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ConFest is an alternative bush campout festival held in the south-eastern states of Australia at New Year and Easter. The name 'ConFest' derives from combining the words conference and festival. The festival was first held in 1976 near Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. It was initiated and organised by former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Jim Cairns, his former private secretary Junie Morosi and David Ditchburn as a means of bringing together the subcultures of the alternative movement.
Today ConFest is a family friendly gathering run by volunteers attracting a diverse range of people.
Dates for the next ConFest are announced via the Down to Earth Co-Operative's official website: dte.org.au
The first gathering was held at the Cotter Dam Reserve, southwest of Canberra. The second gathering, in 1977, was on rented farmland (Mount Oak) near Bredbo, south of Canberra. 15,000 people attended. The farm was subsequently purchased with the festival takings as an open community.
ConFest in its early years was a melting pot of diverse worldviews. There was great passion for a better world. Conferences at ConFest attracted up to 1000 people. Workshops were held on all aspects of well-being for people and planet Earth. Some examples of workshops now are: gestalt therapy, massage, politics, meditation, yoga, polyamory, mud-brick construction, geodesic domes, tantra, self-sufficiency, paganism, vegetarianism and music. At the early ConFests, a number of co-operative communities held their first meetings and, at the conclusion of the festival, they went on to find and purchase land.
The Australian Down to Earth Network (ADTEN) was formed as a loose coalition. Festivals were held in every state and territory of Australia. Three state-based organisations were formed, in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales. They organised further festivals, usually on forested private land bordering a river. Only the Victorian Down to Earth co-operative (DTE) incorporated and has survived and it continues to organise ConFests in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.
In 1995, the emerging trance dance movement first organised overnight outdoor doofs at ConFest following a series of amplified staged music events in the previous years. From 1995-1999 there was a period of conflict about appropriate music technologies at ConFest and amplified music was perceived by many to interrupt other activities at ConFest. ConFest music is now acoustic and campout doofs run independent of ConFest.
Landowners' concerns about public liability resulted in suitable land for gatherings being extremely difficult to find and DTE consequently purchased land on Gulpa Creek near Deniliquin in NSW in 2002 and held ConFest on that site until DTE purchased a property on the Edwards River near Moulamein in 2006, which has since been the home of Confest.
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Typically around 3000 people attend ConFest with new-comers and old-timers. Confest attracts international visitors from Europe, the Middle East, SE Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The majority of ConFest attendees come from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and from other cities and townships around Australia.
Attendees at ConFest typically are interested in alternative and better futures for themselves, others and planet Earth. Workshops are free and run on a self-organising do-it-yourself basis. Around 12 workshops spaces are set up by site set-up volunteers and typically another 10 or more workshop spaces emerge. At ConFest, typically between 250 and 350 workshops and events occur. An open-stage concert is occasionally held on at least one evening and large drum circles play on some evenings. Fire twirling is no longer held due to insurance restrictions however D.T.E. hope to negotiate a solution with an insurance company as soon as possible. The Art Village, energized by two ConFesters supported by others, provides a communal hot tub, steam room, massage area, life drawing and ceramics beside a ConFest beach swimming area. Around 30 massage tables are in near constant use.
ConFest attracts a lot of families and provides facilities such as the Family Space, that provides a workshop area for children and parents.
Summer and Autumn ConFest differ in many ways. The summer ConFest tends to be hotter attracting more swimming and relaxing during the day, with more energetic nights. As Autumn is not as hot, the days are filled with more activity and the nights are more relaxed, however there are always night activities, such as late night drumming, and the recent addition of a silent disco. Anyone can put on a workshop about almost anything at ConFest.
The establishment of semi-organised groups or 'villages' has become popular where anyone is welcome into a village - it simply creates spaces for people with common interests but by no means creates a clique. ConFest is a clothing-optional event, with many people choosing to swim naked.
ConFest has a zero tolerance policy toward any form of sexual harassment. Consumption of alcoholic beverages or other drugs is not condoned. ConFest attendees should remember that if anything occurs at the gathering that is wrong in Australian society, it is also wrong at ConFest.
ConFest is run solely by unpaid volunteers. It is a condition of entry that ConFest attendees contribute two hours of volunteer energy toward the gathering. Some volunteers contribute all year towards the running of the gathering.
ConFest used to have hundreds of camp fires. DTE operates ConFest under permits from the Local Shire. Since 2006, because of extremely high fire danger, permits have been granted conditional on having fires only in especially set up fire circles in large cleared areas. Recently there have been around 16 of these fire circles each supported by a covered cooking area, tables, tap and enclosed gas cooking. Attendees are encouraged to form communities around these fire circles and share food. The Gypsy Kitchen and Bliss Kitchen have been vibrant and successful communities.
Although ConFest sometimes featured 'bush doofs' in the 1990s, electronically amplified music is not allowed today, except for the open mic night that has been held intermittently over the years.
Instead, there are spontaneous and organised acoustic events held across the site, including jam sessions, sing-alongs, workshops and drumming. In recent years, a Silent Disco, run by volunteers, has also returned to ConFest. This uses multi-channel headsets to play dance music in a prepared area, using equipment provided by DTE, allowing electronic music to be played all night without disturbing those who wish to sleep. Any ConFester can volunteer to play a set at the Silent Disco.
ConFest also designates loud and quiet areas, to accommodate all participants.
DTE Victoria is an incorporated body under the Victorian Cooperatives Act. The change to the Victorian Cooperatives Act in the late 90s required that members of any Victoria Cooperative have to be Active Members engaged in activity directly related to a cooperatives core activity. As well, a quorum of members has to be present for meetings to take place. DTE Victoria currently has around 43 members.
The seeding of the Sydney ConFesters Group
A growing group from Sydney have since 2003 been evolving the Sydney ConFesters Group Gatherings. Between 200 and 300 attend its gatherings typically held three times a year over long weekends. DTE Victoria has provided seed money per gathering which is repaid after the gathering. As well DTE provides its public liability insurance cover and tickets. These gatherings have always run at a surplus, which is used to buy equipment for their gathering.
The smaller size lends itself to community closeness. The Sydney Gatherings are evolving a unique feel. They differ from ConFest in a number of ways:
- All attendees are fed (vegan only from April 2006)
- A central fire (when permitted by authorities)
- Opening & closing circles ceremonies
- Smaller and more intimate
Sydney ConFest also has many of ConFest’s features - a hot tub, steam room, concert, entry fee, welcoming tent, workshop boards & tents, camping facilities, showers and toilets.
- Official ConFest Webpage
- ConFest Chat Forum
- ConFest Car-Pooling messages only
- Brisbane ConFesters
- Sydney ConFesters
- Sydney ConFesters Gatherings and Meetings, or at yahoogroups
- Down to Earth
- ConFest Community Site & Forum