The Outback Eclipse


This is the week that changed my life and this is the story of the moment of seeing my first Total Solar Eclipse. This is where and when I decided I would travel to see more of them.  I’ve seen four now.

The wind whips the orange dust into a constant abrasive stream flowing endlessly and in flurries across the whole plain. The dust permeates everything, but after the first day everyone accepts that it is the new natural order. It can pass through shuttered tents, you feel it could pass through metal walls. It always leaves a fine powder across everything that acts as a constant reminder that you have chosen to live in the Australian desert for a week.

We must be mad.

There are showers on the site, but they achieve nothing in the constant wind. The moment you step out of them you are covered in the orange dust that buries itself in your skin. It will be more than a week before it is all washed away and it becomes a kind of badge back in the city; you know your eclipse brothers and sisters from their burnt, orange skin. Over this time we have all commented on a new found admiration for the Arabs who have lived with the desert for so long. A Swissman reminds me of “In’sh’allah”, “God willing”. All plans are made subject to this, to balance the arrogance that humans have in the face of the power of the natural world.

All reservations are lost when you are moving around the site. So many smiles, so many people speaking a myriad of languages; clothes, customs, cultures swirling together into a global humanity. The eclipse chasers have come from around the world and driven for a day or more outside the closest Australian cities to gather together to share the experience of a Total Solar Eclipse. There is a trance music festival happening here in the wilderness to celebrate the occasion properly and the music…..the music is omnipresent. It started at sunset on the first day with an opening ceremony where the local aboriginal people of the Flinders ranges here in South Australia welcomed us to the land. It has been running twenty-four hours a day since then. A clear wall of sound delivered from a tremendous sound system on the main stage and one less than half the size sitting in the middle of the open marketplace that forms the hub of the site. It is unlike anything I’ve heard anywhere before. It is psychedelic trance, electronic music, and it fits the desert background as though it was always meant to be there. Everywhere you go in the camp you can hear one of the main systems or one of the smaller ones that start up around the sea of tents at all hours of the day and night.

One afternoon I’m playing my Djembe along with the tunes one of our crew is putting on our own sound system. I’m part of a group on a twenty-four seater bus that has driven two days from Melbourne to be here. Our driver has setup a four thousand watt system he is powering from a combination of wind and solar power generators he has brought along. So our camp site is a village hub in our part of the greater camping grounds where about four thousand of my new best friends from around the world have come to live together for a week. About four Japanese men approach us holding small Djembes of their own and ask to join us, we welcome them to sit and we start to play rhythms together. We take turns in leading a new rhythm that matches the music our DJ is mixing for us and enjoy laughs and drinks together as we learn from each other’s styles. After a few hours they decide to move off towards the main stage and thank us. This is the first time I realise that they can’t speak a word of English and I can’t speak Japanese. And yet we’ve just been talking happily in music for hours.

At night, the crystal clear skies allow a view of the cosmos generally unseen and unknown. With small binoculars you can see the curvature of the new moon. That in itself is almost a revelation. At sunrise and sunset you can see the sun angling through the sky, even being bent by the earth’s atmosphere. It was a dark moon when we arrived, and each day sees slightly more light. You can spend hours lying on your back looking up into the infinite.

And we do.

There are no clouds, no city lights, no hindrances. And the beauty of nature is overwhelming. Even a long way from the sound systems, the night winds deliver bursts of music to you….first from one stage, then another. Late at night a third stage starts up and runs to sunrise. The music drifts in surges across the plain as though someone is opening and closing a door. You fall asleep with it and awake to more.

The music stopped.

This can only mean one thing. The eclipse is about to begin. The music gives way to the sounds of thousands of people making their way to higher ground to await the moment of Totality. The anticipation and excitement fills the air, bubbling to the surface in waves. It is impossible to resist…..waves of whooping and screaming in joy pass up and down the thousands of people lined along the ridge in the middle of the plain. With the naked eye, the sun is still too bright to look at. Through the eclipse glasses you can clearly see the shadow on the sun. Slowly creeping to cover it.

We stand and talk meaningless words.

Prepare for the moment.

Be ready to get a photo during totality.

Pass a spliff.

Check the sun again.

I am filled with a new profound respect for the sun. Even with most of its face covered the light hasn’t changed. You still cannot look at it. Then in the last minutes before Totality it begins to get dark. A cold wind starts up. The light changes quickly as though sunset approaches. Sunset really is approaching, but for now the moment is imminent; at any second the black sun will open its eye to us.

The transition is almost instantaneous. I am looking at the black sun in absolute awe.  I cannot hear anything.  People are excited, they must be making noise but I cannot hear anything. I have the photo taken of me with the eclipse in the background. I take one in return and then stand again motionless. I cannot hear anything.  The red of the corona is….unique.

I think I should look around at the darkened sky. I cannot move, transfixed into a timeless moment. ‘Like a reset for the brain’ the swissman said.

I understand that now.

In this moment a hardened nihilistic cynic sees the soul of the universe.  How can you stuff that feeling into the sausage machine of language? How long has this moment lasted?

The transition is sudden and without warning. I feel like something has just been taken away from me. Something I wanted. Needed. My eyes hurt and I turn away. There is screaming and whooping, hugging, celebration of life, existence.  Sound returns and we are alive.  It continues.  Sunset is only half an hour away.

We sit and watch and talk meaningless talk.

The music starts again, slowly, timorously at first, but building back into thunderous glory. The sun sets with only half its face showing. Half of the sky is a rich twilight blue and the other half is black already.

The only thing I feel sure of anymore is my vow that I will see the next Totality I can.

I will travel wherever I must.


That's the Eclipse next to my shoulder


Half a sunset...notice it's dark on one side..the sun is still eclipsed..


Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>