This is an account of 4 days spent selling tshirts at Rainbow Serpent Festival in Beaufort this year and how this challenging and confronting experience was ultimately rewarding in ways I never expected.
From the moment I step out of my car, I’ve been offered wild turkey bourbons, joints, beers and nags and it’s not even evening.
It’s late afternoon when I arrive, greeted by a gentle breeze under a full sun. Told to park my van and walk, it’s like walking onto the set of a Peter Jackson movie, or perhaps Mad Max or Gladiator – frantic activity everywhere. Yellow Tonka trucks rumble through the dust. I’m escorted by a brown limbed beauty wearing strips of suede, brass bangles and a bright orange safety vest.
I set up my marquee beside a tribe of Israeli boys, all beaming smiles and dreadlocks, with their amazing bamboo and lycra stars already in place. They are selling tshirts, sunnies and sandals. They share their cucumber and cheese sandwiches with me.
Deano and Jayne, the straightest looking couple and my neighbours on the other side, arrive with blotter prints. Deano is a techno nerd, they have their tubular mood setting lights and a chill area covered with cushions and drapes. I get used to the flow of people travelling through my tent on the way to theirs and the gush of the soda bottle as they waft into oblivion. This is where they lie quietly dozing while I write.
On my first circuit of the stalls I discover two sisters arguing as they struggle with tangled leads and burning light bulbs. I try to help before returning with one of the young Israeli gods, cable ties and a torch.
I choose the floor of the marquee over the smelly van. My accommodation leaves a lot to be desired.
The night passes quietly with the boys next door softly chanting in Hebrew.
There are patches of paddock which actually vibrate under the weight of compacted soil and sawdust thrown over the sodden ground. The festival takes shape all around me. We are now in a weird hiatus before the sun goes down and the music starts up. Somnambulant, relaxed people wander into my stall. A few buy tshirts, most just take it in.
It is now dusk. I am listening to a mad gypsy band. I struggle to remember names as I meet new friends. A young goddess called “More”- I won’t forget her name – or “Bucket arse”, who proudly showed me the “Thai bucket” tattooed on his bum, each straw represents one of his mates. Kate, a security women from Port Fairy who still remembers me, gangs of the excitable and the youthful. A women called Annie who falls in love with Mr Bucket. Huge Mick and his psycho mate walk in as I close, they want to stay, I kick them out. and sleep like a baby who’s overdosed on phenergan.
Awake feeling surprisingly well, go for a shower, not working – need tokens. Coffee and Quesadilla, then relax in the communal hammock area. Doof-doof hasn’t stopped since 6 o’clock last night, kind of soulless but strangely hypnotic. It won’t stop till Tuesday.
Towards midday, damn hippies! They’re sending me broke… I hope they have money left and buy towards the end.
Option 1: Zhoosh up Mr B, bought an owl fascinator, found some coloured fabric and made beer goggles out of cans, looking sweet.
Option 2: Wait for motorised couch, hitch a ride as Mr Bucket.. that’s just crazy.
Option 3: Just relax and let it happen.
Just sold a croc bucket to a guy with a crocodile bite. He goes gaga, laughs his head off and says he’ll wear it on stage as he DJ’s. It’s a narrow demographic, I have to say.
Option 4: Run around with a bucket on my head. My head bakes in the makeshift oven as I wipe sweat out of the eye holes in the bucket.
Arriving back at camp, the bucket comes off and I am greeted by Chris, the cousin of a friend. He is making a special delivery from home.
When the sun tips over the horizon, the dusk settles and the breeze cools, it feels like a great sigh, breathing relief over Rainbow. The music stops and I wander across to watch the opening ceremony.
Thousands of people slowly rise to their feet. They reach for the sky, pose as trees in the wind, softly swaying as we enjoy our last moment of mutual silence with the bush that surrounds us. Then thumping music, spiralling lights and dancing. Tomorrow is market day and the party can go on without me. Good night, Bucket man signs off Sat 1.30am.
With the raw power of the main stage on one side and the Market stage on the other, sleeping in my marquee is like sleeping inside a giant bass drum. Certain bass notes go through me like sonic booms.
A guy in a sailor suit with huge platform soles, various human bugs including a bee, a women wearing floral bathers and wings, plus a dragon, are still bopping away in the dawn light with several drunken and tired warrior princesses. Just suck it up and be in the moment – the mornings are trippier then the narcotic nights.
As I sit staring blankly into space, a gently smiling child hands me a slice of orange. This sets the neurons firing and I am off to make a healthy start with coffee, waffles, fruit salad, honey and yoghurt, carrot and ginger juice, coffee again and a cigarette.
Back to staring blankly into space with the last bit of gaffa tape and cable ties in place. It’s business time. But hey, if hugs were tshirts I would already have made my fortune.
A skinny young girl flailing green silk falls out of the sky, trips towards me, raises her arms then falls at my feet. I give her some water and she finds her way next door.
I can tell it’s going to get really stinkingly, intensely hot.
My marquee is now my sanctuary. I sit watching the aimless fun. The women in wet tshirts are sending me blind, then I see a guy in wet spandex and wish I was blind. I’m hearing country music, hawaiian anyway – a short reprieve, then back to the Doof-Doof.
I just have to wait for them all to wake up with the biggest hangover of their lives, then with single-minded intent all come down to buy their bucket tshirts. I am in the land of dreams “Rainbow Serpent”.
The people are just zonked and so am I!!
Made more friends, opened a keg with a tent peg, shared the sunscreen. Mad dogs and festival goers, a butterfly fluttered in, a real one. Took its time to decide on a tshirt, then settled on one.
My shade is slowly disappearing, the smell of woodsmoke permeates the air as tarps and walls are raised. We create a cool oasis where I sit with Deano. The ice from the esky melts in seconds on my head as I sip chilled wine.
Back in my Carey chair, I hear the Mr Bucket Buzz. Hey it’s the bucket dude, you’re a genius, love your stuff man, this is awesome… it just keeps getting louder and more insistent. as persistent and pervasive as the music. Like the music, it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Timothy weaves his way through the crowd, wobbly on awkward legs, using a stick for balance. An interesting man, he leaves with his Mr Bucket Albert Hoffman tshirt.
It is starting to feel as if I’m caught in a time warp on Planet Rainbow. I can’t leave the stall without closing up completely, which won’t be until 1am. The Kooris are serving food from the earth oven which has been smoking all day.
The sun finally goes down and the lights come on.
Some kids, fresh from private school, ask me where they can score acid. I tell them about a fictitious Maori guy wearing green pants and a purple vest. They clutch each other and charge off.
An endless cavalcade of colourful zombies stream past my stall.
Seriously what the fuck do I do now. I awake to pouring rain. All I know is I need to visit the compost toilet and get a cup of coffee, in that order. As I walk back in the rain, tears just start falling. I sit in my marquee crying unable to stop, feeling a long way from home. It could be the overheard conversation about using the energy and bringing it into the now, or the lone guitarist strumming away in the chai tent.
After four days reaching out with enthusiasm and goodwill towards everyone who walked into my marquee, the tank has run dry. I haven’t showered or slept properly for days. There is a fine patina of dust over everything. I badly need to express my frustration at life’s sheer perversity.
I’ve recovered from my meltdown and the rain has stopped. Step out to open the shop – “I want that tshirt, and I want it now, I love it dude, I got no money, tell me how I can have it and pay later,” …Aaagh, several hugs, promises and handshakes later, Woody walks away with his tshirt. We are shopping Rainbow style.
I start dabbing at the dust with a wet tshirt. The marquee catches some wind and belches a cold torrent of water onto my head, down my neck and over the clothing cabinet.
Had a laugh with Belle and Techi, a friend from my regular market, Rose Street in Fitzroy. Sometimes a familiar face can do wonders.
Bob comes back for his tshirt- now he was always going to be reliable, a Beaufort local. He visited me several times and always knew how to cut through the bullshit.
Towards midday, a few more sales and I have made friends with the mobile drinks cart. I give them empty buckets, they ply me with cocktails – a symbiotic relationship that seems to be working. So far I have scored a gin, Captain Morgan Rum and Tequilla. I am past caring about sales- everything just washes over me. I have my little corner of shade and there is no frantic cable tying- perhaps this is the Zen moment I was meant to arrive at.
The market stage falls silent, my neighbours go back to being the straightest looking couple, they pack up, say their goodbyes and leave.
After closing shop, I walk to the Sunset Stage. The dying heartbeat is still pumping strong on top of this hill. The crowd still covers half a football field With beer in hand I give myself to the rhythm.
When I go back to the bar, to try the cider this time, another girl falls out of the sky and lands at my feet.
Not tripping, or drunk, she’s tripped over a cable and fallen heavily. Someone lifts her up and pours beer over her head simultaneously. It’s Belle. Unable to walk, she limps and winces as we move away from the crowd.
I find Techi and a cup of ice for her swollen ankle and we firelift her to the first aid tent. Favour repaid, Rainbow style.
Leaning against a tree, I roll a cigarette. Fatigue seeps through my body. A guy ask me if I’d like a Rainbow hug; I get one regardless.
When I return to my camp I find Mr Bucket in pieces, trousers around his ankles. My van wide open, but nothing stolen.
Tuesday morning: I awake with the biggest hangover of my life. I can hear a symphony of birds, squawking wattles, warbling Magpies and twittering wrens. The bush has already moved in closer to reclaim the space.
Time to head home, the shade disappears with my marquee. The Tonka trucks are back to carry away the debris.
The dirt man stops by to thank me for his hoodie and the one he’s dropping off to the gravel man.
Hugs and back slaps all round from my young Israeli gods and the goddess “More”. We love each other, we truly do.
As the van picks its way up the dusty road, I look across and through the murky haze I see a lone figure bathed in early morning light, waving at me. He is proudly wearing his Mr Bucket tshirt. I wave back, already thinking about next year and perhaps a new tshirt design …. “ Mr Bucket Loves Hugs.”