Sure, she spent 3 days immersed in nature, but my kid just tried to hug the TV.
For the second year in a row our little family of three welcomed the new year in with a collection of friends at Camp Wollemi and camping out as humble guests on Darkinjung country with Uncle Col and Uncle Michael ‘Smacka’ at the micro-festival Galactic.
It’s a special little spot, right on the river at what white fella’s named St Albans. We gathered with about 200 other folks and families, and a collection of happy doggos to swim and dance and play.
This year Jo and Charlie from Come You Spirits created a small adaption of The Tempest on the sand bar with some of the children from the community, Uncle Col and his grandkids (and a neighbour on his reluctant horse!).
Uncle Col and Aunty Lully hosted a sacred smoke ceremony with a crew of aboriginal dancers. Four key plants: brown bracken, green bracken, tea tree and Eucalyptus were burnt on the coals over three days to cleanse and protect us and country – always smouldering while folks swam and hung out by the waterhole.
There is no mobile reception. You have to drive all the way back to Wiseman’s Ferry if you need to make a call or check your email. It’s bliss to know that even if you wanted to, you can’t be online.
You can’t be distracted by memes or people’s platitudes about the new year. You can’t resist the slower pace, the call to let your mind wander, to do not very fucking much (except keep an eye on your kid in the river as she teaches herself to paddle board).
I notice whenever I spend time offline when I return to my device/vices, online content seems so unimportant and incredibly trivial. The stuff that I get sucked into and caught up in loses its flavour – because the internal signals and external experiences of being unplugged are amplified. I notice and feel more, I can hear myself again.
It feels powerful and liberating and I realise how much of a pull the digital riptide has on me, as the years of being online turn into decade and shape my psyche and consciousness further and further. I anchor in this feeling and memory, I want to be able to remind myself of this feeling in another month when I am back to ‘normal’ and the newness of 2024 is fading and the grind replaces this new groove.
The kiddos run and roam free. Special attention is paid to keeping kids safe and honouring their playfulness at this gathering. Kids have right of way, everyone becomes a kind of family.
My 6 and three-quarters year old daughter walks and runs with a kind of confidence and self-reliance around the property. Pulling out sticks and branches to play and build forts with, taking herself off for a ‘bush wee’ without needing help or supervision (though she still likes some help with the composting dunnies for fear of falling in!).
She practices twirling a stick and then asks a dreadlocked young guy if she can have a go of his proper fire staff (its unlit at this point) – she is pleased with herself as she gets better and faster at turning it over her hand and catching it.
With her little buddies they spend hours making up stories about bunyips and boogey men and superpowers. They find a rope and entertain themselves with it – they teach the youngest to skip, they get sore arms from turning the rope so much on the rough grass. They notice bugs and beetles and wombat holes and are fascinated and fully absorbed.
When they’re tired, they fall into the shade and read David Walliams books and I can hear my daughter sounding out words she would never attempt at home with me. When they’re exhausted, we play downloaded Harry Potter audiobooks. When they’re hungry they eat fruit and baby tomatoes and fresh veggies, or stale Pringles that were left out.
Our focus on safety is there, but it shifts and changes. There is more permission to explore, yet because I in holiday mode (not Mum juggle gear) am more observant of her and her little uplevels. The cuts and grazes and mozzie bites and filthy feet are signs of a wonderful adventure.
Three days is not forever, but it’s enough to reset our neurobiology. To unhook from the patterns of waking up with our phones, of narrowing our gazes and zoning out at screens.
Last year TV has become a bit of an issue in our household. Not a huge one, but a steadily creeping one. My kiddo’s ability to tune into it and out of everything else around her somewhat perplexed me and I pondered how to improve our habits with consuming TV. At one point she declared that after me and her dad, her grandmother and cousins that TV was her best friend because it shared so many adventures with her. This made me prickle.
Is her ability to deeply focus on a show and story ever going to be useful? How can I get her to brush her hair while watching TV? Given she’s an only child how does it replace or surrogate for a sibling? Am I breaking her brain (even with the attention I place on monitoring her digital diet)?
This time offline at Camp Wollemi showed me it’s all about engagement and diverse opportunities. That we’re all capable of unplugging and giving our brains a bit of a factory reset. We just need to craft time for breaks and intentional interruptions to our schedule, regularly not just annually.
After we got home, dirt encrusted and sun touched, we unpacked the car and threw her in the bath for a nice warm soak, it was only hours later that she asked to put the TV on, and attempted to wrap her arms around it on the wall and give it a hug.
Old friends, reunited – but this year with some new space between them.
Biggest thanks and huge props to Galactic organiser (and casual teacher) Patrick who did an epic job again this yea