Nimbin, Australia: Free love lives on the East Coast

The east coast beaches of Australia are a hotspot for backpackers and all kinds of tourists alike. From trendy Byron Bay to quieter fishing villages, there is an array of great accommodation, excellent beaches and plenty of night life.

No visit to Byron Bay would be complete without a trip to Nimbin. This hinterland town has served as a retreat for those wanting an alternative lifestyle since the late sixties. Nimben is also the butt of many a joke in Australia concerning free love, hippies and marijuana.

On the map, driving to Nimbin looks like it will be an easy trip. The road from Byron is windy, but it’s not a long distance. The reality is much different. The narrow road winds its way through gullies and around steep inclines. The vegetation is lush. On the side of the road you can buy macadamias for $3AUD a kilo, leaving your money in an honesty tin. Houses fly rainbow flags at their front doors.

Nimbin is far more remote than any map will let on. The terrain is difficult to navigate in my tiny hire car, and I imagine far more so in the 1960’s when people started flocking here.

Today Nimbin promotes itself as a highly tolerant town that welcomes people of all creeds and nationalities. They are a community dedicated to sustainable living, to sharing land and leaving a minimal imprint on the environment. Many people live in communities, or communes, where anywhere from a handful to over 300 people will share land. Many run their own schools and shops. Most residents grow their own food, make their clothes or recycle second hand goods and generate their power utlising sun and wind.

The shop fronts of Nimbin are adorned with brightly coloured murals. It is on the rainbow coloured main street of Nimbin that its darker side emerges. The notorious drug culture of the area means that most shops sell paraphernalia associated with this, I’m undecided as to whether the market for bongs is genuinely that strong, or if it is part of a tourist trap. Most people are walking around in bare feet and dreadlocks seem to be compulsory. Everyone I pass on the street seems happy and laid back. I quickly realize why, when in just fifteen minutes I am offered drugs three times from complete strangers.

Politely refusing, I settle myself in a café to people watch before making my long, windy drive back.

Date posted: 10th April, 2011

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