On the lands of the Yorta Yorta nation in the quiet town of Tocumwal, where the Murray River flows over the crossing of New South Wales to Victoria, a new world is built every year. It is to be occupied for only one weekend of November.
This is Strawberry Fields.
The space: Thoughtful practicalities make a difference
Upon arriving in a car inundated with sweltering sunbeams (which we were certain would only intensify as the days progressed), it became apparent that it wasn’t just the lineup that was down-to-earth here: this was an event designed with the intention of fostering an environmentally sound and safe experience.
Special Ops Earth Warriors circled the campsites in mutant buggies, picking up trash and giving away garbage bags to needy campers. I chose a campsite that was only 10 metres away from the toilets, which in normal circumstances would be a cause for concern, but instead of the rancid portaloo toilets usually found at festivals, Strawberry Fields had installed composting toilets, which thankfully kept the smell at bay.
After my camp was set up, I began my first survey of the festival. The site was littered with Helper Huts ready to take in weary travellers who were dehydrated, had lost their campsite or their mates, were in need of lollipops or snakes, or just needed a place to rest. Throughout the event, their volunteers from these huts roamed the festival looking for opportunities to release goodwill. When you’re sweating bullets in the midst of the dancefloor with no water left and there’s still an hour of a frothing DJ set to go, there’s nothing better than seeing that orange fluorescent vest emerge from the crowd with a spray bottle and a container of water.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the abundance of water taps, which made the single-use bottle and glass bans easy to adhere to. For those in need of a little more rejuvenation than H2O could provide, a bar stationed next to The Beach stage sold non-alcoholic elixirs to help cure your hangovers and, only a little further down, there was a wooden shack with tea ceremonies being performed every hour.
Venturing further into Strawberry Fields, I uncovered delightful pockets of peace hidden away from the bustling dancefloors and thoroughfares. From the sculptures set atop dirt plains, to the paintings hidden amongst hammocks in the forest, to the see-through mirrors found near the Murray’s bank, the festival was punctuated with spaces that promoted relaxation and reflection.
The music: A little something for everyone
It was easy to figure out why Strawberry Fields had gone to such great lengths to make the Wildlands so hospitable. As soon as the sets began and the stages filled, everyone was swept away by movement and dance.
In previous years, artists had come from faraway places to wander onto the stages or splatter their brushstroke across the canvas that is the land. This year, as Strawberry Fields soared into its 10th realisation, international performers (Honey Dijon, Carl Craig, 2NANAS, Henry Wu, Sasha, DJ Nobu) complemented the festival’s ripe selection of homegrown talent (CC:DISCO!, 30/70, Wax’o Paradiso, Hiatus Kaiyote, Marc Pascal). The focus on Australian sounds brought a more natural, down-to-earth vibe to the Wildlands – as if the organisers were thanking the locals for making the last decade of celebrations possible.
Acting as the glue of the festival, the music played day and night. Each artist brought a different crowd and vibe, which I believe is what this anniversary was about all along – catering to the many hearts of all those who love Strawberry Fields. You could begin at the main stage, which might be playing house, and wander to The Grove to find them playing nu disco. Immersed in the soundscape, hours would fly by while you moved, lost in your own mind, admiring the expression of those around you and simply enjoying the artists on stage. Some swayed gracefully to the sounds, others pumped their fists to the beats.
Every time I found myself on the dancefloor, an intensely enjoyable sonic submersion ensued. Yet, if it weren’t for the quiet places hidden in the Wildlands where I could recharge and refocus, I wouldn’t have made it past the first night.
Respite is important at a festival, and Strawberry Fields nailed it. Whether you chose to spend your time dancing in the thick of it, or listening from the treeline while the music acted as the backdrop to a conversation, one thing was clear: There wasn’t a chance of anyone leaving the Wildlands without finding their groove first.
The people: Strangers are just friends you haven’t met
At night, Strawberry Fields became a completely unrecognisable place.
Strobe lights illuminated the dirt plains and sky, doof sticks acted as torches and the stages were beacons that reeled in doofers like moths to a flame. Outside of their glow, directions became skewed and, with no way of locating their camp, the torchless instead found strangers equally as lost as they were, stumbling around wondering why the world had turned on its head.
The beautiful thing about this event was that there was always someone ready to help or to spend your time with, which isn’t uncommon considering the bond between us doofers. When you eventually happened upon your friends hours later, leaving your new crew felt like parting with old friends.
Then, at the end of it all, when you returned back to camp, your consciousness was directed to making friends with your neighbours and talking until the sun inevitably came up to signify another day of unrelenting dancing, forming deep bonds and appreciating the land.
The verdict: Three days I want to remember
Strawberry Fields is more than a festival to me – it’s a shelf in my mind upon which a set of precious memories sit, each adorning the next.
Tea ceremonies under canopies. Sprawling in the filtered light cast upon hammocks on the path to The Grove. Walking through dusty plains stirred into the air by stampedes of dancers. Lazing by the riverside forming bonds with strangers-soon-to-be-friends. Grooving all night to the funky beats and electronic sounds at the stages. Appreciating art in the early morning before the sun’s heat has time to set in.
The event may be over, but I am left with a set of beautiful memories, each of which can be picked up, examined, and warmly smiled upon at any time.
Strawberry Fields 10th Anniversary was one festival that I won’t forget.