People of Woodfordia: Robin Clayfield

People of Woodfordia: Robin Clayfield



Every year, we make it our mission to fill the land of Woodfordia with beautiful spaces; magical nooks and crannies to explore that ignite the imagination. The Sacred Union Labyrinth is one of said spaces. Robin Clayfield is the creative soul behind this beloved festival feature and sat down with Claire Meraki at last year’s festival to discuss the inception of her wonderful labyrinth and share her Woodfordian journey.

Robin is currently raising money to build a stunning reimagined entrance to the Sacred Union Labyrinth. To help out her and her team, get involved here.

Claire Meraki: I’m here at Woodford Folk Festival 2018/19 with Robin Clayfield, and we’re about to have a little walk through her Sacred Union Labyrinth area. Tell us a bit about your involvement with Woodfordia, Robin.

Robin Clayfield: Well we are build volunteers this year and last year but we started off with just being a project. The design for the Sacred Union Labyrinth came through me one day and I asked Bill if he was interested in us bringing it to the festival. He showed me around a few sites, listened to what I had to say, and I guess because we did the Chai Tent for 23 years, he knew me, and he trusted me and what I could bring. So he went, “Okay, here’s a few sites. Would you like to pick one?” And so this beautiful site up here, surrounded by trees, just felt like the perfect one.

C: It’s really an amazing spot, because it’s quiet and cool, and yet it’s right in the middle of everything.

R: Yeah, and I guess the whole idea for the Chai Tent was a bit like that, a safe space, off the main road to sit and relax and recuperate, chill out, meet people and catch up. Whereas this is more of a ceremony space; the chimes are there so you bring your attention and energy in from outside, from the big noise, and the bigger stages and things. You’re bringing energy in. All the signs that my partner Rob Clark has designed and written, these are things that we came up with together. He supported me with the overall design concept. He was really sceptical at first when I went, “I’d love to put in a labyrinth at Woodford for people to enjoy”. But in the end, thousands of people walked it and he said, “This really works”.

So he totally backs me on it these days, we change the themes, we change the colour, but the chimes really help people focus in. The idea is that you can’t actually see the labyrinth until you get there. It’s kind of really cocooned in behind these beautiful fabric petals. I’ve got some really dear friends that help me each year and are a part of the crew. Christine Clegg is my key offsider, and Stephan Kazard and Will Bullmer, they’ve kind of been solid with me every year, and Mark Healey too sparked of the design of the labyrinth originally.

We’re painting a new mask to put in the tree here. We’re still in the build process, so we’re laying all the sawdust on the paths. These beautiful petals here, they surround the space. In here we do ceremonies, really sacred, beautiful ceremonies. I also need to say that Chloe Goodyear, the Head of Programming of the festival, has supported us so beautifully and really gave me a generous budget, so we can use the materials that we really like to and kind of look after ourselves in a way that makes it a little bit sustainable, because it takes me way over a couple hundred hours to do the organising. We do full ceremonies in here throughout the festival with the band headed up by Andy Copeman, Adhi Bail and Rebecca Rae with Danny Doyle (Guthala) who is a wonderful Indigenous man who ‘diges’ (plays the didgeridoo) and does an acknowledgement for us each ceremony.

My friend Adhi, who was in the band Jambezi with me, so it’s a band that I’ve kind of pieced together in a way. We also have other musicians and other little acts happening here. It’s like a venue that’s programmed with two to four things a day. And the rest of the time people just walk it at their own pace, at their own leisure. These are little signs to let people know how to walk it, in terms of the different pathways. We also do a couple of night-time ceremonies where we light the whole thing up with candles.

Photographs by Jody Gilchrist

C: And have you got any stories about any cool events that have happened in here? Have you had any weddings?

R: Oh yeah, we’ve had a few weddings. Yeah. And handfastings, and commitment ceremonies. I just stumbled across a wedding happening here one day. The very first year, there was all these people and music, and Andy Copeman and Lindsey Pollock were playing in a procession in the streets, so I followed them, and they all came up here to the labyrinth, and it was a wedding of about 100 people. I was able to sit like a voyeur on the hill and look down and watch that.

C: You helped to create space for that to happen.

R: Yeah. And there’s a couple of celebrants who know that if they get approached by anyone to have weddings at Woodford, they suggest the Labyrinth. I think we’ve got one happening this year as well.

This is our stage here which only has the façade put on it. It hasn’t had the decoration done inside yet. This is a new space that we’re calling the Lush Space. It’s getting very lushly decorated at the moment. There will be little caravan mattresses with covers on them, that kind of stuff, and cushions. It’ll be a space where Djuelu (my partner Rob) does a gig called Djuelu the Village Scribe, and it’s linked in with our ceremonies. All the ceremonies are themed and each one is a bit different. We have six of us on the ceremony team, so as well as doing the build, we maintain it through the festival, and facilitate the ceremonies.

In the first ceremony we always do something that involves intention-setting and that allows the guests to help create the space too. We collect little bits of nature and people get to bring that in. We set up the majority of it, but then we invite everyone to bring a flower in. This year we’re going to use the crow’s ash from the trees on site. They’ll get to use those and other elements to make a little symbolic, natural piece that brings their intentions for themselves, for the festival and for the world, into the centre. So then anyone who walks the labyrinth in some way, subtly or otherwise, is picking up the energy of six years of ceremonies in here. And acknowledging the land, and our Indigenous people, and the space here.

I love to do community ceremony. I love the fire event and the opening ceremony, and they’re huge. Often we’re all silent participants, a bit of ooh-ahh, and sometimes you get to sing. A couple of times I was in a band for the fire event and Lindsey Pollock did this thing where everyone was playing a little panpipe. It was like a 15,000 person panpipe orchestra. And we (the few musicians) became the audience, it was just amazing.

So we try to get people involved in ceremony, even if it’s just for a little piece, such as walking the labyrinth or singing sometimes. Last year we had Darren Percival for one of the evening ceremonies as our special guest. This year we’ll have three choir leaders, Brian Martin, and Emma Creed, and Kate B. who will come together and invite up anyone who wants to sing and create a real loving space.

C: And just quickly, you’ve been involved with this festival for a really long time. You mentioned previously you and your crew ran a Chai Tent?

R: Yes, starting with the Big National Folk Festival in April 1989. The Queensland Folk Federation ran two little festivals in Maleny Showgrounds, getting ready and set up for Big National to come to Maleny. And that’s when we started the Chai Tent. I think it was the first Chai Tent in Australia. It was the second chai business. There was another one in Melbourne, run by a man we called Chai Mick. They were on the Peace Train that toured the east coast of Australia in the 80s. It was quite iconic. They made chai and had a chai stall at the St. Andrew’s Market, and Skye (my partner at the time) got the recipe off Chai Mick.

When the Big National was happening in Maleny, we lived at Crystal Waters and wanted to do something for the festival. It was my partner, Skye, and Karin Erken who had the idea to do chai and cakes, and Hans Erken and I were the partners who got to go along for the ride. Karin and Hans couldn’t do it the second year, so it was just Skye and I, and from there we kind of took it and started staying open all night. For 23 years it was sustained by three of my friends and I, with Skye involved for 10 of those years.

C: I’ve spoken to that many people who are really sad that it’s not around anymore, and have said that it was the soul of the festival for them. That beautiful venue you put together facilitated many amazing and crazy connections, chats, and experiences. So on behalf of all of them, thank you so much.

R: Oh, thank you. I have so many fond memories of that time. And it was also really quite stressful. Every year, cyclically, spending two or three months cooking. I used to cook for example, 72 mango and raisin cakes in a day and a half, and 42 trays of muesli slices. I booked the commercial kitchen at Crystal Waters for three days and just cooked for 18 hours solid. It was just nuts. I can’t say I’m sad that I don’t do that anymore.

C: No, but I think it was a very important contribution to the culture of this place.

R: Yeah, thank you. And I love what the Chai Tent brought. It was a permaculture Chai Tent, very much. And I played in a band that got to perform in there as well, which was fantastic.

C: What was their name again?

R: Jambezi. Yeah, big marimba band. I’ve presented at a lot of different venues here, speaking about green environmental topics or permaculture in the early days, as well as performing and growing with live music in Blue Lotus.

C: So outside of Woodford you do permaculture which is very similar in a lot of ways to cultural work.

R: Yeah, also, Christine and I do ceremonies at some of the women’s gatherings, and there are beautiful Indigenous aunties around who are also joining. But mostly I train teachers and group leaders who are seeking help with creating teams functionality. I help people make decisions and show good governance, so the ceremony is part of that. It’s the way we celebrate life and culture, and the earth and the environment.

C: You described the Peace Train as being iconic. I’m tempted to refer that to yourself. You’ve been an icon in this part of the world. A big part to play in the culture of it all, so thank you.

R: Oh thank you, that’s lovely. And it’s a fantastic team, so just acknowledging all my crew. We’re pretty much a local mob. I receive a lot of support from my partner, Rob, and my good friends Christine, Stephane and Will. You probably know Erin. I mentored her in my dynamic group work for six or seven years, and she totally flies in her own right now, as does Christine with ceremonies. You could say that it’s grown us all up. Like the Chai Tent grew so many people up with its music, and quite a few people thanked me for the opportunity to just jam and play. Like Si from Wild Marmalade who once said that it was such a huge part of his life and of how he got to be a musician.

C: I’ve got a funny story from my midwife, Trudy, who said once she was at Woodford and a heavily pregnant woman in the Chai Tent said, as a prank, “Oh my gosh, I’m about to go into labour”. She’s like, “Oh my gosh, I think it’s all about to happen”. And Trudy, she’s previously been a nurse in Rwanda and all of these places, she’s like, “Yeah no worries, we’ll go out the back of the Chai Tent, you can give birth here”. And they’re like, “Is that all we’re going to get out of you?” They were expecting a big raise, but she was like, “No worries, The Chai Tent is a great place to give birth”.

[Lots of laughter]

C: Well, Robin, thank you so much for your time.

R: It’s been my pleasure, thank you.

Explore the village of Woodfordia and create precious memories with your loved ones and the tribe of newfound friends that you’ll no doubt make along the way. Start planning your very own Woodfordian adventure today with our programme explorer or take a gander at the possible festival journeys. If you haven’t already, grab your tickets here and be part of the Woodford Folk Festival 2019/20 village.

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