By Luciana Jaldin Tharby (2015 participant)
It is a balmy spring evening in Eldorado, Victoria. In the midst of a quiet valley a ragtag group – who had moments ago been scattered in conversation and laughter – now gather in silence in front of a tipi. They watch the skyline with baited breath as a bright light peeks over the trees. The full moon rises defiantly and someone lets out a long, full howl. The group responds, each person putting their lungs and hearts into a powerful chorus that fills the valley…
Just 3 weeks earlier a group of strangers had come together in The Hidden Valley to participate in the very first WOLF PACK. Facilitated by Kate Marsh and Ralph Nottingham, of Creative Collectives, Wolf Pack was an ambitious step forward from the 3 day School of Self-Sufficiency workshops they had been successfully holding around Victoria for the past two years.
An atmosphere of excitement and curiosity filled the Valley on first morning as individuals arrived from all over Australia & NZ, setting up camp ready for 20 days of re-wilding adventures, bush-craft workshops and community living. Each brought with them a different set of skills, experience and background. But as diverse as the group was, we all had one thing in common: A reason for putting our day-to-day life and routines on hold in favour of immersing ourselves in this experience.
We started out learning basic knot skills with Ralph, and built our very own hanging hammocks out of wood and rope. We then took it a step further with the Shelter Building Challenge! We were limited to using just our knives and one other tool per team, so thankfully shelter-building expert Nic was on hand to share his passion and teach us the basic elements along the way.
We spent five afternoons working on our shelters – culminating in a Grande Tour where we each showed off our creations – while in the mornings we worked on building our other skills:
Scout Leader James taught us how to choose suitable tinder, and use a flint and steel or a bow-drill to start a fire. He also provided some fun orienteering activities for us to either learn how to use, or re-familiarise ourselves, with a compass.
Chris from The Archer’s Aim discussed the ethics of hunting and the basics of tracking and camouflage. We were then given the opportunity to pick up a bow and have a go at target practice – totally addictive and a great learning experience!
We expressed our artistic side with a great session by local artists Jacqui C. and Shae. Creating sculptures and wall hangings using natural foraged materials, then learned all about felting, making our own pouch or felted soap with locally farmed wool.
As the first week drew to a close, Jason joined us to lead one of the more challenging workshops – the dispatch and butchering of a lamb. We were all very grateful for the respect and sensitivity with which Jason approached this process; it was a profound and eye-opening experience.
After an intensive week of physical workshops, we began to focus more on the body and mind:
Starting with “aroma touch”, we blissfully exchanged massages while learning about the properties of essential oils, natural healing and how diet can heal us from minor to major ailments.
An evening session around the fire in the tipi with Sandy offered us a “look inside ourselves” – where we explored the variances between what we do and what we truly want, and between our self-perception and how others see us.
Local Historian Jacqui D. gave a fascinating talk on the daily lives of Victorian gold diggers and their experiences with nature and self-sufficiency. We then wrote letters in the style of the time where each spare inch of the paper was used, even as the envelope!
The Pack spent a morning at Woolshed Falls creating baskets from natural materials with talented weaver Anaheke. On the way home, participants Bunya and Jarod shared their passion and knowledge for native bush tucker with us pointing out bush foods they’d found in the surrounding national park.
On day 15 we embarked on a Day of Silence. As a community we had spent much of our time connecting, learning and laughing together; and embraced this new challenge with varying levels of success! It was certainly a great chance to reflect and find some space within and around ourselves.
And suddenly the final weekend was upon us! Friday night saw us explore and release Life Traps with fellow participant Marcus. Saturday began with a hands-on water purification workshop with Casey, followed by an uplifting tribal dance experience with Richard. Sunday was spent by the creek prospecting for gold using impressive handmade replicas of authentic tools by amazing local fossicker, Derek.
Which brings us back to our opening scene – the final Full Moon Celebration. A far cry from the individuals who had arrived 3 weeks earlier, we were now a Pack. We had bonded through shared experiences and challenges, co-habitation and community spirit. We spent the final night in celebration with many of the visitors and teachers who had become family members along the way, presenting offerings of music, plays, poems, feasts and final thoughts. The next morning we parted ways, ready to re-immerse ourselves in the lives we had put on hold.
Living close to nature as a community and approaching new and challenging activities each day had a profound effect on us all. While each interaction and relationship between us was unique, and we were all on our own journey, we certainly took little time at all to bond and become a tribe. Some of us experienced strong emotional shifts; others went through noticeable changes in self-confidence; and we all enjoyed the freedom and release that the disconnection from modern society allowed.
In this way, Wolfpack was as much a chance to learn about community, family and ourselves; as it was about physical survival skills and bush-craft. A perfect balance …