50th anniversary poster
This essay by Bill Dalton appears with permission from Avalon’s 2005 Australia Guidebook.
Rumors had been circulating around the country for weeks about an arts festival in a small town called Nimbin in the hills of New South Wales. Communes, hippies, and travelers were converging on the site from all over Australia. Stuck in Cairns after seven years’ traveling to more than 70 countries, I hitched a ride south in a car that had “Nimbin or Bust” spelled out in the dust on its rear window. Driving deep into the countryside, we at last arrived at Nimbin. A fountain of red paint spurted above a storefront, psychedelic motifs ran from building to building all along the main street, and outlandishly dressed people emerged barefoot from all manner of wheeled contraptions. As I surveyed the scene, I realized that I had happened upon an Australian Woodstock, a landmark event of the 1970s, a wondrous once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Nimbin perched on top of a small hill. Below lay a broad valley cut in two by a winding river. Scattered across the valley floor were hundreds of tepees, tents, multicolored domes, makeshift plastic shelters, vans, and RVs, all under tall, bushy eucalyptus trees. I was invited to stay in a huge communal plastic orange igloo with a gang of bikers. Late into the first night, chillums sparked in the darkness as a New Zealand organist pierced the night air with Christian rock music. The next morning I woke to the sound of flutes and chanting Hare Krishnas. A heavy mist encircled the trees and drifted over a sea of bodies crashed everywhere on the damp grass. Smoke puffed above a small Aborigine tribe from central Australia camped on a nearby hill where they performed dances and told stories. The Aborigines considered Nimbin a holy place inhabited by departed spirits and refused to pay the admission fee to enter land they felt had been stolen from them.
That day hundreds of celebrants – each one a character – arrived. Fred Robinson, an amazing white-haired 83-year-old Moses figure from Perth, gave talks on the Grand Order of the Universe, flying saucers, and Right Diet in order to save the world by 1978 – which promised to be a very heavy year. In a nearby field, peddling furiously, a man attempted to get an absurd spiral-shaped flying machine off the ground. As the crowds swelled, a mushroom-eating greeter called out “Hello Bruce!” to everyone. Webster, a sexual activist, revolutionary, and spiritualist, enthused on his soapbox in his faultless British accent: “What we need is not a new Christ but a new Robin Hood! Not pie in the sky! Pie now!” A bedraggled band of crazy long-haired flautists and bongo drummers from Melbourne, who called themselves “The White Company,” poured out of a long white bus. All shared food and whatever else they had; at the communal privies, guys and girls – complete strangers – shared the toilets and took showers together. Everyone was repeating “It’s working, it’s working!” Nimbin was to become a metaphor for a whole generation of Australians.
The hilltop swarmed with people and hummed with activity. Rock concerts, be-ins, peak experiences, spontaneous dances swirled around us. Shops sold oatmeal cookies and stir-fry veggies on paper plates (the locals called whole-wheat flour “hippie flour” and brown rice “hippie rice”). The Learning Exchange held workshops on silversmithing, transcendental meditation, instrument- and batik-making, mime by the White Company, and others such as “Sex – The Virile Sport.” A massage tent had opened up, and in the afternoon at the Butter Factory, vehement diatribes were underway on racism, gay and feminist liberation, radical sociology, and antipsychiatry. At the Nimbin Pub, packed with freaks and farmers from 10 in the morning until 10 at night, the till was white hot. And the din! A few doors down, a poetry group read Yevtushenko by candlelight in the middle of the street. Dollar Brand, an African pianist, played a wild improvisation in Nimbin Hall, taking the audience to a crescendo, then down to the nadir. In the Central Cafe, the New Zealand jug band Blertha sent a hundred people rockin’ with their shivering electric guitars. It was a scene of mind-boggling freshness and innocence.
By the 10th day, the media got hold of the event and turned it into a real circus. Straight tourists walked down the main street warily as if they were in a lion park. Keeping their kids close to their sides, they stood gaping at the goings-on, laughing nervously. Plainclothesmen drove the dirt roads, and notices divulging their license plate numbers circulated. Cameramen worked the throngs. An official-looking man asked me, “Where’s the main attraction?” Later that morning, news spread of an orgiastic be-in on the soccer field. It started as a snakelike procession winding in and out of all the tents – a freak parade with everyone singing and playing musical toys. In the center, the crowd danced and gyrated, a naked, free-spirited frenzy, while a shaggy, bare-ass photographer with an oversized 16 mm movie camera recorded the climax for posterity. That was Australia’s Summer of Love.
While many festival-goers remained in the area after the Aquarius Festival ended, Bill Dalton headed to Sydney to self-publish in booklet form A Traveler’s Notes: Indonesia, which he had been flogging on the streets of Nimbin. Little did he realize that in the ensuing years what had begun as six pages of mimeographed notes would grow into Moon Publications – later Avalon Travel Publishing. This essay appeared in Avalon’s 2005 Australia Guidebook.
Elsewhere on the Web
The Aquarius Festival – Nimbin Web
40 years beyond Nimbin’s Aquarius Festival
Nimbin Aquarius Festival 50th anniversary colourful celebration on Mothers Day – The Echo