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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 legacy of Aquarius

Eric: Well, most of the kids, like our children and other people’s children, had gone on to better things, not that Nimbin wasn’t good, but there’s no opportunities.

Marie: There’s no opportunity. There’s no work here, unlike when I was telling you about me not even having to apply for the job – my two elder brothers, one got an apprenticeship, Kevin had got the apprenticeship in mechanics at the local garage.

Eric: Which he finished up owning.

Marie: Which he ended up buying off his father-in-law, who had given him the apprenticeship in the first place when he wanted to retire, about the same sort of story as Eric and his Dad, only this was his father-in-law. Then my brother Neville had started at the sawmill—

Eric: No, he started at the—

Marie: Oh, he started at the bakery. He was an apprentice baker which was really good employment for young men like they were. But the baker told him in the first year that he did not want him to play football – ‘You either play football, or you work for me’ – in case he got hurt.

Eric: He got his apprenticeship finalised then left. With baking you had to bake all night, you know, and it wasn’t a good thing because he couldn’t get out with his mates, and he couldn’t take a girl out because he had to sleep through the day, etc. etc. So he gave up baking and went to the sawmill. Then he finished up going back to the baking in Lismore for a while. But there were job opportunities there in the sawmill, if you didn’t have a trade, there were builders in the area, and—

Marie: Very little unemployment in those times.

Eric: We employed up to five drivers. The other carriers employed drivers. The sawmill, like I said, employed, the case mill, it’s still there – well, it’s not going now, but Walker Brothers, they employed four or five people. West and Sharpe’s mill had 17/18 men working. There were jobs.

So was that still happening in the early ‘70s?  We get to hear that, you know, that Nimbin was a dying town.

Eric: It was dying because the—-

Marie: The dairy industry was folding.

Eric: The case mills were going out because cartons were coming in for the bananas. Sharpe’s Mill had closed, and there were 17 jobs that went there. The dairying industry was gone. The butter factory had gone. They employed staff. So it was declining, but I think the only thing that, well, the population is a lot bigger now than it was, and I’ve sat down and I’ve sort of thought a little bit of the pros and cons, and, you know, the things that I thought may have benefited by the alternates coming is there’s a population growth.

When you come to think about what they’re doing, the Rainbow Power Company and the Solar Energy business is a very big positive. They organised money and bought the Community Centre, which is the old school site, and that’s a positive thing. The Headers Sports Club was started by mostly alternative people, and the Soccer Club…

Marie: And that’s still going strong, from littlies, you know, five years old up to adults.

Eric: And that’s a good, they’re positives. But then to say that they’ve sort of started the place, it just doesn’t…

So when you say ‘they started the place’, what do you mean?

Eric: Well, there’s a sense in the community, and I’m not saying with the originals up there, but there are people that believe that Nimbin didn’t exist until ’73.

Marie: And there’s nothing further from the truth than that.

Eric: Because our son, who was a good baseballer – he played baseball in Lismore and as Lismore is affiliated with Queensland, and he represented Queensland State side for five or six years, all the age divisions up to Under 18s. So we got friendly with a Brisbane family whose son used to play in the same team as our son. We’d spend time at their place, and they’d come down to us. This Sunday, they were coming down to have lunch with us, and they said, ‘Do you mind if I bring my brother down?’ He’d never been to Nimbin.

Now this is only Brisbane, and in the 1980s. I said, ‘Yes, by all means.’ So he came down, brought this brother down, and he came up for lunch. Noel, the chap who was our friend, was a teetotaller, didn’t drink, but the other chap had a beer, and he said, ‘Oh, I had to come through Nimbin. I had to have a beer in the hotel before I come up.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s good,’ but he said, ‘That hotel’s older than 20 years!’

So he had a sense that—

Eric: Yes – that Nimbin didn’t exist before. And that hotel, he looked in the building and he said, ‘That’s—-

Marie: ‘That’s a heritage building’, which it is.

Eric: And this was 1988/1990, and he said, ‘That building’s more than 20 years old.’ I said, ‘Would you believe it was built in 1924/25? You look at the hall beside it, and it’s got this thing up there, it’s got: “Est.” (Established) “1904.”’

He lived in Brisbane, and didn’t know that Nimbin existed prior to 1973!

He sort of thought it had just popped out of…

Eric: Yes, out of the Aquarians.

Marie: It was quite common knowledge, wasn’t it, that they came in and said, ‘The town will be ours.’ In other words, ‘We’re taking this all over’. All these people who have been here all these years, you know, all established and things, they’ve got to POQ and we’re going to take this town over to be ours.’

So how did that get sorted out?

Eric: Oh, I don’t know whether it did.

Look, this is a letter – unfortunately I haven’t got the original. All right, a copy, but this is my reply. It’s May 17th, 1988, and this is my reply to this thing:

I wish to refute media comments on the ABC Radio on Tuesday 12 May 1988, and in the Northern Star, Saturday 16th May, regarding the alleged closure of the Nimbin Hospital for 20 years prior to the Aquarius Festival of 1973.

As a resident of Nimbin for the past 49 years, a Director of the Nimbin Hospital, and after the amalgamation in 1971 at Director of the Lismore Base Hospital for a period of 15 years from 1965 to 1980, I can assure you that this statement is entirely false.

During my time as Hospital Director, the Nimbin Hospital was fully operational, except for two or three short periods commencing after the death of our local GP, Dr E Kroll, in 1969. At these times, the hospital never closed completely, but operated with reduced services while no resident GP was available in Nimbin.

            A simple check of hospital records will prove assertions to be incorrect.

            (And it was a doctor that wrote it):

And this other fellow, he uses a nom de plume, “Jazz Rastafarie of Nimbin,” he says:

Nimbin is known all over the world for its green valleys, alternate lifestyle and cannabis culture. Thousands of tourists come to Nimbin every year, but they don’t come to see koalas or the giant yellow Dormas butter churn in the dairy industry. They come to Nimbin to experience the cannabis culture. Cannabis culture is quite different to —-

So on and so on:

I’ll just get to the pertinent things:

The cannabis culture is very different to drug culture. The hippies established this town 30 years ago with peace and harmony to stop the trees being destroyed and to secure our water for the future. If you look around, this is working. We now have water and trees. All the hippies were smokers, and fought to save it all.

We now have a hospital, a police station, neighbourhood and community centres, real estate agents, a pub, a bowling club, a useless skate park, welfare agencies, a day care centre and a pre-school, and a primary and high school. All this for 400 hippies.

So we have as many services here as Lismore.

He goes on to say:

More police in Nimbin won’t help the situation—-

And blah, blah, blah. I said to him, well, I had to write to write back to him, too, through the paper:

Your correspondent Rastafarie infers and would expect us to believe that the alternate lifestyles established Nimbin 30 years ago, presumably at the time of the Aquarius Festival.

As a former long-time resident of Nimbin, I can assure him or her (because I didn’t know who he was) that Nimbin did exist for many years prior to Aquarius. I refer, Joe and your readers to the historical book written by Maury Ryan entitled, “The Days and Ways of Old Nimbin.” This book tells of some of the history of Nimbin, starting with the hospital facilities that existed in the 1920s, and that a new hospital at the current site was opened in May 1933.

An article in the Northern Star in August 1933 featured the progress Nimbin had made in the preceding 43 years. It stated the electric power was soon to be connected in addition to the four churches in the village – the village comprised of 31 businesses, including three general stores, two banks, one drapery, two bakeries, two garages, one hotel and a School of Arts.

In the 1960-1980 era, my business operated seven trucks in the Nimbin district, engaged in mainly transporting bananas, produce and livestock, and timber to markets. There were other carriers as well. Nimbin was then productive.

As I have stated many times before, the farmers have been here for a hundred years. They must have taken some care of the environment, exemplified by the fact that now Nimbin is being inundated by people wanting to live here because of the beautiful environment—-

So we didn’t knock it about that badly!

It is possible that the older generation has something to learn from the new arrivals, but I am convinced that the new settlers have much more to learn from the experience of Nimbin’s original settlers.

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