Black Rock, Red Earth: Burning Man in Australia

by Whatsblem the Pro

A typical Aussie, hanging onto the Earth by his toes

A typical Aussie, hanging onto the Earth by his toes

  In 2009, a small gathering of about thirty people came together in Bellingen, New South Wales, Australia, to have an informal burn of their own. It went so well that it became an actual event in 2010, with over four hundred in attendance. Burning Seed was born, and with it Red Earth City.

  The event was moved to Matong State Forest, NSW in 2011, and it just keeps getting bigger, with over 600 burners making the trek in 2012, and considerably more than that expected this year. The site lies nestled in a forest of Cyprus pine and gum trees in the middle of the Riverina District of New South Wales, a huge agricultural center featuring vast expanses of lightly rolling pasture.

  I was privileged to work with some of Burning Seed’s prime movers on an art project in Reno back in 2012, so when the shadowy cabal of grossly amoral alien oligarchs that controls from behind the scenes (exposé coming soon!) commanded me to investigate this new wonder down under or suffer their reptilian wrath, I cowered and tugged my forelock respectfully. . . and then I got in touch with Bradley “Big Deal” Ogden, head of Burning Seed’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI).

Bradley "Big Deal" Ogden, head of the down-under DPW

Bradley “Big Deal” Ogden, head of the down-under DPW


So tell me: what’s your role with Burning Seed, and how did you discover Burning Man?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN I run the DPI (Department of Planning and Infrastructure), which is our version of Black Rock’s DPW. I work with different teams to deliver the town plan (we’re still a town, not a city yet), and all of the town’s infrastructure – marquees, generators, toilets, etc. – everything that’s not the Temple or the Effigy.

I was planning a trip to America in 2009, and a friend told me to go to Burning Man. “Trust me,” she said, “you’ll love it!” I trusted her, and I loved it.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How big is your DPI crew?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN The DPI is just four people pre-event, and two during the event.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Aside from being that much smaller and on different terrain, how does Burning Seed differ from Burning Man?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN There are lots of the same things going on, but as you say: on a much smaller scale. It’s a lot more tight-knit than Burning Man. . . you can really feel the community. We have all types there, with healthy participation of locals from the immediate surrounding area, along with the people who show up from all over Australia, New Zealand, and the world.

I must say, the quality of what is going on, for a small event, is just amazing. . . slick theme camps, great art, and this year we’ll see our first fleet of art cars!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How do you apply the ten principles differently?

Burning Seed's Effigy loves you this much

Burning Seed’s Effigy loves you this much



BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN We try to apply them in much the same way, actually.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO What kind of arrangements do you have to make with the authorities? Are you harassed by law enforcement? Do they even have a presence at your event?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Arrangements are made with the New South Wales State Forestry Department for use of the land. They’ve been hugely supportive of the event over the last three years, as has the local community.

Being in a State Forest and surrounded by farmland poses a few problems for us, namely fire hazards. Australia is very prone to bush fires; in fact, a lot of our native flora relies on it to reproduce. . . so we’re lighting up a 12.5-meter effigy in the middle of a tinder box. We work closely with the RFS (Rural Fire Service) and State Forestry to keep the risk down. I bought a fire truck this year, which will act as Red Earth Fire and Rescue’s first unit.

As for law enforcement, we have a minor police presence; two or three officers who just pop in and out over the course of the weekend. They also are supportive of the event!

All the burn, none of the dust

All the burn, none of the dust

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Who handles the money, and where does it go?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Phil Smart and Jodi Rivet handle the money, which all goes back into the festival. The financial info is made public everywhere; we donate some money to the local school every year, as well.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO How have things changed at your event since you began? What are the goals for the future?

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Our internal organizational structure and processes have evolved remarkably quickly, and by leaps and bounds; our overall group of Team Leads has grown, in people and experience; event attendance has blossomed and continues to grow rapidly.

For the future, we’d simply like to stay on the track we’re on, and get bigger and better. Personally, I’d like to see this become one of the world’s great burns in the next five years. I think we have the right ingredients here, and more and more people come out of the woodwork to join us every year. It’s exciting times; we’re expecting 800 or more this year.

Seeing more collaboration in future between burner groups in Australia and New Zealand would be awesome too, both at our respective burns and in Nevada. That’s already starting to happen; I went over for KiwiBurn to work last year, and we had three of them over for Burning Seed in 2012. Two of us went back for KiwiBurn 2013.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO Tell me about the differences between Burning Seed and Kiwiburn

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN The differences between Burning Seed and KiwiBurn? [laughs]

Do I have to answer that one?


Dance party with Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce

Dance party with Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce

FACT: Australians also have asses, much like our own

FACT: Australians also have asses, much like our own

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN They’re two entirely different festivals, almost. Not totally, but the vibe is a lot different. There are lots more student/hippie types at KiwiBurn, and we’re a bit more Mad Max. I think our theme camps are better. . . much better, in fact. The crew on both sides of the ditch are awesome, though. So basically, we have fewer hippies here in Australia, although they’re still there.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO I wish I could make it! Maybe I could sell a kidney or kidnap an heiress or something for the airfare.

BRADLEY “BIG DEAL” OGDEN Yeah, who needs two? You’d be welcome, mate, come on down and we’ll find something for you to do.

Burning Seed 2013 will be taking place October 2nd to October 8th this year. First-tier tickets are going for AU$125, and full-priced tickets for AU$165 ($131.81 and $174 in U.S. dollars, respectively).