Red dirt covered our existence, successfully portraying us as victims of spray tans and hair appointments gone wrong. We sped down discreet paths and through unmarked fields in trucks, completely enjoying the thrill of fresh air and unindustrialized land expanse. At night, we traveled about the property in the same way, but this time under the most magnificent and comprehensive blanket of stars we had encountered since our arrival in Australia. Our North American eyes gazed at the upside down constellations with only the intermittent ability to utter words of amazement. The Outback certainly offered a different vigor than the animated one we had become accustomed to in Sydney. During our time, we experienced an inexpressible freedom not only from the tangible barriers of city zones, but from lives unshared and burdens concealed.
Time spent around the fire with fellow students came to be what I looked forward to the most. This was a place for reading, worshipping, eating, sharing, and growing. At the end of each day, we had a time where students could take three rocks and share three things about their lives in confidence. With a group of 37 students, I have found it impossible to form close bonds with everyone. But these times of sharing effectively did that. Social psychologists explain the phenomena this way: “Self-disclosure leads to more liking and deeper relationships because it signals trust, and because knowing each other’s abilities, preferences, and needs leads to easier coordination of mutual activities and more understanding.” Self-disclosure around the campfire allowed for each of us to get a clearer picture of the happenings, past and present, that shaped the person we listened to at that moment. It also gave each of us an opportunity to share burdens and heartaches in ways we had not formerly felt possible here. The genuine atmosphere of concern and encouragement made the campfire a place of healing for many as they were either freed from the burden of not being known by others or from the false assumption that they were alone in what they were experiencing. Those nights were marked by zealous laughter, healing tears, and a sense of true community. The freedom we all experienced during our time in the Outback will not soon be forgotten. As a result, it would be impossible not to heed the advice of our bus driver Ian, “Take some red dirt home with you in your veins.”