Story Archive

STORY - 5

IN DEFENCE OF NIMBIN

Posted on June 19, 2014 by
Raymond
on the road at
Nimbin

 

I have been to Nimbin three times. On the first occasion I was just out of school, a young hippie, swept along in the hope and euphoria of the early Seventies. I arrived in the town with three cosmic colleagues as the Aquarius Festival was about to start.  We had all walked through the night from Murwullimbah, some fifty kilometres way. We were tough back then. 

There was Confucious, a smiling dark skinned short boy we all assumed was Tibetan. He made no attempt to disabuse us because the truth, that he was a Maltese lad from Melbourne, would have earned far less spiritual kudos. The second was Greg who made a terrible mistake in accepting a lift from a police car over the last part of the journey. Alighting from the cop car with a brand new kaftan meant he was viewed as a "nark" or police informant. He was nothing of the sort of course. The last was an intense English Christian traveler who really was on a deep spiritual journey. For a start he didn't take drugs. Our little party faced a tornado of drugs, radical philosophies and the interminable pressure of trying to look 'spiritual'. That was especially hard for me because I wasn't, not even remotely.

The Nimbin Aquarius Festival was an attempt to transform both the self and the society. It was a place of often misguided, often deluded and mostly drug-induced searching, but at its heart, a place of integrity none the less. 

My second journey to Nimbin was horrible, the town centre full of drug pushers. Within a few minutes I was offered heroin, speed and all the other chemicals so alien to the concept of naturally grown weed. I couldn't get out of town fast enough, saddened by what I saw as the terrible failure of the hippie dream.

My recent visit was enlightening. I was here to tell a story and felt duty bound to hear from the locals. Even before I did a number of things struck me. After traveling through an outback New South Wales devastated by drought, globalization and mining, Nimbin was buzzing, the desperation of the small towns I had visited replaced by swirling colour, enterprise and movement.

I parked the 'Swagmobile' opposite the local skate rink. About twelve young boys were skating and amongst them was a young dwarf. He exuded a complete lack of self-consciousness. In fact he was the best skater of the lot. It became a metaphor for the inclusiveness of the town.

Walking into the town centre I was then struck by the number of Aboriginals who sat side by side with the locals. I have come from many years in Alice Springs where the combined efforts of highly paid white bureaucrats has created an apartheid, no other word for it. Here the local Aboriginals are welcomed, respected and consulted. 

Old people, white or black, aren't shunted to homes, they sit in the cafes and they have names that are known and shouted out by young people who walk past. Dogs and cats have names too. They lie in the street and force people to go around them, which because no one is in a hurry is cool, and because no one is in a hurry people sit under trees and talk for hours. Conversation between human beings is everywhere.

Fast food doesn't exist in its branded forms. It is such a relief to the eye. Instead of working in 'Maccas', the children of hippies serve food in bakeries and The Emporium which are in the town rather than on its perimeter. They are really nice kids, their pleasantries are welcoming without the formularised "have a nice day". There is no corporate rubbish discarded in the streets. Cafe signage advertises nutrients not taste. Food plays an enormous role in Nimbin and it should be grown organically and with love.

In conversation, of which I had many over the week, words like 'sacred' are held as ends in themselves. 'Sacred' lives at the other end of 'The Bottom Line'. Many locals feared the coming of the 'real estate' dreaming that has engulfed Bryon Bay and Bangalow. So far they have been spared but I wonder for how long. In conversation I also encountered honest assessments of where the hippie dream had failed. In the early days there had been an attempt to redefine ownership of land as a communal resource but it had floundered on the rocks of greed and self-interest. The hippies from that time viewed that era as a failure and took responsibility.

To my sad experience on my second trip it seems there is an explanation. Criminals and patients released from mental institutions were basically given a free pass to Nimbin. Suddenly hippies had to absorb people rejected by society. It was a horror period as speed, ice and heroin overtook the culture. Gradually the heroin dealers have been 'escorted' from the town by local elders while people with mental issues have sometimes been loved back to a kind of health. They have been restored to health by a culture of acceptance and love, rather than of individual thereapy. That to me speaks of a healthy community.

As I sat behind the Rainbow Cafe, Michael Baulderstone, the intelligent and welcoming unofficial mayor of Nimbin, pointed to an Aboriginal who was building a 'cubby house' for kids. Michael explained that he was from Palm Island, a notorious place of horror for Aboriginal people. All his family were dead from the grog, from murder or drugs. He clearly had mental issues but he was welcome to stay here. He had found a place in the town and old hippies talked encouragingly to him. Michael made the point that blackfellas on good weed were placid and relaxed rather than drunkenly violent. The local cop made the same point. He had just re-signed for another term because "I don't want to spend my working life locking up drunks". Interesting. 

I challenged Michael on the dangers of marihuana. I have seen so many people, young and old, destroyed by super strong grass. His point was that hydroponically grown marijuana is just mass produced, profit-driven, chemically altered shit. The hippie philosophy, in its purest form, abhors the stuff. They see pure weed as a miracle drug. 

I loved Nimbin in this present incarnation. It was vibrant and soulful. The hippies strike a balance between street-smart and naive. They are no pushovers either. They have just beaten off a coal seam gas project with bloody-minded determination. Over months they stood blockade together with local farmers. The hippies of Nimbin learned their protesting skills working against loggers and they don't mind living in the dirt for months on end. Dirt ain't dirty to these guys. It is the EARTH!

Many locals are on welfare but everywhere voluntary workers dig community gardens, make sculptures and work in the local radio station, one of the best in Australia. NIM-FM blares out over the street-scape giving continuity and community to the town. The great danger still lies in the drug 'ice' [cheap synthesized speed], sold on the streets. But is sold everywhere in Australia. Forget 'boat people' and 'terrorists', 'ice' is the truly worrying threat to this country. It is wreaking havoc across rural Australia.

I left Nimbin with a feeling I was leaving 'home'. When I go back I'll feel like I am returning home. When I pass another country town decimated by fast food outlets, Coles, Woolworths and mining, with boarded up shops and empty faces, I'll think of the crazy, vibrant place lying peacefully in the Nimbin Valley. Ultimately Nimbin stands for another way of living life and for that alone it should be praised.

And I hope those old friends - Confucious, Greg and the English Christian - found some peace on their journey.

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Send your thoughts and stories to or call Raymond on 0414 929768. If you wish to speak to Tommie just leave a message.. 

Comments
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Rosa Christian
Reply
Great post Raymond.Good news stories are gold at this time.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Rosa .. I'll be winging my way to Cairn soon. Where r you? 
Ingrid Petersson
Reply
Good Day Raymond, Interesting Reading, even if I am against drugs, but understand that some people are happy to live their life in Nimbin. A lot of back packers from Sweden I guess are familier with Nimbin. A friend of my son has been there. In Copenhagen there is a quarter of the City, called Christiania. I've been there for a beer a couple years ago, but I can't say that I liked the Place. You and Tommie are soon ready for the roads again, and it will be a joy for all of us to "follow" you on the trip. Take care and drive safe. Regards Ingrid
Raymond
Reply
Yes Ingrid. I haven't taken drugs or drunk for over 30 years but it is a human trait to do so. I think the drug taking is becoming less and less and there is far more to Nimbin than marijuana. Indeed, I met many long term hippies who don't take any drugs at all. 
Ingrid petersson
Reply
Good to hear Raymond. You certainly seems to have a wonderful life. Enjoy your days on the roads again, meeting old and new people. Take care. Cheers 
sam walker
Reply
nice post, it is a great way to know places and people without leaving my front door. but how often do you travel? once a month? I hope to read you post as soon as once a week maybe? pls keep travelling and posting
Raymond
Reply
Hi Sam .. I am travelling around Australai but went and had a bloody heart attack while I was walking. Back again now and ready to restart my journey next week. 
Willyhunsaker
Reply
Devoured your blog....feel such gratitude for the pictures you take and paint with words. I am thankful also for your recovery ......  We all missed you and kept you in our prayers. Tommie and we would be lost without you, you silly sod.xoxoxox
Raymond
Reply
Hi Willie ... I am around for a good while yet. Nimbin has been given some terrible press and I don't think it is fair.Back on the road next week up into Northern Queensland.
Kate Hazell
Reply
Love to read your posts as I am setting myself up for a ramble too,and as you write well it feeds my excitement. So glad you are recevered and that it wasn't time for you 'leave the road'! I did wonder where you had got to..... I will be setting off, with Willow in the cubbyonwheels in a few months, so less living vicariously, though I will still enjoy your posts enormously Cheers,Kate (one of your many satisfied customers) 
Raymond
Reply
Well .. break a leg Kate as they say in theatre. Let me know where you and Willow are. Might catch up sometime.
patricia lang
Reply
So relieved to hear that your well enough to travel again Raymond that was a helluva scary close call. Looking forward to hearing about your travels going forward, hugs for you & Tommie
Raymond
Reply
Thanks Patricia. We have a long way to go.
Mandie Hale
Reply
Thank you for writing this Raymond. Our town gets a bad rap sometimes, but your take on it was perceptive...it is a good place to live. I also came to the Aquarius festival, and moved here in 1974. I've been here ever since, and brought up my kids here. My eldest daughter brought up her children here too. Despite the obvious drug use on the street, it has been a safe community for them all. My daughter worked in the Nimbin Emporium grocery store before going to uni and becoming a nurse and now her daughter works a few hours there while she does her HSC. I think growing up here has made the majority of kids friendly, independent and confident. The people who live here have built Nimbin's resources and social capital. We fundraised to buy the old school for a community centre, and are doing the same to buy a house and land in town for development into a centre that will showcase sustainable building methods and provide workshop space etc.and everything from the preschool to the grand piano in the hall has been the result ofcommunity fundraising. As you said, we have made mistakes, but many of us were very young when we came here. Some of those mistakes were made out of naivety, but lessons have been learned, and most people here have compassion for the mistakes of others. I love the Nombin community because it is real, inclusive, open, creative, and always evolving.apart from all that, the Nimbin community is so much larger than that of the town. There are many people living in the surrounding countryside who are doing great things. If you ever find your eay out here again, come out and have a coffee with me and see what's happening out in the hills. Best wishes for you on your travels, and thanks again for taking the time to look deeper when you visited, and for writing this.
Raymond
Reply
Hi Mandie .. I have only just seen this post as I passed through Nimbin again. I would have really liked to visit the wider community .. and thank you for your post. I see so much integrity in Nimbin and found my discussions with people so refreshing. The assumptions that underpin most Nimbin conversations were so different .. they were concerned with the earth, the sacred nature of things and integrity. I am sorry that the drug image is the one that people focus on. 
Brad
Reply
Hey Raymond, If you find your way up around Bloomfield/Rossville/Wujal Wujal & the Lions Den hotel way (North of Cairns), give me a yell or an email. We'll have a cuppa or a beer or something :) http://invivamus.wordpress.com
RAYmond
Reply
I/ll take you up on that Brad on my way to Cooktown. Be there in a month or so.