Nimbin is a tiny village town in the northern part of New South Wales with a population under 2,000 people. It is part of the “Rainbow Region”, which is a hub of small towns with “alternative lifestyles” and deep roots in the indigenous Bundjalung people.
Nimbin’s story is particularly fascinating. The land was once dominated by dairy and banana farms. An economic recession in the 1960s led to the collapse of the dairy industry, sending the town into a downward spiral. In 1973, the town was saved by free-living, drug-loving, alternative hippie college students who flocked to Nimbin for the Aquarius Festival. Once the festival was over, people remained to form communes to live out their preferred lifestyle with likeminded souls. Ever since, Nimbin has been a haven for artists, writers, and permaculture enthusiasts.
Hippie culture and marijuana go hand in hand, and Nimbin is the informal weed capital of Australia. Growing and selling cannabis is illegal in Australia, but that doesn’t stop people from casually lighting up joints on the sidewalk and offering their products to passer byers.
The town is splattered with rainbows, colorful art, and messages of love, kindness, giving, and spirituality. There are plenty of references to Buddhism, and you can hardly take a step without seeing an inspirational quote. The main street is lined with crystal shops, small hospitality venues, and blazed out locals with dreadlocks and bare feet smiling and saying hello.
Under the literal rainbows and butterflies is a startling sadness. Seemingly cheery hellos come out of inebriated minds and through mouths with missing teeth. No one seems outwardly aggressive or dangerous. I gladly exchanged plenty of pleasantries and never sensed any hostility or anger. But everyone seems to be lose in her own reality. No one is really “there.”
A Trio of Encounters
It was 9am. We were casually strolling along main street, taking in our surroundings. There were stunning murals painting the walls and clever signage outside the businesses. The people of Nimbin certainly have a sense of humor and loads of creativity. One particular sign had great joke: Q: “What kind of shorts do clouds wears?” A: “Thunderwear!”
Another had quite the peculiar opening hours, as seen below.
We stuck out as outsiders. If my fanny pack didn’t scream “tourist”, my plain attire and appearance certainly did. The local Nimbians all had some sort of quirk. Blue hair, dreadlocks, ultra-relaxed attired, crazy hats… some little choice that would make you turn your head in other places of the world.
We approached a corner, and there was a group of women with blindingly bright outfits on, dressed up to the nines for their morning coffee catch up. One woman was decked out head to toe in red. She had a sequin top hat with red, heart shaped sunglasses. A boa thrown across her shoulder. It looked like a costume I wore back in my high school dance competition days.
I exchanged the pleasantry with an upbeat tone. She mentioned how it was such a beautiful day. I smiled and nodded while looking up at the ominous clouds spewing out thick droplets here and there. The east coast had been caught in torrential downpours for 3 days, with more rain to come.
She bid farewell by saying, “Have a wonderful rainbow sunshine day!”
What would it be like to have such an optimist outlook on life? Pretty nice, I’d imagine.
We stopped through Nimbin a second time to stay the night on our way up to Springbrook National Park after a stop down in Byron Bay. We prebooked a powered site at a caravan park so we could charge up and take a much needed shower.
The park was perfectly pleasant. There was a pool, BBQs, and clean enough showering facilities.
The park was also the permanent home for the majority of the other vanners. There were well thought out caravan set ups with potted plants, hanging tapestries, and homey décor. We were next to a family with two kids who were bouncing a basketball for hours on end as well as an older man with long grey hair, sunglasses, and a permanent joint in his left hand.
Then there was one woman who kept walking around and around. She looked like your stereotypical hippie. Loose, free flowing clothes that screamed “sustainably sourced.” Long hair pulled back into a relaxed ponytail and bangs swept past her eyebrows. She seemed like a nice human with weathered smile lines and a face that had seen things.
She pulled over to the water fountain while we grilled our discount Aldi’s brugers. We said, “Hey there, how’s it going?” She jolted her head towards us with startled eyes and starting uttering incoherent groans. We were shocked. She was scarred out of her mind. 10 awkward seconds later, and she moved on.
Throughout our brief stay, we saw her walking, walking some more, then even more walking. Loops around town, laps around the caravan park. Always moving. No place to be.
Jeremy pulled out the drone to get a few shots of the town. He found a flat space, fired it up, and got to taking some photos. Immediately, a woman came over and warned him that he better stop. She explained that it was growing season. A drone flying overhead usually means a drug bust is coming, and the locals will be scared out of their minds if they see it flying overhead.
One minute later, and a man came to give his warnings with much more aggression. “You best be taking that thing down if you ever want to see it again! The locals with shoot it down, then come to shoot you down!!!”
My immediate reaction was “let’s get the hell out of here” followed by “aren’t guns illegal in Australia?” and “Why are people openly selling weed if they are worried about a bust?”
Jeremy landed the drone, we hopped in the van and hightailed it out of Nimbin for good.
Nimbin is the first place in Australia where I’ve felt an impact of COVID. There were businesses for sale and all the stores were empty. No bubbly backpackers from across the globe were snapping Instagram photos on the bright, muraled walls. No daring youths were walking the streets in hopes of supporting the local economy, if you catch my drift.
Stripping away the tourists from a tourist town reveals the bare bones of Nimbin.
Lost souls remain under the figurative, sometimes literal, sunshine and cheer. Or maybe they aren’t lost at all. Perhaps they’ve found an internal bliss speculative onlookers can’t see. Maybe I’m the one who is lost instead.