Friday, August 29, 2014

A Numb Bum in Nimbin.



I went up the north coast to Lismore to get a break from the dog eat cat city of Sydney, hoping to relax, commune with the bush, tour the hippie utopia, smoke some mild marijuana and eat delicious organic food. All of this happened and still I ended up cutting short my visit as the human drama found there was somewhat unsettling, being a small town all the trouble gets concentrated and you walk into it on every street corner. After a week I had to escape back to the anonymous, boisterous city before the countryside idyll blew up in my face.

Arriving in Lismore in the night I witnessed again the town empty and silent by 8pm, only some ragged schizos wandering disconsolate and angry drug addicts punching at phantoms in the air. I walked across town, peering in through plate-glass windows and while every third shop-front was for lease, denoting a town on the skids, I saw many new restaurants had opened since my last visit and they were full of middle-class people feeding their faces with cheerful aplomb. So there was money in the town but where was it coming from, the Lismore Base Hospital, the Southern Cross University or quite possibly from the Centrelink Social Security Offices as the area was a Mecca for drop-outs, disaffected and disabled? Yet I wondered, the prosperity seemed an enigma.

For the last forty years thousands of the disillusioned have fled the rat-race of the city for this north coast paradise with its bush and beach life-style, back to nature, outdoor sports, alternative health therapies and spiritual salvation. Oh yeah, not to under-estimate its attraction, also the abundance of marijuana to chill out with.


But there’s just not enough jobs to go around for everyone, no manufacturing industry to speak of, only a few employed by the cannabis economy, hemp cloth, paper, oil, life-saving tincture etc. and the related flow-on products of the hippie counter-culture, T-shirts, T-pees, candles, dream-catchers, solar panels etc. Then there’s the professional and quack cosmic therapists milking the army of restless, dysfunctional flakes marching through, but not even Buddha himself could save this mob.


Many of these desperadoes are on Social Security and hang around street corners and cafes in mobs looking for an opportunity, any opportunity, to make money, some selling the sacred herb and/or hard drugs, and taking those drugs in abundance, for want of anything else to do. They stand out from the crowd in their rainbow hippie costumes, the farmers, shopkeepers, bureaucrats and retirees resigned to their presence as the cannabis economy has overflowed into their pockets as well. The railway getting suspended fifty kilometers down the tracks really fucked with the trade coming through and Lismore needs all the traffic it can pull, even bums are better than ghosts.

I got to see the dysfunctional up close as I went to stay with my girlfriend Sylvia, she who cannot be mollified, whose void cannot be filled. I was lucky to find at her home as the amount of therapeutic groups she runs around to makes me dizzy. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is her favorite, (known as SLAA, she calls it “sluts anonymous”) but she’s also a regular at the Over Eaters, The Friends and Co-Dependents of Addicts, Narcotics Anonymous for her pot addiction and The Narcissists' Support Network. 

She's also done endless therapies, from Hare Krishna detox programs, Vipasana Meditations, acupuncture, crystal massage, psychic readings, etc etc. Whoever crosses her path with a glib tongue can get their palm lined as she has a kind mother to pay for a lot of it who wants to keep her daughter happy with constant healing. A leopard finds it hard to change its spots I hear, some of us get madder as we get older.


And just as well she is getting counseling as she’s had a certain mad boyfriend for a few years, as ugly as ZZ Top, only more wild-eyed for he’s been a longtime ICE head, a drug notorious around the small town for wreaking havoc. He’s been selling the poison to all comers, till the community was coming apart at the seams, and when he crossed the town many a punter gave him a nod, or good citizen a scowl. On every corner a haggard bum would be skulking, begging for a hand-out or a squabble would erupt, as in a murder of crows, with loud cursing and hand-wringing, while the old cow-cocky towns-folk looked on, shaking their heads in dismay, “it wasn’t like this in the old days.”

And when they saw me in the company of Zan, they thought I was another deadbeat ICE addict and gave me a sour glance, as if thinking “not another idiot in town”. Zan was in constant group therapy himself, for he was forever rehabilitating then busting, doing the Government program at the Buttery in Byron, calling in at every Narco Anonymous meeting in every hick village so that he had no time for anything else. Not even time to come to fun movies with us, what a dead-head.


He must’ve had low self-esteem for he enthused that ICE made him feel like Superman, king of the world, no worries, all problems solved with a little smoke. Straight, in the harsh daylight, he crashed and was nothing.


Old Lismore
He never shut up about it, what it was like to get on, what it was like to dry out, what he’d said at the meetings. We had to watch our every step as very little excitement would have him falling off the wagon. Particularly incendiary was her complaints about the tiny size of his dick, bad jokes were forever being cracked, his manhood on the line. Sylvia would only have to deny him a fuck and he’d declare she didn’t love him any more, rushing out to smoke some Meth from his handy little pipe. He’d squawk out threats to kill himself, he’d already tried the last time she’d got sick of him and thrown him out, he cut his own throat then drove his car fast into a tree. Lucky he survived it, maybe not so lucky for Sylvia.


Yet he had character, was kind of fun to be with when he got going with the wisecracks and Arthur felt sad that the guy couldn’t hold his act together. He had two teenage daughters that should’ve given him real reason for living and achieving but the lure of the intense ICE high was too great and he succumbed like Pavlov’s dog at the ding of a bell.

I’ve been visiting Nimbin since about 1979, relishing its cowboy frontier, space cadet, astral tripping, jungle bunny, lost world ambience. I wasn’t part of the original crew cracking the valley for the alternative life-style, having been overseas in ’73 when the town got co-opted as a hippie haven after their Aquarius Festival. As the term ‘Aquarius’ signifies, the philosophy of these commune pioneers was a hodge podge of occult superstition, astrology and Tarot, Eastern mysticism, Yoga and Buddhism, and back to the Earth lifestyles including organic farming, communal homesteading, and crafts such as pottery and woodwork. Thus the area was a Mecca for cultists, druggies, loonies, therapists and government health department bureaucrats.


I’m not such a sucker for cosmic magical thinking and pseudo-loving hug-ins, being a skeptical realist, a cynical punk and a libertarian loner. But I love to experience the difference and funkiness of exotic places, as if on a journey through the galaxy, to space ports and asteroid cities, and gold-top oasis like Nimbin really draw me in. I’ve tripped many times on the magic mushrooms that pop up in the local paddocks and they’ve taken me through psychic initiations, rites of passage and vision quests that have enlightened my spontaneity and quieted my confusions.

I remember the night me and a gang of rogues ate Goldtop mushrooms on the edge of town then rambled up the main street heading for a party, tripping out of our heads. My friends got ahead of me and I saw an open doorway all lit up down a tree-lined pathway, a community hall wherein I thought the party was raging. I staggered into the front of the hall and up to a podium upon which stood a matriarch in white lab coat, with pointer upraised at a diagram, who stopped in mid-sentence and stared at me. I turned to face a hall full of seated women, farmer's wives, hippies, shopkeepers, teachers, all of them pregnant in variegated styles of smocks. They all turned their gaze upon me and gaped as one, and I spun in confusion, shivered in dislocation, wondered if I was hallucinating the music and stupidly said, "Where's the party?" 

They turned to each other, frowning, annoyed, they pointed to the door and a few laughed at me. I couldn't understand why they were so staid, clinical, other-worldly normal, and everything shining white hot bright. Then I noticed a huge banner strung up on a wall and, through the waves of glittering sub-atomic particles, I made out the words, "Nimbin Expectant Mothers Support Group" and I flashed the reality of the scene, this was not the raging freak party I hoped for. I said, "Sorry!" and fled, into the shifting animated murals of Nimbin proper, and I did find my friends where the music was at, shaking their asses, laughing at my cheeky cat nature.


The Nimbin Rocks stand up from the bush like Clever Fellows from the Dream-time, turning the area into a numinous site for magic guardianship seems to flow from them. The town lies in a caldera, the Rocks being the left-over shards of an ancient volcano rim, and the area is reputed to have been a long-time meeting place for Aboriginal tribes from all over Australia who came there to learn dance, song, healing, and special powers, the Clever men even teaching adepts to fly from the Rocks. It was a natural paradise and for years I enjoyed swimming in the Nimbin Creek, under the Rocks, until it got polluted with the run-off of pesticides from the farms and sewage from the homesteads.

How I loved those long-gone days, cruising up the old Pacific Highway before the new freeway got put in. The roadhouses with real hamburgers and hot showers, the side roads that took you to funky beaches where you could pull your car over and sleep the night, with no cops moving you on after an hour or so. I hitch-hiked up that highway a hundred times, the wind fresh in my face making me know it was exhilarating to be free and alive; then, in the mid-nineties, Ivan Milat, the back-packer killer struck and hitch-hiking as a lifestyle came to a nasty end. (He raped and murdered at least seven hitch-hikers in a state forest off the highway.)


Nimbin town would always be my destination when I zoomed into the Aussie hinterland and in the late ‘80s, as far as I’m concerned, it reached a peak of funkiness, like some frontier space-port for psycho-nauts. It was still relatively unknown and untainted, being true hippie-style, grungy, earthy, a hand-crafted alternative to concrete, steel and glass modernity, not half designed for middle-class homesteading and tourist consumption as it grew to be by 2014.

Every few weeks I would speed up the coast, trying to beat the timing of my previous trip, and I’d arrive in the night, The Rainbow Café still open, regular patrons gathered around the pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room, and everybody would welcome me back again, for everyone knew everyone back then, and any new face would be brought into the community in good neighbor humor. And we’d gossip about recent events in the town and the world while we passed around a joint of delightful homegrown bush bud, and I felt warm, connected and friendly.

I was there in 1992 for the first Mardi Grass Festival when only a few school kids marched up the main street waving a rainbow flag, me living in my VW kombie van parked outside the Rainbow Café. As a participant in their Arts Festival I showed my film “Virgin Beasts” at the klunky Nimbin movie theater where the audience sat in deck-chairs with their feet toasted by gas heaters in the cold winter.

That was the time I met some long lost acquaintances, Roger and Daphne, out in the back garden of the Rainbow Café. In 1971 I had lived with my old mentor Compassion on a yogi’s commune near Armidale. Roger was the chief acolyte of Compassion, extremely zealous in his austerities, fasting and standing on his head for days on end. Daphne was a local farmer’s wife who came visiting, looking for another world paradigm. She took one look at Roger, and he at her, and they were star-bound lovers, and he finally got his wick wet and went crazy.

Now here we were in1992 and they called out to me, “Artie, Artie. It’s us, Roger and Daphne, remember us? We’ve been thinking of you, and talking about you all these years, we’ve been looking for you and here you are, at last. And these are our two children, we’ve told them so much about you.”

They pointed to two smiling teenagers, a boy and a girl, who nodded like good robots. “Oh yeah, great. Hi, how’s it going? It’s been a long time, 21 years in fact. What have you been doing?” I hesitantly murmured. My dread-locked girlfriend, Marian, sitting next to me, glanced over at them with a curious eye.

“We’re in fine spirits, since we found the Lord. We were here in 1973 for the Aquarius Festival and we had a great spiritual experience. We had a vision of our Savior Jesus Christ!” gushed Roger.
“Hmmmm… maybe you ate too many gold-top mushrooms?” I wanted to laugh but I kept my peace, my mien grim. “The last I saw you both you were happily living with Compassion in the Moonbi Ranges?”


“Don’t mention him!” they hissed. “He was the Devil, teaching Satan’s ways, we had to get away from him. We came to Nimbin, had our ecstatic conversion, then we traveled throughout the Pacific Islands where we’ve been turning on the natives to the glories of Christianity. We’ve now returned here to convert the heathen hippies. We’ve thought of you a lot, you were such a pure soul, we think you’d be perfect for our mission. We hope and pray you’ll be our first convert?”

Marian sneered in dismay. My jaw dropped, my smile tightened. “Ummmm… I’ve been through so much in all these years, a thousand personality changes, a hundred levels of heaven and hell, you wouldn’t know me any more. I’m an anarcho-mystic type now, not suitable material for your religion I’m afraid.”


Daphne shrieked like a vampire with a crucifix thrust through her heart, “You were lost back then, and you’re lost now!”
I snorted, “I’m lost and I don’t want to be found. I’m lost on purpose! OK? Goodbye.”

The Missionary Mary and Jesus duo, Mum and Dad, with their kids behind, filed out of the Rainbow, faces downcast and hard, as if Satan had thwarted their fondest desires, and thankfully I never saw them again.

“Good for you Artie, you really stood up for your self and didn’t take any holy-roller shit from those smarmy assholes,” Marian reassured me. It’s tough being adamantly sure of one’s position in a world of a zillion pressures and brain-swipes. Lots of times in my life I had to have force of character to make my way through, lost and deluded though I’ve been.   

And after all those highways I trod upon, here I am again, yearning to go back to Nimbin and be the usual numb bum passing through. Always the high-point of my sojourn up the north coast, I waited patiently for our drive up to this strange attractor site of numinous experience. Eyeballs popping and hairy face fuzzed like a furry freak brother, Zan showed up late from one of his stupid fucking “I still wanna take drugs” meetings. 

He’d ruined the trip on previous occasions, lying about his drug usage and getting stopped by the cops for reckless driving. It was a waste of time him fixing upon every drug-counseling service when he was always busting at the slightest encouragement, such as the chat up he gets from his mates at the meetings. He also claimed he was worked up over my visiting from Sydney and it made him want to have fun, like we seemed to be having. I groaned, now it was my fault.


He jumped in the driver’s seat and shot off like a rocket, babbling nonsense in a halting limerick that never reached a punch-line. As I tightened my seat-belt I turned to him and said, “Please promise us you haven’t had a taste of ICE today!” The car spun around a blind corner as he replied, “That’s a promise I can’t keep.” His eyeballs stabbed through his coke-bottle glasses like a Terminator’s, I freaked out and asked him to pull over, Sylvia could drive the rest of the way into Nimbin.

Zan disappeared to an AA meeting as soon as we hit town, leaving Sylvia and I to run the gauntlet of all the dopesters and tourists thronging the pathways of this cannabis caravanserai. Eating at the cafes, buying pot knick-knacks from Bringabong, munchies from the bakery, organic goods from the Emporium, booze from the pub, and of course, the main attraction, buying pot from the dealers.

Whew! They were right, Nimbin was booming, a couple of hundred people treading the short main drag all day, with another hundred to service them. People from everywhere, not just Lismore and hinterland, from Byron, Tweed Heads, Brisbane, Sydney, France, Britain, Germany, Japan and Zambia! Here for its fame, the festivals, the music, the fun. I’ve been to some of the best rave parties in the bush around here, under Nimbin Rocks, the techno matched with live trumpet and sitar, and flames flaring to the stars, it was wild. They have Zombie Nights in the Town Hall for the kids and have built a huge skate-boarder park where they hold competitions to rock’n’roll music. It's not all Fucksville here.

We got to the Rainbow Café, not too different to how it always was, painted psychedelic hippie kitsch with about thirty dealers hawking the green stuff  in the near vicinity. Sylvia went out back to their toilet while I waited in the alleyway next to the Nimbin Museum. This was where most of the pot-dealing action went down. I was confronted by a mob of determined hustlers all looking upon me as a possible customer, ready to peel the shirt from my back, but I wasn’t interested, the area was too much under police surveillance.


The competition here to make a buck must have been fierce, apparently the cannabis economy had many, many busy little bees all up and down the town, it was that lucrative. We had vege juice in a blond-wood restaurant across the road and waited for Zan to show up. I watched the bustle of the counter-culture wannabes out on the street and I thought of the Situationists of the ‘Sixties, who eschewed the work ethic, giving their lives over to wandering, pleasure and knowledge, and satirizing the Spectacle, only they became part of the Spectacle as well. The Beast co-ops everyone.

And a good thing they hated work too as good jobs were getting scarcer, what with new technologies like computing and robotics, as well as outsourcing to cheaper third world countries. So the unemployed rushed to bush communes to fill their time, growing crops and getting stoned. The only work left in town was to amuse their fellows. Much of the population intuited its existence was now useless but they got distracted from its import; in the city with reality TV, sports and the political circus; in the Nimbin/Byron nexus they lolled about dreaming of self-realization, rainforest preservation and UFO conspiracies.



The Kooris of the area were in their element, at one with the spirit of the place. They owned the traditional lands under the Nimbin Rocks and, for all the harassment from the local cops, came and went at their leisure. They loved smoking their yandi and were masters of its healing lore. Nimbin was one of the few places Arthur visited in Australia where Aboriginals and whites mixed in a united community, relaxed and caring. He hoped the history of racist antipathy in the rest of the country did not flare up here in a tussle over territory. The Kooris opened every Mardi Grass Festival with dance, singing, smoke ceremony and didgeridoo and were an integral part of the whole hippie alternative milieu.

Sylvia bought yet another sparkly hippie dress and breathlessly announced the arrival of a comet from the constellation of Leo. She was one for getting worked up over “End of the World” myths, the last being the 2012 Mayan Calendar debacle. As the world is still here she’s disappointed and now waiting for the great Pacific Rim Earthquake, where California will fall into the sea and Sydney will get swept away by a tidal wave. She’s like every other fractured personality on the planet, trying to find a non-existent cosmic purpose to life with innumerable illusions, compulsions, wishes, crazed rationales and hoped for salvation. If all that fails, then surviving disaster will give her a future.


Her nuttiest obsession, other than co-dependence with BAD boyfriends, was collecting dresses, thousands of them, each one worn for a day, then cast upon a pile that mulched down into the dust, mold and moths, stacked in every room, hung from miles of racks, heaped under the house, disappearing into the elements as more dresses were added to the top of the pile. She spent a fortune on them, new and second-hand, the rest of the house with its appliances went to rack and ruin, all had to be subordinated to the rags. 

I supposed it was an attempt at trying to always be beautiful and hold out against entropy but it wasn’t working. She also stuffed her face as an added consolation and got fatter and fatter in her old age. Finally, only a fungus faced flip-out like Zan would put up with her craziness on a regular basis.

All of us are lost and dreaming, some seeking out new age religions and alternative healing therapies to massage the narcissistic ego, but it’s like throwing energy into a black hole, nothing can ever fulfill its powerful suck. I watched the hippies, tourists and townsfolk with my misanthrope’s eye, we weren’t the supreme product of a wise evolution, we were accidental beings no different from other animals except we thought too much bullshit, we hoped for salvation and an endless existence as angels but were in fact a rapacious plague, like zombies, devouring the world, unthinking and selfish.

And yet, like all life-forms, we need love, and the freedom to go about our business, raise families, work, and live in peace, including me, so whom am I to put the poor old human race down? Live and let live, if only all the world thought this way; many of the hippies in Nimbin town seemed to.


With all the clashing ideologies of modern life, no wonder confused souls turned to drugs, ICE the latest to really give them a momentary thrill and loss of fear. Speaking of which, Zan returned, sheepishly contrite, and we drove up above Nimbin to the rim of the old Caldera where I sat in the sun and gazed down upon the town, with fondness and creative memory, as if I was a Koori acolyte from 7 thousand years ago, undergoing a mystical flight. The Rocks were in the near distance and spoke to me of communion and Dreamtime, and I forgot myself for an all too brief period.

We drove back to Lismore, past Tuntable Falls Commune, where a German woman told me she was living in Hell as she didn’t get on with her fellow communards, they dumped their night-soil in her fresh water creek, played Heavy Metal Music late into the night and gave her grief at the monthly committee meetings. Hmmmm… she reminded me why I could never be a communist and live on a commune, better to be a loner and organize one’s world according to one’s own needs and likes. All was not perfect bliss in paradise, I knew it: it could only be that way with flawed humanity.


Perhaps the town had called me back for one last look at its ‘Sixties Hippie funkiness for the very next night some utter bastard put a match to the heart of Nimbin and burned it into oblivion: the Rainbow Café, The Nimbin Museum, Bringabong and other Hippie Souvenir Shops, now non-existent. A young guy was questioned but let go as there was no evidence but I could imagine that one of the dealers, a desperate ICE head, was asked to move his dealing elsewhere and he thought, “Fuck youse cunts, I’ll show you what useless bags of shit you are!” and, from that very alley-way of ravenous dealers, set all the wooden buildings alight.


ICE heads are the new pariahs, getting blamed for everything, handy scape-goats for whatever agenda may be lighting some fuckwit’s fuse. It could’ve been some right-wing redneck’s jealous anger at the success of the cannabis economy or the fury of the God-fearing Christians who have an ongoing war against pleasure. Whatever, it was a piss-off and, though a distraught townsfolk swore they would rebuild, it will never be the same old funky Aquarius style, lots of irreplaceable memorabilia was lost and original paintwork and architecture destroyed. Perhaps the Council will fill the blackened hole with a brick, steel and glass post-modern monstrosity, nogod forbid, even a MacDonalds might spring up like a poisonous toadstool; I hope not, surely the hippies will insist on re-imagining the klunky early 20th century dairy-town design?


The right-wing Authorities certainly hate the place and wish it ill as only a few weeks later a squadron of cops raided the town, sniffer dogs and all, and busted locals and tourists alike plus a few shops for the possession of a few paltry bags of grass. It's not stories like mine that have snitched on the Nimbin cannabis economy, everybody knows about it, that’s why the tourists rush there, pot is a very popular recreational herb, and a few fascists stew in their rancid juices thinking about its success.


They refer to pot as "hard drugs", perhaps encouraged by the booze lobbyists, but Richard Branson, Koffi Anann and five ex-presidents, in a World Advisory body called The Global Commission on Drugs Policy, have declared that the “war on drugs” hasn’t worked, only caused untold misery and economic ruin. They repeatedly call for the decriminalization of the sacred herb, and such bigwigs can't be misrepresented as crackpots. In Auz the state of New South Wales is on the verge of making Medicinal Cannabis available as a panacea for the ill, but it sure took a long time for the blockheads to get even this far.

I don't drink alcohol or take hard drugs, I only have ganjha to relax with. I dream of a time I can go into a shop and have 300 hundred varieties of the plant to choose from, the one that suits my biochemistry and psyche perfectly, that doesn't make me paranoid or mad, that doesn't zombify me into stupefaction, but gives me a sweet, laid-back euphoria so that I seem to float on a cloud listen to a celestial choir. It's an absolute curse that those bastards of the LAW feel they have the right to tell me how I should relax in the privacy of my own living room. That's why I curse them with the strongest term possible, "Fascists".


Back in Sylvia’s house we tried not to smother under the mountains of dresses that tumbled upon us as we listened to yet more assurances from Zan that he would resist the lure of ICE debauchery. He told us more about his graduation from the Byron Buttery, the government-run rehab for drug addicts, where Big Brother therapists got them to confess their deepest thoughts at “How’re You Going Mate?” and “Things I Need to Get Off MY Chest” sessions. Eight months of it, several times, and still he ran around town like a chook with its head chopped off.

Sylvia had been denying him sex for some months as a punishment for his waywardness and he was crawling up the walls, horny as a tomcat. In honor of him dealing so attentively with my visit, and to placate his restlessness, she gave him a fuck and he was very jolly the next day, his loins finally oiled. Then she set to with her existential complaint that his dick was too small and she couldn’t feel it in her big cunt. He got uptight anxious again and threatened dire consequences if ever she would leave him, such was his need for a woman to hold onto.


She did admit that the manic activity of his sexual technique made up somewhat for the lack of size, the old “quality over quantity” line, even enthusing that ICE addicts made great lovers when they went off their heads. I thought it was about time I went back to Sydney, before their drama exploded in a direction I would find tedious, her blood and guts soaked into the mountain of dresses. Lismore madness got too close to the skin, in a big city I could get lost in the crowd.




If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.