Did someone put a couple drops of acid in my organic oat bran waffle? Oh no, they didn’t, I’m just in Nimbin.
Nestled in the surrounding rainforest is the town of Nimbin which, for all drug intensive purposes, has remained frozen in time since the height of the hippie counter-culture movement in the 1960s. A short two and a half hour drive south of Brisbane will take you to a place where cannabis and free expression are celebrated. Conventionality can seldom be found – you certainly won’t find it in any of the hippie communes that surround the outskirts of the town. Even though the town has one main road, a street post will help guide you should you lose your way; “love, peace, happiness” and “the right choice” points to one end of the road, while “eco freaks” points to the other, and “objectivity” points to, well, somewhere else. To put it mildly Nimbin is a colorful place, literally and figuratively speaking. From a distance the main road is reminiscent of an old western one-horse town. A closer view reveals the large wooden facades above the storefront awnings which are covered in murals painted every color of the rainbow. The murals follow suit on sides of buildings and fully envelope minivans. The entire town acts as a canvas, inviting those who may or may not be in a drug induced state to share their artistic expression and free thought.
The residents of the town are as colorful as its murals. The people we met were mostly the owners and workers in the shops who enjoy the slower pace and alternative lifestyle of a small and supportive community. Others seem to have gotten lost in the drug-subculture, as they sit on the sidewalks and offer “cookies” to passers-by and tourists. By the nature of the situation, I assumed the cookies were of the “pot” variety and did not take anyone up on the offer. The people of Nimbin have established their own code of conduct which promotes civility and kindness toward others, and they expect local citizens and tourists alike to abide by that code. They have also fought government and corporations to protect the surrounding environment and won.
To learn how and why Nimbin developed into an eccentric hippie town, you can visit the Nimbin Museum – a quirky exhibit that showcases the work of local artists who, through their interpretations, have mapped out Nimbin’s history by taking the viewer on a “mystical journey.” It starts at the head of the Rainbow Serpent, which leads you through eight rooms that are designed to reflect different time periods. The tour starts at the Bundjalung’s (a New South Wales’ aboriginal tribe) tales of the creation of life and their existence in Nimbin. You then move into the environmentally destructive pioneer age where the Rainbow Serpent symbolically loses its color. The next room is a color explosion, depicting the 1970s when drugs and the first “Back to the Earth” Festival held in Nimbin brought about an economic revival of the town, and thus the Rainbow Serpent’s color returns. From there, the vividly colored serpent leads you into rooms that explain a modern and evolved Nimbin, which has integrated New Age philosophies and practices while still maintaining its existential roots. The last rooms reinforce Nimbin’s views on experimentation, non-conformity, and its fervent position on the legalization of marijuana, which remain firmly intact today. When you finally exit the museum it is a bit of a relief, as the Nimbin museum proves that you don’t actually have to be on drugs to feel like you’re on an acid trip.
The mistake I had made as a tourist was experiencing Nimbin as a “day trip.” Only having visited for a few short hours, my impression of the town is skewed to a perspective that can only be held at face-value. And at face-value the town comes off as strange and slightly seedy. Perhaps the town and people of Nimbin deserve more credit than that. After all, “strange” is just a term we use to describe something different that we don’t understand. If it was at all possible, it would have been great to spend a week living on a hippie commune. Maybe then I would have better understood their world view. Maybe I would have gained an appreciation for communes and the benefits of a hippie alternative lifestyle. Maybe I would’ve even had a cookie.