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Byron Shire
June 18, 2024

He’s off, has been for years! And what’s a conspiracy amongst friends?

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After ten years in Mullum I’ve relocated to the middle of an extinct volcano in Murwillumbah. Happily, a decade of living in nirvana central has taught me a lot. Most of it positive. Its claim of being the biggest little town in Australia is about right, but it’s also a place riddled with oddities and internal contradictions. 

Slightly strange to the utterly bizarre

My earliest recollection of arriving in town is of attending a small gathering of the area’s leading conspiracy theorists. Oh, what fun we had! My partner and I were regaled with numerous florid ideas, mainly to do with 9/11, reptilians, Bill Gates, 4G, various paedophilic dungeons, the World Health Organisation, the UN – you name it. Over the years I’ve heard many such theories, from the slightly strange to the utterly bizarre. To an outsider such thought streams might be considered risible, but in Mullum they’re commonplace. The more I got to know the exponents of these colourful offerings, the more they’d encourage me to do my ‘research’ – which, on occasion, I did.

There’s a serious side to all this, of course – I mean, people hold on tightly to their beliefs. But I’ve come to realise that claims about secretive cabals, satanic cults, reptilians and the like stem from a fundamental distrust of power. Nothing unusual about that, you might say. Distrust of politicians, public institutions, corporations, etc. is sky high. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, you don’t have to look very far to come across lies, deceit, cover-ups and obfuscation. It’s how power operates. Remember Watergate, Vietnam, Iraq, East Timor, Robodebt, etc. etc.? 

Still, where I diverge from my florid friends, is on the question of what Australian-British intellectual Karl Popper referred to as falsifiability. Somewhere along the line you have to decide whether what’s being proposed is reasonable, and for that you need some semblance of supporting evidence rather than intuition or guesswork.

Remember the ‘’Pizzagate’ saga? I was sent numerous links alleging that satanic child-killing rituals were being carried out in the basement of a Washington DC pizza parlour. I checked the claims out and rapidly came to the conclusion that they were bogus. When an armed gunmen entered the eatery to rescue the unfortunate ‘victims’ – children, apparently – it was discovered there was no basement. Whoopsie-daisy. The man in question was eventually apprehended, convicted and now languishes in jail. 

But I digress. Mullum is much more than a repository for conspiracy fads. It’s crammed full of amazing people. Its colour and energy are the stuff of legends. The festivals, parades, music, activism and tolerance (broadly speaking) of difference are bedrock features. Yet like most resonant places, Mullum has over the years become a parody of itself, with new agers and spiritual gurus exhibiting many of the signs of radical individualism. 

Plenty to learn

What I love most about Mullum is that you can always seek out someone to talk to. Most days, cafes are packed with lots of animated folk yakking away. Some of my favourite days were spent sitting in the Cardamon Pod eavesdropping on the most fascinating and zaniest of conversations. But you learn a lot, too. Let’s face it, with a population of artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, comedians, musicians and so forth, what do you think is going to happen?

The thing is, I have never felt lonely in Mullum. Friends regularly dropped in for a chat. People were available. It’s that kind of place. I wish that there had been more active acknowledgement of the town’s Indigenous presence which often felt overridden by successive waves of colonisers. I wished too that there had been more congruence between what people professed and how they actually behaved. But who’s not guilty of that? I hoped too that the town centre could be congested with bikes, roller skates and scooters rather than motor vehicles. 

I want to end by applauding The Echo – one of the best independent newspapers in Australia. It’s feisty, informative and a necessary bulwark against unrestrained power, especially  with Mandy’s weekly column, it’s always worth a read. Long live The Echo!

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  1. In relation to ‘Pizzagate’, it was remarkable how politicised this controversy was. This was understandable, given that the Podesta emails, which were the source of the controversy, were released by Wikileaks in the immediate run-up to the 2016 presidential election. As a result, it was common for Clinton supporters to ‘know’ within 5 seconds that it was fake, and Trump supporters to ‘know’ within 5 seconds that it was real. The problem with this method of establishing veracity is that it is based on no greater factual basis than political tribalism.

    In relation to the question of a basement, the mainstream media chorused that the Comet Ping Pong venue had no basement. There is nothing online to verify the existence of a basement, unless you resort to the Internet archive of an old Metro Weekly interview, in which the owner, James Alefantis, states that ten tonnes of tomatoes are stored in the venue’s basement every year. It seems that the original interview, which I viewed while it was still online, has since disappeared for whatever reason. It’s also noteworthy that the choice of search engine makes a big difference in the type of results that come up, with Yandex being an interesting choice.


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