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Burner Journeys… The Birth of Sunset Island

by Jasper Ashton Aymer Vallance

In October 2013 I went on a spontaneous adventure to discover Burning Seed, Australia’s biggest regional Burning Man event – it turned into the adventure of a lifetime. As I stood with a small group of friends and saw my first sunset drop behind the Matong horizon, little could I imagine that two years later I would be dancing alongside 1500 Burners joyfully sharing that same view, with my best mates playing tunes in a theme camp experience WE MADE!

I’ll give you the moral of this story right up front: if you have a vision and a shared passion among friends you CAN create something really, really special.  Burning Seed provides a blank canvas for you to live your creative dream AND have a positive impact on people’s lives.  For me it’s been utterly life changing and one of my most rewarding experiences to date.

The Birth of Sunset Island

The message that led to Sunset…’Bail if it’s rubbish’ As if!!

Discovering Burning Seed

I initially knew nothing about Burning Seed. I stumbled across the Seed website researching a potential trip to Burning Man in the United States. I must have liked the Facebook page because two weeks out from the event I saw the post saying Burning Seed was happening.

So my comrade Murray and I took the plunge. I’m sure we all remember our first time driving out past Wagga Wagga towards Matong State Forest, heading into the unknown. That straight road passing the beautiful fields of yellow flowers, tunes pumping in the car with a wonderful sense of freedom and anticipation…getting close but seeing no signs of life and wondering if this Burning Seed thing actually existed?

What we discovered that first time captivated us. The spirit of gifting and openness. The absence of rules and the wonderful mix of people. And oh those sunsets!!! Pure chance saw us camping near the fence line with front row seats for that special moment at the end of the day. A time for reflection and anticipation for the night ahead. Thanks to Mother Nature, the seed for the vision that inspired Sunset Island was planted at that very moment.

Hatching the Plan

So, after a great Burn, we planned to return in 2014. Our initial plan was for a renegade sound camp so we asked Burning Seed if we could set up a sound system in our campsite.  They said “why don’t you set up a theme camp?”

I was going to wait for another a year to make sure we had enough people, enough crew to make it viable but the  prospect of actually being on the map was compelling. Our group had always loved organising parties in natural environments and I had the vision for a sunset party to enhance the experience at Seed.

My two good friends Shane and Steve (Electric Zeus) were first on board. Shane had played sunsets in Ibiza and Steve is the quintessential party host – plus Steve’s brother Martin (who could make just about anything!) was immediately into the idea of coming the next year and setting up a camp.

We voted on names but “Sunset Island” seemed kind of obvious – we were all inspired by visions of stunning sunsets you normally see from an island over the ocean. Beyond Murray and me, the team quickly grew with a wonderful mix of talents.  Zoe – a brand strategist and creative – worked with us help us understand what Sunset Island meant to us and to those that would come? From the outset it was a fantastically creative process such a joy to share this experience with friends.

Our DJ talent grew as we spread the word and, along with Captain Peacock’s (now famous) punch and our fake palm trees we created at our first fundraising party, we had the makings of a theme camp.  We raised enough money at that party to hire a truck, buy materials and supply the ingredients for a plentiful supply of punch on the Paddock.

Martin was instrumental in envisioning the set-up of Sunset Island and getting materials cheaply. There are many people who made it happen that first– you know who you are. And so we packed up the truck and off we all went! Thanks to Captain (Steve) Peacock for capturing our preparation for that first year on video – take a look!

Challenges of Getting Bigger

We’re into our third year now, growing and as enthusiastic as ever – but that growth brings its issues. It’s easier to fill fundraisers parties but communication and decision making becomes more challenging. We also saw a bit of burn out in 2015. So in 2016 we’re focusing on spreading the load, with team leaders responsible for each aspect of the camp. We’ve already locked in both our fundraising venues ahead of time allowing us to focus our energies on making these experiences, and of course our time at Seed 2016, the best ever.

Thank You

Sunset Island - That's some kinda Theme Camp!

Jasper – that Sunset thing was a really, REALLY good idea!

Thank you for joining us at Sunset Island and making it such a wonderful experience. Words can’t describe that special moment when the Sun hits the horizon and brings on the incredible vibe and energy created by all of you. Thank you to all the theme camps which drove their art cars into Sunset Island on the Friday night last year to add to the experience – we look forward to seeing you again this year. And thanks to those responsible for the pancake stall that randomly set up on the fence line last year at Sunset Island.  That was a lovely surprise.  Please come back!

Want to Get Involved With Sunset Island?

We are looking to expand our team across all aspects of running our theme camp.  So let us know what you’re passionate about and skills you think you can lend a hand with from construction to Paddock decorations to cooking!   Or maybe you want to run an afternoon workshop?  Join Our FB Community Group or message me direct on jaspervallance@gmail.com and I can link you in with the appropriate team leader. You could also come meet us at our fundraisers this year:

And Finally…. Six Tips For Creating a Successful (And Fun) Theme Camp!

So I’ll wrap up with a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way. I hope you’re feeling inspired to create your own theme camp.  I cannot even begin to explain how much fun and how rewarding it’s been for everyone at Sunset Island.

  • Find the niche that you and your mates are passionate about. It’s the shared passion that makes the cool shit happen. ‘Sunset’ made it easy for people to find us!
  • Bring the right mix of skills together.  If you’re lucky you’ll have the skills you need in your group. If there’s a gap, put it out there and try and attract the right people.
  • Designate a leader and functional leadership roles based on what people are best at (and most passionate about). New people can join the team that best aligns with their passions.
  • Lock in fundraising venues way ahead of time. This eliminates a whole load of stress and enables the focus on the fun creative stuff.
  • Let the 10 Principles guide decisions not personal opinions.
  • Collaborate with other theme camps.  It’s an incredible mutually supportive network.

See you at Sunset!! 😉

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