theatre promoting the Aquarius Festival, Lismore, April 1973
Image: © Northern Star
The Paisley Years
of paisley nostalgia is expected to wash over the north coast of New
South Wales, Australia, with the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music
festival. North coast town Nimbin, home of the Aquarius Festival of
1973, will no doubt express its joy at being a sister town to the epoch-defining
village in New York State.
Both Woodstock and the Aquarius movement came on the tail of the psychedelic
sixties, as the innocent impetus died and the profit-takers moved in.
As Danny the dealer said in the film Withnail and I, ‘They’re
selling Beatles wigs in Woolworths, man. We have failed to paint it
Despite the failure to ebonise the known universe, the optimistic Australian
Union of Students sought to create its own hippie paradise in Nimbin
in 1973, following a knock-back from the commune-ists of Mullumbimby,
among whose number was The Echo’s founding editor Nicholas Shand.
It is worth considering the impact of those heady days and the so-called
‘alternative’ culture, especially as its members are contemplating
Globally, the brief flowering of psychedelic culture revitalised interest
in ritual drug use, itself inspired by the 1950s experiments of the
likes of Aldous Huxley, who was a far more lucid commentator than high
priest Timothy Leary. Drug use led on to mysticism and the birth of
new religious movements, which endure to this day. The music was the
most distinctive feature, ranging in value from Pink Floyd to Scott
McKenzie, and the culture also had major impacts on graphic design and
Locally, the Aquarius festival and the ‘new settlers’ of
the seventies revitalised towns such as Nimbin and Mullumbimby, where
proceeds from drug crops flowed back into the economy (and introduced
grocers to new foods such as hommus and Tim Tams). The downside was
drug abuse and the opening up of immoderate property development.
In hindsight, the seventies counterculture invented nothing new. Movements
for peace, environmentalism, homesteading, transcendence and goofing-off
were around before the baby boomers became the darlings of the media.
Beneficiaries of post-war prosperity, they were cultural magpies, gathering
influences from around the globe and claiming them as their own. Since
then the world has moved on - witness information technology, satellite
TV, doof, and the ubiquitous presence of the mobile phone - and nothing
is sadder than a hippie preserved in the cloying aspic of a lost age.
However, many of the concerns of the counterculture are still relevant.
Peace and civil liberties movements still need to keep a watchful eye
on rogue nations around the planet.
As my generation (I’m talking about my generation) plans the colour
schemes of its post-retirement campervans, it is worth celebrating and
re-evaluating the history of the last 35 years and the ideals that inspired
and entertained them. Turn on, tune in, drop out and pass the port,
McDonald, Editor, Byron Shire Echo