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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Nimbin’s iconic buildings go up in smoke

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nimbin-fire1-edit2Darren Coyne

Nimbin has lost some of its most iconic buildings including the Nimbin Museum and Rainbow Cafe in a fire that ripped through the heart of the village early this morning.

It’s understood police are currently questioning a person in relation to the blaze, which also destroyed the All Tribes shop adjoining the museum, and the Bringabong store.

Nimbin Museum owner Michael Balderstone told Echonetdaily he received a call about the fire just after 4am and could see the glow as he raced into town.

‘It’s as if Nimbin has had its two front teeth knocked out,’ Mr Balderstone said.

It’s believed the fire started at the rear of the Rainbow Cafe but quickly spread to the museum and adjoining shops.

Nine fire engines with crews managed to stop the fire from spreading further, no mean feat in a one-street village where most buildings are connected and made from wood.

Police have closed off Cullen Street in both directions to allow fire investigators to examine the scene, and traffic is being diverted down past the western carpark.

Mr Balderstone said everyone was shocked.

‘We got in at 4.30am and could see the glow on the way into town. It’s still smouldering now and a crime scene is in place,’ he said.

Mr Balderstone said police had taken a person into custody for questioning.

‘This has always been the scary part of Nimbin. There’s a lot of homeless, troubled people around who are up all night or lighting fires trying to keep warm,’ he said.

‘The cafe and the museum have always been regarded as the heart of town. My daughter is devastated because she grew up in the museum.

‘I’m just shocked.’

It’s not the first time Nimbin has faced such a tragedy.

A Nimbin Hemp Embassy spokesperson said the same shops burnt down back in 1926 but were then rebuilt.

The buildings featured murals by world-renowned activist Benny Zable, which dated back to the Aquarius Festival, and the museum provided a potted history of the village’s alternative culture.


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Here & Now #67: Nimbin, my place of dreams

I came to Nimbin in the early 80s, a refugee from north Queensland where the police had taken to shooting hippies. Keen to try something new, I started working. The Rainbow Cafe had been empty for some months so my north Queensland family and I took over the lease.


Nimbin’s iconic buildings go up in smoke

Nimbin has lost some of its most iconic buildings including the Nimbin Museum and Rainbow Cafe in a fire that ripped through the heart of the village early this morning.


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  1. Wow. What a terrible loss this is. Not only to the local community, but to the wider counterculture movement as well. I look forward to seeing what rises from the ashes. I’m sure the Nimbin community will turn it in to a positive by building something wonderful in their place. I just hope that Michael Balderstone finds a way to replace that eclectic collection of alternative memorabilia.

  2. What a great shame! I first went to the Rainbow Cafe about 30 years ago – what an eye opener to a young girl from the city. And what a loss of history with the museum gone. Sorry for the business owners. I hope NImbin can rebuild and revive

  3. What a sad loss of Nimbin’s history!

    The Rainbow (“Brainblow” to some) was not only a centre of community, food, and alternative culture in Nimbin; it also can claim an Australian (and, I believe, world) first: it’s where Australia’s second-only needle/syringe exchange program started. (That program was the second-only NESP in Au, and as far as is known, the world’s first such program in a non-metro area.)

    I was working as a cook at the Rainbow when the local GP, Dr David Helliwell, seconded me (owing to my welfare-work background) to his newborn baby, the NESP, later renamed the HITeam – HIV Intervention Team – and I am proud of my involvement over the three years that followed.

    It was where my colleagues and I used to base ourselves for safer-injecting (and safer-sex) outreach, educating injecting drug users about HIV/AIDS and supplying them with clean gear.

    The program was such a success* that it became the de facto model for non-metro NESPs (and not just a few metros as well), with new NESP workers from all over the nation, and from various parts of the larger world, going there to observe and learn from that rather unorthodox program (*Australia’s most successful, judged on statistics available then).

    Here’s hoping the Rainbow and the Museum rise phoenix-like from their ashes!

    GB Haynes

    • Hi, Is GB Haynes you Gordie? It’s got to be as I was the first Nimbin NEP worker in Nimbin (thanks to David Helliwell) and we did indeed use the Rainbow Café (and underneath the Town Hall) for much of our early days outreach work. The Nimbin/Lismore NEP was Australia’s first rural Needle Exchange program but there were city programs already up and running when we started the pilot program up here. I think you came “on deck” about one year after it started. Where are you living these days? It’s just so sad that our community has lost such an icon.

  4. Rebuild, this time with locally manufactured hemp construction. Which won’t burn down. A devastating loss and an opportunity for renewal. Love to Nimbin.

  5. This is devastating news. History up in smoke. Nimbin was home to me during the 70’s and early 80’s before I moved to Mullumbimby. I know all those buildings well. I pray they were insured and can be rebuilt, but they can never be replaced or the art work

  6. I also worked out of the Rainbow cafe for the Needle exchange and HIT in the early 90’s as an outreach worker. I got to know many interesting corners of Nimbin through this work but mostly a very eclectic and intelligent bunch of people who took me in, eventually(pretty straight looking chick from the city:)) as we gathered daily at the Rainbow.
    It was a great time in the history of preventative health in this country and yes Nimbin was crucial to its success and progression in the northern rivers area.
    I will remember the Rainbow and its colour and the education i also received back from so many of the regulars then as a high spot in my career history.
    Its dad that its gone.
    Yet I look forward to what rises from the ashes.

  7. The positive side is that this loss serves to (hopefully ) mitigate the tragic drug addiction and subsequent lives of beautiful creative people destroyed – so easily overlooked by those glorifying counter culture ‘free’ lifestyle. Yeah yeah yeah get angry at me call me a wowser. Whatever. For all of you foaming at the mouth with ‘harm minimisation’ the fact is drug abuse destroys lives and that is instantly apparent to even the most naive, when arriving in that sweet little village. This fire is a tragedy but hopefully it has exorcised some of the addiction spirits and the new life it sows will be less shackled : for some.

  8. what a sad loss. How i always will remember arriving in nImbin in 1989 at the Rainbow Cafe!. From there it all started! My crazy story in Australia!

    Now i continue the crazy story in ASIA… but my l ove still remains there…. just can’t afford to live there any more… happiness to all of you, and may something beautiful rise out of those ashes!!!

  9. Heritage lost forever. This is stunning. Fire is so “complete”. Nothing can be saved. It’s a huge loss, not only for the local community (Bless them), but also for the history of Australia. Just like the beloved Uki pub, this is so devastating on so many levels.

  10. Wow! I well remember Graeme Dunstan and crew taking me and I think my brother David to see Nimbin as a ghost town in 1972 or 3 after our Main Arm neighbour strongly objected to locating the ’73 Aquarius Festival on our farm in Main Arm.

    Maybe Benny Zable could recreate some great street art or he or others do something big and new to celebrate the now evident fall of the American Empire. How many wars do you need to start and lose?

    From the ashes new saplings thrive.

    Chris McIlrath [email protected]

  11. Really disappointed to hear the heart of your town has gone Mike, you have worked so hard on that iconic museum. We have great memories of that wonderful edifice, and wish you well in building it up again.
    Jean J and I send you our love and encouragement xx

  12. I agree with you Rachel. There is a darker flip side to the hippy counter culture. It’s ok to make claims of the poisoning of our water supply, of the radiation from mobile phone towers etc, but that goes out of the window when poisoning your own body is concerned. And I say this as a prior daily smoker/drug user of many decades. None-the-less, it is sad to see the cafe and museum destroyed.

  13. The August edition of the Nimbin Goodtimes has a letter from Michael Baulderstone saying that those same buildings were for sale for about 1 Million bucks and that the museum rent was $3149 per month. I always thought he owned them but apparently not. Whatever there was an apparent transition in ownership happening….what bearing that may have on the story is yet to be revealed…..

  14. As my daughter reminded me, noone died; unlike the same night in Gaza and many other places where peoples’ homes and essential infrastructure are being destroyed by state and non-state terrorists alike, we’re in ‘one peace’.

    The ‘heart of Nimbin’ lies within the hearts of the people who make up its fabulouly diverse community, not with any particular buildings, sad as it is to see their passing.

    Only a small fraction of the locals live in or spend much of their time in the town, most live on rural communities and smallholdings around the valleys, which often escapes most media imaginings of what constitutes ‘Nimbin’ though unsurprising when they keep asking the same few people.

    As for rebuilding, only the Rainbow land is in anything like community hands, namely Coordination Co-op on behalf of Tuntable Falls community. How ever long it might take to negotiate through many diverse views, I expect we’ll see something creative and in tune with the community.

    As for the majority private property, who knows? There’s heritage listing on much of the town, council may be able to mandate something vaguely appropriate, as least as facades, but in the end it’s money talking that usually dominates such outcomes, yes even in Nimbin ..

  15. Still trying to make it seem real, can’t quite take it in, such a huge loss to us all….I have been going to that cafe and the other shops and the museum since I was 18 (I’m 48 this year, in case you’re wondering). I know it doesn’t rate on a global level at such a time of warmongering and despair, but on a personal level?….I’m in shock, so sad not to have the heart of the street there anymore, just doesn’t seem possible.


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