2. Pilliga Pottery
Very far into Pilliga Forest, New South Wales, Australia.
I remember going to downtown Sydney when I first arrived in Australia. I took the ferry east, down the Parramatta River. I got to talking to an old man who had lived in Australia for more than forty years on the boat. He came from Macedonia to avoid army conscription, met an Australian woman and never went back. Now retired, he takes trips all over Sydney. Although a resident for more than four decades, he felt that work had kept him from really seeing the city. He was amazed at the level of development in Parramatta, and all along the river; the area, he said, used to be ‘nothing’.
As we neared the end of the line, Sydney’s Circular Quay, he told me of the major casino and hotel constructions that had kept the city busy ever since the Olympics, some fifteen years ago.
We parted as we disembarked, where the river meets the pitiless sea by the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everything was new to me. And in some strange way, to the Macedonian man who had spent forty years here as well. I saw an ibis bird, had a quick look at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
I liked Sydney, and I still do very much. I spent close to three months there. But there is something eerie about being so far from home, almost as if it’s ‘unnatural’. Like one is not supposed to be able to travel this far. You feel sort of alone. Jetlag seriously fucked up my thinking, should stop now before I write something I’ll regret.
My first thought was, 'How are they able to afford living here?'
Of course, this was solely based on my own idea of what living in the modern world is supposed to entail, and how it ought manifest itself. Very soon I realised that the people living there had relinquished many things I require in my daily life; or, someone else might say, that I have been conditioned to crave, pay for and be dependent upon. However, the people at Pilliga Pottery lived neither in poverty nor in dirt, despite this fact. They seemed not technologically challenged, unaware of current events or unwelcoming in any way.
Whenever encountering people who are living differently, not even dramatically so, one's conceptions of both relinquishment and alleviation are challenged. And usually challenged in a positive way.
Far from some sort of strange hippie commune, or unorganised farmstead fuelled by naïve idealism, what emerged as we were greeted at the pottery was a seemingly functioning and well-organised society in the middle of the mighty Pilliga Forest, complete with an awe-inspiring Matriarch, a semi-domesticated bird, a three-meter wooden lizard and German as the most commonly spoken language. Pilliga Pottery is not a place you stumble upon while driving. Nested firmly in the Pilliga Forest, it does require quite a long drive on narrow dirt roads as you are seemingly swallowed whole by the forest. One intends to go there, if not, you are most likely completely lost. It is the sort of place that welcomes all visitors with open arms, but is perfectly fine if you choose to keep going and never return.
'The Pilliga Scrubs' is home to a large variety of plants and animals, many of them endangered, with scores of ongoing preservation efforts; in other words, it is a place of wonder while, albeit looming in the back of your head, of great vulnerability. As I entered the forest, it was with a profound sense of respect and awe. Before going to the pottery for the first time I had visited some spectacular sandstone caves that remain a sacred place for the Gamilaroi people to this day. Within the group of people I was travelling with, there was an Australian biologist and activist as well as an Aboriginal woman, so I had been given a lot of information about the area's Aboriginal history, ecology and environmental challenges. Probably more than your average visitor. Many of those we met were not locals but environmental activists 'bussed in' to protest and disrupt the latest industrial developments by Santos, an Australian oil and gas company determined to make Pilliga Forest its latest moneymaker. With a revenue in the billions, it is mighty adversary for the handfull of ragged few, the determined environmental crusaders sacrificing their free time (and potentially, their freedom). But we will return to them later on.