By Mira (Carole) Stannard as told to Graham Askey
Everything passes, everything changes. Just do what you think you should do. Bob Dylan’s lyric certainly applied to Australia in 1972. The Menzies era had almost passed, the government was about to change. Everything was changing for Carole Eliott too. A new man, Norman Stannard, was on the scene and the new skill of acupuncture had been learned. Then Johnny Allen pointed her in a new direction.
An alternative festival! That’s for me; I was into everything alternative. At a meeting with Johnny, Graeme Dunstan, Col James and many others, I threw an I Ching for the festival. It was qain (heaven) over kun (earth) which translates as peace or pervading, or the hermetic – as above so below. This is how Norman and I became the unofficial healers at Aquarius.
Gum tree home
We travelled up shortly before the festival and found an old gum tree which had been hollowed out by fire. Made cosy with sleeping bags and hung with bells, flowers and incense, it became our little faraway tree, a cubbyhouse nest for the festival. It was little – our feet stuck out. At night we’d light ourselves a candle and look up to the diamond sky and feel a strong connection with the celestial sphere. Our festival days were grounded in our work in the ‘Healing Centre’. Col James had made us a Buckminster Fuller inspired parachute dome. Depending on how you see things it looked like either a lotus flower or a fried egg.
Acupuncture was a new thing and people were excited to try it out. We were kept very busy, right through the festival, treating all kinds of upsets and ailments, real and imagined. On meeting, for the first time, the festival’s official medico Dr Harry Freeman he said he was not so busy. No surprise. If anything was going to sell at this countercultural festival it would be alternative medicine.
We continued our practice after the festival, in a little house near the police station, treating those who were staying on and quite a few of the locals as well. One of them was the local copper, Bob Marsh. He marched in, dropped his equipment belt and holster on the bed and complained. ‘I can’t shoot straight.’ That must have been very disturbing for our previous patients, who were out the back, relaxing with a joint. It turned out that they weren’t the targets he had in mind. He had to pass an annual fitness test and needed a tremor stilled in his gun hand.
Over the next three years we were back and forth to Sydney and overseas for a year completing a compulsory external unit for Hippy U – ‘The India Trip’. Back then Phra Kantipalo, an English monk from the Thai tradition, was our spiritual education tutor. All the while we really wanted to settle down back in Nimbin and become a part of what we thought was this great, amazing community that was going to transform the world. We had purchased a share in the old Nimbin RSL building and from 1975 used some rooms there to operate our healing centre.
Trusting to fate
At that time many of the new settlers were practising what today is called ‘free-birthing’, ie no professionals of any kind in attendance, just mum, hopefully dad and, trusting to fate, the new baby. We had been, as observers only, to one of those births and I figured, since they were going to happen anyway, that it would be safer and more reassuring if an old-fashioned midwife could be present at these hippy homebirths.
That is how my career in midwifery began. People, trusting me as a mother of four, asked for help. The medical establishment, including Harry, were really antagonistic at first and I was threatened by the Nurses’ and Midwife’s Board who tried hard to get us barred. John Seed, however, had checked with the civil liberties mob and found that it wasn’t illegal to deliver babies at home as long as it was a certain distance from the nearest obstetrics ward and a GP was in the loop and able to attend the fairly rare cases where there might be some complications.
I remember our very first birth. Our home, in the 1976 wet season, was a house at the edge of town in High Street, shared with Graham Irvine. John and Greta Seed lived in the nearby bails. We were sitting on the veranda, gazing out into buckets of rain, when I heard our decrepit farm gate scrape and saw a familiar woman sloshing up to the house in her gumboots. ‘Sally, what are you doing?’ ‘Oh, I’ve come to get you. I’m in labour.’
With that she headed back to her house, way up the top of Gungas Road. So we put together our stuff which, because it was for our first delivery, had been exceedingly well sterilised, and followed on after her. We had to wade through three swelling creeks and only just made it across in time. With no power or piped water we worked into the night with only candlelight to see by.
In readiness we’d laid out all our sterile gear and then, right before the final push, a frightened mouse ran across the lot closely chased by the cat. I recently caught up with Rowie, our first home-born baby. She now has a grownup daughter who has just given birth to a baby boy. With Robin, the matriarch, this makes four generations.
The Healing Centre, renamed ‘Birth and Beyond’, was then used to hold classes and pre-natal examinations. We must have helped more than a hundred post-Aquarian children to get born. On top of that there were hundreds more, all around the world, during our sojourns overseas. Every birth was a challenge. Sometimes it was life and death stuff. Because I lack any formal training, I’ve learned to trust my intuition and the psychic skills that I’ve picked up along the way.
Casting back to our early times in Nimbin my fondest memory is of being in the nuddy most of the time and enjoying the sensuous feeling of the creek water flowing over my body. I loved joining in with ‘May the long-time sunshine upon you’. It felt like we were vibrating from the heart, singing with your whole essence and connecting with everyone else in the song. I think I was much more of a Cosmic than a Doer.’
Here and now
Mira (Carole) Stannard now lives in Ballina with her husband Tansen (Norman), grows veggies, and still swims in the bollocky, but these days in a suburban backyard pool. She is very connected with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and feels very blessed in her life. She’s wrong about one thing, though. She can’t only be an airy fairy cosmic. With hundreds of children around the globe calling her Goddess-mother she must be a down-to-earth doer as well. Yin and Yang embodied. The I Ching hexagram, thrown in 1972, has been shown to be remarkably accurate.
• This is the sixth article in an ongoing series run in the Byron Echo and Echonetdaily in the leadup to the 40th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival. For the full series go to http://echonetdaily.echo.net.au/aquarius. For the festival program see http://sassevents.scu.edu.au/aquarius.