What an extraordinary experience we’ve just had in Bingara. The Pulse of the Earth festival got off to a dusty, surreal start as the Earth showed us its most formidable face. It opened on Friday afternoon to some of the heaviest winds the area has known. The gale blew tonnes of topsoil off the drought-affected landscapes, colouring the air and filling our eyes and ears with dust. The music from the wind-battered tent spoke volumes as it competed with and bravely persisted in the face of the windy onslaught. The temperature reached 32 degrees, madness for this time of year. People who arrived spoke of having stopped their cars on the drive due to the power of the wind and poor visibility. Bushfires were burning to the North, also causing delays and detours. But the concert that evening carried on, and through the wind and the dust there was dancing as the community of Bingara showed off its resilient spirit.
Groundswell, the KSCA component of the festival, began in the post-storm stillness of the following morning. Early risers gathered at the edge of Alex Wisser’s work, A Hole for Bingara and listened to the words of the Earth Oracle performed by the artist from within the 3 meter deep, hand dug hole. The poem, rising out of the earth itself, was at once the voice of a loving mother and at the same time that of a planet, indifferent to the fate we all face. This created a complex emotional mix at once comforting and challenging. Alex then emerged from his 48 hour fast and meditation and gratefully took a bite of sandwich delivered by Georgie.
Charlie Massy’s keynote anchored Groundswell to the urgent truths of our time, with many in the audience rising to clap when it finished. After this our audience mingled in the sunshine as they moved between three projects. One was Wildfood.Store (Diego Bonetto, Marnee Fox) where they tasted delicious handmade treats, the Carbon Sequestration collective drawing workshops led by Georgie Pollard, and the Humus House, where Jono Bolitho, Laura Fisher, and Glenn Morris talked about humus itself and how they had arrived at the idea of building a home fit for a microbe. Then Imogen Semmler introduced David Hardwick and Tim Cavagnero, agro-ecologist and soil scientist who as of this moment now know they are an incredibly entertaining comedy duo. Giving many in the audience new identities as protozoa, fungi, nematodes and so on, they converted the marquee into an ecosystem, performing a Day in the Life of Soil. Here’s a little video made by Imogen Semmler.
Karla Dicken’s potent short film ‘Mother’s Little Helpers’ starring Bruce Pascoe was then screened. This was a deeply moving portrayal of a changed land, in which nothing was said except the words on the black capes Karla created for Bruce and the children: care, listen, respect. Taminya, Sharkiah and Lashaya who had participated in the filming were in the front row during the screening, and Nucoorilma elder Auntie Sue Blacklock from nearby Tingha reminding us of how important it is to keep telling stories of Country and community and ensure the wellbeing of the next generation.
Then we returned to the main stage for the ‘Workshop on Our Future’, where Charlie Massy, Laura Fisher, Rachel Lawrence and Damon Gameau with MC Adam Blakester discussed the barriers to regeneration and strategies for overcoming them in our communities. A central theme was how to slow down and recover our capacity to relate to nature in our daily lives. All the speakers stressed the importance of reconciling environmental and agricultural concerns in our politics, education and culture.
Meanwhile around The Living Classroom numerous other wonderful things were going on, with food trucks, stalls selling beautiful things and the Creative Corner, lovingly installed by the local community. At the Groundswell Cinema, made with cushions, rugs and curtains loaned largely by the local op shop, people nestled in the dark to watch Imogen Semmler’s vignettes of farmers making the transition from conventional to regenerative farming and Lucas Ihlein’s work with Alan Yeoman’s on his invention of a Carbon Still along with other films connected to the project. At dusk we filled the Roxy theatre to watch 2040, and heard Damon’s account of some of the projects that have been accelerated as a result of people being galvanised by the film across Australia. And then we all collapsed into a heap, ready for the next day.