On the backpacker trail, you meet a lot of the same sorts of people—partiers, hikers, shoppers, thrill seekers—and they’re all in the same age range of 18-30. People who don’t fit into those categories tend to stick out prominently, and the woman I met in Rainbow Beach certainly did that. She was in her mid-40s, and she kept pressing her natural anti-panic remedies on my while I was having my medical freakout, and afterward she made conversation by telling anyone who happened to be in the dorm room about her collection of crystals and the many spiritual advisors she’s consulted over the years. Also, a psychic told her that she had psychic powers she hadn’t tapped into yet. She was wacky, and although she talked too much to be charming, she was sweet. One of her favorite topics was all the groovy stuff you can find in a town called Nimbin.
Nimbin is a small town about 60 kilometers inland from Byron Bay. In 1973, antiwar activists gathered there for an “Aquarius Festival,” and some of them never left. It’s now a day trip from Byron, and busloads of young tourists come out to buy cheap pot brownies and gawk at the hippies. A day trip was included in the big bus package I’d booked, so near the end of my time in Byron I hopped on. Our first stop was a holiday park with a large swimming hole, and the driver grilled up a basic barbeque as we lazed in the sun.
Then on to Nimbin, and to get us in the mood, the bus driver played “Burn One Down,” “Because I Got High,” and other theme songs. Before we entered the town, the driver gave a little speech that amounted to: marijuana is illegal in New South Wales, so if you get caught don’t come crying to us; and also, you don’t know how much of what is in the baked goods, so if you buy a cookie, eat half of it and wait for thirty minutes before taking the other half.
I spent most of my time in the fascinating Nimbin Museum. It’s been around for decades, and it’s easy to see the years piled up in the layers of papier mached newspapers, painted murals, scribbled quotes, and various paraphernalia that adorn every square inch of space in this small place. It’s a mishmash of indignation over how white people treat aboriginal people, disdain for organized religion, and more inspirational quotes than you can find in the halls of a middle school. It was a combination of important insight and ridiculous hyperbole, as a lot of hippie talk is.
The little guide they give out at the beginning of the museum reads in part: “Nothing has made the alternative lifestyle effort of the new age pioneers more difficult than the outlawing of this herb which not long ago was the most popular plant on the planet. It nearly is again now and we believe the ‘war on drugs’ is breeding disrespect, as bad laws do.” I just cannot believe any one substance is that important to an entire movement, no matter how harmless and pleasant it is.
In the café, I met Arie and Laura, and their wallaby Bubby. Arie shared a story about how the government robbed him of two million dollars by undervaluing the land they bought from him, although I was a little fuzzy on how he lost the two million he did receive and arrived at his current financial position of mostly broke. Bubby was adorably curled up in Arie’s lap, but Laura shared stories of how jealous Bubby is of the two humans; he’ll pee in their bed if they spend too much time with each other and not with him. Tales of a pet, and yet Arie was adamant that they don’t intend to keep him as such. He saw Bubby’s mother get hit by a car, and rescued him from the side of the road, and Bubby already runs half wild and they expect when he’s a little bigger he’ll run off one day.
After everyone had had their fill of mood altering substances (no, I didn’t have anything), we got back on the bus and drove to Minyon Falls. The weather had been so dry that this usually magnificent waterfall was reduced to a trickle. Apparently, one mom decided this meant it was safe for her small children to clamber around the riverbed at the edge of the falls. Our entire tour group was looking at them from the platform wondering what she was thinking. We left before the family did, but I didn’t see anything in the paper the next day about a Dramatic and Stupid Death, so I guess they were okay.
Nimbin was basically an average small town, just a little more chilled out than most. And smelling more of incense.