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Byron Shire
September 21, 2023

Revisiting Aquarius: where we have been and where we need to go

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Catching up on the balcony of the Nimbin Pub on the evening of arrival.

It was ‘far out’ to be in Nimbin again for the 50th celebration of the Aquarius Festival. 

I chose to arrive by public transport from Newcastle, usually a fun challenge. I like that you see life on public transport, but it was a bit stressful this time with one extremely noisy person. 

It is always difficult and exhausting to get away. I have no idea how we backpacked around Australia at age 18, then across Asia and Europe at 19 and 20. 

It was partly because we just – left – completely unprepared. Now I want to pack my herbal medicine and my lactose free milk for the trip, although there is a perfectly good buffet car on the train: one of the perks of the XPT.

Nimbin on opening night.

‘May the Long-time Sun Shine Upon You’

I tottered in at about 8.30pm, very pleased to see the Nimbin Pub where I was staying. And upstairs on the balcony was the only friend that I expected to be there – Barbara, from 50 years ago at the original 1973 Aquarius Festival, and a couple of her friends from Sydney. She had booked when I did. The staff at the pub were lovely, welcoming, as they had been when I booked on the phone.

Nimbin’s coloured lights looked wonderful from the balcony. It was cold though. I couldn’t remember it being so cold 50 years ago, although we did sit around a couple of fires. Not such good resistance to cold these days.

What I remembered from back then was the holding hands and dancing in a line while singing ‘May the Long-time Sun Shine Upon You’. And the wonderful Hari Krishnas who fed us every night in the lead-up. I was there with my four-year-old son, Carlos. We were among the early settlers from Coopers Lane, Main Arm – where we lived in a banana shed on Nicky and Jane Shands’ land – who came over to help set up the 1973 festival.

You can read more detail of these wonderful memories in my recently published memoir: Alternatives! A Memoir.

Carlos Bellmaine Morrow and Sebastian Shand sitting on the left hand side of the stage, at the age of five, at the 1973 Aquarius Festival.

The theme of the festival in 1973 was ‘survival’.

Three of us, Barbara Cleary, Andrew Pengelly and I (known as Paula Bellmaine back then) had volunteered to be responsible for a tiny cupboard-like space designated ‘The Information Centre’.

I have always felt a bit guilty that I only stayed with the Info Centre for a few days – because I had met a wonderful new man, Bevan Morrow, and was a bit distracted! 

But Barbara said, nearly 50 years later, when we met up in the State Library Cafe to discuss, among other things, whether we would go to the reunion in Nimbin, ‘Oh, you two were so in love!’

Someone noticed and remembered!

Straight after the Festival, Bevan and I left to study natural therapies and have more children in Sydney, sharing a flat with his yoga teacher, Acharya; but we later returned to the region and practiced natural therapies in Lismore.

Saturday at the Aquarius Reunion was just a blur of running into old friends and new.

Paula Morrow’s with her books at the 2023 Nimbin 50th Aquarius Festival. Photo Peter Derrett

Dancing in the rain

Then on Sunday I took a chance and jumped on the maxi mini-bus going to The Channon Market. I hadn’t been for decades but had wanted to. 

It drizzled slightly but it didn’t matter to me. The stalls were filled with handmade special things and the atmosphere was magical. 

I was drinking coffee at one of the well-positioned tables when the man in the couple opposite me and I vaguely recognised each other from 50 years ago. It was Christopher and Lynda Dean, and she said that they had been to the natural therapy practice Bevan and I ran in Lismore many years ago.

Bevan died of cancer, aged 35, in 1986. Following his death I took the younger children and moved to Newcastle. Carlos, my eldest, is about to start uni there.

The music, especially the drumming, was so good that I joined many others dancing in the light drizzle.

My last day at the Nimbin Reunion was spent in the Town Hall at a forum titled, ‘Direct Action for the Environment, Do We Still Need It?’

This was where I really felt part of the tribe within a tribe. It was fantastic, inspiring, and so helpful for me. All of us agreed that this is the only game in town. Everything else depends on it. 

I spoke briefly, showing them my books: including the two novels Life in Time, and Darwin’s Dilemma: the damage done and the battle for the forests – both with direct connections to the Aquarius Festival themes; the memoir mentioned above; and also Healing Ourselves and Our Planet: the Secrets and Diary of a Natural Therapist.

I told them that it might help us to remember this gathering and metaphorically hold hands, as we had in person 50 years ago to give us strength to keep fighting for our wonderful planet and the life on her.

Three of my four books are available through Amazon as e-books and through Ingram Spark as paperbacks. Contact me at [email protected].

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