Silent and Still Going

by Rose Broe

It was the night before the New Year, but not just any new year. It was December 31st 1999.

A new millennium was upon us, and life was never going to be the same again. Because, you see, Y2K was about to wipe out the world as we knew it. All electronic systems were going to fail and massive chaos ensue. Planes were about to fall from the sky, and all Queensland curtains would be permanently faded. But on the bright side, if you’d left the iron on at home it just wasn’t going to matter any more.

Woodford Folk Festival was the chosen place for many to see in this much-anticipated turnover. A snapshot of footage from the festival was to be included in the vision shown world-wide to mark the milestone.
But, fading curtains were a mere background irritation for the Festival organisers. While cautiously optimistic for a trouble-free celebration, there was concern that the tense excitement of the crowd might degenerate into – god forbid – ‘unruliness’, that this brewing enthusiasm might boil over, get out of hand, who knows? We’d never “done a millennium” before.

Festival Director Bill Hauritz came up with an idea. Let’s just ask everyone on site, half an hour before midnight, to simply calm down, AND be silent, AND still, AND hold a lighted candle for three long minutes. That might put them all in a peaceful frame of mind, and nothing bad would happen. Yes, that might work.
It did. The Silence, as it’s become known, has institutionalised into an annual event, held at 11.30pm every New Year’s Eve. For many, this is THE cherished moment at Woodfordia, and nothing else comes close.

Other than ‘BE SILENT AND STILL’, and ‘mobiles off’, there are no directions on how or where to observe it. It occurs across the whole festival precinct, from the Amphitheatre to the Welcome Gate, and sometimes in campgrounds if individual campsites choose to.

The purpose for this moment is as varied as there are participants. It remains a chosen vehicle for cherishing the memory of lost loved ones. It’s also a time for appreciating those still with us, reflecting on the events of the previous year, or to merely experience the awe of standing amongst thousands of fellow humans simultaneously embracing the moment, each lost in their own thoughts. Many choose the same location each year. Others deliberately change where they’ll spend that time: perhaps the Amphitheatre where the sight of thousands of tacit and reverent candleholders (who in a few minutes will be dancing their socks off), is almost impossible to comprehend. Others find their peaceful time around the pond, mesmerised and united in the reflections.

Despite the occasional yahoo in the distance, it mostly goes off without a hitch. There are logistics, and meetings, and more meetings, but let’s not spoil the magic. And don’t worry about Dazza-the-yahoo. He’s back next year, helping to hand out candles. (Hey, wasn’t he the guy at the session?)

And, ironically, silence it ain’t.
At about 11.25 pm the bands stop, the PA’s & lights go down, the MCs gently talk the crowds into the moment, 20,000 candles are lit, and a huge brass bell heralds the commencement.
And then it starts – the sounds of the silence: the crickets, the katydids, the frogs, a night bird, the wind rustling the trees, the steady breathing of fellow participants, the faint scrunch of a foot shifting on the gravel, a cough way in the distance, and you gently drift into the oneness of belonging, that curious by-product of a large unthreatening crowd. It can be quite overwhelming and teary. And then the bell tolls the finish. There’s an almighty whoop, and a new year bursting with promise is poised to turn over…

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