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Byron Shire
May 17, 2021

Nimbin or bust

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Chris Dobney

That was the provocative sign taped to the window of the little VW that drove with four of us – and as much baggage as we could carry – from Melbourne to the Aquarius Festival in May 1973.

Weeks before, I had fallen under the spell of the charismatic Nigel Triffit, at that time director of student theatre at Monash, where I had been studying for fully two months.

Next thing I knew I was part of a convoy that would change my life.

Snippets I remember, like bits and ends of an 8mm movie, all spliced together: Captain Matchbox playing Nimbin Hall; songs and clouds of smoke around our campfire; the squeeze of bodies in the standup sauna, with wandering hands ‘massaging’ whoever was in reach; laying naked in the sun on some unsuspecting farmer’s land with a bunch of newfound friends; hearing the sounds of Dollar Brand’s piano waft across the Nimbin valley; parading around sacrilegiously singing ‘Hare Gumboot’ to much amusement (our own at least).

Most of all I remember our little, theatrical ‘happenings’ at Peace Park. Our ‘trust circle’ where one by one we stepped into the centre, closed our eyes and fell into one another’s’ arms. Or being lifted up by the crowd as they chanted our names. These were unforgettable, utopic moments.

Then there was the cryptic message on the board at the learning exchange: ‘after Nimbin what?’

At a meeting on the last day of the festival, the idea was floated to buy a rundown dairy farm at Tuntable Falls and turn it into a commune. It sounded incredible, idyllic. Years later I saw a photo of that meeting. While others were animatedly talking or looking on in excitement, I was staring at the ground. I had already taken a huge leap, and there was much more yet for me to do before I was ready to make that shift.

I travelled back to Melbourne on the Nimbin Express from Lismore. One of our convoy had crashed just out of town and the car wasn’t ready for the voyage back so I put together my last dollars and bought a train ticket.

There was great camaraderie on the train but not much food. We were all broke. I recall a large sack of dry muesli that pretty much sustained us on the two-day trip.

It wasn’t the most auspicious ending but something inside me had changed. To this day, I still divide my life into before and after Nimbin.

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Aquarius remembered

This article is the second of a series that Echonetdaily Byron Echo will run in the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of the Nimbin Aquarius Festival. Details of a commemoration organised by Southern Cross University, to be held on May 23 and 24 at the Nimbin Town Hall, are at http://sassevents.scu.edu.au/aquarius.

In addition, local activist Harsha Prabhu is seeking funding to publish a book about the Aquarius 40th anniversary – see http://pozible.com/rainbow.

• The full series of articles are collected here on one page for easy reference.


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