Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

April 2011

GeneralSaturday, April 30th, 2011, (5:35 pm)

It’s been said in the past that I am something of a hippie. Indeed, it’s true that I do burn the occasional incense stick and that I diligently recycle as much as I can. I did replace my incandescent lightbulbs with low energy cfl’s, and I do believe we should do as much as possible to take care of the earth. That aside, I’m no tree-hugging eco warrior or hardcore carbon neutral vegan pacing the earth in banana leaf sandals. However, I didn’t come to Australia to hide behind the barriers of my own comfort zone. So when a friend invited me to ConFest, Australia’s largest outdoor alternative lifestyle festival, I accepted the invitation and went in search of my inner hippie.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

It’s a warm and sunny afternoon as we drive along the quiet road to Moulamein in southern New South Wales. In Australian terms we’re a long way from the middle of nowhere, but as we pass the Woorooma bus stop where the bus comes just one a week on Thursdays, it feels like the nowhere surely can’t be that far away.

Teepees and tents are visible from the road and a painted sign complete with arrows, hearts and stars confirms that we have arrived at ConFest. At the end of a short dusty road is the welcome gate. This is the threshold from the everyday world to the wonders of weekend in hippiedom.

We’re greeted by a woman smiling and waving at us wearing nothing but a smile and the word ‘welcome’ painted on her naked chest. Being a festival exploring the values and possibilities of an alternative lifestyle, there’s no dress code and it quickly becomes apparent that in many cases there is simply no dress.

We pitch our tent among others and within earshot of the muffled sound of bongo drums that’s emanating from the trees. A girl dressed as a gothic fairy walks past us as I push tent pegs into the sun-baked ground. I can hear chanting. A slow steady ooh ooh ooh followed by a much louder and prolonged aahhh. That’s the sound of a workshop, I’m told. An ‘Ooh aah chanting’ workshop it would seem.

With the tent in place it’s time to go and check out what the program of events is. The days are traditionally filled with workshops (the ‘conference’ part of the festival) with evenings made up of music, drumming, fire-twirling, a silent disco, and relaxing around fire-circles.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

Anyone is free to hold a workshop, all of which are written on large chalkboards in the middle of the site. Workshops are held at various locations in areas with names like ‘Tranquility,’ ‘Bliss,’ ‘Love,’ Gyspy,’ and ‘Arts Village.’

Scanning the chalkboards I’m almost overwhelmed by the impressive selection of workshops and activities for the following day. I’m not as excited as some of the people around me who are torn between which workshops to attend. ‘Mind Power for Confidence’ clashes with ‘Chakra Toning’ while ‘Ground and Share Your White Light’ clashes with ‘Cosmic Orgasm’ and deciding between them is proving difficult for a couple of girls standing nearby.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

I’m curious about a few workshops, but not particularly grabbed by any of them. I could chant with Lion Mother, go to an introduction to acrobalance, be tutored in life drawing, do some Bulgarian singing, try various forms of meditation, gyrate with hula hoops, learn about bee keeping, go to an ‘art empowers me’ discussion, take part in some express songwriting, or align my internal power through kung fu.

As I look at the boards I’m eavesdropping on peoples conversations about the various workshops and events. There’s a lot going on and so I’m hoping to learn things from the chatter around me. Maybe I should just go full-on hippie and jump in at the deep end taking up the opportunity to engage in some naked yoga, a ‘Sensual Healing Cuddle Party,’ or the tantric massage session which the board tells me is “rated R” and includes a “happy ending.”

I look around to see if there is anyone else looking as perplexed as I am. Sideways glances at the people examining the boards reveal no trace of any such bewilderment or ‘what-the-fuckness’ on the faces of my fellow ConFesters. In fact, everyone here is examining and discussing the workshops with absolute seriousness. I look back at the board and feel a little like a kid at the start of term in a new school.

In the end I decide that the following day I’ll just allow the wind, spirits, energies, or whatever to guide me. I’ll drop by the workshops as I find them. It might not be a methodical approach, but I want to get an overall taste of the workshops, and despite the opportunity to spend the next few days ‘au natural,’ I won’t be wandering around naked anytime soon.

That evening we prepare a meal in one of the community kitchens that are dotted around the site. I turn a blind eye to the fact that the community seems to place a fairly low priority on standards of hygiene and instead remind myself that in India I ate food prepared in a kitchen in which rats and cockroaches lived. Having earned those stripes a community hippie kitchen is no problem at all.

With warm food in our bellies and a hot drink in our hands we sit around a campfire and watch flames dance hypnotically around the logs. Guitarists sing songs and those who know the words join in.

Nobody is playing with their phone, the remoteness of the location has thrown us all into a kind of technological time warp that feels like an enforced and welcome retreat from the ultra-connected world we all now inhabit. The crowd grows steadily over the course of the evening and before long it’s the small hours and sleep in willing us to return to our tent.

A nights sleep has not left me feeling particularly rested, and so I decide to spend the morning relaxing and watching ConFesters walk by. I catch snippets of conversations that waft into the air like the wisps of smoke that trail behind a smoker as they walk. The sun warms my face and the sounds of a guitar somewhere not far away seems to fade in and out like Radio Luxembourg used to on my very first radio.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

After a while I get up and go for a walk. I drop in on various workshops and listen to people talk about cosmic energy, sustainable living, the benefits of fasting, and how to communicate with ‘the other.’ I see various groups doing yoga, chanting, and some kind of slow motion tribal dance. There’s an area where a number of people, many of whom are naked, are giving and receiving massages. I have no idea what the sixties was like, but in my imagination it was just like this, only the people in my imagination are younger and better looking!

Continuing my stroll I follow the sound of laughter and shrieks of delight that lead me to the famous ConFest mud bath. I’m more than a little over-dressed for this particular location as there are naked people everywhere. About ten people are sitting in the grey mud, covering themselves and joyously waving their arms around like babies in a bathtub. It looks fun and I find myself laughing along with the people in the mud though I’m not tempted to join them.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

As I wander around a very large lady is walking toward me and stopping to hug everyone who passes her. She’s as naked as the day she was born, which evidently was some considerable time ago, and across her astonishingly long breasts the words “free hugs” is painted in blue and red.

She spots me and opens her arms. “Come and get your free hug, love.” she says. I wonder what the protocol for refusing such an offer is. Would a simple “No thank you” do? Maybe I could say “Not today thanks.” In the end, though, I totally sell out and fake delight as she waddles toward me gathering me up like a road sweeping truck. ”

Think of England” I tell myself as the hug goes on far longer than I expected. She eventually releases me and says “There. You needed that didn’t you?” No old lady, I didn’t need your naked hug, I think to myself as I nod agreeably and politely make my escape.

I spend the rest of the day simply meandering around until the evening when I meet up with friends who by all accounts are having a spectacular time. Another visit to the community kitchen leads to another night under the stars by the fire. Strangely enough, while I might not be particularly on the same level as many of the loved-up ConFesters, the camp fire seems to provide a space in which we’re all entirely at ease. I suppose that’s not really surprising. After all, when you think of it campfires have been doing that for as long as there have been campfires.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

Confest. Pictures by Simon Jones.

In the end I don’t think I really managed to find the ConFest sweet spot that so many others were clearly in. I enjoyed the opportunity to escape the city for a few days and relax in the warm Easter weather. I liked the campfires, the silent disco, and chance to unplug for a while, but it seems that ConFest didn’t manage to unleash my inner hippie.

If I’m honest it all felt a bit ‘hocus pocus’ to me, and even somewhat contrived at times. That aside, though, I’m glad I went. Even though I didn’t come back with crystals to put under my pillow, or the urge to hug every tree in my neighbourhood, I’m sure I did get something from the experience—even if it was only a tan.

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GeneralSunday, April 24th, 2011, (6:40 pm)

The last time you heard from me I was going to Tasmania. That was back in February, when Christmas seemed like yesterday and the Australian summer holidays were still in full swing. It’s now April and some people out there in the virtual world have expressed concern for my well being; logic being, if I’m not blogging something must be wrong. Well, I’m happy to report that the lack of blogging is not an indicator of something being wrong, in fact it’s quite the opposite. In short, I’m still here, still happy, and still loving’ life down-under. It’s still my intention to complete those half written posts I’ve drafted (so look out for them sneakily appearing in the past), but for now let me bring you up to speed with my summer on the other side of the world.

Australian fun. Pictures by Simon Jones.

I find it hard to work on sunny days. Well, if I’m totally honest, I find it hard to work on any days, but those tasks are particularly trying on days where the sun streams through my window and the air outside is warm. It’s not particularly a big deal when you live in the UK where warm sunny days are like pearls on the sea bed, but here in Australia this affliction becomes much more of an issue.

I thought that I would probably do a lot more writing here, that the good weather would afford me countless opportunities to sit outside in the sun with my laptop and tap away the hours watching the world wander by while I sipped chilled drinks. The reality was, perhaps inevitably, a little different. Yes there were many hours spent at cafes, but they were more social and less conducive to quality time with my laptop. Strangers didn’t stay strange for long and I would often end up on first name terms with my fellow cafe dwellers.

Of course, I didn’t spend the entire summer in cafe’s. Far from it in fact. There were (and still are) bikes rides, beaches, walks, talks, restaurants, bars, concerts, shows, gigs, and all manner of social gatherings to attend. Like so many people who spend hours with the masses on Facebook, I was getting lost in the buzz of a social network, only for me this one was anything but virtual.

Photograph by Simon Jones.


It’s been fun familiarising myself with a new city. Learning the tram routes and numbers, the street names, and the different neighbourhoods. I actually enjoying riding the trams here. I wasn’t much of a public transport user back in the UK, but public transport in Melbourne is excellent and riding the trams is often more interesting that you might imagine.

Discovering interesting places to eat and drink has been an enjoyable task. I have my favourite places like ‘Naked for Satan‘ and ‘Polly‘ in Fitzroy, ‘Lentil as Anything‘ in Abbotsford, ‘Wall Two 80‘ in Balaclava, ‘Claypots‘ in St Kilda, ‘Eden Espresso‘ and ‘Second Edition‘ in Malvern, and ‘Hairy Little Sista‘ along with ‘Palmz‘ the rooftop bar in the city. However, you won’t find me installed like part of the furniture in any of these places as there are always new venues to try.

One thing I have learned is that Australians are pretty particular about their coffee. Ordering some sugary flavoured ‘Starbucksian’ nonsense in any of Melbourne’s cafes will likely be met with a scornful response from the barista. With that in mind these days I order a cappuccino, and a cappuccino is exactly what I get.

Photograph by Simon Jones.

St Kilda Beach, Melbourne. Photograph by Simon Jones.


Apparently my Australian summer has been the wettest on record, and I often over hear locals lamenting what they refer to as a shocking summer. However, from my point of view the summer here was great.

Being an Englishman I am more accustom to sunny summer days being a rarity, a gift among days more often suffocated under a concrete colored blanket of cloud. Given that, you can perhaps appreciate that when you live in a country where a week of fine weather might very well be referred to as summer, even a the worst Australian summer is something to revel in, and revel in it I did!

In Sydney I watched the opera Carmen performed in the Domain at sunset as bats flew over our heads. Back in Melbourne I spent a day watching tennis at the Australian Open, saw the Symphony Orchestra perform at the cities open air Music Bowl, attended various summer festivals, and watched movies under the stars in the Botanic Gardens, St Kilda Beach, Federation Square, and on a downtown rooftop.

Photograph by Simon Jones.

Photograph by Simon Jones.

Photograph by Simon Jones.


However, when it rained, it really rained. For the first time ever I experienced flash flooding as Melbourne was subjected to tropical rain storms in the wake of cyclone Yasi.

Right in the middle of summer cyclone Yasi headed toward the north west coast of Queensland eventually making landfall as a category five monster, the biggest cyclone to ever hit Australia, easily big enough to cover the entire UK.

The flooding in Melbourne was nothing compared to the devastating floods that struck Northern Queensland, however it was still enough to cause chaotic scenes across the city. By all accounts it was a summer of bizarre acts of nature in Australia with widespread flooding, bush fires and even a plague of locusts!

As a result of the summers unusual weather events the state of Victoria, and indeed much of Australia, continues to suffer from a surge in mosquito numbers. That might otherwise be a minor annoyance if the mosquitoes here didn’t have the potential to give people the Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses, as well as the deadly disease Murray Valley encephalitis.


Weather worries aside, back in February I took a trip to Tasmania (something I will cover more in a future -retroactive- post). I pretty much knew nothing about ‘Tazy’ other than it was a place that people who had been there spoke very highly of. With that in mind I booked a cheap flight and headed to the island where I would spend a few days touring around in a camper van.

Similar in many ways to the lush green landscape of New Zealand, Tasmania far exceeded my expectations. In many respects it reminded me of Wales with its rolling hills and quiet winding roads. I didn’t see any Tasmanian devils but at night you could hear them scream, which was actually quite creepy because when it gets dark in Tasmania, it gets really dark.

In that Tasmanian darkness the night sky was simply spellbinding. I doubt I will soon forget sitting on deserted Tasmanian beaches with my friend just looking at the galaxy wrapped around us.

Photograph by Simon Jones.


To the west of Melbourne lies the Great Ocean Road that winds its way along the rugged Victorian coastline. Having driven along it a couple of times I found that it easily lives up to its title. At several points I yearned for my old MG and the opportunity to put the roof down and enjoy the twists and turns that felt more than a little sanitised in the ‘garden variety’ rental car I was driving.

Both trips along the spectacular road presented opportunities to see plenty of Australian wildlife in its natural environment including kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, wombats, and much to my surprise several koala bears.

Of course, while driving the Great Ocean Road is immensely enjoyable, flying over a stretch of that awesome coastline in a helicopter is even more exhilarating, and with my friend Sam that’s exactly what we did. Swooping over the Twelve Apostles at 200ft was simply amazing, and while I am not much of a ‘box ticker tourist’ I was delighted to tick that particular box.

Photograph by Simon Jones.


As the summer drew to a close the Formula One circus rolled into Melbourne for round one of the 2011 Grand Prix season. I’ve been an F1 fan since I was a kid and I can’t tell you how much of a buzz it was to have a Grand Prix at one of my local public parks.

Just three tram stop down the line from where I live, Formula One racing cars screamed around Albert Park for three days. My friend Will had come over from the UK to join me at the event and in brilliant sunshine we watched the race, enduring the ear shattering noise that is quite unimaginably loud.

On the tram home my ears were ringing as if I had been to some head-bangers ball. Two days later, as the circuit was being returned to its normal public park state, Will and I rode around the track on bicycles like true Grand Prix nerds. As silly as it might seem to a non F1 fan, it’s a buzz to be able to experience a Grand Prix circuit even at a the slow pace of a bicycle.

Photograph by Simon Jones.

Photograph by Simon Jones.

So then, in review it’s been a great summer. The rare moments that I’ve doubted the wisdom of my decision to come here have always been followed by sunny days when I am reminded that I live in Australia, that I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do, and that coming here was indeed a great idea.

I’ll try to post more frequently, but if you don’t see a post for a while, chances are I’m doing something fun, electing to live the moment in the moment, and write about it later.

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