Rainbow Dreaming  

Street theatre, Lismore

Street theatre promoting the Aquarius Festival, Lismore, April 1973
Image: © Northern Star

Remembering The Paisley Years

An orgy 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 black.’

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 pensionable age.

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 fashion.

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, man.

Michael McDonald, Editor, Byron Shire Echo

PreviousRainbow Dreaming Next