Raising the Winter Sun: Reflections on the Antipodean May Day

A long time ago, in a hemisphere quite a reasonable distance away, winter was a time of hardship, and the return of warmth was celebrated with the waving of handkerchiefs, the shaking of bells and the clapping together of sticks. These Morris dancers raised the sun of the turning season, yet – incredibly – they were ridiculed as unfashionable for a number of decades. Thankfully their dreadfully important work has been made easier in the last few years with the surge in popularity of Morris Dancing (and no, this trend does not seem to correspond with that of climate change per se), and the changing of the season is ensured.

Of course, here in the southern hemisphere, Morris Dancers raise the Winter. Antipodean Morris Dancers are probably not the Dark Morris of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, since they have all the usual noise-making getup of the traditional Morris. In fact, their only truly distinguishing feature from their northern cousins is their being the harbinger of cold and darkness, since even their decline and re-popularity has followed the same trend (as anyone who has visited the National Folk Festival* in the last few years will know).

Being quite partial to winter ourselves, Nick and I joined the local Morris side, the Surly Griffins, atop Mt Ainslie in the pre-dawn darkness. We can’t personally be given any responsibility for the raising of the sun, since our only dancing was hopping from one foot to another to stay warm, but the Surly Griffins did a wonderful job.

Some more photos are on Flickr.

Two years ago, on May Day, after watching the Surly Griffins raise their first winter sun, I decided to start this blog. I’d recently moved to Canberra, started a PhD and joined the ANU Mountaineering Club, so it was a time of beginnings. A year later I ignored both Morris traditions and this blog, but was chosen to be one of Canberra’s local social media representatives as part of the Human Brochure campaign because of this blog. Another year later, I have very nearly 100 followers from around the world (98!), I have been a part of the 101 Local Human tourism campaign, I have been elected President of the ANU Mountaineering Club, and I have been published on the website of the prestigious Australian outdoor magazine, Wild.

But what is even more exciting is the year to come. Within the next twelve months, I am aiming to have finished my thesis, submitted an article (or more…) to academic journals, changed my surname (or at least adopted a nom de plume for publishing purposes, my name being so very common) and have an idea of what I might fill my time with post-PhD (whether that be a job, or retreating to somewhere with lower rent).

Even so, I find myself distracted from all of these probably more important goals by the prospect of this summer’s adventure. You see, Nick has received funding from the ANU Mountaineering Club to mount an expedition to the Tasmanian wilderness to explore undocumented and possibly entirely hitherto unseen canyons. We’ll be spending time this year training in swift water and canyon rescue techniques (with one of the expedition members, representing the minority of truly red redheads, currently training himself up for the cold in Scotland). We’ll be filming and photographing the expedition, with creative content production led by professional photographer Jason MacQueen, and aiming to turn this into a high-quality short film of Banff standard.

So while I may have been up before dawn to welcome the turning of the winter, my dreams are those of traditional May Days.

Some videos below of recent canyoning escapes.

*For some excellent photography of this year’s National Folk Festival, my mother has published this account.

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4 thoughts on “Raising the Winter Sun: Reflections on the Antipodean May Day

  1. I don’t know about everyone else but this post seamed both exiting and sad as your future looms and the past if left in it’s wake. But thanks for the update,

    • I wouldn’t say that the past has been relegated to the wake just yet, since my life in Canberra – PhD and Mountaineering Club – is still very much the focus of the present! But I appreciate the sentiment.

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