The Road to Lightning Ridge

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Now the longest drive my wife and I have done while towing the Jayco Penguin campertrailer was about 3 hours, and with the plan to do the big trip to Uluru in September, I picked  a place that was a full days drive away, to test my ability to remain conscious at the wheel. After much consideration I chose a place I haven’t been to for 26 years. Lightning Ridge. Now I’ll post soon about the town itself, but this is all about the journey. This trip is not a speed race, this is a relay, except I’m the only runner (driver), my wife preferring the job of feeding me chips and chocolate, and keeping me caffeinated.  So fasten your seat belts as we go on a road trip to the edge of the outback.

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Now as any good traveller knows, driving is a soporific experience, and the recommended stretch of white line hypnosis is 2 hours. The wife, being the organised wonder she is, packed the obligatory thermos, tea bags milk etc, that help keep the caffeine levels nicely balanced. The night before we left, my wife packed snacks,(junk food for me, fruit salad for her.) while I packed the van.  The plan was to leave at dawn and have our first stop at Warwick , a sleepy little town on the  Southern Downs of Qld.

Come dawn, we were breakfasted, dressed and out of our home, leaving behind a freezer full of food for our two boys, (old enough to take care of themselves, kind of,) and the iced teas  I forgot to pack at the last minute,  The trip to Warwick is well known to us now by now, and you basically hop on the Cunningham highway and try not to fall asleep.  A cheap coffee from Maccas helped flush the blood from my caffeine stream and Dumb Things playing on the Bluetooth, we drove south. A couple of hours of roadworks and fog, and we were in Warwick, sitting in the park with a hot cup of earl grey whilst fending of the Bin Chickens who were showing far too much interest in our morning tea.

After the obligatory half hour break, we were back in the car, and back on the road, heading west for Goondiwindi. From here things started to get interesting, as much as they can at a hundred kilometres an hour. Each town that we pass through has an informative translation for the places name. This and the occasional wildlife sighting helped pass the time, if not add to this driver’s distractions. The closer we got to Goondiwindi the more the landscape changed. This is cotton growing country and the area surrounding Goondiwindi is a flat and desolate wasteland, the scrub gone and replaced by large fields of cotton stubble, the harvest having just been completed. The road in and out of town is wrapped in cotton wool as the massive trucks litter the highway with escaped cotton balls. It’d be quite beautiful if it weren’t for the whole soaked in chemicals and thirsty crop the plant is.

In Goondiwindi we bought some replacement iced tea for the ones I’d left at home and another cheap pair of sunglasses, which I’ll add to the growing list of things I’ll remember next time we go away. After a cup of  tea, some lunch, (which the ubiquitous Bin Chickens pestered us for, ) and the mandatory break, we left Goondiwindi and headed over the border into NSW, back onto the fluffy cotton highway,  and continuing westward towards our next stop.

I was doing alright, driver fatigue not raising it’s ugly head so far, so I decided to push the driver fatigue envelope a little, aiming for a stint behind the wheel that went as far as I felt I could before the warning signs began to kick my arse.  IMG_0765.JPG

By mid afternoon, the caffeine had worn off, fatigue was setting in, and the scenic views had become a string of endless empty fields, which had the same effect as Valium. The lack of scenery made the Goondiwindi/Collarenebri stretch slow going, so I cranked up the Abacab on the playlist and pushed the X-Trail to 110 K ,  The sooner I could get to the next caffeine hit the better.

I needed something entertaining  to prevent me from putting us both and the Jayco  on a Stop, Revive, Survive billboard. The.wife rejected my favourite childhood travel game, “Identify the road kill”, so we settled on a “spot the emu” competition (she won 6 to 1) before a quick round of “cow or speed bump?” helped get enough adrenaline flowing to keep me going to our next stop.

Finally, we reached Collarenebri, and my brain decided it had had enough of the mesmerising Gwydir highway. After driving over the bridge into town, I pulled the car and van in at the first, (and only) park we came to, on the dusty banks of the Barwon River. The rivers and creeks out here vary in colour between chocolate brown and lactose intolerant caramel. It’s sad to see the state of them at the moment, as Algae makes swimming inadvisable.

We fuelled up at the only servo, the cost of petrol telling us we were now a long way from home. There’s not a lot to Collarenebri. This is the kind of town time and governments have forgotten about, the sad streets lined with closed shops, only the pub and the servo still managing to eke out a living. This is a place on the road to becoming a ghost town,

After the recharge that only some food, a cuppa and a dose of environmentally induced depression can provide, we headed onto the last and shortest leg of our journey. west the north to Lightning Ridge.

This is the land of the National Emblem, where emus and Kangaroos line the Highway, their corpses littering the road for a hundred Kilometres or more. Occasional flocks of the flightless comedians running away with their strange dancing gate, their heads held high as they scurry out of sight. The Kangaroos stay mostly hidden, waiting for nightfall when their suicidal attraction to headlights is on display. Our aim was to reach the home of black opal before whatever it is that drives the roos to destruction really kicked in. Finally, as the sun was heading for the horizon we arrived at our destination, and not a moment to soon.

It had been twenty six years since I last visited the Ridge, and I seem to remember a lot more dirt and a lot less grey asphalt road making up the Castlereagh highway. The surroundings began to turn Red as the Iron rich soils of the outback begin. This is the edge of the great mass of red that is the majority of Australia’s middle.

As we pulled in to the Lorne Station Caravan Park, the excitement chased away the fatigue and up ahead I heard the beckoning call of a nice cold beer I’d been chilling as reward for completing the long haul.

Next post will be about the couple of day we spent in the Ridge discovering why the locals call it, “The Largest Unfenced Lunatic Assylum in the World.”

Aratula

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Aratula Market and cafes

On the Cunningham Highway, halfway between Brisbane and Warwick, lies the sleepy little town of Aratula. This is the kind of place you’ll miss if you blink, so if you’re heading that way keep your eyes open, (Especially if you’re driving.)

Aratula has tried to support a few shops, cafes mostly and as with most little towns like it all over Australia, half of them are empty, the For Lease signs like death notices stuck to the windows. There’s a nice bakery there, but as I’m not allowed to eat wheat, I could only savour the aromas. Luckily, coffee is wheat free and the shop next door to the bakery makes a quite reasonable Hazelnut Cappuccino. There’s a fruit shop that also sells a variety of local products, like jams, honey, preserves and wines. I particularly liked the look of the port with a name that I’m too polite to repeat here. We’ve yet to pass through Aratula without coming away with something, (Pickles and dried mango this time.) In the backstreet you can find an antique Australiana shop that sells the usual artefacts; rusty farm tools, furniture and the biggest metal bucket you’ve ever seen. Across the road is a small art gallery where the artist in residence, Suzy Buhle, paints while awaiting the occasional visitor.

If you ignore the dirty great Shell servo that’s being built, this looks very much like the country towns of my youth, made to cater for a world travelling at a slower pace. Catering for a time when people were travelling and not just rushing to a destination.

The new servo may have a deleterious effect on the remaining shops. That it will probably kill the circa seventies BP up the road is pretty certain, but if it brings the usual fast food and coffee of most of these large “Service Centres,” it may well kill the cafe’s and with it what charm remains in the little community of shops.

So if you’re headed to Warwick or beyond, why not stop for twenty minutes, stretch your legs and most importantly buy something. You’ll be helping to keep a little town alive.

The Gorge Wilderness Park, or Nice place, pity about the neighbours.

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The Gorge’s gorgeous wildlife.

Now the wife’s job is stressful and she asked nicely in that voice I can’t refuse if we can get away for the weekend, so of course I leapt into action. A week later I actually got off by backside and did something about it, phoning a place we’ve discussed on a number of occasions called The Gorge Wildness Park.The Gorge is situated a short drive from the Aratula shops and is only about an hour’s drive from our home.

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The mainoffice, (a shed) and the first campsites, suitable for most vehicles. The ones down the track are a little harder t o get to. I’d recommend 4 x 4 only.

The place is a small private campground so you need to book ahead. (Unlike one group there who just drove in and tried to set up camp. There aren’t a lot of spots so they were told to leave.) For $4 per person per night, you know your getting basic, a campsite, use of rudimentary amenities and somewhere to have a fire, because camping without a fire is just not right. (Except during a Total Fire Ban, don’t do that.)

 

We arrived at about 5PM on a Friday and apart from an initial confusion with the signing in, we headed down a rough track at the back of the campground, four wheel driving it for the hundred metres to our secluded little spot. After the initial setup and obligatory beer, (a lovely little drop called Fig Jam by Burleigh Brewing ) the wife and I settled back in our chairs by the waters of Reynolds Creek to soak up the serenity. It lasted about ten minutes.

The Gorge is basic but still relatively organised, and the lady that runs it does enforce basic rules like shutting down loud noise after 9pm. Across the creek is another property. I’m not sure if it’s a campground or just a privately bloke that let’s people camp, but whatever it is, there’s a “rules are for wimps” sort of ethos. This is where Bogans let their hair down and crank the Metallica to eleven until after midnight. Now I like Hero Of the Day as much as the next ex-headbanger, but Till It Sleeps  three times in one night is a bit excessive. (There’s bands other than Metallica, folks!) Drunken singing, loud arguments and the inevitable proclamations of love, (“I loves you mate.”) made it hard to hear the gentle chitter of the microbats. The intermittent detonations  as aerosol cans exploded in their campfire, a sound  I remember well from a misspent youth.split the night, echoed off the gorge walls. As you can imagine, not a lot of sleep was happening the first night for anyone. Perhaps  Enter Sandman would’ve been more appropriate.

The neighbours were the only real negative about the place, and you could hardly blame the management of The Gorge for that, rumours of the cross creek property owner’s belligerence are somewhat legendary. The second night they were a lot more subdued, I’m guessing most of them were still nursing some pretty epic hangovers.

Now at four bucks per person per night, don’t expect the Ritz, in fact don’t expect a lot, but that’s not why you go to a place with the word Wilderness in it’s title. There’s basic flushing toilets and cold showers, unless you want to fire up the donkey, (the hot water system not the animal). Now a donkey is  basically a forty four gallon drum with some internal plumbing and a fire underneath. You then have to bucket the hot water into the shower. It all seemed a bit to much like hard work to us so we brought our own.

The creek is good for swimming, and has bass, perch  and spangles if you want to try your hand at fishing. I didn’t have the right equipment but there were a couple of younger fellas who caught a few using light hardbodied lures.

Nearby Lake Moogerah  is popular for those who want to bring a boat, and touring the nearby National parks make a nice day trip, though the track up to Spicers Gap would be a little hairy in a 2WD.

The area is a great place to kill a couple of days, whether you want to laze around camp or check out the local area. Keep an eye out for the letterboxes and fence ornaments. Some are quite creative.

For all the disturbance of the first night, we found The Gorge Wilderness Park a great little place to get away for a weekend and leave the stresses of life behind. And if your passing through Aratula, sit a spell.

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Sit and contemplate a tree, in the traffic island at Aratula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girraween and Basket Swamp

(Or, A tale of Two National Parks.)

img_5702I consider the National Parks of Australia to be my second home, a place where you can’t see the air you breath, nor see the concrete for the trees. As my wife and I have aged, we’ve moved from tents to the trusty Jayco Penguin, our wind up home on wheels. Whilst I still rough it sometimes with the fellas, my wife prefers a few creature comforts, though the bar is set fairly low, as will be seen.

Now Australia’s National  Parks are managed at a state level. In New South Wales you have the NPWS. (National Parks and Wildlife Service) under the Dept of Environment and Heritage, which kind of makes sense. In Queensland you have the QPWS (Queensland Parks and Wildlife service) which is run by the Dept of National Parks, Sport and Racing.because???

On the Qld/NSW border are a bunch of National Parks that straddle the state line in places. Qld has Girraween National Park which butts up against NSW’s Bald Rock National Park. Girraween was about twelve bucks a night for two people , while  Bald Rock is $24 plus vehicle charge per day. Not far from Bald Rock are the twin NSW NP’s of Boonoo Boonoo and Basket Swamp.  Boonoo Boonoo will set you back the same as Bald Rock but Basket Swamp is free. Of course the level of facilities drop in line with the cost.

So our journey begins in Girraween.

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Girraween,  the camping you do when you’re not really camping.

We arrived at Girraween National Park driving along the sealed  road that winds past a chocolate shop in the middle of nowhere and becomes unsealed beyond the camping and picnic grounds. There are two camping grounds. Left leads to Bald Rock Creek and right leads to Castle Rock. We chose the Bald Rock Creek Area. As far as National Park camping goes this is about as civilised as it gets. We take the short dirt road to the camp ground, finding it about two thirds full and  find a nice shady spot not far from the Amenities block. While I set up the camper, my wife goes and checks of the facilities. This place has flushing toilets and hot showers, (the latter on a four minute timer but hey, Showers!)

The beauty of the area is the sense of privacy you get. Bald Rock Creek’s sites are scattered almost randomly, in comparison with the neat rows of Castle Rock. It seems the planners partied a little after Castle Rock and their inebriation is reflected in the random placement of BRC’s individual sites. Strangely , it works, and though our nearest neighbours were about twenty feet away, it felt like we were almost alone. If I have one complaint it’s there use of the most poorly design wood barbecues ever. You can’t build a decent campfire in those things. While half the campers seemed to be families, it’s the sound of the bird life that you hear mostly, lending a magical air to the place. Friar Birds, Butcher Birds, Black Cockatoos and colourful parrots of at least three different species. If you’re a birdwatcher, this is paradise. As for me, I’m no expert, but I know what I like.

This is Granite Belt, and marble shaped monoliths dot the landscape. They give you a sense of why the Indigenous peoples of the area attributed such spiritual significance to the land.img_5669There are several great bushwalks here, of various grades, 4 the highest out of a possible 5.We stuck to the 2 &3 grades

A nice easy circuit to do when you first arrive is the Granite Arch Walk.

.All the trails are well marked, though the Junction Walk is is basically the occasional white paint on the rock in sections.

Now Girraween was so nice, we stayed for three nights. The only disturbance being the occasional giggles of children playing and the incessant call of the Woop Woop Bird, (the name as a teenager we gave to the Koel). Early on our last morning there, we drove to the other end of the park to do the Dr Roberts Waterhole Walk  and  Underground Creek. Both of these walks were easy, the trails wending between the twisted trees. These places left us with the indelible impression that Girraween was the perfect modern camping spot.

After the walks, I packed up the camp, wound down the camper, and by mid morning we left for our next destination, the discouragingly named Basket Swamp National Park.

Basket Swamp. What’s in a name?

Over the border in NSW is a cluster of National Parks and state forests. It’s beautiful country and well worth a look. Pass through Boonoo Boonoo State Forest and you’ll reach the relatively new National Park of Basket Swamp. While the nearby Bald Rock and Cypress Pines camp grounds have better facilities, including the best fireplace setup I’ve seen anywhere,  it’s hard to pass up a free camp site. This was our first time taking the camper on a rough unsealed road. While the car is a 4×4, (a Nissan X-trail for those that want to know,) it’s not built for serious rock hopping and the Jayco even less so, but it all handled the frequent potholes and bumps with aplomb. The road in is unsealed and ungraded, but runs through some pretty heathwoods and thick bush as you pass through Boonoo State Forest and into Basket Swamp NP. After 7 dusty kilometers we reached the camp ground. This is the wild west of campgrounds, where facilities are a single pit drop toilet, and you can feel like you’ve left the land of the brown skies behind. If you want a shower, bring your own. Now this is closer to my kind of camping, but it’s also accessible enough to attract those with, shall we say less regard for the  natural beauty of the Australian bush. Chainsaws really have no place in a national park unless you’re a ranger or making a horror movie. There were three other camp sites taken and we took the one that was most secluded.

After set up and obligatory beer, I did the usual explore of the area and concluded it was the perfect spot. Close enough to the toilet to be walked to in the night, and far enough away to avoid the smell a dirty great pile of excrement can produce. There were two dead fires in our area, left by previous campers who’d not bothered with troublesome things like containing it in a circle of rocks. Being the responsible camper I am, we brought our own firewood and I set about containing one of the fireplaces with stones because nothing spoils a camping trip like a bushfire.

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The landscape of Basket Swamp

Now it didn’t take long before some of the locals came to visit. Not the other campers, they mostly kept to themselves.  No our visitors were a mother wallaby and I presume her two offspring. (I didn’t manage to get the three of them in the same photo.)


Now the mum seemed to take an interest in the cold baked potatoes left in the ashes of the other fire and seeing a wallaby daintily unwrapping a potato from foil to eat it is one of those once in a lifetime things you can only experience in a national park. As is the flutter of the micro bats that flit around the campsite just after dusk, reducing the bugs in the air more efficiently than any mossie coil can do. Wildlife is one of the many things about the aussie bush that draws me back every time.

Speaking of wildlife, the human kind, two out of the three other camps were quiet and, apart from a friendly wave as we pass, they kept mostly to themselves. Then there was the third,  (there’s almost always one). Now group three was a large group, made up of work mates and their families, and they were friendly, if not a little loud. Now I’ve got nothing against noise in the bush except when that noise is produced by a chainsaw. Seriously, the government is doing a spectacular job at deforestation and they don’t need help from you at land clearing, particularly in a national park. So for you and any that might follow, here’s some tips that should negate the need to fell a tree in a protected region.

1: Trees are home to wildlife. Every tree you cut down is home to animals and/or birds. When you chop down a tree, you’re destroying the home of the very wildlife that make going bush so enjoyable. Don’t do it. Bring your own wood.

2: To make a good smokeless fire you need heat, air and fuel. Dry wood makes excellent fuel. Wet, green-wood does not. Smoke is the product of inefficient burning of the fuel. The drier the wood, the more efficiently it burns. i.e. Less smoke. So if you’re tempted to cut down a living tree for firewood, Don’t do it. Bring your own wood.

3: Finally, consider the fact it’s illegal. If you get caught, (you know, when they find a bloody great piece of the tree you cut down unburnt because it was green timber,) they WILL charge you. Rangers tend to take a dim view of people disrespecting the parks they patrol. Don’t do it. Bring your own wood.

The upshot of all of this is, if you are looking for a nice camping spot away from it all where friendly wallabies come boldly into camp, where birdlife sings and microbats flit around at dusk, Basket Swamps not bad. If you’re looking for a place devoid of wildlife and trees, try a caravan park, (or the carpark at Coles.)

This is a live tree. Don't chop it down. It makes lousy firewood
This is a live tree. Don’t chop it down. It makes lousy firewood

Okay peeve-rant over. I think I need to head bush again to regain my calm.

(There are several landmarks in Basket Swamp and Boonoo Boonoo worth checking out. In particular, Basket Swamp Falls and Woolool Wooloolni Aboriginal Place. Pictures below.)

That’s it folks, until next time. Thanks for coming.

Nimbin

Nimbin at a glance.

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Yes, with Nimbin, you can believe the brochure.

In the hills behind Byron lies the sleepy little town of Nimbin, where hash resin replaces the sleep in the locals eyes.

It takes a bit over an hour to get there from Mullumbimby and tour buses run from all around the Rainbow region to help tourists avoid the troubles a random drug test might cause. We’ve driven there twice, (That’s where these photos were taken.) the second time was for research, I swear. (It’s been decades since I messed with my brain chemistry.) I believe everyone should visit it just once, if only to see where all the hippies have gone.

Nimbin has been unjustly described as a sad and run down hippy theme park, but it’s really only like that on weekends and once a year during festival time when a whole bunch of tourists get bussed in. Our first trip was on a Sunday and the place was flush with grass tourists (more about that later.) The second trip was on a Tuesday and the locals were in the majority. I love watching people, as a writer it’s sort of stock trade, and looking a little deeper you’ll see a colourful pageant of characters. It is everything you’d expect and so much more from a town built on a reputation as the dope capital of Australia.

The town centre consists of one main street at the top of a hill, lined with an eclectic mix of shops and cafes with air that is intermittently filled with herbaceous odours. The town supports a single pub, the Nimbin Hotel, but most people don’t come to Nimbin to drink. Upon arrival most people follow the marijuana smoke to the Hemp embassy. It strangely reminded me of an old National Parks’ office in Blackheath, but instead of Maps and permits, the place was awash with information and souvenirs.  More about our walk through the town later.

With bookshops, crafty nooks and magical mystery stores, it’s a nice stroll. Be aware that on weekends you may be offered grass every few metres you walk in the street, but the stores are a refuge if you find that hard to take. On a weekday the town conducts its trademark market in a very different way (more about that later).

The coffee shops are all nice, with plenty on offer for every dietary challenge, of which I have a couple and the food is quite good. A circuit of the shops will take about an hour or so with browsing, though if you partake of the local product your whole street experience may take longer and be a little different to ours.

A couple of hours in Nimbin, (or Where have all the hippies gone?)

Now a little background. Our first visit to Nimbin was a bit of a culture shock for my wife, who unlike me, grew up in the country and did not share my childhood misadventures. She’s not naive, but isn’t really a fan of such in you face reefer madness. I grew up in Sydney and there was a time in the early ’80s where I tried to single-handedly restart the hippy movement, leaving home and tie-dying my clothes. Even though I spent a number of years under a cloud of pot smoke, I’d never made it North to Nimbin, having pretty much blown away my early  ’20s sitting on a couch with a bong attached to my face. I’d come to my senses by 23, but the people I knew then left a lasting impact on me. Their love of thought and creativity and science helped germinate the growing seed of the writer that I am now. So in some sense I came to Nimbin as sort of adolescent ancestry research.

After several minutes of searching, we finally found a parking spot and left the car for a wander around the shops. There were so many people it was hard to take everything in. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the throng of a thousand tourists from all over the world filled the air and not a cop in sight. Two kids, ten seconds apart, rode past calling out, “Anyone want grass?”  I must confess 18 year old me was screaming, They deliver! But as a sensible man in my 50’s I declined those and all the ensuing offers.

As I mentioned, this was all a bit much for my wife, so we found refuge in the great little second hand book exchange down the hill. Sharing an old timber building with the community centre, the guy behind the counter is only too happy to talk about any number of subjects and the books range from Shakespearean classics to sci-fi and fantasy, right through to alien abductions and crystal healing guides. This gave me my first inkling of the Nimbin behind the tourist hype. These were the books swapped by locals and as such is a reflection of the cosmopolitan range of the local characters.

We didn’t stay too long the first time,  running a gauntlet of backpackers and dealers as we did a whirlwind, self guided tour of the place. We left, and though I’d gleaned a little bit of the towns true nature, I sensed I’d seen something like “a movie based on  a true story.”

Two years later I’ve written a novel, (as yet unpublished) and Nimbin plays into the story, so I convinced my wife to return to Pot World so I can take photos for reference. Bravely she agrees, which is probably a good indicator of her love for me.

We arrived about 9.30 am on a Tuesday and as the wife was an invalid at the time, I dropped her at a cafe and  went to park the car in the dirt carpark behind the shops. Now Nimbin on a Tuesday was very different to the weekend insanity we’d previously experience and I quickly found a park just near the cop in his paddywagon who had positioned himself in just the right place to keep an eye on the market square. The market square takes up the place the Rainbow cafe and museum had been before they burned down in 2014. Now it is a vacant lot that joins the carpark and the main street. The space is filled with the kind of wooden picnic tables found on every back patio in the 70’s and the kind of gazebos you buy for fifty bucks at  Kmart. As I leave the car and walk up the sloped market square, I  notice scales and plastic baggies on a scattering of the tables.Virtually nobody is in sight but for one tattooed old  dude sitting and smoking a cigarette whilst drinking a cup of tea. He’s eyeballing the cop forty metres away who’s eyeballing back like a uniformed reflection in a magic mirror. The scene has a kind of tension that is hard to describe, like a Mexican standoff between a purebred pit bull and a mongrel. To be honest I wasn’t sure who was which. On the street at the entrance is a long version of the picnic tables with an umbrella shading a half a dozen blokes oozing that indefinable body language that screams dealer.

I join my wife across the road at a lovely hippy/hipster cafe, where a cappuccino and a chocolate slice await me,  along with the wife who is drinking a peppermint tea. This part of Nimbin, at the police station end of the street, is very much more her speed, and I sensed she found this a much nicer experience than our first visit. After the coffee, we went for a walk around the shops at a much more leisurely pace than we had  on the previous trip. We spent time in the health food market, the jewellery stores and the odd assortment of shops that defy description without giving an inventory of their eclectic wares. I went back to the Hemp Embassy; only this time it wasn’t filled with a dozen accents asking about where to score, and purchasing drug paraphernalia. The accents are mostly Australian, and there’s time to talk to the people behind the counter who are very literate as to the grey legality of weed. The Hemp Embassy is a wealth of information about both cannabis and the material uses of hemp. It’s become the sort of hub in Australia for getting the word out about the herb superb, the law and why the war on this particular drug is a losing battle.

While there is the dark shadow of harder drugs, this is frowned upon by the older residents, who see it as a betrayal of the original ideals of the place. It is impossible to extricate the legalise movement from the town. The MardiGrass festival is their attempt to display that ideal, but as I’ve not been to it, I can’t say how successful a bunch of stoners are at presenting a coherent argument for marijaua reform. For an more insight into the festival see a video from inside. click here.

After a couple of hours we’d seen all we wanted to see and the number of tourists had grown to a couple of hundred. I’d taken all the photos I needed, so I went to fetch the car, and it was then I experienced another glimpse of the weekend, theme park vibe.

As I approached the long picnic table at the entrance to the market square, the police van, which presumably had gotten sick of the patient game of don’t blink, came up the street. Like a shark they slowly glided by the half dozen oozy dudes who also had not moved in the last couple of hours. As the fuzz slid out of sight; the aforementioned dudes stood up in unison and like a well rehearse comedy act, sprang into action. Along with them, and seemingly from nowhere, a mix of twenty or thirty people,  locals and backpackers appeared. Having received whatever equates to the Bat Signal in Nimbin, they converged on the market entrance. Caught up in the instant crowd, I shuffle meekly to the gate, where a tall guy in jeans and a t-shirt repeats the standard, “Do you want to score?” to the first couple of people as they enter.

Two backpacker girls with a Germanic accent ask him stuntedly, “Edibles?”

“You mean brownies and cookies and shit?”

They nod enthusiastically and he points them to the right place.

I mutter, “Just going to the car,” but the spotty teenager behind me can be heard as I step past the gatekeeper. “Half oz?”

Before I’ve taken ten steps, grass is being retrieved from stash points around the market and deals are being done in a frantic rush. It seems the police may return at anytime and I don’t doubt that the grass will vanish leaving only scales and baggies when they do. It’s then I pass the old guy again who’d been eyeballing the cop earlier.  He’s replaced his ciggie with a pipe and gives me a smile. I can’t help wondering how long he’s been doing this dance with the law.

Without the grass, Nimbin would be a ghost town, so while the police disrupt business frequently, they seem well aware that stopping it all together would be a death knell for the region. There’s a truce here between both sides in the war on drugs.

Were it only that all wars were quite this civil.

I retrieved the car and the wife and we left Nimbin to its own version of photo-chemical smog. Not planning on returning any time soon but I’m kindof glad I gave Nimbin a second chance.

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Dude just chilling on his psychedelic van

Getting there.

Our journey was from Brunswick Heads, a seaside gem on the New South Wales north coast, heading in a vaguely west direction that meanders past places with unlikely names like Mooball and Blue Knob. From Byron Bay it’s more or less due west and from Mullumbimby, it’s all pretty much the same route as we did, North then west then south skirting Mt Jerusalem and Nightcap National Parks. All of these routes are pretty, but the Mullum/ Brunswick routes offer a lot more to see. The route is well marked and it would be pretty hard to miss.

If you check it out sometime, why not comment and we can compare notes.

Peace love and mung beans people.

Mullumbimby

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Let me begin by saying, I like Mullum, (as it’s affectionately known by the locals.) I must. I’ve been there more times than I can remember.

Despite it’s reputation as a hippy haven, Mullumbimby has more in common with the multitude of small country towns that dot the northern border of New South Wales than it does with the legend. Unlike say Nimbin*,  there are not dealers on every corner trying to sell you wacky weed. Instead, Mullum is a pleasant mix of rural meets alternative lifestyle. The population is large enough to support two pubs in the three block main street. It’s a place where the health food store can compete with the IGA supermarket, (the Woolworths is hidden in a back street like a corporate sister the residents are a little ashamed of.) A place where fine vegen cafe’s are nestled next to pizza joints. Apart from the guys at the end of the street having a session, the whole “Mullumbimby Madness “ thing is pretty much invisible while we’re there.

Start with a brunch at the Poinciana Cafe, which is a testament to the bygone days of the hippy movement. The place screams peace and love, starting with the combi in the car park (See above).The tree growing through the centre of the building is a nice touch, as are the rusting toys around its trunk and the epiphytes shading a Buddha in the branches.A rusty scooter from the 60’s takes pride of place, the thin wheeled kind with the hard black rubber tyres, surrounded by various mementos that look like their owners parked them there in the 60’s, a reminder of a childhood left behind. The place is more like a large shack, but the Vibe is relaxed, the service is fantastic and the cakes are to die for. Yes we’ve been there once or twice.

poinciana-cafe-tree.

After brunch, take a stroll around the main street and see a great example of the rural/hippy dynamic. Mullum is a perfect mix of alternative lifestyle adherents and redneck charm, the harmonic balance revealed no more clearly than in the juxtaposition of a large organic health food shop on one corner and the succinctly named Middle Pub on the other. Here you can sip on an freshly made juice from one of the shops and peruse the variety of artisan shops or arty/crafty little nooks and thrift shops or, should you be in the market for some farm machinery, there’s a place just around the corner.

Come for the atmosphere leave in a tractor.

If you’re in the area come for a few hours and chill out, it’s well worth it.

Three Days in Mullum

Our latest adventure was the  first time we’d chosen to stay in Mullum itself, rather than parking the trusty Jayco camper in nearby Brunswick Heads, (More about Bruns. another time)This latest sojourn to the eastern edge of the Rainbow Region begins with our arrival at our plan A for setting camp, the local showground. Despite being told to “Just turn up” to our plan A, Plan A informed us on arrival that it was full and we should look for a Plan B. Now every good traveller knows, you always need a Plan B, however most travellers also know to check a place out. (We did this on Wikicamps, but thought, “It couldn’t be that bad.) Always listen to other’s reviews.

Our Plan B was the Mullumbimby combined footy club/golf course/caravan park at the edge of what can only be described as the closest thing Mullum has to an industrial estate. In hindsight, the small amount of road that remained, woven between the potholes, should have been a clue as to what we could expect. Once we’d run the asphalt 4WD gauntlet, you arrive at a lovely little spot by the Brunswick river, where you can plug the van into power and water and for $30 a night, have a reasonable sized site to yourself.

I’ve become relatively efficient with whole wind up roof, wind down legs, setup of the camper and forty minutes later I’m sitting under the annex with a cold beer in my hand, cooling off and taking in my new habitat. The caravan section is basically a large flat area of grass nestled between the river, the 11th hole and the footy ovals, and there’s perhaps 20 – 25 other vans, tents and motor-homes taking up positions all over the place. There are no riverside sites, as all of these are taken up by  the permanent residents, who along with the she-oaks, line the bank. There they are afforded a perfect view of the mangrove mosquito nursery across the water.

It’s not long before some of the locals, introduce themselves. Everyone is very friendly, from the caretaker who leaves mince out for the mother magpie and her chick, through to the couple across the road, who turn out not to be a couple. Their relationship was somewhat ambiguous and it just seemed rude to ask. There’s barely any smell of marijuana in the air and I begin to forget the pocked road that got us there. The laid back atmosphere lulls me into a false sense of security and the place doesn’t seem half bad.

The Mullum combined leagues club/golf links/caravan park has everything you could want, and quite a few things you don’t. Most of the negatives can be found in the amenities block. It all starts with the five minute walk to them,  a short stroll in the warm light of day, but quite a different proposition when undertaken at two o’clock in the morning when you’re kidneys refuse to behave.  It becomes a battle between thought’s of wet grassy feet from traipsing to the toilet or the sure knowledge of the mess an exploding bladder might cause. After tossing and turning in bed trying unsuccessfully to ignore the wave motion this sets up internally, I give in and head to the toilets.

In the morning, the wife and I use the showers and this is where the fun really begins.

The amenities block is shared with the leagues club, so the showers are what you’d expect in a country football clubs communal showers. A large stainless steel bench, wooden benches around the walls and five showers, only one of which has the benefit of walls and a door. Now showering with a bunch of blokes might be fine for some, but it’s not my idea of fun and brought back a few too many memories from my  Catholic boys high school, with the Christian brothers showing far more interest in our hygiene than was appropriate. You learn to maintain eye contact at a young age.

Later when comparing notes with my wife, she tells me that the women’s showers at least have brown modesty curtains, though the original colour was impossible to ascertain. When I told her she was lucky to have some modicum of privacy,she countered by reminding me that plastic sheets were no match for curious toddlers and on top of that, only one of the toilet doors has a functioning lock. She wins. I’ve come to the conclusion that privacy might be a foreign concept around these parts.

We stayed three days, though I realise now that my wife would really have preferred us to move on. (To be honest, I didn’t want to have to break camp and setup again after only one night. Laziness mostly.)

wp_20160112_10_50_28_proThe three days were nice enough, with trips to Byron Bay and walks along the beach at Brunswick Heads, but I think in the end we were both happy to move on, driven away by the imagined threat of fungal infection from the showers. We love the Rainbow Region, but the Mullumbimby Leagues/Golf/Caravan park has been scratched as a plan B.

*We didn’t visit Nimbin this time, though everyone should visit the place at least once, if only to see whatever happened to the revolution. Nimbin and Mullum aren’t that far apart as the acid casualty flies, but by road you have to take the long way around, and if you’ve seen Nimbin once, it’s probably enough. (More on that little adventure here.)

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Into the breach.

Hello. I’m not sure how you found your way here, but know that it warms the cockles of my heart that you have. (I always thought the heart was a mussel.)

You may be asking yourself right now, “What can I expect from this rambling loony and his experiences of Australia? I mean, I hear he’s never even been to Melbourne.”

This is true, however the  places I have been  are, I hope, sufficiently fascinating to deserve a closer look. So lets blow the Big Smoke and head out to the places a little off the beaten track, and see what happens when this old fart is let loose in his natural environment.

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Me in my natural habitat. Showing a bit of leg there.