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Byron Shire
May 10, 2021

Recounting tales of visionaries and activists

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Rainbow Dreaming: Tales from the Age of Aquarius  – Edited by Harsha Prabhu and Graeme Batterbury


The Barefoot Gypsies, who are pictured in Rainbow Dreaming, entertained the crowd at the book’s launch on Saturday.

Photo and story Luis Feliu

It’s a rare thing indeed when a book, a song, a poem, or a film comes along which enhances or cements your sense of identity and place, of who you are, of where you live and why you live there.

Rainbow Dreaming, a collection of over 100 anecdotes and images exploring the history of the alternative movement and its social impact on Australia since the Aquarius Festival held in Nimbin 40 years ago, does that by putting it all in perspective.

It’s a must-have pictorial book for anyone living on the north coast to understand the communities that make up what is affectionately known as the ‘Rainbow Region’, centred around Nimbin and Byron Bay.

But others around Australia will also be inspired by the thoughts of a diverse array of cultural and social visionaries and how people power can transform communities and ways of doing things for the better.

The book comprises the work of scores of some of the region’s best-loved and known photographers, writers, poets environmentalists, filmmakers, musicians, activists and other thinkers and doers who were at the forefront or background of dynamic social change, then and now.

And as many contributors agree, their legacy has much more relevance today than it ever has, with demands for a lifestyle committed to sustainable living.

The alternative thinkers, labelled ‘hippies’ by the rural communities they were quickly becoming part of as they streamed into the north coast during and after the 1973 Aquarius Festival, were a microcosm of a movement of people around the world sick of the old destructive ways of living and hoping to stimulate change for the better.

Another visionary of the time, John Lennon, described them as being ‘dreamers’, but ‘not the only ones’, and of course, hoping many more would join them.

Nicholas Shand, the late founding editor of The Echo, who attended the festival in 1973, described 20 years later how the event changed Byron shire’s character forever.

In his essay reproduced in Rainbow Dreaming, Nicholas said rural peace had ‘given way to rural smallholding; the empty cobwebbed lanes have given way to the tourist route and the sleepy hollow of Byron has been made to wake up and grow up.

‘But there is a legacy in them thar hills, born of a wave of madness and mushrooms, hope and freedom and a generation of release,’ he wrote.



Ironically, the significance of the site, the event and the person chosen to launch Rainbow Dreaming last Saturday could not have been lost on those present, and it wasn’t.

The event was the culturally-rich Byron Bay Writers’ Festival.

The site was once the battleground for a David and Goliath fight where an environmentally enlightened Byron Bay community succeeded in stopping a multinational corporation from developing it into an exclusive 5-star resort not in keeping with the locals’ vision for their town.

And it was the first Greens mayor in Australia, Jan Barham, now a NSW MP, who did the honours, having also contributed to the book.

The former Byron shire mayor, after acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, told the crowd that the Aquarius Festival was the first event which paid such respect to the indigenous people.

Ms Barham said it had been a guiding influence for the alternative movement since and ‘part of the collaboration between the black and the green’.

She also acknowledged ‘other inspirational people’ who had inspired her in politics, former north-coast based MLCs Richard Jones and Ian Cohen who were in the crowd, saying Mr Jones was ‘the lone voice we could go to’ in order to raise the Club Med development issue in parliament.

‘So it’s ironic that 20 years later here we are having a festival and launching a book about the alternative movement when we took on a multinational corporation and took them to the courts and won,’ she said.

Ms Barham said she was also honoured recently in parliament when she managed against the odds to put on the record what the Aquarius Festival movement had achieved and marking its 40th anniversary.

She said that much to her surprise, MPs encouraged her as she read her mark of respect for the festival onto the parliamentary record, by saying ‘go on Jan, tell us more’, and the next day parliament supported it.

On the record

‘So it’s on the record, their support and recognition for 40 years of who we are on the north coast and the alternative movement, and that felt great to do, a coming of age.’

Ms Barham said she was ‘too young and living in the city’ and missed the Aquarius Festival and logging blockades by activists that resonated around Australia.

But like many others, she was aware of ‘what was happening, which was greatly inspirational’.

‘We all owe a great debt to the north coast, to its free spirit and free thinking and the energy that transformed not just this country but the world in terms of how people live and think differently and defend the land, the nature and the sense of place.’

Ms Barham said Rainbow Dreaming is ‘a celebration, because it’s about who we are, who we’ve become over 40 years, and how a group of people can live in a way that’s different to the rest of society… in a way that encourages other people to come here and recognise that it’s special’.

She said the alternative movement and its legacy was ‘what gives us a sense of place and makes it such a wonderful place to live, and that is the celebration of this book’.

The book is available via bookshops and retail outlets in the region, as well as online at www.rainbowdreaming.org. All proceeds from the sale of Rainbow Dreaming go to power Nimbin’s Sustainability Hub.


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  1. I had the chance to visit the (Rainbow) region last year following the November Total Eclipse, and after some weeks living and meeting people over there, came to realise some of the same ideas you put forward here.

    I found an unexpected great complex net of social relations and meetings threaded over by greatly diverse people, mostly living at their fairly distant semi-rural houses: A myriad of Festivals, communal cultural, social activities, parties and a thriving lively friendship net, all resounding forming a ethereal web that -in my distant perspective- contrast very much with what many other countries and cities have to show in this regard, particularly anglosaxon rooted ones.

    In many respects it felt… like the way the future is coming to be at other parts of the world, an example that it is feasible.
    It also felt like Australians, -inmersed in your daily activities- are short of acknowledging the great achievements your way of life shows at many areas, from the warm family gatherings listening live music at the susnset in the Byron Bay beach’s pre-Christmas days, to the friendly and smiling thousands sitting-on-the-park at the open Sydney summer music festivals, to the incredible atmosphere and playful characters at the dancefloors of the many thematic diverse festivals swirling thru the country or perhaps outside a small land track where any given weekend a few people of all ages coming from within several miles around Mullumbimby gather to share a psy-dance with local talent carefully and lovingly placing projections or lighting the trees or merging acoustic instruments with electronics, and all welcoming seasoned performers or timid teenagers.
    Therefore the efforts to build your communities, to earn respect, to improve education, to respect natural ways of growing urban spaces, to add diverse cultural activities at schools and at many levels of your society… it all has summed into what is is now.

    This all is no small feature, this is TREMENDOUS achievement, and sure it has not been easy as many of the stories in the Book recollection will probably show…
    I can relate to that because offshore where I come from, and I am now writing this from, it is rough.
    Just to get close of manifesting in these places what I saw at your beloved region, is rarely achieved.

    I am sure I am not exagerating if I claim that by your mere existence You are inspiration and a example to learn from.
    Thank you.


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