In this two-part series, Californian Serena Renner shares with us her journey, searching for alternative Australia somewhere between Sydney and the Woodford Folk Festival in South-East Queensland.
If you missed Part 1, here it is.
Day 6: Nimbin
Despite warnings from David and others that “Nimbin is Bohemia on crack”, we felt like we had to see Australia’s most notorious hippy town, made famous by cannabis activist Rusty Harris.
Plus, we wanted some weed for Woodford. So we drove a scenic stretch between the area’s epic rock formations and intentional communities with names like Bird Song and Journey’s End to Nimbin’s main drag, littered with tie-dye, murals and “herb shops”. The air reeked of marijuana.
That didn’t make it easy to buy, though. We paced awkwardly up and down the street, hoping one of the herb shops might actually sell herb. But all we could find was supplements and tinctures as well as baggies filled with something advertised as “party herbs”. We received plenty of propositions on the street, however, but the sellers looked seriously fucked up. We decided to hit the local pub instead.
We sat next to a man, probably around 50, propping his head with his hand and mumbling to himself. It wasn’t long before a bartender kicked the man out for being too drunk.
“I think I had a stroke,” our tablemate proposed desperately.
“Come on, I only had one beer,” he continued.
“More like one every half hour,” the bartender responded, winning the argument. Then a bearded man offered us a joint, giving us permission to enquire about local drug etiquette. Most people buy on the street, he said, but the cops had been around a lot lately following a recent raid. “Taxi!” is the code word for police since Nimbin doesn’t have any taxis.
On our way back to the Nimbin Rox hostel, which boasts glorious campervan sites in view of jagged rock monoliths, we braved a little laneway where a stocky Brazilian man promptly approached us.
“Looking for something? What are you after?” he said impatiently. This was our first time buying drugs on the street, in broad daylight, and we were shitting bricks.
“Umm, yeah, weed?” Kevin finally stuttered.
“How much? $50?” Having barely worked out the ounces-to-grams conversion, we asked for a measly two grams, and the Brazilian pot dealer declined, saying that wasn’t enough.
“$40 is the most we’ll offer” we relented. He said that would get us an eighth of an ounce. He stuffed two big buds (definitely not an eighth) into a plastic bag.
“Good shit, smell it,” he said shoving the bag under my nose. I asked if it was an indica or sativa – I’m from California – to which he replied “Good weed”. We nodded in agreement, ready to get the hell out of there, thanked the dealer and scurried away, hearts pounding almost audibly.
David was right. Nimbin has a sketchy vibe that implies much stronger drugs than just marijuana. It’s also become so gimmicky that it turns people off from real issues like environmental challenges and cannabis reform. Alternative it is, but it wasn’t the kind of Bohemia we were after. Maybe there was something to that Original Sin lyric about what it takes, or doesn’t take, to get into the Promised Land?
Days 7-10: Woodford
By the time we made it to the Woodford Folk Festival, the campervan was sticky and stinky and mozzies prevented us from sleeping with the windows open.
Luckily, the festival was good at distracting me from the heat and my itchy legs. There were shows galore, from folk and blues to theatre and cabaret, as well as light-up lanterns, art installations, music lessons, yoga sessions, talks on politics and the environment and heaps of surprises from spontaneous street performers to “the Lettering House”: a makeshift post office where festival-goers could write missed-connections-like notes to interesting people who intersected their paths.
We mostly stuck to the music, seeing Matt Anderson from Canada and John Smith from England in addition to Australian folk outfit the Mae Trio and local blues hound Rob Longstaff – whose beat-up and doodled guitar hinted at the adventures he’s endured around the globe. We also saw circus acts and cabarets and the satire-spinning political rap artists from Juice Rap News.
It wasn’t until the festival’s three minutes of candle-lit silence on New Year’s Eve that I realised one thing all these artists and “bohemians” we met along the way had in common.
I think it’s creativity and the courage to pursue it without reservation. Amid a sea of flickering candles, I wished for a dose of that fearless creativity.
Then I wouldn’t have to go searching for Bohemia; I’d know how to ignite it from within myself.