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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

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

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Here & Now 67 picS Sorrensen

Larnook. Wednesday, 6.45am

Change is the only constant.

This antithetic epigram is cute – the sort of fancy-fonted fluff you might see on a bumper sticker or on a Hallmark 60th birthday card – but it’s also true.

This morning, Nimbin’s Rainbow Cafe and Nimbin Museum both burnt to the ground. Gone.

Now, in a week where I have grieved the awful immolation of a neighbour and shaken my head at the growing firestorm in Iraq, this burning of buildings is a blazing reminder that at any time, anything can happen.

Sure, as the owner of the museum said – in true hippy style as the old heart of Nimbin lay smoking in the street (the building, not Michael) – it’s just stuff. But it is (was) the stuff of dreams. The Rainbow Cafe and Nimbin Museum were where the Nimbin dreaming was mulled over, and the flames of change were fanned.

But lately it seems to be fire season for dreams.

Change may be the only constant but I’m not sure how to cope with it. When I was younger I embraced change. Nimbin was the agent of that change. Change opened my eyes; saved me from a fate worse than dull.

But now, I’m such a stick-in-the-mud. I am a collection of cultivated habits and rusted-on opinions that resist change. Age has hardened me. I’m scared.

As the forests burn, Gaza smoulders, love sears, and Abbott heats up the war rhetoric for the polls, change is ever threatening to torch the house this little pig built.

But hey! I’m not going to be all negative and gloomy. No, I am determined to be upbeat and positive in this wonderful world, this lovely life. I am determined to write a happy column. La, la, la.

After all, I was recently called a ‘cynical bastard’ by a woman I respect. Me? Cynical? I didn’t realise. So, I’m changing. La, la, la. Just because the planet is spiralling into oblivion doesn’t mean it’s all bad, right? No need to be Mr Grumpypants…

Like a dam across a wild river, I will hold back my negativity and rejoice in fond memories of the Rainbow Cafe. I suppose it’s an obituary of sorts – so it’ll be upbeat and partly true.

I came to Nimbin in the early 80s, a refugee from north Queensland where the police had taken to shooting hippies. (That’s not cynical. Police were protecting the livelihoods of barbers and cobblers.) I thought it was a pretty place, set among the hills, a pall of smoke hanging over the muralled shops. (No building was burning, there was just this pall of smoke…)

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. We spent a few months preparing the cafe for its opening. During those months we actually lived in the Rainbow (living wasn’t illegal in the early 80s), sleeping on mattresses in the kitchen by night, and installing stove, stage and potbelly by day.

Uncomfortable in a world of social conformity, religious abuse and environmental degradation, I’d found a haven of love, gentleness and positivity that fearlessly embraced change.

On grand opening day, I put a Bob Marley cassette on the stereo (Catch a Fire), a new sarong around my waist and welcomed my new community into their cafe, as lovingly as they had welcomed me into their town.

Nimbin was, and is, my place of dreams. The Rainbow Cafe was my portal into a softer world that not only didn’t fear change, it embraced it.

(I went into the museum once and very nearly didn’t come out…)

So farewell, Rainbow Cafe and Nimbin Museum.

Thank you.

 


More stories about the Nimbin Fire

Plan to rebuild Nimbin’s ‘heart’ gathers pace

The new owners of the former Nimbin Museum site and associated shops will meet with staff at the Lismore City Council tomorrow.

0

Nimbin considers future of sites following fire

The future of the iconic buildings burnt to the ground in Nimbin in August is still up in the air.

1

Nimbin on track to restore its heart

A fundraiser will be held this Saturday aimed at ‘Restoring the Heart’ of Nimbin. The fundraiser is the initiative of Matthew Raikes, who was born in Nimbin, where his mother Cathie McIntosh ran a youth refuge for nearly ten years.

0

Future of Nimbin fire site up in the air

Sydney businessman Richard Andary has ‘no plans’ for the site on which the Nimbin Museum and adjacent shops once stood before a fire last month.

1

Police appeal for witnesses to Nimbin fire

Police have issued an appeal to anyone who may have seen ‘a number of people’ in Nimbin’s main street shortly before a fire broke out which gutted the Nimbin Museum, Rainbow Café and other buildings last week.

1

Nimbin clean-up gets underway

The clean-up of Nimbin as begun. Heavy machinery moved onto the site of last week’s fire this morning to begin the process of removing damaged awnings and other debris.

1

The man who holds Nimbin’s heart in his hands

The millionaire owner of the building that housed the Nimbin Museum wants to restore it so that it is ‘better than before’.

3

Nimbin laments loss as fire investigations continue

Nimbin has been left reeling following a fire which destroyed the Nimbin Museum, Rainbow Cafe, and a number of other businesses yesterday morning. But in true hippie spirit, locals are already talking about what will rise from the ashes, as police investigate the cause of the blaze.

3

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.

5

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.

20

 


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5 COMMENTS

  1. Nice piece about a sad event S. I haven’t been into town yet to see the aftermath — and am dreading when I do. However, Nimbin is one of the few places these days where a phoenix might still rise out of the ashes. I hope so. Thanks for sharing your cafe experience.

    Kenrick

  2. I was at the original Aquarius festival in 1973 . Young and stupid we went in the cloths we were standing in taking not even a jumper let alone a sleeping bag . Music ( which I loved ) everywhere and such a positive vibe about it it truly felt like the dawning of a new era . Tried to sleep by laying down in cold due soaked grass , got invited into a huge tent to sleep , slept on the grass no pillow blanket nothing well at least it was dry . Got up very early having had no sleep , walked up the passage way beside Nimbin Town Hall . Looked back down at the camp ground and what a magical sight I’ll never forget it . Tents , teepees , double decker buses , bamboo structures , people sitting round camp fires having breakfast , the entire camp ground covered in a blanket of fog with the sun rising behind it , rays streaking through the fog . Nirvana ? Utopia ? Man I’m looking at it and what a splendid vision it was . But didn’t quite work out like that did it ? Those dreams went up in smoke just like the Rainbow . Hope it gets rebuilt into something that reflects that original splendid vision . And the town heads more towards what that original 1973 concept was . It has certainly strayed a long long way from that .

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