November 2012

Ramingining, Arnham Land, NT

After siesta I woke up with my guard down. Out of sorts, wandering with my head in the clouds.

I was waking up to the third day that day.

The eclipse was expected to reach total coverage at 12 minutes after sunrise, at 6:14am. We’d been up every morning for sunrise to gauge the conditions for the big day. It was always hazy. Dawn provoked a mist rising from the immense floodplain, as if the earth exhaled with the relief of a new morning. It was as if we were witnessing the dawn of time.

On the day of, the mist rose well above the horizon. We gripped our hearts & waited.

The sun rose at 90% coverage – a massive pink crescent on the edge of the world. The sunlight came & soon enough was arcing above us, leaving us to darkness. Crickets buzzed. Birds flew on. The air felt lighter beneath the Ring; everything in my body went on high alert. I trembled with goosebumps.

It’s difficult to describe a world of surreal darkness. Attention focused; all our breath was drawn. Time stopped.

It was so soft. It was the best time of day to watch the eclipse. The sunlight was very gentle. It was the only part of the day when the regular harshness would be subdued enough to witness without fancy blackened eclipse glasses.

The festival had been planned for 8 years. Eclipse chasing is not a culture I had ever been exposed to. My friends insisted that after today, I would be hooked. No longer just for astronomers & mathematicians; a quick search on Wikipedia will give a precise calendar of when & where the next solar eclipse will be witnessed.

My plans changed sharply the week before, when I was extended an invitation. My life is more foreshadowing than planning.

The actual event was over in a few minutes. The sun was still rising in the sky when people were packing up camp to get back to reality.

There had never been an open invitation to outsiders to visit this part of the Aboriginal territory known as Arnham Land. Numbers were restricted, because they were unsure how it would run. Everything was questioned 10 times, to allow for cultural sensitivity. Organization wasn’t optimal; it felt like we listened to soundcheck for days & drinking water arrived at 4pm after spending all day in the heat.

The first year of a festival is expected to be unrefined. That’s not why we came.

On the last evening, the local community finally came out. The elders had visited the previous nights, gone back & championed the event to the people. My guard was down, & I was taken aback. We invoked spirits that night with the locals. A little girl smiled at me who was so genuine & beautiful I almost cried. We played with the kids who climbed on us, danced with us & embraced us.

Who are we? We are nobody, just 4 bastards from down the road – but we were embraced as brothers & sisters.

It took a celestial anomaly to bring us all together.

I almost sat on a scorpion, was almost hit by a fireball, & almost crushed by a tree branch. I ate water buffalo, still cannot weave a basket to save my life, but learned a few words in Yolnu.

It was an incredibly moving experience. I am better for it.