Midnight Peace Park, Nimbin, Australia, and Old Man Millennium, a 5 metre high cardboard sculpture (3 days intense effort), went out in a fierce and beautiful conflagration.
The burning was part of a new year renewal ceremony designed by my teachers in celebratory art, John Fox and Sue Gill of the UK community arts group, Welfare State International. They had been my guests in Nimbin at the end of 1978 and had produced there a spectacular celebration of the new year.
The experience was life changing for me and there after, my vocation became making art that makes community. Sue and John returned to Australia in October 1998 to teach celebratory art at a summer school conducted by Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. John had asked about Nimbin and whether the form of the celebration he introduced that year had taken root. It hadn't.
Then and there I decided to turn down offers of work elsewhere, do Old Man Time again and dedicate it to them and their inspirational teaching.
Getting the celebration together was a miracle of organisation. There was no funding, no budget, no host organisation, no public liability insurance, no permits - just the will to do it; to create something out of nothing and celebrate the end of the millennium with a bang in a myth making village in a valley renowned for its magic and its creative culture.
At the time I was in relatively good grace with the HEMP Embassy, as a sometime de facto operations manager organising protest events and media. More particularly it meant i was resident downstairs and had a studio space to make things and access to phone.
But not easy doing in Nimbin anything which depends on volunteers!Ê Long forgotten was the WSI New Year's Eve spectacular of 1978 (in 1979 an account of it, called In Search of the Sacred, had been published in Simply Living , a glossy quarterly magazine on alternative living and a print run-on of the article was distributed nationally by the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council) and so were the wondrous Blue Knob Hall NYE gigs of yore. Indeed at the end of the millennium there existed no recent tradition of a celebrating New Year in Nimbin, other than just another night at the pub.
Confronted with so much to do, so little interest and so little reliable help, I invoked Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, waving incense above my little bronze statue: "Waves of light upon you, Ganesha. remove all obstacles and bring me a builder/carpenter, volunteers who are competent with tools and can make things."
Next day I noticed three young men in strange and dramatic costumes - black corduroy and leather suit with flared trousers, white shirt, vest with six big white buttons and black bowler hats) hanging about in Nimbin. Indeed they were residents in the Freemasons Hotel which is adjacent to the Embassy and from the HEMP Embassy studio i could see them drinking on the pub's deck.
I asked about and discovered they were German journeymen, two carpenters and a joiner, part
of a Guild which had freemasonry roots. Seems that had booked into Nimbin's only pub curious about its name.
Their costume and mission were part of a 600 year old Guild tradition that required them, having completed their apprenticeships, to travel and give service in exchange for sustenance. The idea is that they should learn how to become useful in community practice. And here they were next door, answer to my prayers!
I approached them and asked for help with a "little" job which soon became three days of intense sweaty effort. You know how it is.
First i needed help to build a flammable bier to support the Old Man Man time sculpture. Then i need a frame to support it on. The job kept growing and as it grew and the journey men grasped what was planned they got into it and added their own creativity.
The joiner, Kai, designed and made out of plywood a manually operated digital clock, each digit/letter, painted on plywood 2.4 m high by 2 m wide and mounted on a drum, which on turn flapped them into position. Beautiful precision.
It was the journey men who managed to get the 5 m high Old Man Millennium upright in its rig and with only two minutes to spare before midnight! Which meant just two clicks on the digital clock (48 hours labour) before burning!
Out with the Old
Aquarian songman, Paul Joseph, was funeral director for the end of time. He was accompanied by a red sequined devil (Amanda Furze) collecting all the bad memories for putting in the belly of the giant.
Our funeral procession took us through the night streets of Nimbin in the early evening. Local kids, wearing flat cardboard skull masks they had painted, rushed to be pall bearers. We carried lanterns and the two 4 metre high backpack skellies I had made for the McCaffrey action in Sydney danced along with the parade.
Lantern light and the night was very quiet, many houses dark and empty, no traffic. Very very eerie. Like Walpurgisnacht, and our German journey men loved the ritual, a lot of wild spirit beings were invoked and were then whirring about us, wanting and not wanting release and purification by fire.
Getting the burn together became an epic struggle. Carrying the backpack puppet had physically exhausted me and I had to lay down on the grass for 15 minutes just to summons energy to walk back to the HEMP studio. From where the energy to get the burning organised? I wondered.
A shower of rain interrupted the firework rigging and I was glad of it, glad to have an excuse for a rest break. Back to the studio i went and joined a drinking/smoking circle while Inez' fluorescent Can-Can dancers performed on the pub's deck next door.
At 11.15 pm the rain had passed and we workers assembled to fuse and tie the firework fountains to the frame and get Old Man Millennium upright, propped and tied, the Germans swearing non-stop and me giving frantic orders. Manic again.
Paul Joseph worked the crowd out front. At 5 minutes to midnight I sprinted to get the flood lights of the Bowling Club doused (another task promised but not done), rushing in wild-eyed to negotiate with florid middle age men with faces like granite. Despite their manifest loathing of me and my presumptions, they agreed to cooperate and I sprinted back to the burn.
Three minutes to midnight and I asked 13 year old Serra Greenwood to get a sparkler to light the fuse at midnight. She brought back a lighted sparkler which I knew would burn out before midnight. The Clock ticked again. She danced off with the sparkler, I called her back to light the fuse but the sparkler died and she ran in the opposite direction leaving me struggling to light it with a bum lighter.Ê
Ever reliable Kai came to my rescue and lit the fuse with his lighter just as the clock hit midnight. Sheee-whizz! the fuse zip-burned and the fire works began to spit sparks and the crowd of about 300 roared with delight.
Going behind the build I realised I had neglected to prepare a tinder box to set fire to Old Man Millennium. So I grabbed the drum of diesel and ran into the shower of golden sparks and splashed what is left of the diesel up onto the sculpture. Exultation of fire! When the burn took off i was literally in the fire, in amongst the the falling sparks of the fireworks, surrounded by golden light and flames all about - the gratifications of a fire shaman.
The lightweight truss structure which supported the cardboard sculpture was built with a box cross section which was lined with cardboard. We had stuffed it with straw and cardboard scraps and six 2 litre plastic bottles of diesel were taped inside.
In the upright position it acted as a chimney, the draft of which created a fierce conflagration that consumed Old Man Millennium from behind, collapsing it back into the flames. The fireworks crackled and flashed on but Old Man Millennium became a tower of flames and was gone within two minutes of torching.
Paul sang Auld Lang Syne with the crowd out front and Wardie, my drunken pyrotechnician friend, and I hugged and danced about behind the build. The digits of the clock had gone from 11.59 to 2000 before the burn, and then after the burn to LIFE which dear Serra changed to LOVE.
Seems each millennium is approached with dire predictions of apocalypse and this one was unique in that the apocalypse was to take the form of a vast computer system breakdown of dire consequence. The Millennium Bug, it was called and we were told that those old COBOL programs would not be able to cope with the year change, seize up and close down.
After the burn a young lad came to me and exclaimed into the now still night: "Nothing has changed!" Yes indeed it was just another passing midnight, time passing as it always does and we humans inventing the cultural significance of the occasion. No significant computer systems failures were reported and the Millennium Bug was proven to be a scam, a beat up by the computer literate on the credulity of the non computer literate.
My German friends were ecstatic about the burn. Never before had they worked so hard, in such chaos, to produce something so amazingly perfect - all magic and serendipity. I recorded bountiful blessings in each of their travel books which they keep as part of their journeyman tradition. What a story they had to tell.
In with the New
As per John Fox and Sue Gill of new years day 1979, out with the old and in with the new tradition, I organised a Baby Welcoming Ceremony for new millennium day and this was a sweet success too.
Because of the uncertain weather, we did it in the Nimbin Hall still smelling of alcohol and tobacco smoke from the night before. Literally we had to wipe blood from the foyer floor before we could begin. Out with the Old!
Twenty babies, the spirit present and all hearts open. Faye Sherf, 70 year old President of the Nimbin Older Women's Forum, active member of the Nimbin Anglican Church hosted the event and led the blessing.
We sat in a friendship circle in front of a small riser on which Faye had put a vase of flowers and a candle. The flowers, Faye explained, represented life in the blooming and dying and the candle the inner light that guides us.
First we introduced ourselves. Besides the babies, their mothers and fathers, there were other elders and spiritual leaders. Father Arthur from the Nimbin Catholic Church was there and so too was his neighbour, Mark Collins, pastor of the Nimbin Uniting Church. Also present was Robert, a Sai Baba devotee and spiritual leader of a 5 month old spiritual community at Blue Springs. He had brought ashes from the cremation fire of his guru as an offered blessing.
Paul Joseph, my Aquarian brother beside me again, sang a song to charge the space with sacred meaning. First the Mother song ("mother you're darkness, mother you're light ....) and then the Angel invocation song. Tears erupted as I remembered how beautiful it had been at my daughter Softly's naming ceremony at Tuntable Falls in 1974 (my first Baby Welcoming Ceremony) and how Paul had sung up the angels there too.
Faye welcomed the babies gathering the young mothers under her arms like a great Earth Grandmother and setting up the group for photos (an essential and appropriate part of the ritual!). Father Arthur and Mark Collins blessed us with warm and open hearts and then Robert sat cross legged on the riser dabbing ash on the foreheads of the seekers of Sai Baba's grace.
Afterwards when all the blessings were said, we shared cake and thanked each other, a sense of completeness and repleteness prevailing. Replete in community, babies and elders likewise blessed.
Faye was eager to do it again when His Grace Philip Huggins, Anglican Bishop of Grafton at the time, a participant in the 1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival and my first meditation teacher, was available to participate.
And later that year, on 13 February, we did. All blessings upon her. All blessings on the children of the new millennium.
drafted January 2000
Revised 30 December 2009
POST SCRIPT: The photos of the event have gone missing. Anyone who has any, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and i will post to illustrate this webpage.