There’s been some negative news in the Australian press recently about a music festival called Rainbow Serpent.
Well drugs, really.
People go into the Australian bush under the blistering sun and dance to music many don’t understand (full disclosure, I don’t out of context) and while they do so, some of the crowd inevitably push their boundaries with substances the government deem illegal and so rightly or wrongly the festival gets ‘bad press’.
I went to the festival this year after a two year hiatus.
This is what I saw, heard and felt and is in no way justification, denial or defence. It is merely my thoughts, my understanding and my memories which, because they’re mine cannot be anything other than a representation of my experience.
I have penned this blog in such a way that I hope to provide the space to raise broader questions that seem in the most part, to be silently ignored.
Deep breath, and here I go!
It’s hard to explain Rainbow Serpent.
How do you explain a place designed to delight in it’s playfulness, it’s colour, vibrancy and music from a grey laptop in a reality where structure, time and order rule.
How do you describe the childlike delight at watching a smoke filled iridescent bubble float past your eyes, carried by the wind and sinking to the baked ground to pop in a puff of grey magic.
How do you explain how it feels to sit on a hill with your friends, watching the sunset and knowing that in that moment nothing is perfect and yet everything is exactly as it should be.
How do you explain the vibration in the very cells of your being as the music pounds through you, shaking your core and cleansing you in waves of sound more powerful than logic.
How do you describe the unity between souls who in real life may never speak, but brought here together in the desire to be free from the shackles of a world too complex to bear, bond in a tribal force of togetherness, sweat and love.
How do you explain the heat, the dust and the light as you traverse across the terrain, feeling your life in its hands, reminding you of your fragility on this planet and calling you to rise up in respect of the land that bore you, holds you and will ultimately take you.
How do you describe the sound of laughter ringing through the night sky or the taste of fresh watermelon on burnt lips, gifted by a stranger for no other reason than to see you smile.
How can you explain it?
I guess I can’t.
But there is more I can’t explain.
I can’t explain why this year the police presence had a different energy about it because when I was last there (2016) they didn’t seem to be looking for trouble.
I can’t explain how people come to a festival like this without a tribe to look out for them, to make sure they’re hydrated, safe and accounted for.
I can’t explain why I saw people being hauled off the dance floor for doing a bump of white powder because mate, that’s not keeping me safe, that’s you filling an arrest quota.
I can’t explain why I saw people being marched through the party by police to have their tents searched because that’s only causing a divide between us. You are making yourself the enemy.
I can’t explain the logic of detaining a guy for eating magic mushrooms when he’s causing no harm and posing no danger. In that moment you become unsafe to us instead of being the people we turn to when we encounter trouble.
I can’t explain why this year someone in a concrete office somewhere declared the ‘war on drugs’ should be notched up to attack the people who are not the problem, adding to the shame and the secrecy of drug taking. When and how is that ever going to end well?
I can’t explain other people’s choices because I am not in their shoes.
But this is my choice and this is my story.
At the beginning of 2018 I realised I had an issue with alcohol which ultimately led to me giving up booze altogether.
It was hard.
It is hard.
I haven’t had a drink since the end of May 2018.
I think about it every day.
Sobriety from alcohol has made me much more sensitive to other substances and now I question myself when I want to alter my state in any other way. Is it social anxiety? The desire to fit in? To mellow out? To perk up? To transcend into a different reality? For what purpose? Even my morning coffee comes into question. Why do I need, want or desire this?
And so Rainbow for me was a very different experience this time around.
No longer needing to prove myself, my stamina or my legendary status I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, safe in the support and love of my friends.
This meant I danced when I wanted to dance, not when I thought it would look cool to.
It meant I ate the beautiful food and found sustenance in the earths bounty instead of rinsing myself until empty.
It meant I slept peacefully and woke up each day excited for my next adventure.
It meant I spoke to strangers and delighted in stories I could remember and retell, honouring the art of folklore.
It meant I respected my body and never pushed my limits beyond what experience (to be fair) had taught me I can handle.
It meant I was safe and more than that, my friends were safer too.
It meant I enjoyed the festival for what I believe it is there to provide – a place of love, culture, expression and fun.
But it runs so much deeper than that.
Because once the last tent in our campsite was down, I went home to a life I love.
Not one I was escaping from.
That’s the difference.
I can’t explain to you how amazing that felt.
So I’m not here to defend the festival, nor am I here to encourage drug use and nor am I here to demonise the police.
But I will question how we got to the place where we actively use ego, fear and judgment to rule; burying ourselves further in mis-education and a reluctance to see things a different way.
I will question when we failed each other as a collective; where someone’s friends are when he’s had too much or she’s lost in the dark.
I will question why individualism, free thinking and self-expression are so feared.
I will question when we will be brave enough to fund community projects so we have less need for the amazing medics who have to save the lives of people who desperately need educating, compassion and a reason to love themselves.
I will question why resources are being poured into shutting down festivals instead of starting mental health schemes to help people respect themselves enough to enjoy events like Rainbow Serpent safely.
I will question when we arrived at a place where people feel so disconnected that they are looking to escape their own mind.
And honestly, I will question why we are talking about closing down a party and not asking how we could bring about social change.
Because the ‘trouble’ at Rainbow Serpent is just a reflection of the ‘trouble’ in normal society.
It’s just that in normal society it’s underground, unreported and not so covered in glitter.
Mental health and emotional wellbeing is an issue that reaches far beyond the festival gates.
This isn’t about drug taking.
This is about creating a world where people aren’t afraid.
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Thank you very much for reading. I’d really love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you personally.