Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Build Up

Northern Territory, Australia

"This is more remote than the party I went to in Siberia." - David


Crossing the line was the beginning.

We stood on the brink of the unknown, a highway leading into no-man’s land; Arnham Land, where outsiders are only allowed with special permission.  There was a line drawn across the road.  “When you cross this, you must leave all the bad spirits behind you.”  Effortless, the other 3 members of the crew stormed over – a bushman, a Christian & a scientist.  I took a deep breath to make it real.

                Is this real?

Somehow it is because of David we all got here, who brought us all together.  He’s the orchestrator of this madness.  It’s sunset.  We’re about to drive some absurd distance into the bush on a dirt track of some state to chase this solar eclipse that’s only visible from the tippy top edge of the island.  At night.  In an area riddled with water buffalo.  Surely he’s to blame.

Just before the Wet Season is a period called the Build Up; when the air gets thick with humidity & the sun turns on.  Creeping into when the sky unloads & the rain sizzles off the pavement.  Saltwater crocodiles drift inland by water access.  Some roads are 2 meters underwater.  We are on the brink of potentially being stuck where we’re going for 3 months.

On Google Maps, the track takes 21 hours.  It really takes about 8 at a reasonable speed.  Assuming you don’t roll or get driven off the road by maniacal road trains.  *A road train is a semi-trailer towing many containers.  The largest has 4 containers; 53m in length, weighing 170 tonnes.  They don’t drive, they hurdle.*

By the time we’d explored the festival site, it was approaching dawn.  Silhouettes of shelters built with tree branches emerged with the soft rosy light.  Beyond that, over the escarpment that drops out of nowhere, is magic.

An enormous wetland directly due east; the biggest floodplain in the southern hemisphere.  Even before the sun peeks, the mist comes to life, rising within the trees.  All the colours enfolded into that shade of light.  Every morning seemed like the dawn of time.

There is a massive festival in Cairns for the eclipse; estimating 50,000 people in that region.  There were 180 tickets sold to this one, with 900 people living in the nearest community of Ramingining.  Visitors have been asked to respect the local customs; including wearing a skirt past the knees, keeping some activities men only & others women only, asking permission before taking photographs, not making eye contact while speaking to someone (depending who you’re speaking with) & in particular keeping the event drug & alcohol free.  We are seasoned punters, & can imagine too well the debauchery in Cairns.  This is an amazing opportunity to experience a part of Aboriginal culture.

This event has been planned alongside the community for 8 years.  There is alot of uncertainty; everything is questioned.  It is strange for the locals to have so many outsiders invited into their land.

The others have seen solar eclipses before.  They describe the darkness, the shadows, the stars, the activity of the birds, a vibration that passes through you...  But they are all different, they are all new.  This is the only precedent to this adventure.

It is common within the Yolnu language to refer to one another without using first names.  This is exceptional.  I have 3 more brothers.

Together, we have no idea what to expect.  Heavy anticipation & excitement fueled by complete ignorance.  And so we begin.

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