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Community pioneer Jane Shand – one of the originals

Jane Shand passed away at home, with her family, and was buried next to her husband Nicky on the community they started together in Main Arm. Photo Kerry Sunderland.

Aslan & Sebastian Shand

Always ahead of the curve: from introducing her friends to rock ‘n’ roll, to being part of the first wave of hippies to settle in Main Arm, to dropping ‘back in’ when she started the Mullumbimby and District Neighbourhood Centre in the 1980s; Janet, Jan or Jane Shand – it depended on when you first got to know her – was a wild, loving, adventurous, and caring spirit who passed away on 29 April, 2020.

Despite being described by friends from her youth as beautiful, bubbly and with boyfriends lining up, she had a difficult life from day one. Jane was the first girl in Australia to be born with pyloric stenosis, and as a newborn was operated on by her surgeon as he held her in one hand and operated with the other. Her father was absent from the time she was a baby, and as a result, like her husband Nicky, whose mother died when he was young, she always sought to create a sense of belonging and family everywhere she called home.

Fought for life

At a young age Jane was kicked in the head by a horse and spent time in a coma. This profoundly affected her life, not just from the perspective of not being able to finish school at that time, but also her sense of spirituality. While Jane chose to turn her back on her Catholic upbringing early in her life, she spent much of it exploring philosophy and spirituality and took many teachings and principles from Tibetan Buddhism.

The impact of the head trauma left her with double vision, and while the doctor prescribed tennis lessons to assist, it was less her lack of ability to identify which of the balls regularly heading her way was the real one, than time, that facilitated her vision returning to normal. This didn’t stop her and she achieved both matriculation and, later in life, a degree in sociology.

At 21, after working in the foreign language department at Melbourne University, and in charge of her own destiny, she decided to head to Italy and art school. Her older sister, Annetine, was living in London and asked her to come and help with the birth of her third baby, Suzie. Little did Jane know that this stopover would change the course of her life.

Jane studied at the London School of Photography. She got an evening job at the local Canonbury Tavern, where she met her future husband, Nicholas (Nicky) Shand. She said that from the first moment she saw him she knew he was the man she would marry. However, not yet being ready to settle down – she promptly started dating one of his friends.

It wasn’t until after Jane, her boyfriend, and Nicky were involved in a car accident, where Jane went through the windscreen, that Nicky was able to finally secure her as his partner. It wasn’t long before Sebastian, their first child, was on his way.

Bohemian adventurers

Their marriage led to a life of bohemian adventure as they headed to Australia with their 18-month-old son in a converted Ford Transit van. On this journey they were one of the last groups to traverse the old Silk Road before it was closed. They made many lifelong friends and had many life-changing experiences on the way.

Eventually they ended up in Sydney, and it was from there that they began coming to Byron Bay where they would hang out on the undeveloped Wategos beach. In the early 1970s they bought a property in Main Arm, where they were part of the first wave of hippies.

Rather than host the Aquarius Festival in Main Arm, many of those hippies, including Jane and Nicky, headed over to Nimbin for the six weeks prior to the festival to help set it up. How she managed to live quite so gracefully in a treehouse with a four year old – while seven months pregnant – has always been a matter of family wonder.

Please come home…

After the home birth of her second child, Aslan, Jane headed back to London where she was then joined by Nicky after he had been adventuring in NZ and North America. They moved to the Welsh border and bought a property on the Llangollen Canal. They turned the pigsty into a craft shop, and the old cow bails into a restaurant that they called Mad Jack’s after the local Lord who was renowned for having once ridden a bear into dinner.

It was here that Jane was able to explore Tibetan Buddhism, and she spent a significant amount of time at Manjushri Institute where, for a time, she considered becoming a Buddhist nun.

Her husband Nicky was not so keen on this outcome and appeared with the children and persuaded her that she really wanted to return to the family home and life as his wife.

They then went on to have their third child, Saffron. They were told he was unlikely to survive and would never walk or talk. Their commitment to Saffron throughout both their lives ensured that he not only learnt to talk and walk – but became a living legend of Mullumbimby!

Dropping in

In 1980 they decided to return to Mullumbimby. Jane began to re-imagine her dreams of creating a community. It was with ideas of affordable housing and alternative ways of living that Jane turned the land she had in Main Arm into one of the first multiple occupancies (MO) in Byron Shire.

It wasn’t long after her return that she came up with the idea of a District Neighbourhood Centre and became its founding President. The Centre was incorporated in 1987.

Campaigning for support from the local Council, the Neighbourhood Centre’s first residence was a caravan opposite the police station in Mullumbimby. It was here that locals who had been subject to police abuse during the infamous marijuana raids were able to anonymously leave the story of their experiences that, after investigations by the NSW Ombudsman, led to the demotion of several police officers.

Jane had officially ‘dropped in’ and became an active member of the community, spending many years on the Mullumbimby Tidy Towns Committee. It was during this time that she was able to garner additional support and the Neighbourhood Centre was granted a permanent residence.

Through her strong leadership the Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre was able to set up and gain funding for a range of services for the most disadvantaged in the community. From publicly accessible showers to domestic violence support services she also put her energy into setting up the BEEP house and the Mullumbimby youth cottage.

Jane served as president of the Neighbourhood Centre several times and continued to volunteer until six years ago, when her health no longer permitted it.

The Echo is born

It was during the time she was president of the Neighbourhood Centre that her husband Nicky also decided to start The Byron Shire Echo newspaper (originally The Brunswick Valley Echo).

It was Jane who ensured The Echo had the chance it needed to get off the ground by providing the seed money to get the business up and running. Following Nicky’s death she remained a strong supporter of the paper as one of its major shareholders.

Jane was truly an unsung hero in the local community, inspiring and supporting people throughout her life. She always had a spare meal, a cup of tea, and a chance for people to be heard.

The loss of her husband Nicky in 1996 was a devastating blow. He was her life partner, and together they were visionaries, adventurers, individuals, and activists believing that their actions could and would continue to make the world a better place, long after they had left it.

Jane is survived by her three children; Sebastian, Aslan and Saffron, and her five grandchildren, Lucien, Lyons, Felix, Cybelle and Coren.

A celebration of Jane’s life will be held when COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.


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3 responses to “Community pioneer Jane Shand – one of the originals”

  1. Chinta says:

    Sending big hugs to you Aslan, Saffy and Sabastian. Family and friends xxx
    Loved your beautiful mumma 💜💜🌹💜🌹💜😘

  2. Barrow says:

    Introduced to my friends Italian Nona somes years
    Back in Margaret River WA she was 83 her Husband had passed , they were one of the
    Original pioneer families having moved to the
    Wine region in in the 40s just after the 2nd world
    War broke out, the “Plandri family” . 350 hectares
    On caves road absolute Prime Wine country.
    I sat with her for hours impeccably dressed
    Beautifully spoken , incredible memory of her times growing up in a little village in Piamdelagotti
    Modena !! Very poor Catholic upbringing, all the
    Children worked the farm ,milked the cows
    Made there own breads , dug the veggie Garden
    4 kids in one bedroom, walked 5km to church
    Each Sunday with the “Guardian Angel “who watched over the family on the way to Church . Such much more to tell another time ! 4 hours later after a wonderful home cooked pasta , 20 year old reds
    She got up and excused herself from the Table
    Chow !! Its time to mow the lawns , looked at my friend in disbelief, what Nona mows the Lawn her her 80s? yep she sure dos he said !! Out she went
    Impeccable, in her traditional Italian dress .Red ,
    green and white . Red lipstick! We walked outside to leave and she was singing whilst mowing , i speak some Italian but could not understand
    The language, her grandson said she was singing
    In Latin . And as we drove of i remembered Nona
    At the Table Saying to me .
    “Everyone’s Got a Story ” how True !!
    So the Moral of my story is that like the “Shands ”
    And “Nona “they leave behind a lasting legacy
    And may that continue with the Shand Children
    And the Echo .. RIP Nicky & Jane

  3. What a wonderful pioneer. A celebration
    of Jane’s life needs to be held once the
    restrictions are lifted. Her legacy is meant
    to live on.

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