Friday, 27 March 2015

TOD Tour, Day 44 - Nimbin

Easy pack up this morning ... no annex, no awning. Quick gas refill at the caravan park and a chat with "Hardy", who was a Gunnedah boy originally and went to school at Farrer more than 40 years ago. We compared notes with people we had in common.

After a short trip back to Ballina, we headed roughly west through Lismore to Casino along the Bruxner Highway and then north on the Summerland Way to Kyogle and a couple of pleasant hours with my sister Jenny and her husband Doug. It's been a long time since we sat in the same room - too long probably - so it was nice to catch up on children and grandchildren and solve some of the world's problems. If only the world was paying attention.

The next leg of the trip was a bone of contention. 

Sue has always wanted to go to Nimbin. Personally, I think it's all part of her Woodstock dream - the secret hippy which hides inside her but is kept in check by the knowledge that the real world and its responsibilities are a small price to pay. I drove there under sufferance so perhaps it clouded my vision.

Like most of the North Coast, Nimbin's White heritage can be traced back to the cedar loggers, who raped the forests of its best and then left, leaving the way open for dairy farmers and banana growers. When the dairy industry collapsed in the late sixties - the same collapse which drove Sue and her family from the farm near Maclean - Nimbin went with it until the counterculture, sick of the groove and vinyl miniskirts, moved in. The Australian chapter wanted a place they could drop out and grow their own and this little village, off in a tight little valley in the hills north of Lismore and south east of Kyogle, was it. In 1973, the Aquarius Festival - a sort of antipodean poor man's Woodstock - was held to celebrate sustainable lifestyles and alternate thinking. The line up of band's was forgettable but those who dropped in, dropped out and stayed. A few notable communes were set up near to The Shannon and another at Turntable Falls, were based on some pretty good principals but these were near but not at Nimbin.

As a result, Nimbin's fame at being the safest place in Australia to buy your stash and then smoke it in the main street, has led to it becoming a tourist Mecca for backpackers and young overseas tourists, many of whom find it difficult to leave until they smoke their money.

The drive in was narrow, steep and interesting, especially towing the Avan up from Kyogle but Sue enjoyed the scenery. I found watching the road and negotiating the tight bends far more riveting. We eventually got there. There are no places for trailers to park but I found a spot in front of the bowling club and we walked up into the village. A familiar smell was pungently hanging in the air along both sides of the street but very few real hippies were in evidence. Many of the storekeepers pretended at being reluctant retailers, dressed in the manner of those making a court appearance in their best scruffy clothes, with the scars of a hard life spent being free showing through. Most were selling junk - sort of permanent Sunday markets, only the stalls were closed at the end of the day, not moved on.

The remnants of the counterculture were clearly on display along the streets, many of them with the children of the dreamed new age of freedom called Rainbow and Tiger Lilly (just two of the names I caught) acting as the same spoiled little brats one could find anywhere and manipulating money from their parents by throwing tantrums. Dreadlocks and tie dyed clothing don't appear to provide immunity.

To be honest, my thoughts before going there were confirmed. Whilst Byron Bay got the monied New Age based on the hedonistic lifestyle of the surf culture, Nimbin was left with the dregs of what might have been, long after the flowers in their hair died and went to seed. I had found an answer to Pete Seger's previously circular question. All I saw was a dirty little tourist dive of self abusers and an attitude which lacks responsibility, to themselves and others. The originators of the Aquarius Festival, with their emphasis on making a better, sustainable and more meaningful life based on community sharing and support, would not have condoned this den of welfare dependants who are raising a third generation with their hand out and ready to bite anyone who will feed them.

The lady at the Post Office was nice though and the community newspaper perhaps painted a fuller picture: one which complied more with the thrust of the early 1970's of a community working together. A man's house burnt down ... the community rebuilt it ... the mayor was there for the re-opening; posters and hand written signs everywhere demanding an end to CSG mining; one of my protest heroes, Guy Kachel was playing the pub that night; notices about public meetings and forums everywhere. The problem I have with accepting this fuller picture is that the evidence of my walk through the streets opposes that view. If my view is jaundiced, then Nimbin has a problem between perception and reality and who knows which is which.

Then again, it is Nimbin ...

In the end, all I can do is report my impression of a community that was once based on rural industry and was populated by more than 6000, it's now just a grotty little village of less than five hundred. For Sue, someone "let the sunshine in and let it shine ... oh let it shine" but what she saw in the daylight wasn't Woodstock and probably never was. If any of those present had ever heard of or indeed seen Clancy's vision splendid among these hills, it was probably just magic mushrooms and a bad trip. There was nothing wrong with the ideals of peace and love, until welfare payments removed the need for self-sufficiency and even more crucially, self respect. It's hard to see freedom if it's chained to every second Friday.

After lunch, we headed off into the clear air to the north and a few days at Mt Warning.

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