Above: WOS artistic director Scott Large with Larali (left) and your writer.
By RONJA HONEY MOSS
Tucked in the rocky creased hills of Eastern Arrernte land, there is a little triangular valley: lined with gentle gums on two sides and a sandy riverbed on the other. It is Ross River campground, the natural amphitheatre of Central Australia. I don’t know its exact ancient dreaming, but I do know that its history for the past nine years has been rich.
Originally an excuse for a few mates (Rodney Angelo, Jimmy Cocking and Scott Large) to have a big party, Wide Open Space (WOS) has truly taken on a life of its own.
In 2009, at its humble beginnings, I was much younger and bright eyed. Back then this festival was the place were I found my freedom to dance, sing and finally explore the energy of the Centre with other white people in a way that still felt ceremonious. So, after four years away from WOS, I was interested to see how the event had changed, and what it may now offer me.
Right: Petal at the tea party.
Honestly, I was a bit sceptical, as it had been held in such high regard from my youth. And when the weekend began with a serious bogging of my friend Deon’s car, I thought, “Right! This is not a great start!”
Yet, what followed was a series of heart-touching moments. For, just when we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren’t going anywhere in a hurry, our neighbours called us over. Two delightful fellows, Damo & Jacko: the duo, offered us a lounge chair each and a promise of breakfast the next day.
They certainly followed through! And with many more warm meals and chest moving tales to boot. With them, we climbed the famous sunset hill, we danced like madmen in the dust, we laughed and we cried (well, some of us did). The mere fact that I write of this unfolding friendship with these two, I think summarises WOS in 2017.
Though created as one big party, we, and many others did not party – well, not like we used to anyway! However, that spirit of friendship – that Rodney, Jimmy, and Scotty first instigated – lives on. I heard many people comment on the same notion. That the weekend had been less about getting loose, and more about chilling with friends: old and new.
One of highlights for me was making fairy garlands with a highly respected friend, Franca, in the market space. We frolicked and experimented as dozens gathered to learn from us the secret art (that we were making up on the spot!). And afterwards so many thanked us with genuine eyes.
Even the musical acts had this sense of relationship. On the Saturday night Hiatus Kaiyote asked Indigenous group Kardajala Kirri-darra (Sandhill Women) to perform with them a rain song. No one will forget this in a hurry. With my arm around a beautiful lady from the Smoothy Bar, I had tears rolling down my cheeks by the end.
Left: Amy, Ella and The Bilbies.
Another moment of connection, Tashka Urban from Choon Goonz, who just happens to be one of my best friends, pulled your very own writer, moi, onto the stage for a cuddle telling the audience I was her rock. Aw!
And, just to mention one more, a sighting of the rapper Lui Tuiasau, from Average Rap Band, sharing turmeric tonic and gently uttered lines with spoken word artist Kelly Lee, was very sweet.
At The Bilbies Tea Party I asked Scotty, amazingly fresh-faced for Sunday afternoon, what he felt WOS was about now. He described it wonderfully, “I’ve only recently realised that it’s a conversation. Between Alice and the rest of the World.” We went on building the analogy together: “It’s like a family dinner, where everyone is invited. It may not be pretty, but we hatch it out.”
He also told me how good it was to have me back on site and I thought, “Gosh, a festival where the directors themselves are dancing and giving out love directly to the participants is pretty rare.”
I cannot speak too much of that broad conversation this time round, as I still feel like a new arrival. Still, I think it’s integral to put this out there: when we judge… and we think we know a place, or a person, or an outcome, we cut ourselves off from free-flowing exchanges in the conversation.
It is easy to criticise, especially some of the falling shorts of an event such as WOS, as it is not perfect. However, that there is a time and space being provided, for reflection, for ceremony, for getting F*cked up if needed … for the deepening of relationship to all in whatever way is needed for the individual – well, this is very special. In friendship, it is better to be open to the space.
Below: Open to the space, Damo & Jacko: the duo.