The First New Zealand Regional Burn: The Culmination of 10 Years as a Kiwi Burner
by Mark Stirling
The first night of 2004 was a very special one for the remote New Zealand regional outpost of Burning Man. New Zealand Regional Mark Stirling (New Zealand Regional) staged the first-ever Burning Man regional event in the country, burning a 12 ft high homebuilt wooden man at the Visionz festival in Golden Bay, NZ. The event attracted about 300 to 400 participants who accompanied Mark in a procession of drumming, dancing and fire juggling to the site of the man in a rich green farm paddock beside the sea. The event was met with great enthusiasm from the participants, who had either heard of Burning Man previously, had seen the various pamphlets and posters around the festival (prepared by Andie Grace and her team), or had just decided to join in on the fun. Mark had the expressed pleasure of lighting the man and watch it burn to a crescendo of drumming, dancing and cheering. To Mark, this represented the culmination of 10 years involvement with and passion for Burning Man thus far.
Mark’s lengthy association with Burning Man (7 burns to his name) began while he was living in Reno, Nevada doing his Ph.D. in the ‘90s. He and his partner Jane discovered Burning Man by accident in ’94 while on a camping trip in the Black Rock Desert. Burning Man immediately took hold, and he simply had to return again and again and again, even after moving back to New Zealand in the late ‘90s. He even made the trip with his baby son on one occasion. He logically nominated himself as the New Zealand Regional, and was interviewed and installed in the role.
After a few years of procrastination, Mark decided to stage the first regional burn in New Zealand in late 2003. Because of the difficulty of achieving “critical mass” at a regional event in a country where few have actually attended Burning Man, chose the Visionz festival as the most appropriate venue for the event, the festival having a similar emphasis on Burning Man-type philosophies such as “leave no trace” and subsistence culture. Discussions with both Burning Man and Visionz organisers went smoothly, giving him the go-ahead to hastily concoct a man out of wooden offcuts from his basement over a period of a few evenings. The overall success of the inaugural New Zealand regional event means that Mark will have more confidence to stage a bigger burn at Visionz next year, and build substantially on his 2003 experience. Despite the small number of people in New Zealand who have actually made the trek to the Black Rock Desert (they number less than five), New Zealanders are obviously readily embracing the concept and spectacle of Burning Man, much like Mark did back in 1994. The word and the vibe of Burning Man is out in Kiwiland!