Burnout: Exercises in forgiveness.
Burnout was something interesting, it always is. After my third visit to Alberrie Creek I can certainly attest to its uniqueness. That said, I think this may have been my last journey up the Oodnadatta Track to camp at Mutonia.
It was and still is a dusty, cold and quiet stretch of land. Scattered with rusting metal, detritus and political, social and artistic aspirations. Into this emptiness, once in a blue moon come a handful of people. They are there because the Arabunna people invite them. I hope that people who come here do not have great expectation of a huge party because none of this happens. It isn’t Burning Man, it ain’t Mad Max. It’s sitting around camp cooking a ‘roo and having a yarn. That is its character, little more.
But people love to come and do their thing. I did some designs on the ground, Robin did his fire show, Christian burnt his wood structure, Tom and Rosie made music,
Phil did sound, Ritchie and Toby shot rockets, Zip played his Breakcore, Crusty worked on his doco and fretted about his dog that fled from Johns fireworks. Kevin watched over everything from his camp. Ronnie and Reggie dropped in.
You put up with the challenges that go with being at this place and it is a good thing to be part of.
However, at the end of it all my feelings on my time there is bitter sweet. I’m glad that my trip out bush was comprised of more than just a beeline to Alberrie Creek.
One night I met a good-looking genial bloke around the campfire. He had relations in the area and had come up from Murray Bridge to be there. He wore a hat well and we started talking. We talked about old rough riders, outlaw bucking horses and the rodeo that used to come to Marree. He spoke about his elders and their times in the saddle working on the surrounding stations. He was nice fella and I was glad to chat with him.
Imagine my dismay when I found out that this was the very same man who the night before terrorized a group of people in the camp next to us. Burnout this year attracted quite a few excited artists who came up from Adelaide. They brought tents, sound systems and enthusiasm. I hope they were made welcome because they were friendly and very happy to invite people to be part of their little section of Burnout. But unfortunately by the time they departed their experience of Country was something more out of Wake in Fright then some spiritual renewal.
The previous night this same gentleman by the name of Bruce was not the pleasant man I spoke to around Kevin’s fire and these young visitors from Adelaide experienced through him something of horror. We went to sleep listening to a vehement argument that went on for what seemed like hours at our next-door neighbor’s camp. At the time we did not know who or where it stemmed from but it was passionate.
It was only the next day that we found out just how serious it was. I can’t provide the finer details, but this damaged man was responsible for threatening people with a gun, axe and vehicle, He tore around their site in a car, running at them and jamming the brakes on before backing off and doing it again. He punched several people in the face and another camper got a knee injury. The following day this young group from Adelaide, upset and freaked out, packed up their gear and no doubt, their enthusiasm for the whole Burnout shtick and left. I know not if anyone spoke to them, counseled the injured or even noticed the state they were in. I sincerely hope that they were not left to deal with their trauma alone.
Nonetheless, the gossip went around pretty quick. Lots of people were upset, but some were philosophical. To wit: Alberrie Creek was a challenge and a mixture of the good and bad. It was part of what being there was all about. However, one thing was certain and everyone seemed to agree on this: When the fella woke up, Kevin or one of the elders would make sure the culprit would be sent down the road. He would be out.
He was there the next night because that’s when I met him. He was hanging around the night after that and probably for many nights after. I heard some people rationalizing his continued presence on the site by saying it was a chance for the miscreant to truly learn from his mistakes and atone for his behavior. Perhaps they were right. I don’t really understand how these forms of forgiveness and therapy work but some people were sure that it was a good thing he was still there; at least that’s what they said.
I certainly hope that Bruce did learn something from all this. I really hope so. But one thing did stick in my craw about this entire sorry incident. This violent, dangerous man was allowed to remain in the proximity of vulnerable visitors who did not know what he was capable of. The matter was examined and the decision made. While it may have been good for him, I’m pretty sure that for the young crew returning to Adelaide traumatized, injured and upset, this particular outcome would have been very galling indeed. I feel for them. They came with an interest in something greater than themselves and left bloodied.
So that’s it. Burnout happened, I did some art, met and hung with some good people but all of that is moot. I can’t embody the experience without dwelling on this small injustice. I know that when history is taken into account as it always is in Black/White relations, what happened here is nothing compared to what has taken place all over the place, Arrabunna lands included. But I don’t think the wrongs of history should be used to justify the violent actions of a disturbed man in July 2016. It is disrespectful to the tragedies of the past and indifferent to the sufferings of victims in the present. Earthdreams, Creation and Learning are what’s on offer at Burnout but the lessons I gained from this event, within the shadow of Maree Man is just how quickly someone’s terror in the middle of the night is absorbed into the great Australian silence.