POV You’re a Homeopath volunteering at Woodford Folk Festival: Extremes & intensities

Where the showers are hot… until they’re not. Where you’re always among friends, even when you’re alone. Where the music plays night and day. Where we all can go to feed the soul.

Of course, I’d heard of the homeopathy tent clinic at Woodford Folk Festival. It’s kind of famous in homeopathic circles. But for some reason seeing the little social media announcement one day when I was randomly scrolling made my entire being light up with a resounding YES.

I have to admit, I did grumble just a little bit. There’s a LOT of packing and preparation involved. Food, crockery, cooking equipment, bedding, tent, and clothes that suit all the seasons just in case, from glacial shiver to tropical wilt. My car was full to the brim, and it was just little old me, but then I am a big over-packer.

There was also the fact that after a huge year, I was tired and struggling with a bit of burn out. The grumbling did include a bit of trepidation for taking on volunteer work in the very field that I needed a bit of a rest from.

But we homeopaths absolutely love what we do no matter how tired we are, and something was calling me there louder than my grumbles, so I found myself taking off up north early Christmas morning. Stopping for a cold turkey leg in Taree, which I shared with about a million flies, I enjoyed the lack of traffic and spent the night in Coffs Harbour with my homeopathic friend Christina Boyd who had moved there recently and runs a clinic called Healing Tree from her lovely new space at home.

Leaving early again the next morning, I braved huge thunder storms and navigating the roads around Brisbane to arrive at Woodford early afternoon. After the ticket gate madness and getting lost more times than I care to admit, I finally found the right area where the other homeopaths and students were camped and set up my tent. By then I was dripping with sweat, and just had to surrender to the experience of being constantly damp. My camp set up was just in time, too, because I just had time to rush down to the stall for clinic orientation with Mandy Heritage and Peter Berryman.

So, Mandy is one of the major driving forces behind the homeopathy clinic at Woodford and has been for years. She brings a lot of the equipment and organises the rosters, the tickets for everyone, the stall and most of the other million little details that go into running it for the week. It’s a huge job! Peter has also been volunteering at Woodford for around 15 years and he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as well as ATMS clout in the form of funding, publicity and support in all kinds of other ways. The clinic also had some other donations from very generous sponsors that allowed there to be more students than usual this year, especially Melissa Kupsch from RMDY Collective.

We all gathered around Mandy and Peter to learn about how the clinic operates and what’s involved. It was pretty simple. There were usually three homeopaths on at any given time, and we worked four and a half hour shifts in a mix of mornings, afternoons and evenings. Then there were the students. I actually love working with students. In the clinic where I work, I don’t tend to have students present when I practice, but I run a dedicated student clinic on another day of the week. At Woodford, the students were there ready to sit in on cases, dispense remedies and help with managing admin and all the other stuff that kept the clinic running smoothly.

It was such a pleasure to work with the students, as well as with the other homeopaths, most of whom I hadn’t met before. Their enthusiasm and passion were so infectious, both in the clinic and out of it. I can tell you there’s nothing better than sitting around on our down time with a glass of wine (or sickly-warm kombucha), chatting about nothing and everything with a group of like-minded people who can relate to all the homeopathic in-jokes. It made the challenges of camping, the long trek to the loos, the heat that sapped every single breath from my body, and the lack of sleep, totally worth it.

Oh, and then of course there was the music! I kind of drifted from the blues tent to all the many and various other stages offering African drumming dance workshops, yoga, qi-gong, mellow folk, crazy grunge and everything in between. Everywhere I looked, there was something happening. Puppet shows, food stalls, clothes and even a bunch of very brave ones running a metal forge which we walked past each day on our way to the clinic. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be bent over a crazy-hot furnace like that on the days that we had, but somehow, they did it twice daily without fail!

And then there was the famous mud. Most of us heaved a massive sigh of relief on around day 3 when it poured (and cooled) down and we all donned our gumboots. I felt like a kid as I tromped through the mires of mud and played in the puddles in my waterproof galoshes and had little moments of carefree joy every time I visualised my nice dry toes.

Muddy or dry, the place itself is like a large village with gravel laneways lined with amazing and colourful stalls. It took a few days to orient myself, but even once I’d integrated a working internal map from experience, I happily surrendered to losing myself completely in the sensory playland that was Woodford. I walked over ten thousand steps each day, but it was at a leisurely meander that allowed me to soak up just a fraction of the overwhelming sights on offer no matter where you turned.

Working in the homeopathy tent in such an enormous place gave me a feeling of belonging, or at least a centre to orient myself to. In my own tiny way, I was so glad I belonged to the inner workings of this amazing and (mostly) benevolent beast that was Woodford. I said hi to the guards at the entrance to the staff camping areas multiple times a day, having the odd friendly chat no matter what time of day or night it was. I also had some great conversations at the bathroom sinks with other stall holders coming and going as they worked too. It gave me structure, something to circle around as I went about the rest of my day. It also gave me a chance to connect deeply to the other homeopaths and students in a way I’d never do on a normal, given day in the clinic I work at in Sydney.

The people who came in for treatment were also very different to my usual clients. I couldn’t describe them in a nutshell as they were all so different, but there’s an openness at Woodford that just doesn’t happen in a big city. I also felt more open, more willing to share a part of myself that maybe I keep a little more closed in my everyday life. Possibly that was what allowed me to find myself getting to the heart of things so quickly… that, and the fact that we only had a limited amount of time, so it was kinda like speed dating but the homeopathic case-taking version.

So, I found myself speaking to people who suffered from insomnia, headaches, anxiety, depression, tick bites, swollen feet from the heat, various rashes, coughs, sore throats, fluey things and all kinds of other stuff as well.

One of my first clients was a lady suffering from insomnia, accompanied by exhaustion trying to get through the gruelling days of the festival on no sleep. We ended up getting really deep, really fast, because insomnia is such a personal thing, and its causes are so varied. She was at Woodford with a group of friends, who weren’t including her in their communication and activities. This was making her feel hurt and confused.

She suffered from restless legs and would twitch all night for hours. The restless legs were also accompanied by a sensation in her lower belly that she could only clear by letting out a primal roar. To my delight, she let one rip in the clinic, and it gave me so much joy to hear it belting out of her with such abandon.

Other symptoms that I found relevant to her, were an intolerance of dairy, a turbulent and unsatisfying relationship with her mum back in childhood, as well as many hormonal symptoms such as very sore breasts recently, despite being post-menopausal. It wasn’t until she laid her hands gracefully on the table, one crossed over the other like paws, that I smiled very excitedly and looked to the student sitting in. She smiled back and we included the client in our discussions as we decided on a remedy called Lac leoninum, or milk of the lion. We chatted about how the lioness experiences many issues with the “pride” or the group she is close to, as well as the central themes of rage, a sense of disconnect with the mother, and the need to roar as a release. She came back on the last day with a smile on her face. The insomnia had eased, and she was sleeping like a log.

Another client was a man who had an allergic reaction to a tick bite under his arm. It had been removed at the first aid tent after being on him all night, and there was a nasty red inflammation around the bite, which looked to be worsening. The highest potency of Apis at the clinic was a 200C, so we threw that in along with some Ledum 200 plus Ixodes 30c, a remedy made from the tick itself. The remedies were all given in plastic water bottles instead of the usual little brown dropper bottles, and there were special labels we put on to make sure people knew they were medicine.

Our client sipped on that bottle for twenty four hours and came back the next day. I wasn’t as happy with his progress as I’d hoped. The redness and swelling had been swept by his lymph system further away from the bite – more at the mid rib level rather than the armpit where it had originally been, but it was still painful and uncomfortable for him, and he didn’t feel so great.

It just so happened that I’d packed a higher potency of Apis in my bag (an M potency), as I always carry it around on me after a few times when my daughter had some very nasty reactions to bites over the years. So, I gave the man a dose of Apis M from my personal stash, then sent him off with another bottle of the previous mix. To the delight of all of us, he returned the next day completely recovered, no red to be seen anywhere.

Another woman came to see us suffering from post trauma depression and anxiety. This was on a day where I was feeling especially raw after not so great sleep, overextending myself in other cases and giving of my energy beyond what I felt I could cope with. But it was busy, and the client was ready and waiting, so we started. That case-taking ended up being one of the most special and deeply connected moments of the entire week. The details are too big and raw to include here, and it’s so difficult to describe in words, but we all (myself, the client and the student) ended up with tears and big heart-opening feelings as we let the magical alchemy of homeopathy flow. Some truly incredible healing happened for us all.

This very magic is why I love homeopathy so much. The practice and structure of homeopathy allows the client to choose just how deep they go. Our symptoms that bother us on a daily basis are windows to the invisible emotional and mental interplay happening below the surface, usually below our conscious awareness until we allow them to be seen and heard in a caring, open space.

Homeopathy allows us to explore the underlying tangles that bring about our symptoms, in a non-judgmental and neutrally curious way. We can gain an incredible amount of self-understanding from the process and let go of some of the old stuff stuck in our tissues that brings about dis-ease and ill health.

After all that homeopathy-ing, I think we were all ready to let loose a little on New Year’s Eve, so we dispersed to see friends and family who happened to also be at the festival, to dance and watch the incredible array of entertainment on offer that night.

We all fell silent at 11.30pm to light a candle and ponder our experience at Woodford for three minutes. I found myself smiling at the sea of candles around me, and then caught the eye of a younger woman who grinned joyfully at me. We then made funny faces at each other as we laughed silently at all the people trying to be quiet around us. She came up to me after and we gave each other a hug. That moment to me summed up the spirit of Woodford – the joy of connecting with random people in a way we normally never would in our everyday lives, over a shared love of music and something more which I can’t adequately describe.

On the final day, New Year’s Day, I woke up early to pack away my tent, turned up for my shift at the clinic, helped unpack the stall ready for taking down and putting everything into storage for another year, and then had to rush away early to start the long journey home. I felt sad to have missed out on the last day drinks where all the remaining homeopaths and students sat to share their experiences for the week.

But as I did my final walk back to where we’d been camping, past the puppet stall, the forge and all the food and clothes stalls lining the way, by amazing and random coincidence (yeah, yeah, I know nothing is random and I get goosebumps every time I think about it), I passed one person after another who I had seen at the clinic over that week.

The woman who worked in the puppet stall who had issues with her energy – she gave me a beautiful smile and hug and told me she was doing so much better. Then the lady with the eye irritation who was struggling with her volunteer job as it involved all kinds of concentration, gave me a big smile, and showed me her eye which was much less red and inflamed than it had been the day before.

After that, I passed another girl on the service road to the camp site who had been struggling with feeling too sensitive to everything around her, and she gave me a beautiful smile and said thanks for my help. By then I had an enormous smile on my face and was feeling so happy to have such amazing closure so spontaneously given.

And then I thought of the man with the tick bite, who I’d seen the night before dancing to one of the bands – a band whose lead singer had come to see me for leg swelling from the heat a couple of days earlier. They were so much fun too!

As I drove away from Woodford, I allowed all of the incredible moments to sit in my heart and I realised that the past week was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. Despite all the grumbling, I’ll definitely be back one day soon.



Penny Barron

Penny Barron is a practitioner at the Harbord Homeopathic Clinic in Brookvale Sydney, with a long history of being involved in promoting research and assisting the Aurum Project. She loves to write it as she sees it and is very passionate about many aspects of life, including women and children’s health, mental health and nutrition.