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Yes, good letter-writer! When did you, as in the original settlers – when did you start to have a sense that things were changing, and that there were these people who thought that it was their town, or that they were going to take it over? How did you start to feel that?
Eric: There were a few of them. One chap came to me, and he was one of the organisers of the Festival, and he came up to my store – I was still in transport then – about 12 months after the Festival. He came back, and he said, ‘Eric, you’re well known throughout the district, I want you to help me,’ he said, ‘I want to break down this them-and-us business and assimilate the community.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can understand that but,’ I said, ‘you’ll have to come back and talk to me in 20 years time.’ I said, ‘It’s when our children and your children get together that the community…’
I said, ‘I can talk to this, because the Italians took that long to be accepted by the community,’ and I said, ‘Even when Marie and I were married there was an elderly aunt that told her mother not to let her marry that Italian’ – and I was born in Australia. I said, ‘Come back and talk to me in 20 years,’ and he came back a few years later and he had another talk about it. I said, ‘Sorry, mate, but you’ve got to wait.’ Then I said, ‘I was wrong. It’s 40 years.’
That’s 40 years now, but I mean, it’s probably the same now. There’s probably five to ten percent of the straights that will have nothing to do with the alternate society, and there’s probably only five or ten percent of the alternate society that are this radically minded. The others are, you know, normal everyday people. That’s what I used to say, ‘I’ve got a lot of friends in there’.
So were there moments that you remember thinking: ‘Ah, things may be starting to come together a bit more’? Were there events, did you ever go to something and you thought, ‘Oh, maybe it won’t always be us-and-them?’
Eric: I don’t know. I mean, what’s us-and them? Like I said, I’ve got a lot of friends, a lot of customers in the community that are the alternative people, and I mean, I don’t classify them as them-and-us. It’s just – we’re all in it together.
Marie: We were never bigoted in the way that we know a lot of other people were, in that they wouldn’t have anything to do with them or whatever, because we knew that they didn’t bite and scratch, they didn’t give you Rabies or whatever, because they were customers.
Eric: Some of them were doing it tough, and they still are.
Marie: And Eric was always helpful with that really. I was probably a little more critical because I used to help him do the accounts at the end of the month, and I’d be, ‘Ah, this one hasn’t paid her bill,’ and he’d say, ‘Oh, poor bugger, give her a couple of more months’ – or whatever. He was always very supportive.
Eric: There was a fellow came into the area, Bishop Phillip Huggins. He was an Anglican Bishop, and our daughter was at that time working for the Missionary Society of the Anglicans. I was walking down past the Church of England at Nimbin and had just had my knee replaced, and I was hobbling down to the Post Office, and he called out, ‘Eric, Eric,’ and he came down. He said, ‘I want Sue’s phone number,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I haven’t got it here’. I said, ‘When I go back home, come on up and I’ll get the phone number for you at home.’ So he came up. I said, ‘By the way, how did you know me?’ and he said, ‘Oh, Alan recognised you’. He’s now the Reverend Alan Shaw…
Marie: Of the Anglican Church in Lismore. And he was one of Nimbin’s original hippies.
Eric: He wasn’t a hippie, but he was an alternate. He came from Victoria. He and another fellow lived out in the community out at Lillian Rock, and we used to employ him – the Swimming Pool Committee used to get him and his band, and he played a guitar and a banjo. There was another fellow – Hugh Morris – played the sax, I think, and we used to put them on the back of one of my trucks and have a street carnival, and we’d give them five pounds each, I think it was, out of the funds, and they would play from 8.00 o’clock until midnight or 1.00 o’clock at this street party, you see, raising money for the Christmas Carnival – money for the pool. Of course, he became a customer and Alan had recognised me. Then when he and Alan came into Nimbin that day – he told me that Alan was being ordained the next day. He’d left and done the whole thing and was back again.
And he [Bishop Huggins] said to me, ‘You know, we’re all going up the river in the same direction. We’re just in different boats.’ And we sat out on the back patio of the house at Nimbin with our feet over the step, sitting on the cement, and we yarned for about an hour, like you and I are doing, and talked about old times and this and that.
He went home and he wrote a column in the Grafton Examiner, and the story was about me.
Marie: It’s funny, because when he was a young, unmarried, 22 or 23 year old or something – as a student he came to the Festival and used to run little spiritual gathering groups or whatever at the Festival.
Eric: Yes, then he’d written this letter about the Festival and he talked about this Italian – he called me a farmer or something – that gave these fellows some credit.