Monday, 11 February 2008
He made it through a gap in the roadblocks, winding through back tracks and lesser-used country byways until the last leg of the journey lay before him. He’d left his remote home in the rainforest that morning, a few days before the anarchic festival began tooting and rolling along at full steam. This year the roadblocks had started early and the dog squads were already working all the train lines into the Rainbow Region and blocking every road leading to the notorious village of Nimbin.
But the Prince of Centraxis knew a few gravel roads that doglegged their way through the hills, to emerge on the far side of authorised reality. He’d made pilgrimages to the sacred initiation area of the Bundjalung Nation since he was a young runaway and a few harried cops and their frenetic hounds weren’t going to impede him now.
There’s always a loophole. As the thought poured through his mind he reached the crest of a hill and hit the brakes, half blinded by the setting sun. The four wheel drive slithered along the gravel and stopped in a flurry of dust that momentarily obscured the hitchhiker, who was squatting in the shade of a tall Bluegum. The driver reached across to spring the lock as the slow moving figure stepped in front of the bright yellow sun and reached for the door.
The skinny silhouette bore a floppy straw hat resembling a drooping misshapen mushroom, which occulted their features as they leaned into the vehicle. A slim pair of barefoot legs encased in patched and faded jeans slid onto the bucket seat and a cascade of jet black hair poured into the car as the hat slipped down. “Thanks.”
The young woman smiled, her almond eyes locking with his as she smoothed her long glossy hair and offered a slim hand to him. Her elegantly elongated fingers were decorated with slim golden rings and he paused in indecision, wondering whether to shake her hand or kiss her amber fingers; he squeezed them gently between his pale fingertips instead. The young woman’s skin glowed a deep topaz in the late afternoon sunshine and he had the vague impression he’d seen her somewhere before. It was not a face you’d easily forget; her irises were an umber blaze streaked with deep orange, framed by the arching black ellipses of her slender black brows. Her aquiline nose ended with a slight curve, tilting upward above her whitely gleaming smile. She was gorgeous; her penetrative gaze left him wordlessly holding his breath.
He slipped the car into gear and rolled down the hill when the woman fastened her seat belt. He focused back on the road as he released the clutch and the twenty-five year old vehicle rumbled into life. “You’re going into Nimbin.” Her confident statement was indefinably accented, her voice a lilting contralto that also seemed somehow familiar.
“Aye. I’m Ram.”
“I know. I’m Amber.” His eyes flickered across her beautiful face and returned to the dangerously twisting road. The smile hadn’t left her mouth.
“You are. Have we met?”
“Not exactly.” That was a relief. Forgetting a meeting with this girl would be a sign of brain damage. She reached across and pressed the cigarette lighter into the dash. “Do you feel like doing a number with me?”
The multitude of potential replies left him speechless for a hundred yards. “Oh, aye,” he said when he untied his tongue and the Holden Jackaroo reached a smooth bitumen surface. As the words left his lips he realised he’d covered all the possibilities with two innocuous syllables. By then Amber was lighting up a well-crafted joint and rolling down her window. Golden sunlight limned her profile and illuminated the stream of smoke pouring from her nostrils, and the resinous herb smelled so strong that at first he mistook the smouldering heads for A-grade hash.
She passed the spliff to him as they reached the crest of a ridge; he was pleasantly surprised when her fingers lingered in a touch that hovered a little longer than necessary; he regretted having to remove his hand to shift gears. “So beautiful,” she said through a cloud of smoke. He glanced from side to side, taking in the amazing vistas on either side of the razorback ridge they were negotiating. He slowed the car to juggle the steering wheel, gear stick and joint as he inhaled appreciatively.
The narrow road overlooked a wide valley of partly desiccated grazing land to the west and a deeply riven gorge fringed with verdant green forest to the east. Two very different realities faced them, split and united by the ancient volcanic crater wall they were driving along. The hills were surmounted with strangely formed basalt outcrops - slumbering giants and weirdly sculpted chimerical forms standing sentinel around the horizon, glowing in the late afternoon sunlight.
Despite the breathtaking view he couldn’t keep his eyes on the landscape. “Do you live around here?” It wasn’t just a line; he was genuinely intrigued by the young Asian woman. He was usually adept at distinguishing between the many different Eastern nations; he’d lived with a Sino-Japanese singer and artist for several years, a granddaughter of Nippon nobility who instructed him in the subtleties of Oriental bone structure and the nuances of skin colour and texture. Yet he couldn’t place the provenance of Amber’s strangely upward-slanting eyes, her half-pixie nose, the elongated symmetry of her beauty.
She fixed him with a steady gaze as they trundled along. “I’m alive right now.” The way she said it, the reply was somehow mysterious rather than simply opaque. Where have eye seen her before? He tasted the tantalising shadow of a memory, an image flitting through him that he couldn’t quite pin down, and he resisted the urge to utter some facile contrivance. He didn’t want to ask her whether they’d met before and expose his ignorance to the entrancing woman.
He passed the smoke back to her and and juggled his attention between Amber and the road as they entered a series of sidewinder bends. A highway patrol car cruised past in the opposite direction, the driver barely noticing them as he frowned into his radio. Maybe we look like tourists, he surmised.
“At least he doesn’t think we’re terrorists,” Amber laughed. Ram laughed along with her, the coinciding synchrony of their thoughts alerting him to the portentous reality he was absently meandering through. He extended his perceptions, emptying his mind to attune himself to the strange woman’s wavelength - and sensed a sensuous smile, stretched around the surface of illimitable depths. “You’re staying down there.” It wasn’t a question; Amber pointed past him toward the twisting, rainforest-fringed creek below them, tumbling through mazes of black boulders to swirl through the platypus pools of the eastern valley.
“That’s right. And you?”
“Some times.” She said it as two distinct words while passing the last inch of the smouldering torch to him as they reached the main road. He was expecting more hitchhikers and when the car slowed at the T-intersection a young couple sporting carefully maintained dreadlocks and ornate silver nasal rings beckoned hopefully at the Jackaroo Deva.
“You going into Nimbin?” the barefoot teenage girl asked as she ran up and hung onto the passenger window when the vehicle pulled over. She was uncommonly gorgeous, her spry elfin beauty enhanced rather than diminished by the jewellery adorning her face. Her dress was a loosely stitched collage of velvet, leather and lace carefully assembled around tantalising gaps and rents in her costume that revealed pale, soft, ring-pierced skin. A tribal tattoo, silver rings and flashes of pink bits peeked through wide holes separating the various materials of her clothing.
Her friend was attired in patched black jeans and a range of home-made jewellery constructed of shells, seeds, bones, claws and insects. He lingered behind her with his thick square hands holding onto her bare slim hips.
“Hop in,” Ram nodded, passing the girl the remnants of the joint; it wasn’t quite a roach. “Just push those blankets out of your way.” The ferals tumbled into the back in an intertwined heap.
“Thanks heaps, dude.” The young guy’s brown hair was streaked with magenta, perfectly matching his companion’s carefully coloured dreads.
“No worries – I’ve had to hitch this road myself,” Ram assured him.
“I’m Amber, and this is Ram’yana.” Her unexpected introduction hinted at a familiarity that he dearly wished was true. How does she know my name? It wasn’t that unusual – he’d had many different existences in many places in this extraordinary life and his name was known by many people he’d never even met.
“Here for the festival?” the bearded hitcher asked, lighting up a small brass pipe. Ram’yana nodded. “And to see how the macadamia trees are going.”
“Good year for maccas,” the youth averred. “And a pretty good year for mull, too.” The last swooping drive down into the valley was far too brief for Ram’s liking and his mind searched for some way to stay near to the companionable young woman sitting beside him. As they reached the outskirts of the colourful little village the looming volcanic peaks of Nimbin Rocks caught the last roseate light of the day, brooding over the fabulously infamous region.
“Not much happening yet tonight,” the young man said as they reached the sixty kilometre speed zone. “We had to go up the mountain to score. Here – try some.” He passed the pipe to Amber. “Can you let us out just up here, at that bus?” Ram’yana pulled over at the designated spot, where a camouflaged bus, hand-painted in jungle greens, was surrounded by a group of travellers. “Thanks a lot, dude. I’m Raven.”
“And he’s craven, too. I’m Angel,” the girl said as she tumbled out after the bearded young feral, her tattered clothing revealing more than she perhaps intended; the stunning grrl was completely shorn of hair.
When Amber opened the front passenger door Ram’yana experienced a lurching sensation within his ribcage. “I’ll be seeing you later,” she said with a slight bow – and followed craven Raven and Angel onto the bus.
Strung out along a narrow ridge overlooking the long-suffering river, a handful of streets lined with wooden Federation-style buildings create a small maze around the main thoroughfare of rustic old shopfronts. Most of the structures on the main drag are painted in a rainbow glaze of psychedelic op-art visions that have been irregularly retouched and updated over the decades. The village of Nimbin straddles a ridge near the easternmost point of the Great Southland, surrounded by the half trashed forest remnants and eroded, imported horned beast rangelands of primordial Gondwana.
More than a generation after a small band of university students stumbled across this fading ghost town and decided it was the place to manifest their vision of an ‘alternative society’, tens of thousands of avid dreamers are converging on this tiny settlement, resplendent in the overshadowing (and sacred) remnants of the largest land volcano on the face of the Earth, to celebrate and protest at the annual Mardi Grass.
At the beginning of another harvest season, a ‘cookie lady’ was arrested for having a few ounces of herbs in her picnic basket while walking on the main street of Nimbin, and was taken to the local police station to be charged with nine-tenths of the law. A spontaneous protest erupted, with many people fronting up to the cop shop to demand her release. To everyone’s surprise the police let their quarry go free.
Shortly thereafter at the beginning of May, twenty years beyond the first Nimbin Aquarius festival, an entheogenic warrior, military veteran and local identity named Bob Hoskins surrendered himself to the police in a more or less spontaneous demonstration against the folly and lunacy of drug laws. Surrounded by supporters he handed himself over to the constabulary, who refused to take him into custody - and an annual event was born, to challenge the idiocy of a law that stops people from growing or smoking the flowers and leaves of one of the oldest medicinal, ritual and all-purpose herbs on the planet – Cannabis sativa (Or, more commonly in the age of hydroponics, Cannabis indica).
Each hallowed e’en of Samhain in the southern hemisphere’s Land of Oz, the hills of the Rainbow Region erupt in a suddenly revealed floral display as new settlers, elder hippies, old pioneer families, communes, quasi-ashrams and dwellers in the spreading ‘developments’ prove the fertility of their green thumbs. Each summer until well after the southern Halloween, the hills come alive with the sound of music as parties and gigs abound and Bacchanalian psychedelic forest doofs disturb the rare marsupials.
Nimbin is also the ancient home of the Bundjalung people, who still dwell around the sacred Rocks and survive within the dreaming reality of their ancestors, watching the pale spirit people pass through their dream in the blink of a nictating membrane. Nimbin is the centre of a particularly sacred area, intended for initiation and the elevation of the psyche - a special place in which it can be unwise to linger for too long, lest one becomes part of the landscape.
Ram’yana has experienced enough of this Rainbow-spangled Region to know it’s still alive, despite its utter transformation to a point beyond decimation at the hands of European barbarians. Gaia is still a recognisably vibrant force in the psychically active and dramatically magical fastnesses of the Great Southland.
The Rainbow Region is a place where it’s wise to be aware of every thought, hope and fear, a realm where creative dreams and idle thoughts are made manifest. Within its roughly triangular boundaries, gates to the underworlds and overworlds still exist, natural and supernatural features to which shamans once made pilgrimages to learn to fly - and to which the young and aware still swarm toward their various initiations, arriving from anywhere and everywhere.
Ram’yana drives through the town, where scores of early arrivals already bustle and hustle in the main street as stalls are assembled and backpackers search for accommodation, disgorged from shuttle buses arriving from the coast. Most come from Byron Bay - a decrepit ex-whaling base nurtured by the first generation of hippy Free Settlers into a world-famous destination. The easternmost sunrise Mecca has been utterly despoiled by ‘developers’ who have rapidly turned the relaxed paradise into a booming tourist ghetto, and raggedy hippy locals are being swiftly removed while itinerant buskers with dreadlocks or bare feet are persecuted and banned.
Now the agents of devolution are setting their sights on the hinterland village of Nimbin - a counter-cultural centre whose hectic, anarchic reputation can no longer be relied upon to keep land prices affordably low – and the times they are a’changing. The word is out that this year the police are going to exhibit ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘clean up Nimbin’, to remove the very people who have turned a slashed and burned landscape and a ghost town of fading post-agricultural memories into a vibrant centre of world-renowned alternative lifestyles and aspirations.
For those in the know, Nimbin is far more than a centre of cannabis culture. Sacred ibises parade through the town and raid the garbage; ancient Egyptian symbols of Thoth, the deity of knowledge and magic, they’ve invaded the fertile coastal ranges as their inland breeding grounds are turned to desert by ‘farmers’ obsessed with short-term illusory gain.
The region remains a hotbed of change and radical thought on topics ranging from free energy devices, through social reform, magical and Wiccan experimentation, unique artistry, ecological sustainability and the regeneration of the planet and the individual soul. Most conceivable healing modes are practiced widely though the area and psychic experimentation is rife on all levels. If you’re seeking any esoteric or practical knowledge, its practitioners can be found somewhere nearby, or in any of the Bohemian cafes studding the psychedelically painted and imbued main street; a pleasant aspect of Amsterdam transported to its more natural habitat in the subtropical antipodes.
Atop tall metal poles set around the triangular park marking the town’s centre, police surveillance cameras scan the fascinating tableau. Willing workers prepare the town for the impending mass celebration and the Jungle Patrol is already ensuring peace on the streets and in the many nooks, crannies and sometimes vacant lots beginning to fill with buyers, sellers, locals and tourists. Bales of hay line the streets, laid out as traffic barricades and an extended row of street furniture; they rapidly recede in Ram’s rear-view mirror as he passes beyond the town and begins to ascend one of many concentric crater walls arrayed around the proud basalt outcrop at the hub of the volcanic region – a mountain known as Wollumbin by the area’s Aboriginal inhabitants.
The horizon is circled by the great volcano whose plug is known to the spirit people - the white ‘Westerners’ - as Mount Warning. Everything for a hundred miles is encased inside the ancient caldera surrounding the sacred mountain. The soil is a startlingly red volcanic ash overlain with remnant forest, invasive and poisonous Chinese camphor laurels and a vast expanse of grass that supplants the irreplaceable Big Scrub rainforest. Five thousand species of plants and animals per acre have been replaced with imported grasses, to feed the meat that’s eaten by unthinking carnivores in distant cities. The soil is as red as the body of Adam, bathed in regular inundations and clothed in rainbows – the garden, the promised land; Paradise.
Ram’yana reaches the crater summit and regains a glimpse of the last moments of sunset, gazing through the windscreen into the magenta and purple radiance of the immortal sky. He slowly inhales the rich oxygenated air, drawing it deeply into his diaphragm.
“Dua Ra Atumn,” he intones, feeling an unmistakable resonance harmonising the vast rayed Sun Disk with the amber ball glowing gently within his solar plexus, as the ancient Egyptian syllables vibrate within his chest. Hail to the Sundisk in its setting. He feels tendrils spread from his inner Sun and travel outward with the world-spanning rays of sunlight, to intersect with his scattered fellow tribe members and family - and to others to whom he chooses to be attached. He shares an instant of communion with them all and as the sun touches down flocks of birds spiral to earth, reciprocating the flight of myriad bats rising on the last updrafts of the day.
The hippy shaman rolls downhill to the home of the Star Earth Tribe, where a caravanserai is arrayed around a large clearing beside a series of rainforest-lined natural black stone spa-baths, springs and swimming holes. Medicinal and food trees, vines and shrubs from across the globe dot the landscape, a visible but largely unrecognised cornucopia whose planting and maintenance is directed by Paul, scion of the extended family who has freely opened this hidden patch of land to all who want to live here.
Tents, marquees and teepees are being erected and stakes sledge-hammered into the rich brown soil of the valley bottom, as fireplaces are stacked with hardwood and aromas of food, woodsmoke and fragrant drugs mix in the vale.
“Hey, bro!” Paul laughs and slaps Ram’yana on the back as he stretches and climbs from the driver’s seat. When he climbs out onto the grass his effusive host and fellow communard hugs him warmly. “Did you just get here? Perfect timing!” Paul stands back and smiles. “We were going to tell you, but figured you’d be here anyway – so welcome to the party! Glad you made it! We’re having another doof tonight; thought we’d get in early.” The sweep of his arm encompasses the broad clearing and reveals a dark-haired stranger who appears out of the evening gloom. “Ram – this is Omry. He’s a backpacker who’s been helping out bigtime. We have to go and stake out the plateau for parking.”
“Hi Ram. Paul tells me you’re a shareholder here.” His accent is easily placed and his first two words are a multilingual pun.
“That’s right. You’re from Israel?”
“You can tell!. Yes – from near the Sea of Gallilee.”
“Very near there. Have you been to Israel?”
“Not for thousands of years. But my brother’s been there more recently – he tells me things have gone downhill” He smiles as Omry laughs, and then turns to Paul. “The plateau?”
“Haven’t you seen it yet? We’ve cleared off all the lantana. You won’t believe it when you see it now.” An understatement; Ram wanders across to the other side of the land, passing below the swathe of twenty-five hundred large, grid-planted Macadamia nut trees that now clothe the once-stripped hillside. He strolls down a newly cut and gravelled road and passes across a freshly hand-hewn bridge that spans a tumbling spring-fed creek, to find a vast, cleared flat area interspersed with luxuriant black wattles. The parking area covers a handful of hectares – a landscape that had never been so flat in his experience; this side of the land had always sloped down to the creek at an angle of ten to fifteen degrees. The change is a result of neither earthworks nor seismic activity; the flat had obviously, inescapable always been there.
The hippy shaman was in another universe. Again.
Ram’yana had come to this place regularly for decades and this flat expanse of acreage had never existed here before. The Star Earth Tribe had always wanted to create another settlement here, by the river on this sunnier side of the gravel road - and now there was a place in the sun for them to do so. For most, of course, this flat ground had ‘always’ been there – but the landscape was utterly new to the Centraxian shaman’s sight and Random Access Memory.
The shaman prince had entered another fractal again – another version of the infinite Dream that is the fluid reality of the multiverse, framed in the living landscape of the Rainbow Region of Oz. And things were looking sychroninteresting…
A True Story
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