Native American practices and approaches combined with the latest R&D coming out of the sector.
We’re starting to look at modern problems through ancient lenses and discovering that often the answers have been there with us all along.
We are reminded that most of our social constructs are fairly recent. It wasn’t that long ago that most people grew their own food, rather than relying on mass production. It used to be the norm to grab a box from the supermarket, or to take a cloth bag, trolley or basket to cart your fruit and veg home. How did we get so used so quickly to free plastic bags that we’re outraged when they’re taken away from us?
We’re reminded how resilient humans are, how quickly we can pivot when faced with a common threat. If we go too far one way, then surely with the right impetus we can just as quickly turn things around?
On the morning of Day 2 we are shown how to make our own toothpaste and deodorant. Turns out the recipe is dead simple, especially if you happen to have coconut oil and tapioca flour to hand.
I’m surprised we’re not encouraged to put away our mobile phones but after last year’s festival when the power went out because people were plugging their phones in wherever they could find an outlet, the organisers caved and set up a dedicated charging station. On the whole people are attentive during talks, and apart from taking photos and posting a bit on social there is minimal phone usage. Especially during meals. I don’t hear a phone ring once in five days.
A lone bagpipe calls us to meals three times a day. I’m not a massive fan of the ‘pipes but there was something fitting and poignant about the slightly off-key notes piercing the morning silence, letting us know porridge was ready.
I usually crave chocolate but apart from some delicious organic choc on the first day my sweet tooth was satisfied by the plentiful supply of (I assume) Tassie apples which filled a large crate in the middle of the field. It had to be moved inside each night, otherwise the family of possums living there would have polished them off.
We are encouraged to think of what we’re doing as part of a 10,000-year journey, which takes the pressure off the 10-year window we’re told is all the time we have to turn things around. Slow down. Don’t try to solve every problem at once. Our short- to mid-term goal is to adapt and mitigate. Longer-term, we’re aiming to transform. Lead by example, whether that’s by refusing straws, installing solar, eschewing meat and dairy. Understand how the system works and subvert it. Don’t live off the grid – create a community-owned sustainable energy grid and live off that. “Take back our power,” as one speaker puts it.
‘Act local’ has never been more important. In an era where it’s seen as perfectly normal – in fact, good business practice – to send potatoes from Sweden to Italy to be washed and bagged and sent back to Sweden – be the person who knows where your food is coming from, and where it’s been. Make informed choices. Read the packet. Do your research. Demand answers. Vote with your wallet. Vote.
Engage. Disrupt. Connect. Meditate. Repeat.
Engage. Disrupt. Connect. Meditate. Repeat.
Engage. Disrupt. Connect. Meditate. Repeat.
A lot of people confessed to weeping, usually in the privacy of their tent, after a particularly gruelling session or day of panels, workshops and discussions. Knowing there is so much suffering in the world. Knowing that there are men and women imprisoned on Nauru going slowly insane and WE put them there and none of our efforts seem to be having much of an impact. (Witness the government’s most recent bait-and-switch, passing a bill to allow people to be medi-vacced off Manus only to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre so they can be sent there). Knowing women are still being killed, workers exploited, animals caged, refugees imprisoned, forests felled, children abused. It can get a little overwhelming.
The spoken word sets oscillate between poems about loss and trauma, to songs of love and longing and belonging. You need the jolt, I guess, to better appreciate the lighter moments – a plucked guitar string, acoustic, or the wry observational humour of the stand-up who pierces our self-righteous armour with his gentle wit. I cry with laughter during his set, a necessary release after days of intense conversation around the state of the world.
I don’t get really emotional until the last evening as I approach the labyrinth which had been laid out for us in a field. Walking in silence, single file with several hundred other souls, I feel a sudden welling of tears.
I am reminded that we are on aboriginal land, a fact acknowledged repeatedly over the five days. Norman Finkelstein, live via Skype on Day 2, cautions us against using the term ‘Stolen Land’ lest we alienate too many Australians with the inference that it will need to be given back. The fact remains that this land’s sovereignty was never ceded, and the descendants of the original inhabitants are still here, so ‘stolen’ seems pretty appropriate. We agree to disagree.
A panel on conflict picks up this theme. Is conflict innate in human beings? Is it part of nature? According to Daliri Snr, who is on a number of panels, conflict is not a ‘natural’, inevitable part of life. “If you observe nature, you’ll see that the time spent resting, digesting and being is far greater than the time spent fighting or killing.”
Be that as it may, conflict definitely seems to be a thing. Although not here at Newkind. Everyone is kind, considerate. No voices are raised, no children hit. A mother gently chides her daughter who is asking the same question over and over on the edge of the labyrinth. “You know why everyone is being so quiet? It’s to show they respect and love each other.”
Queues are orderly. There’s plenty to go around. (Although there are brief moments of tension when the peanut butter runs out and coffee plunger goes missing for a day.) The lids are (mostly) left down on the compost toilets. It discourages the flies, so really, it’s in everyone’s best interest. Which doesn’t stop most people leaving the toilet seat up, metaphorically speaking, on a daily basis.
It makes me wonder how long we could keep this up. Several hundred people can live quite amicably for a few days, sure. But what if the water ran out? Or the food? Or the toilet paper? We’ve all heard tales of Utopian communities imploding under the weight of recriminations and accusations of people not pulling their weight.
I envy the youth at Newkind (at my age, this includes anyone under 30) who are learning early how to challenge authority for meaningful change. I remember learning about the hole in the ozone in 1987 and being absolutely horrified, but I don’t remember organising a climate march or lobbying my local MP.
Purpose. In the final analysis this is what each of us is exhorted to find – the one thing that we’re really passionate about – and focus on that.
What is my purpose? A galvanising moment for me was listening to Beyrouz Bouchani live from Manus. It would be harder for our politicians to demonise refugees if they were seen as individuals – real people, with lives and hopes and ambitions. I resolve to continue to find and share stories. About people who are already changing the world. And the people the world needs to change for.
There’s a ‘new kind’ of human being, those inspired by Newkind and now part of the tribe it has been gathering these past three years. These passionate, sensitive, intelligent, green, authentic, kind, compassionate souls I’ve just spent five days with. And I know who I want to be marching with, arm in arm, come the revolution.