history + heritage

'A FEW INTREPID SOULS STAYED ON TO LIVE THE DREAMS'

Nimbin holds a special place in the Bundjalung Aboriginal culture. Nimbin and its surrounding ranges are rich with stories reaching back to the dream time, resting place of Warrajum, the rainbow serpent, and a place of healing and initiation.

The word Nimbin, comes from the legend of the Nimbinjee people who are also the totem of the local Whiyabul tribe. The ancient sleeping warrior of the Nightcap Range still lies in watch over the village like the famous Nimbin Rocks which are now under the custodianship of the Bundjalung people.

The early European settlers penetrated the Nimbin valley for timber in the 1840's. The area was first subdivided in 1903 and Gazetted in 1906. As the timber industry declined, cleared land was turned into a thriving dairy and banana farming district.

The area was revitalised by the Aquarius Festival in 1973, which brought an influx of new settlers seeking to build a new alternative lifestyle away from the city. Two decades later, it is this alternative culture for which Nimbin is best known internationally.

the aquarius festival

The original Aquarius festival was held at the Australian National University Canberra in 1971, a political protest, anti war and anti conscription. Graeme Dunstan, Vye Tourle and Johnny Allen worked as organisers of the 1973 festival for the Aquarius Foundation of the Australian Union of Students. As a political activist Graeme had been involved with the anti war movement since 1965, and as organiser of the festival he was now more interested in cultural change. In 1972 he travelled the country searching for a new way to live, seeking tribes and extraordinary people, and believing that by bringing people together with the power of joy the festival would make itself.

In 1970, Paul Joseph had settled in Upper Main Arm in Mullumbimby in the first North coast commune. In 1972 the organisers arrived to investigate a suitable site for a festival. Paul became the Aquarius song man, introducing the anthem of the Aquarius festival taken from a song by the Incredible String Band, may the long time sun shine upon you… Paul along with others formed a theatre group, the White Company, to promote the festival.

Nimbin was chosen as a location for the festival as it was removed from the structures in society that the organisers had previously been protesting against. The festival was to create and provide direction for the future. Whitlam had been elected and conscription to the Vietnam War had ended. Student and counter cultural activists, conservationists, healers, architects, engineers, indigenous people for land rights, alternative media and gurus and creative artists gathered at the lifestyle festival. Several buildings in the town were bought by the Australian Union of Students, including the Tomato Sauce  building, currently the Hemp embassy, the Rainbow Café and Birth and Beyond, (Now the Apothecary, formerly the RSL)

After the festival, the first multiple occupancy community was created at Tuntable Falls. Several years later, campaigns to stop logging of the rainforest resulted in the declaration of the Nightcap National Park. The lifestyle festival and the era that followed gave the new settlers a sense of belonging in the community. The festival was one of the first times in Australia where indigenous custodianship was acknowledged, organisers originally seeking approval from local Bunjalung Elders before proceeding.

Nimbin’s sister city is appropriately Woodstock in New York State USA.

To experience the Aquarius Festival through the stories of festivalgoers' check out the Nimbin Soundtrail.

tree changers

During 1979 the Terania Creek campaign to stop logging took place. This was the first environmental protest of its type using blockades in the attempt to save the forest. Nan and Hugh Nicholson had spent several years of letter writing and lobbying previous to this action. A protest camp was established on their property, and through direct action which attracted media attention, the logging had ceased within 4 weeks!

In 1982 trouble stirred again with the formation of the Nightcap Action Group to stop the selective logging of forests on the Nightcap Range at Mount Nardi. Hugh and Nan were back, and a whole lot more ‘greenies’. Miraculously within four months of blockades and struggle, the area was declared National Park, and given World Heritage status in 1989.

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