Newkind Festival in Tasmania re-wrote what a festival can be

MAKING CHANGE: Preparing for the opening ceremony at Newkind Festival. Pictures: Piia Wirsu
MAKING CHANGE: Preparing for the opening ceremony at Newkind Festival. Pictures: Piia Wirsu

The idea was wacky, the concept was visionary and the plan was big. The inaugural Newkind Festival was designed to be more than a festival. It was designed to change the world.

As I navigated my way to a secret location on Tasmania’s East Coast I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. 

A festival that takes place in a make-believe world but that wants to inspire real-world change? An ambitious concept, I thought it would be difficult to pull off. And yes, I was curious to see if the brains behind the idea really did manage it. 

Turning off the main East Coast Drive, 200 metres up the road I sailed past a gate before braking sharply and reversing back.

Hung proudly on the centre of the gate was a sign proclaiming “We Do Not Surrender”! This must be the place. 

I had been worded up on how to let myself in; a hidden key would open a red padlock and admit me. 

I began a long drive over undulating paddocks, thick with dry grass that looked like an ocean of white in the hot March sun. 

As I approached the festival camp I passed signs with warnings, encouragements and proclamations that perpetuated the narrative the festival was built around.

“Don’t believe everything you’re hearing”.

“You are leaving the surrendered world”.

Newkind Festival, the brainchild of Erfan Daliri and Bravo Child, was a long time in the making. The idea was to create a festival that gave festival-goers something more. 

When speaking to the Sunday Examiner in January, Bravo described it as a social change movement disguised as a festival. 

“What we really want to stress is that this is a festival, but this is also real life … It’s not just art, and we really earnestly do want to champion the, perhaps naive or innocent, desire to change the world and we really want to acknowledge our ability and power as an individual to shift society,” he said.

The festival was designed around a post-apocalyptic fictional narrative, which it was hoped would encourage people to leave behind old ways of thinking and explore new ideas about, and approaches to, everything from education, to farming, to healing, to arts. 

It asked the question, if you had the chance to build society anew, what would you do?

The tribe that came together at the festival were bound by one common goal: to find a better way for the world to run than it is currently. They were called Novalanders. 

On arrival at Newkind the Novalanders were welcomed and taught the phrase that would typify the weekend: Onee Pal Zjen. 

Created by the leading Novalanders, it meant “The people – the bond – the vision” and represented the shared vision of all the Novalanders at Newkind Festival. 

It was accompanied by a hand symbol; locking together both hands using index finger and thumb, creating two links in a chain. 

“You can use this to greet someone, say farewell, express respect or love,” our inductor told us, before asking us all to join her in greeting each other. 

“Onee pal zjen,” the collective voices of the recently arrived Novalanders intoned, raised hands linked. 

We proceeded in line to collect our Novalander passports, where we chose a new name – the start of a new identity for a new world – and a “faction”.

The seven factions were what Newkind believes are the foundations of society, each with its own focus and strengths: Healers, Artists, Explorers, Farmers, Engineers and Administrators. 

We then began our induction process. 

Induction continued the narrative that we were the few left behind after world collapse, and required us to leave behind things of the past and embrace a new future. 

We passed through checkpoints, each one manned by the leaders of each faction. 

At the end we entered “ground zero” of Newkind.

A tent city was rapidly expanding, colourful squares of nylon and canvas dotted across the field and the buzz of people meeting and excited to see what the weekend would bring filled the air. 

That evening, as the cool air flowed in off the water and the sun sank in a sea of pink and orange, the festival was opened. 

The sound of gentle waves and the distant view of Schouten Island provided a spectacular natural arena for the opening ceremony. 

Part performance, part speeches and part interactive experience, the opening ceremony left me with no doubt about the passion and belief of those behind Newkind. 

Erfan and Bravo challenged the Novalanders to reject the status quo and be accountable to the kind of world they wanted to create. 

In a crescendo of cheers, screams, howls, music and lyrics the ceremony ended. 

As I drifted off to sleep in my little blue tent I heard the late-night revellers, enjoying the music and atmosphere into the wee hours “celebrating the future”. 

The morning brought stillness, as the sky was lit as though on fire and a gentle breeze rippled across the tent village. 

As the day warmed so too did activities. 

Taking a walk through the site revealed workshops, talks, group learning sessions and classes. 

A group practiced an ancient Indian martial art in one area, while just a small way further up the rise people sat in a semicircle learning about permaculture. Next to the beach people gathered to explore alternative ideas about how to educate our children.

While it would be easy to dismiss the festival as a radical, crazy idea there was something to be said for it. To gather so many people and experts in one place, with the sole purpose of sharing and generating knowledge, was energising. 

Whether you agree with the mission or not, the idea of re-inventing what a festival can be and the whole-hearted dedication of every person there to make a better future was refreshing. 

Newkind’s success was in the hands of each Novalander; they could attend as many workshops as they wished, could learn as much as they wanted. Four days of opportunity to be challenged, expand and develop.