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Australians: A Mosh Pit Called Pamplona

  • October 27th, 2010
  • Posted by EUEditor

pamplona-square.jpgA street-level view on the festival of St Fermin …
It would appear that allowing for a little exaggeration, at any given time, half the youth of Europe can be found (or sought and not found), in Australia… Reputedly the largest, and noisiest overseas celebration of Norway’s national day takes place in the city of Brisbane; migration authorities more-or-less search for some 60000 British passport holders overstaying their visas (who cunningly mingle with large crowds, usually at football matches – though the flags and tee-shirts can be a give-away); several have trouble avoiding the crocodiles; others further a centuries-old tradition of new arrivals taking over the hotel trade…  This tale is from the other side of the equation, Australians in Europe, following the action… Kayla Millhouse went looking for the bulls in Pamplona this year, and found herself, in  a mosh-pit …. 


When I first announced to friends and family I was to attend the San Fermin Running of The Bulls in Pamplona I was greeted with horror.

Mother’s mood, ironically enough, took on the aspect of one such bull; eyes widened, she began breathing heavily through her nose, and made some severe threats. All that was missing was the hoof stomping on the ground.

pamplona-bulls-spanish-fiestas.jpgAt that point I decided I would not run with the bulls. If unable to handle mother’s bull-like qualities, how could I handle an actual four legged creature with horns, giving chase?

No one then could take account of what did happen; that I opted for the opening ceremony for those bulls, El Chupinazo, where, as it happens, the risk of dying or becoming accidentally maimed, turned out to be just as real.


The day before festivities began we were guided through  Pamplona, a city of Navarre, Northern Spain, the small streets filled with explorers deciding where best to begin their part in the great run.

As tourists they contrived to be easy to spot, most dressed half in white, logos across the chest  representing thoughtful amounts of time spent in a souvenir shop.

pamplona-kayla-millhouse.jpgThose not yet kitted out in their white attire stood out due to their behaviour. They had eyes that fidgeted in every direction. They were the ones whose heads turned 360 degrees whilst standing still, analysing every escape route if the situation should turn bad.

The traditional uniform for these festivities begins with getting dressed head-to-toe in fresh white clothing, red sash around the waist, and red scarf worn anywhere but around the neck.

Many stories exist as to why the red scarf; all to do with Pamplona’s patron saint, San Fermin. He travelled great lengths converting people to Christianity, a series of deeds said to have ended with his beheading in France. At religious ceremonies honouring a martyred saint, priests dress in red; so the scarves may be for San Fermin.

Making my way with some new acquaintances towards the opening ceremony, I encounter a group of Spanish boys, early 20’s or younger, yelling at the tourists. We are wearing our red sashes the wrong way, it seems. Sympathy pierces the air as they fix up our morning of wrongdoings. Perhaps we were not just attending a festival for our own light-hearted entertainment; this might be a truly significant cultural event.


It all started some time ago, they say, tracing back to a 14th Century fiesta with three points to it: a religious festival honouring San Fermin; a trade fair bringing cattle merchants to town, and, therefore, the bullfights.

As for the great run, getting the bulls to the stadium; one Spanish gentleman was to inform us that it began when drovers ran their cattle through the settlement; testosterone driven boys would jump in amongst them, out to impress ladies.


Out of the way of the rampaging animals, three locations are set up for the opening ceremony, and for the crowds, which brings up the subject of the mosh pit.

pamplona-spanish-fiestas.jpgThere is the Town Hall, the location considered most cultural, most crowded, potentially a bit risky; there are some streets surrounding the main hall, supposedly offering more space, and there’s the town square – home to a large flat screen set up for enjoying the festivities in safety.

So we chose the Town Hall.

Waiting there two hours prior to the event, we were baffled as to why we’d been warned about this airy spot. There was almost a ruler’s length between each of us.

We manoeuvred through Spaniards, possibly crazed, throwing Sangria and red wine at each other, moving ourselves almost to the centre of the square.

The closer to the front, the pinker and more alcohol-stained the clothes became.

More people started to cram into the square; those beside us soon became our new best friends.


More Sangria and red wine, everywhere.

A comrade hefted me onto his shoulders; I saw a sea of white and red; within minutes the crowd  packed in tightly; people struggling to keep limbs from being sent in opposite directions to the movement of their bodies.

I finally struggled down to the ground, and then felt the actual pain of this tight crowd.


Somebody’s elbows sticking into the side of my ribcage, a body pressed up against my back, and my small Asian friend in front of me struggling to remain standing.

With tiny frame, short height (compared to that of a large Spaniard), and with very long hair  easily caught in-between moshers all around around her; she decided to scream. Responding to the call, other young Australian women in the vicinity joined in.

The crowd was swaying from side to side. The mosh was so tight my feet no longer touched the ground, just the top half of the body moving, going with the crowd.

I then turned my thoughts towards what any normal girl in that position would do, and declared myself scared shitless.

Yet there was time to search for the tallest, strongest looking boy, and in between deep breaths now forced through my nostrils, redolent of that bull, I said, selflessly:  “Hold onto my friend”.

This was done; and despite the fact that everyone was still struggling to stand, almost every single person managed to grab their scarf from  various places, and hold it, triumphantly above their heads.

“Viva San Fermin, Gora San Fermin”, we chanted.

 Chupinazo, a single firework, was lit signifying the festival had officially begun.

From that point, scarves could be worn around red-stained stained necks.

It was the custom.


“Ole! Ole!” went the crowd, as the clotted mass began to slowly disperse.

Here and there Australians were making a break for it; others remained, momentarily, in shock; we exited the square with the crowd, stepping over broken glass, those in the balconies around,
eagerly throwing buckets of water over everyone below.

Could chasing live bulls compare with all this adrenaline-pumping action?

“Oh my god”, shouted my friend, she of the heroic rescue by large young man, as normal breathing resumed:  “Let’s do that again!”

Footnote: The running of the bulls takes place at Pamplona from mid-day, on 6th July each year, often-enough occasioning some bodily harm, as young men hop in to race the animals through the streets. This year seven had the distinction of being gored, see EUAustralia Online, “Break-through …”, 29.7.10.

Pictures   Kayla in action.  Kayla Millhouse, Spanish Fiestas