So what is fire?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a fire is: “A process in which substances combine chemically with oxygen from the air and typically give out bright light, heat, and smoke”.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. However, for me, a fire is a memory. A place not necessarily in the present. I often find myself staring into a fire, mesmerised by the movement and ever changing and evolving colours, the synchronicity, the simple, pure beauty. And I am no longer in the place or time that I am staring at that fire, I am somewhere else, and sometimes I’m no-where at all, and a sense of absolute, pure peace washes over me.

For my four year old son, a fire is the Star Wars movie being acted out in-front of him, he watches the battles, the triumphs and tribulations of each character as they rise and fall, strive and fail, he sometimes totally absorbs himself in this movie for hours, transfixed. The most beautiful part of it is, he has never seen Star Wars, he doesn’t even really know what it is. But the fire has taken him to the place he imagines it to be.

Fire has shaped human history. Fire shaped this land, it is the story of our ancestors, it is the story of who we are, where we are and where we are going. For all of our scientific endeavours, for all of our technological advancements, all of our great leaps forward. Our ancient relationship with fire still stands as our greatest.

Fire is our memory.

So what is Solstice?

For some, it is the shortest, coldest, darkest day of the year, as Winter drags them and their world view in to a state of slightly soggy, polluted, hard shelled street scapes, with biting wind tunnelling through Hardware Lane and slicing its way past the Victoria Market, landing directly in their single origin, Fairtrade Muggacino at their favourite haunt on Sydney Road.

But take away the cafes, take away the buildings, take away those streets, and stand beside the Merri Creek, and watch. Winter is stunningly beautiful, Lily Pillys fruit, Wattles bloom, native wild flowers, flower. The wind dies down, the sun softens its ever watchful gaze, gently warming us, soft reflections form in puddles that hold on just that little bit longer, the squelch of mud beneath our feet, our glorious, naturally chilled Melbourne water flowing from our taps. There is a slowing, a calming, a nesting, a reconnecting that happens in Winter. The BBQ, to pool, to party, to beach, to bar, to picnic, to party, to pool, to beach, to bar, to BBQ scene is just a distant memory.

Memory that is all around us, this land has memory, stories that go far beyond our time and understanding. The ground beneath our feet has had thousands of other feet on it, stretching back thousands of generations of mothers, fathers, children, families, story tellers, tool makers, basket weavers, fire watchers. I hear people say “I’m a 4th generation Aussie”, and their chest puffs up with pride, fiercely protective their connection to their place, to their land, to their story, we are naturally protective animals. Well, imagine being able to say “I’m a proud 5,000th generation Aussie”. I can’t even fathom how that would feel. My only reference to this is what I feel when I go home to my childhood land, Maldon in Central Victoria. Back to my roots. There is something stable, secure, warming, grounding when you find your piece of dirt, you can’t necessarily name it, you just feel it.

It is the same sense I get sometimes when I walk around CERES, I feel it, I don’t know what it is, but it just feels right, it fits, comfortable, grounding. A land taken from the ultimate display of human despair, a rubbish tip, to the ultimate display of human possibility. It is the story of a land reborn, the ability to heal, to regenerate, a story so much bigger than the individuals who occupy it, but completely dependent on the individuals who occupy it. We are the CERES story, and she is our story.

You are deeply embedded in this land, her stories, her memory. We ask that tonight you find that internal space that connects you to this piece of earth you are standing on, be in that moment, be in that reflection.

We pay our deepest respects, and honour the traditional owners of this land, and her elders, past present and future. The First Nations peoples of Australia have nurtured this place for thousands of generations, we live among this legacy, we owe them a debt that we can never truly repay. But we can honour it, and the least we can do is strive to protect and nurture it as those thousands of generations before us have. I believe CERES does this.

It is upon all of us to continue these stories, these memories, these dreamings, and to celebrate the fact that by sheer stupid dumb luck we are right here, right now, spinning through space on this incredible rock that harbours everything we know, and everything we don’t. We are surrounded by trillions of other rocks spinning through space, doing their own thing in the vastness of buggered if I know. How absolutely bloody amazing is that? This alone should be enough to drive us to protect this thing we have, this moment in time that we have. Seriously, what are the chances? It’s amazing.

You are standing here as part of something so much bigger than yourself, but you are also here alone, as yourself, in your own emotions, in your own belief systems, in your own skin, gloriously still, staring into a fire, you are everywhere, and you are nowhere. We ask that you now take a moment, to be still, to be silent, stare into this fire, find your nowhere, find your everywhere, and reflect on it. 

What is it that connects you to this piece of land you are standing on right now? Find within yourself what connects you to this place, to this moment. How will you continue this connection? What will you do to continue this lands story? To build on it, to reimagine it, to be it? Celebrate this moment, have the biggest, rowdiest, personalised, internalised, CERESified celebration you have ever had, in total, blissful, silence.

By Shane French