Opinion

Playing with fire: Inside the Burning Man

The Temple Burn at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
The Temple Burn at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Chris Owen

CERTAIN things need to be experienced to be really understood: Burning Man is one of those things.

To those who have never attended this unique festival, it may appear to be a chaotic, dusty, anything-goes week in the Nevada desert. But don't be fooled.

The annual event draws people from throughout the world in a beautiful - yet unforgiving - environment to celebrate radical self-expression.

This was my fifth pilgrimage to the mecca that is Burning Man. I was originally coerced into going in 2007, by a group of Americans I met while travelling in Europe.

They had been the year before and, as they enthusiastically shared their experiences, I realised it was something I couldn't miss.

When I joined them in August that year, I wasn't disappointed.

To arrive at Burning Man is to have the sensation of having landed on another planet. The festival takes place in the middle of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada - a dry lakebed location known as the "playa".

For one whole week, out of the vast, chalky terrain rises an entire tent city of about 70,000 burners who will pass through its gates.

The miniature metropolis is populated by a mixture of theme camps, art installations and city services such as a radio station and post office.

At the centre of it all, keeping watch over the thousands of revellers is a towering wooden figure, known as The Man, which is burned on the penultimate night of the event.

During the week, 10 principles guide the behaviour of the Black Rock citizens - things like radical inclusion and radical self-reliance.

One strict edict is that there are no spectators. Everyone must participate because each individual creates Burning Man.

The ways to participate are as unlimited as one's imagination. For some it may mean cooking dinner for the folk camped next door, or throwing a party, or hosting a workshop.

The Queensland Times journalist Chris Owen attended the Burning Man in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Distrikt Camp is where a lot of burners go to party in the day. Photo: Chris Owen/ The Queensland Times
The Queensland Times journalist Chris Owen attended the Burning Man in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Distrikt Camp is where a lot of burners go to party in the day. Photo: Chris Owen/ The Queensland Times Chris Owen

Some people contribute by creating "art cars" - vehicles transformed into parade floats in which people glide across the playa.

This year I was part of a camp called Draft Punk, which contributed by offering burners free beer each afternoon at our makeshift bar.

The community of Burning Man is run as a gift economy - and that's not to be confused with bartering. The idea is just to give freely to others with no expectation of reciprocation.

With the exception of ice and a coffee stand, there are no concessions and nothing is for sale.

When you arrive, you are given a book that lists times and places of anything you can imagine - from cocktail parties to spiritual sessions.

The 160-page read is just a glimpse at what's on offer though. Take a short walk across the playa and you will be called over to join in numerous events.

In the interests of self-expression, the festival is a visual feast of unique and creative wardrobes. Burners are encouraged to wear what they wouldn't dare wear in the real world - or don't wear anything at all.

Night is when Burning Man really comes alive though; when the city becomes a neon wonderland amid the inky blackness of the desert night. People and their vehicles are adorned with brightly-lit things as they move about to the drumming beat of rave music echoing from numerous dance parties.

The festival is not without its challenges, however, with scorching temperatures, dust storms and bouts of dehydration.

But those things always pale in comparison to the experience you will carry with you for the rest of your life. It's special to be a burner.

Topics:  editors picks, opinion, outdoor-living, qt big read




Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

THE EXPERT: Stop judging working mothers

SUPER MUMS: Being a working mums comes down to perfecting time management.

"WORKING for money is all right; so is working because you want to.”

OPINION: How to prepare your child for day care

Your kids will love childcare, but it may take some adjusting.

GETTING your child ready for day care is vital.

MUMS' TOP 5: 'Musts' to have on your childcare checklist

SOME FALL SHORT: Organisations that train childcare workers will be subjected to extra audits.

SENDING your child off to day care can be daunting and confusing.

Health and nutrition with kids - how do you balance it?

HOW important is health and nutrition in your household?

Smack or no smack - where do you stand?

THE debate is reignited - is smacking acceptable?

Technology and kids: Do you ever cut their wi-fi?

Check out our new video series featuring mums having a chat

Teen driver injured in crash with pole

Police car. Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle

Car blocking road after crashing into pole

Police release CCTV images of bottle store robbery

Police conducted patrols of the area but were unable to locate the two men.

Two men fled hold up with a sum of cash

Uni Games to give Eden a fun break

Ipswich representative hockey and indoor hockey player Eden Jackat.

Medical student to enjoy new challenge

Latest deals and offers

Vivid timelapse

Screenshot from timelapse of Sydney's Vivid Festival

This timelapse shows Sydney's Vivid Festival

Mayor Paul Pisasale on the federal election

Mayor Paul Pisasale.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale on the federal election

2016 Rosewood Show

Thousands of people passed through the gates to enjoy all the fun and entertainment...

Three bedroom, 1100sqm block: Is this Qld's cheapest home?

BARGAIN BUY: Is this North Bundaberg property the cheapest home in Queensland?

Becoming a real estate mogul is all about risk and reward

PROPERTY BOOM: Coast prices set to skyrocket

Like other areas in south-east Queensland, the Sunshine Coast is at the start of the upturn on the property clock.

Values predicted to rise 25-33%