Our long-held expectations were immediately exceeded as we set down on our first adventure into the fray
. The site was IMMENSE! Set beside a large dam with lights sparkling from all angles, our first stop was the jaw-dropping "Moon Stage"- a Chinese Junk sunk into the earth with sails, bow and stern rising out of the dirt. The sun set spectacularly behind us as we ate dinner at the amazing food market, and then we wandered through the twilight as the lights began to glow- huge flower structures that you can climb all over, others that spurted out jets of flames, huge shining lanterns floating across the lake, temples luminescent in neon radiance…..and then it was off to bed.
Over the next few days we were joined in our frivolities by friends, Julian and Kristi and Cris and Leon, our hosts from Darwin Tracy and Nudge and Ant's brother and buddy Greg and Os- and we also ran across so many other friends we hadn’t seen for months around the dancefloors and markets. The main stage - the Sun stage - was a bright orange and yellow space of fluttering shade and sunbeams with huge screens projecting psychedelic colours and images and blasting out a constant barrage of equally psychedelic beats. There were sculptures and installations, healing spaces and performance spaces- talks and movies to be watched , and the kids spent a bunch of time getting face painted and playing in the kids area. There were another 5 stages to be explored and we tried to see them all, but it took us 3 days before we even spotted our spiritual home- the Sky Stage
. Set in a sandy river bed among drooping green gum trees dj’s spun tunes from the varandah of an ol’ country shack- lots of deep and smooth and funky house while misty sprinklers sprayed the dedicated and sweaty dancers and a bar served up cool fruity concoctions of delight….many Melbourne faces were spotted grooving or chatting among the shady grottoes.
All this and we hadn't even gotten to the eclipse itself!.....oh….my…..god!
Ant woke us just as daylight was whispering its presence to the night sky…. We collected our viewing glasses and wandered up in our pyjamas to find our place among the excited morning revelers. We found ourselves a prime spot behind the now quietened Sun Stage and watched in anticipation as the sun rose from behind a small bank of golden clouds into a sky clear and bright as a child’s picture book illustration. Within minutes the moon began to take a tiny nibble from the top left corner of the sun. We watched through our specs for nearly an hour as the moon crept slowly across the sun - the kids began to lose interest in what seemed like a bit of a curious but not particularly inspiring celestial phenomenon. However, as the moment of totality approached a strange atmosphere began to spread through the crowd- after a while we realised the light was changing, an eerie twilight-like light, but warmer, more golden
. Murmurs spread as the light grew stranger still, and shadows lengthened as people carefully watched the last moments of the moon covering the sun. In the last seconds, a wave of shadow spread from the farthest horizon to shroud us all in the spookiest half glow as -bang! - the sun disappeared behind the moon leaving the brightest shimmering ring surrounding the darkest black circle- suddenly we could look directly at the sun- the oddest experience! On the horizon was a periphery sunrise on the far right and left (areas where the eclipse was not in totality), the stars came out and streaming from the sun were ribbons of solar wind only viewable during this bizarre spectacle….we were all gobsmacked- the kids were astonished. We watched agape for two minutes that whizzed by in what seemed like only a few seconds of wonder. As the moon slipped away, the "diamond ring" phenomenon exploded with a brightness that took our breath away, and we were forced to look away…. For another 45 minutes the moon crept away, but we were too blown away to watch much of it as we excitedly chattered, marvelling at the experience we had shared. If you’ve never seen one, try to manage it someday - it’s like the universe is speaking directly to you. And all of us want more of that!
The daze following the eclipse went by as a blur of music, colour, dancing and exploring - filled with laughter, fun and general camping capers. We left the festival exhausted, and inspired.
Well, we finally made it- one of the few pivotal points of our trip that we knew we would arrive at before we began....so we were very excited as we waited in the queue of cars that snaked for about a kilometre before arriving at the colourful gates that announced the entry. It was a hot and exasperating hour of wandering around before we found our perfect camp spot in the family camping area and began to set up in full festival luxury- annexe, kitchen, hammock, inflatable furniture, lights and flags decorating our perimeter. It wasn't long before our companions from Gumlom falls in Kakadu - Paul, Leany, Riley, Nikita and Archie - joined us and set up across the track. It wasn't as lush as we had expected, dry and dusty with small, tinder-dry trees interspersed among the rocky ground, but this was just the camping area, so we held off any judgement until we had seen the performance area.