Saturday 4 October 2008

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Nimbin Dreaming

© John Sawyer – October 2008

She is watching over two toddlers in the park near the bus stop in Nimbin. She is probably still reasonably young but her face is wearing out. Premature aging has started to set in. She is trying to guide her young charges on the names of the rubber animals they’re arranging on the grass. Her speech has that mixture of slurring and the crisp modulation of a BBC announcer that often comes to the intoxicated.

“Now move that dinosaur there, in a row with the other … animals.”

“It’s not a dinosaur Mum it’s a rhinoceros.”

“Orh you’re right darlin’, a rhinsos… a rhinosop… a rhin...” She gives up and stares blankly into the middle distance. Her mind is wearing out as well.

I am angry but try to distract myself by reading the graffiti on the bus shelter. The recently chalked “Its OFFICIAL – Capitalism is ON the DOLE!” stands out from the odes to freedom and drugs.

The young Japanese backpackers are now waiting for their bus back to Byron Bay. Had they eventually done a deal with the woman on the street? They’d milled around her enthusiastically: “Take either bag. There s’posed ta be the same weight but this one’s heavier. If ya want, I kin getcha somepin stronger. Coke, heroin? Acid even? Watcha want? I ken get it.” No shame, no pretence. No double teaming like they do in Richmond. Just there in the street.

I walk around the war memorial; it’s one of those broken column affairs that makes you think that it’s been vandalised. The jagged fracture in the column is supposed to represent the sudden ending of young lives broken off in their prime. 114 names recorded; 30 of them marked with a small cross that indicates that they “paid the supreme sacrifice”. I’m even more angry now. A quarter of the young men had their lives vandalised. Most of the other young timber getters and farm workers would have been permanently broken by the experience.

What would they think of Nimbin today? Did they really fight so that dealers could sell grass on the street openly? Am I becoming a prude?

I can still see the dealer up the street. She still has a couple of plastic bags and is working the overweight bag scam with a group of potential traders. She has a flowing dress that I used to associate with social workers. She’s the same age as Wendy but she looks older, very much older. Does Nimbin damage everyone? Would it have worn Wendy? We’d thought about an alternative life here in the early 70’s. I try to think of Wendy back then.

Not Wendy and Sue (click for bigger view)My mind doesn’t run to images of faces. I can picture places vividly but have to flip through a mental catalogue of old photos to remember people. I focus on one of Wendy. She’s on the Manly Ferry with the Bridge in the background. The Opera House is hidden behind her, probably still unfinished. She’s holding our new daughter and they both look beautiful. Wendy was the earth mother then, long brown hair blowing in the wind, beautiful eyes and a nose turned up towards the sun. I can see the long fingers, wedding ring prominent, folded ever protectively around young Sue who is laughing straight at me while I hold the camera. Wendy’s mouth has just pulled back from caressing the top of our baby’s head.

The alternative adventure hadn’t worked out. A couple of meetings but very impractical ideas. I’d argued with one potential community founder, upstairs in a whole food shop in Mont Albert. He’d wanted to run the commune without any form of wheel.

“Society has gone downhill since the invention of the wheel. Cars and trucks polluting the environment, war engines destroying everything.”

“Yeah and how are you goin’ to get there, dickhead?”

Wendy arrives with Sue’s 8 year old twins – our grandchildren. We watch them play and I tell her about my daydreaming.

“No you’re wrong. It wasn’t Nimbin. It was somewhere in Northern New South Wales!”

“But …, but Nimbin is in Northern New South Wales. Wh…, where do you think you are now?” I can’t visualise faces, Wendy doesn’t visualise maps.

“Well, you’re still wrong. It wasn’t Nimbin.” No it probably wasn’t Nimbin. Not this Nimbin. Our Nimbin was a dream of freedom; a promise of peace and harmony.

“Anyway, it would have been a miserable failure. We wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of weeks. You’d probably have had a fight with the commune leaders and if they didn’t agree, you’d have left and set up your own commune where you could be the boss and I’d do all the work. Either that or you’d have tried to buy the whole town or something.

“No, I’m glad we went to Richmond. All our friends are there and our grandchildren are there too.”

“Yes, but we didn’t know them …” It’s no point arguing. It happens often, we start on slightly different tacks. I’ll continue to refine the finer points and eventually find myself defending the indefensible, arguing against our life together.

The old, young mother comes and tries to cadge a cigarette off me, a prelude to begging for some money to support her habit. Yes, I’m glad we moved to Richmond and built our community there.


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