Join an Eco Village, unintentionally

New Years Eve 2016 in Port Willunga, Australia.

It’s New Year’s Eve and a crowd is gathering on the sands of Port Willunga, South Australia.

But it’s not a crowd of bogans and Eskys and stubby coolers—it’s a funky, hippie crowd. They’re wearing tie-dye, hand-woven fabrics, ethical leathers, and Indonesian-style face paints.

Rumour has it they’re from the Aldinga Arts EcoVillage down the street. According to their website, they are an intentional community that, “…showcases the exploration of new lifestyles for a more humane, sustainable future.”

They’ve flagged an area of the beach off for sand castles. One of the castles looks like a pyramid. One tanned, face-painted fellow grins and digs at the sand like he is unearthing organic potatoes.

Another man, perhaps in Thai fisherman pants, walks by with an empty wine glass in one hand and what looks like a didgeridu novelty item in the other. He occasionally toots on it plaintively.

After the sun sets, he joins a few other men at the foot of the sandy cliff wall. I hear bongo drums and maybe a gamelan.

Appreciation or appropriation?

There’s a pop and whistle and then all eyes turn to the pyramid. “It’s a volcano!” exclaims a small boy.

The pyramid-volcano unsettles me.

Sand sculpture pyramid on New Years Eve 2016 in Port Willunga, Australia.
Sand sculpture pyramid on New Years Eve 2016 in Port Willunga, Australia.

It unsettles me the way the Mexican churro-selling Copenhagen café in the German-themed village of Hahndorf in the heart of the British colonist-settled ranges of the Kaurna, Ngadjuri, and Peramangk Peoples’ territories unsettles me.

It unsettles me that way a traveller, visitor and guest should be unsettled.

I try to listen, learn, and make sense of the mish-mashed, mixed metaphor that is contemporary and ancient culture, ceremony, artifice, authenticity and—intention. And it’s one reason I started travelling deep (one place for a longer period of time) rather than wide (many places in a shorter period of time)

But I admit I still can’t make sense most of the time. And I’m learning that is an unsteady-but-acceptable way to be, at home or away.

I can’t help but think of a funny and useful how-to video I watched back in Canada. It was part of CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) podcast on Indigenous culture, Unreserved. The podcast episode was called, Exploring the fine line between appreciation and appropriation.

(Watch the video: Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation, 03:37)