Campfire program sheds new light

For nearly five years the Light in Winter festival has welcomed the expertise of Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong woman Vicki Couzens whose insight and skills as a curator and coordinator for the popular Campfire Program have kept the event burning brightly.

Hailing from the volcano country of the Western Districts, Couzens is very excited at the rapid growth of the program as it expands with every year to include a range of community and cultural groups.

“It has been a pleasure to watch other community groups join us and see how Campfire Program has begun to grow to include so many different cultural groups. This year in collaboration with the asylum seekers we were delighted to share the ‘campfire space’ and this is an initiative that I look forward to in the future as well.”

For those of us who haven’t experienced the Campfire Program or been out to experience country there is a distinctive aesthetic and communal spirit that is ignited: “When you get to experience the sounds of the bush and hearing everyone and everything come alive to sing together that is special – because even though we’re located in the heart of the city we still are on country.”

The events in Campfire Program include a range of activities for the community. From June 13th people of all ages will be welcome to listen to Uncle Herb Patten demonstrate his skill at gum leaf playing, attend storyteller Larry Walsh’s dreamtime story sessions or learn the skills of basket weaving.

As Couzens explains: “Simply put the campfire is the home and hearth – it is central to keeping warm and is a place where families and communities gather for eating and storytelling.”

Spirituality is central to the Aboriginal community and through symbols of fire and light Aboriginal people also bring the spirit of their culture, wisdom and knowledge of traditions that have existed long before the continent was even known as Australia.

“City is built on country – peeling back those layers and concrete to expose the real country is vital because that is what we’re walking on today, that’s what’s important”.

In regard to the recent decree made by the Premier that it is unnecessary to acknowledge traditional owners Couzens explains the need for such recognition: “It is the Aboriginal law of the land to welcome – it is a very important tradition and embedded in our community. You could not travel from here to Geelong without getting permission.”

It seems like straightforward advice, after all you wouldn’t barge into someone’s house without knocking, but as Couzens explains we have forgotten that in this country “everybody who is not Indigenous is a boat person – and while the debate about asylum seekers continues let’s remember that they at least are asking permission unlike 200 years ago”.

Simplicity is the key to connecting back to country and the activities in the Campfire Program are all focused upon reconnecting with the essence of what is important. Education is a foundational stone, emphasises Couzens “not only what we learn in school but cultural and community knowledge that  is shared through storytelling, singing and participation is essential towards maintain a thriving Indigenous culture”.

Ultimately, the Campfire Program is a story about sharing light and invites people to come together to share. Couzens concludes by saying: “The story of light (whether firelight, sunlight, moonlight or even starlight) is a common story across cultures and there are so many similar narratives with similar meanings that when we actually take the time to listen to other cultures it breaks down the barriers we have constructed and highlights our commonalities – and so much of it in the past and even today happens as we gather around a warm and beautiful source of comfort.”