...And Then I Got High!
Trip Start Sep 08, 2011
85Trip End Jan 08, 2012
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Where I stayed
Nimbin had been an old logging town, apparently the area had contained a prodigious amount of rainforest, but first due to logging and then farming, the rainforest had been cut down or cleared away leaving only 1% of the original forest remaining. At the end of the 60s there was an influx of hippies who were joined by university students and in 1973 the first Aquarius Festival was held in Nimbin. Since then it has become hippy HQ.
What’s particularly interesting about it is that the hippies played a significant part in saving what was left of the rainforest as they protested against the logging industry until such time that the government stepped in and declared the Nightcap Forest a national park
That was the lofty achievement of the Nimbin hippies, today, however, it is more like Amsterdam. In Australia 'leisure activities’ like drinking and smoking are heavily regulated and it is illegal to drink alcohol in public areas not designated for that purpose, ie bars. Smoking is also becoming a habit that is increasingly difficult to maintain as smokers are being ostracized – for example not only do you have to go outside of a bar to smoke, but, ever more frequently, you have to go to a certain section of the outside area to have a smoko. Nimbin is an oasis in this culture. Not only is it more relaxed about these ‘activities’, but it would seem that the partaking of cannabis is actively recommended.
Therefore, for my trip out, why was I surprised that the company I had booked with, called ‘The Happy Coach’, sent a bright rainbow coloured bus for the trip? Why should I have not been surprised that it was driven by a couple of hippies and arrived half an hour late to pick me up? Why was I at all surprised that it took us an hour to collect all the passengers (about 7 more) and get out of Byron Bay? It would have been quicker for me to walk out of Byron Bay..
When we finally got on the road, the first stop was The Channon Market. We should have had an hour there, but because we were running late, it was reduced to 45 minutes, which was not really long enough. The market takes place once a month and is positioned around the outside of a cricket oval. Therefore, just walking around it and looking, without actually stopping, at the stalls would take some time. Of course, it was just a typical handicrafts market and, naturally, the finer points of the shopping opportunities were lost on me, however, it did look like fun and more time could easily have been spent there.
Next up was a stop at Minyon Falls – again. I’d ‘seen’ it at night, but, of course, it was far more impressive in the daytime when you could actually see what you were looking at: a 100 metre waterfall, overlooking a canopy of rainforest. Impressive.
Then, on to Nimbin itself. As we pulled into the town, official population approx. 260, though it is believed to be much more, the town looked like a colourful, old frontier town – the main street would take about 5 minutes to walk from one end to the other...and back again. Having walked no more than 10 metres from the bus, I’d already been offered all manner of drugs at least five times. I realised it wasn’t because I was black, when the dealers were trying to offload their drugs to anybody they could see. One man, in particular, scared the daylights out of me; he had bulging eyes, pin pricks for pupils, and while standing still in agitation, he seemed to stare right through me and about 100 metres beyond me as he asked, "Do you want some magic mushrooms, man?" At first, I thought he was talking to somebody behind me, but seeing that there was nobody there, I had to conclude that he was talking to me
Nimbin had a tiny museum, yet it was absolutely fascinating. I hadn’t been sure what to expect; I supposed it would be a history of the hippy struggle with the logging companies. What I found was a museum dedicated to two things – expounding the credo of the hippy culture and a potted Aboriginal history – mostly told through art. The hippy part was actually well done and seemed more like a post-modern art gallery than a museum. Bearing in mind that Nimbin as a hippy town came into being at the end of the Vietnam war, one of the slogans that caught my eye was, “Join the army, meet interesting people...and kill them”. It was both funny, but at the same time thought-provoking. Maybe it was an old slogan, but I’d never come across it before and so, I was quite struck by it.
The Aboriginal part involved art (not Aboriginal, I think), explaining their way of life before the Europeans had arrived and some of the treatment since, always espousing equal rights for them. One ‘exhibit’ that was particularly moving was a documentary DVD of the story of the ‘Stolen Generation’; a huge story made more accessible through the eyes of one victim
The museum was definitely the highlight of the town, but walking along the main street looking at the shop names wasn’t far behind. Shops with names like ‘Bringabong’, ‘The Gorgeous Joint’, ‘Happy High Herbs’, ‘The Stoned Fish’ (actually a fish and chip shop) and the ‘Nimbin Hemp Embassy’ were a delight to see.
What did come second as the highlight of the trip was lunch. In itself it wasn’t much, a BBQ organised by the tour company, but what was great was where it was set; at the Nimbin Bowlo. Ever since Paul and Helen had introduced me in Perth to the film Crackerjack, an Australian film about a bowls club, I’ve been dying to get near one. Here, however was a bowls club with a difference, it was run by hippies. Instead of a nice sedate green with elderly ladies and gentlemen lightly applauding each shot (?), here we had people in their fifties with a music system set up, blaring out sixties classics like The Who’s My Generation, or the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue. Logically, it made sense, as that would have been the music of their youth, but the juxtaposition of the music with the scenery was surreal. It was a really friendly place, everyone was up for a good time as seen, when a particular favourite of theirs, Abba’s Mamma Mia (don’t ask, I didn’t get it either) came on they all started dancing round the green as if it were the Aquarius Festival revisited. Now, I’m not going to say they were on illegal substances, but the thought had crossed my mind. All too soon, it was time to leave Nimbin. When asked later by people yet to go to Nimbin what it was like, all I could answer was, “It’s... different.”