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This website aims to develop case studies of the development of farming practices and attendant transformations of local ecologies of defined blocks of land. Through these biographies of particular plots of land we are developing localised analyses of the wider historical trends in the political economy/ecology of the Northern Rivers.

Go to: Eric’s family history | Bananas | Marie’s family history | The beginning of changes to the town | Transport and supply | Married life | Primary producers’ store | The Aquarius festival | The legacy of Aquarius | Changing Times

The Aquarius festival

Obviously, 1973, all these people came in. Were people expecting them? Were townspeople expecting that those people would go away again, or would they stay?

Eric: Yes. It was all agreed to. I think they thought they were coming for a fortnight’s holiday and then they would go away, but they came—

Marie: That was never the plan.

Eric: No, I don’t think it was really what we expected. But the weather was great, it was May and there was no cold weather, no frost, it was fine. They came – some of them came a month before, and as I talk about in that book, they came a month before because checkpoints and camping areas were established. But they all camped beforehand, so they didn’t get that revenue when the time came. They put block gates up on the road and you were supposed to pay to come in to the Festival, but you can’t put a fee on a public road, so people used to go straight down.

They tried to pull us up with the truck. We’re trying to keep up with the work, and they’d race out, you know – because we were all supposed to have a little sticker on the windscreen as locals but as we were going backwards and forwards to Lismore three or four times a day with three or four different trucks, they’d run out, but – whoooosh!

Marie: By this time I was working in Lismore, and they used to pull my car up morning and night, you know, wanting to have you checked out, or pay or whatever, for being on the road, and it was such an inconvenience!

Eric: But then they liked the place, and ‘What can we do to stay here?’ and they formed the Tuntable Falls Co-operative, which was the first one. They based it on the Norco Cooperative, which still existed on the Cooperative laws, and they pooled their money – I think it was $600. They got 1,000 members at $600 a time, and they got Mum and Dad to pay – you know, Mum and Dad were pleased to pay some of them not to come home! With their $60,000 they bought their acreage off Sam Mackay at the Tuntable Mill, and the Co-op is still there.

Marie: And that was win-win, because Sam was ready to get out and retire and leave the area, and they wanted somewhere out of town, private.

Eric: There were five or six old houses around the mill that were mill houses that the staff used to live in. There was a bus service used to leave Nimbin, a workers’ bus, to take the men up to that mill. And then he’d get them there – the mill started at 7.30 – and he’d sit in the bus and read his paper until 8.00 o’clock, and then he’d do the school run back – pick up the kids and bring them to Nimbin School.

Then the same thing in the afternoon. He’d bring the kids home, then he’d wait until the whistle went at half past four for the mill to close, and then they’d all get back and he’d bring them back to town. But some of them lived in the huts there and had families, and they lived on the job. I think they might have been rent-free, those houses, I don’t know. Of course, that was ready-made accommodation for the alternates.

Marie: Talking of schools, back in the time when our children were going through school, the Nimbin School only went to Year 10. It didn’t have a Year 12, and we knew that our children were reasonably bright students in primary school and that we wanted them to go on to high school, with the idea that if they wanted university training or whatever, that they’d be right for it. Our belief was that it was better for them to go and do the whole six years of high school and have their peer group from day one, rather than do Year 10 at Nimbin, and then go in and try to pick it up in Year 11, when kids had formed a friendship for four years and you were trying to break into that, and would the education at Nimbin be equal to the education that these others had had for the four years?

So we opted to have our children go to high school from Year 7 in to Lismore, but they done well and, yes, both of them ended up doing university, but the children who didn’t do that, who stayed at Nimbin until Year 10, and then went in and only done 11 and 12, most of them did probably equally as well as what our children had so, you know, our fears or decision to do it the other way around could have gone either way.

Now Nimbin School does go to Year 12 – although that’s since they built the new Nimbin High School that they’ve got on the other side of the main street to where it was when I went to school there, and when our kids went to primary school there.

So when did you kids start going to high school, about what years?

Marie: I’ve got to work this out now. They were born in ’66 and ’68—-

Eric: Probably 12, ’78.

Okay, because I’m wondering, how was it going between the new settlers and the younger locals?

Marie: There was a definite division, yes. I don’t know that—

Eric: The alternatives started a school of their own, too. They didn’t like authority.

Marie: They felt our school was too militaristic and you shouldn’t have to answer to a 9.00 o’clock, bell – you know, how the kids would come to school and play, and then they’d ring the bell at 9.00 o’clock. Everybody would line up and they had hand inspections because they’d been playing marbles, they’d been wrestling, they’d been playing football, and they’d be dirty, so if they were going to come into school with dirty, red mud hands, that wasn’t good for their English book or their Maths book or their whatever. So hand inspections – if your hands were dirty, you had to go and wash your hands before you could come in.

Well, they thought that was terribly militaristic, and that you shouldn’t have assemblies where everybody had to stand and listen and sing, God Save the Queen. That wasn’t acceptable in their eyes, and then from then, that was when they kind of thought, ‘Well, we’re going to break away and we’re going to have our own school.’

And what was the community sense of that amongst those of you who had been there for a long time?

Eric: A bit far-fetched, I think. I think it’s mellowed a fair bit now.

That’s 40 years ago.

Marie: Yes, it is a long time ago.

But it’s that sort of sense of power. How was—-

Marie: Well, there was a kind of a bit of a ‘them and us’. They were alternates or the hippies, and we were the straights.

Eric: There’s a bit of thing because, when they first came, some of them, not all of them – these were the radicals amongst them – they used to come down from Tuntable, they’d shortcut down to Nimbin because they didn’t have a lot of transport, and they would leave the farmers’ gates open, the cattle would get mixed, and all this sort of thing – get themselves unpopular.

So ten years later they were going to have a ten-year anniversary, and they decided to have it up on a farm on the way to Tuntable, but at that time they’d opened the little store at Tuntable and I was delivering some groceries up. I used to bring the wholesale stuff from Brisbane and take it out to the store.

This chap, he’d come back for the anniversary, and he said, ‘Eric, I want a ride back to town with you.’ I said, ‘Well, no free rides here, mate. If you help me unload, then you can come with me.’ And he did. He got in and he helped me. He got into the truck and we headed back to Nimbin.

As we were going along, all the gates along the Tuntable community had, “No Trespassing. Keep out.” I said, ‘The philosophy’s change a bit. What’s this?’ I said, ‘When you first came you were trampling over everything, leaving gates open. Now you don’t want this.’ He replied, ‘Oh, it’s taken us ten years to get this together.’ So he’d become a capitalist.

I mean, I think the people that have been here get upset. The newcomers come in and some of them still think that way – what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is – you know, you shouldn’t own the land etc.

Well, at the time what was your feeling of why these people were coming and – did you understand what their ethic was?

Marie: No-one understood the enormity of it, I’m sure. No-one expected them still to be there, but then it had been heard said, you know, once they came there and loved it so much and thought what a great lifestyle and what a great place they were in, they said, ‘The town will be ours.’ But it took 40 years for the town to be theirs, because it was only over a very long period of time that people leaving and moving on, that they continued to purchase from the old timers, and there’s very few old-timers still in Nimbin now.


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