"we doze in a sunspot coma"


   Sept. 2002 — text by Austin Pick

Thursday 19 September I awoke from a spindle of kaleidoscopic dreams, visions of victorian sunlit writing parlors and sensual clowns stalking solitude in dark and crowded forests, promises of wordless poetry and the final fearless dance thru druidic groves of faceless monuments surrounded by sparkling leaves falling in a snowglobe of slumber... awoke, 6am sharp and if it must necessarily have a beginning it began when I awoke at 6am sharp for the taking of the College photo, everyone slurruping bottles of water playing with hair and attempting to look awake enough for the "look mom, that's me in the back row" game we'll all play; one girl fainted and then we all went to breakfast, and afterwards finding myself somehow wide awake, the day carried me with unusual grace and fluidity, and after after-dinner tea I was clipping around like a bumblebee with cherub cheeks, buzzing for the run to come...

And finally into the later night, clock ticking fully in our favor, we round up our principal players and stack our gear guitars surfboards pilfered dining-hall food boxes of wine boots and handfuls of cassettes oh-so-carefully in the back and then we are seven sly sardines and we are On The Bus and we are squealing into the midnite oil of a rising moon, one-hundred-and-ten kilometers-an-hour on the wrong side of the motorway and everything in it's... well you know the line...

Our College you see has a minibus we can borrow for ten dollars a weekend, "just pay for petrol and bring'er back in one piece, boys" so we borrowed the get-on-to-The-Bus and cut out at midnite headed eventually for Byron Bay and then further even than we were quite prepared for... There were five of us fine american boys with a slim and flexible itinerary, and then last minute we picked up these two sweetheart blonds looking for a ride to Byron and we were on the Bus and ramping thru the bush unaccosted by billboards and guided by the light by the light of the silvery moon...

Here comes the... Lyster did the driving, I did the navigating, the rest did the gammering gossiping are-we-there-yetting and shoulder sleeping — Road Trip! and before too long the dark mountain looms before us in the moonlight, tantalizing us with possible morning glory along some thin hidden access road — g'head cut yourself a metaphor boys... At 3am, three-Ah-Um Friday morning we arrive, bopping to aboriginal radio jams, at the base of the mountain -Wollumbin- Mt. Warning, a towering crooked finger once the heart of a volcanic crag and now rising in the exploded center of its own ancient crater, so tall so close to the eastern coast that it is the first place on the Australian mainland to see the sunrise and we go up Up UP clock ticking fully in our favor, an hour-and-a-half of fast sweating hiking in the black pitch dark forest calmed only by three flashlights and moonlight winking thru the trees, these two girls had No Idea really they'd be climbing a mountain but beside being afraid of everything they are With It — up Up UP to the pinnacle a rock scramble climbing on a bolted chain thru the clouds up to the tip... top and the sunrise goes POP above the clouds and we are With It, shivering and breathless... 

There were a few other intrepid souls on hand for sunrise, but for many the mountain is The Place to be on New Years Eve, when people gather to welcome the first sunrise of the new year... all this we've gathered since, but anyways for us it all really started when we were first flying into Brisbane two months ago, and Lincoln & I saw this mountain from out the window and looked at eachother and said "Must Climb" and there at the top we recount this tale with bemused satisfaction as we scurry around ogling at the astounding valley below, quietly singing the Beatles, and I say...

Fifty minutes down at a lurching scramble, sunrise casting mountain's shadow, a perfect triangle on the crater's rim... And turning to look back as we blip away down into the valley, we see the crown of Mt. Warning shrouded in cloud above which we had somehow been perched only an hour before...

Famished and glowing with the warmth of the climb we roll into the town of Murwillumbah and we roll... back in time, suddenly finding ourselves having breakfast in a small town diner in 1950's America, right there on main street with the working men having their morning coffee and lovely young Miss Sally setting out the fresh pastries behind the counter and Mr. Williams opening up his tailoring shop across the street and yes where is that rascal of a paperboy Billy Thompson?   And boy were they surprised to see us rugged and hungry hikers spilling out of our crazy bus - we shore don't get many visitors - here in this little secret town in the valley in the shadow of the Mountain...

An hour down the coast and here is Byron Bay in all of it's bohemian beach-bum surf slouch, welcoming us with languid beaches and barefoot hippie chicks dusting their slim skirts on the boardwalks... We tumble to the sand, barely bothering to put on suncream b/c it's now nearly 10am as we are finally lying for rest, we've been up for something like 28hours and loving every momentous minute... we doze in a sunspot coma for maybe two hours and then sit up blinded and simmering and surreal; in the distance on the horizon we can see Mt. Warning leading the soft cavalcade of wrinkled-brow horizon along the coast, sovereign and winking at us with shared knowledge...

These two girls, now slimmed to bikinis and lathered and a little rested, cellphone to skytower and soon enough... they'd been planning to meet a friend here in Byron and in no time said friend comes strolling up the beach with a funny bald man with a funny accent and a pink bicycle, and in no time everyone is reunited and we have a place to stay, we have been invited to the Happy House... We make a run for food, bangling the bus into precarious parking slots and strolling along the avenue of surf shops, dusting the sand from sideburns, then back to the back to the beach, ya'll, everyone generally lounging in the tropical luster while I sit perched atop a slouched pinnacle amid ribbons of salted wind, listening to myself gather and disperse in the endless epitaph of waves lapping crashing laughing on the shores of Byron Bay...

The tremor of the night began its dance as we arrived laden with beer and vittles for the barbeque, welcomed by Luca, the funny bald man with a funny accent and a pink bicycle, to the Happy House, essentially an autonomous zone created by travellers and operating under the pretense of a hostel, you see, actually three beach bungalows in a row in the middle of Byron, garages converted into bunk houses and a little love shack out back — 22 Fletcher St., inconspicuous, unmarked, unlisted, quietly inviting. Some of our other friends have hustled down from Brisbane and we're all gathered with travellers from around the world, german hippie chicks taking bong reps braiding hair and making food all afternoon, spinning firebrands in a strange sexual dance in the dark, cats from england canada japan etc., everyone grooving on the same notions of Community and making a little something Happen... Lets not be like anyone else, the one hit punch and the Happy House...

Folks roll thru planning to stay a few nights and end up staying for weeks because the flavor is so nice, kids like Dan and Chad and Gustav and Dave Hanging In and helping Luca set the scene, and we all shimmy on reggae from dusty mixtapes at the big barbeque, giggling and guzzling and bumping about on the patio like a big funky family, everything ahh umm... and a little later they serve... Electric Kool-Aid, if you catch my meaning, a massive tub full of fruity punch for the head-space pop fizz pupils in little Byron Bay with its castled beaches melting in the flux of liquid eons, and can they make it to another sunrise lighting this great panoramic continent, these bus boys with platters full of adventure?... just... not... quite...

(has this been written before?) Next day what day Saturday the early morning beaches call with radiant Australian sunshine, afternoon finds some of our original posse headed back to Brisbane for other affairs, the bus anyways packed with friends and surfboards from the Happy House, spinning around the point to a beach slicked with ocean like glass and reflecting the pacific skies, and finally I'm coasting on the ocean feeling out her fluxes and riding on a wrangled rhythm, carried and tossed and trammeled, blinded blushing and in love... first time surfing, beyond all its cool, answer to the first fearless call of the moon-guided tides... 

Early evening and we're limber and giddy, traipsing to the end of the cape, the eastern-most point of the Australian mainland, to watch a gentle sunset over the faceless monuments of the Great Dividing Range draped in a graceful wash of pink... Famished we gather up Luca and everybody and descend upon the Earth & Sea parlor for a feast of pizza and very cheap wine, and sitting next to Luca from South Africa I learn the story of Happy House, how he began just leasing one house, acquired another by helping the cops kick a bunch of junkies out, and then added the third when the neighbors split — how the "official" hostels in Byron took the Happy House to court on the grounds that they were an illegal outfit, how the Happy House won on the grounds that they (we) are a large co-op of travelers... and so it maybe can work, these Big Ideas we've got, we'll give it time, my friends... 

Next morning the Happy House rounded up two buses, and with ours as a third and all packed to the gills we make a glittering caravan, spiraling through the gorgeous rolling hills of New South Wales like a winding flock of laughing snowflakes, tumbling into the easy Sunday Bangalow Markets, a huge and festive affair with a live blues band and dressed-down congenial vendors offering homespun clothing organic jams and jellies plants prints drums beads coffees seeds wind-chimes fortunes tapestries prophecies bowls and bats totem tusks and sitting mats pocket buddhas fresh fruit smoothies and many a splendor of good and kind things. We wheel through the markets, Gustav and I, admiring this and that and falling in love with all the bare-footed hippie chicks, bumping into Happy Housers and yelling Halloooo! Then... yep yep yip back on the buses and we caterwaul all the way to Nimbin (nimmbinn, everyone says affectionately as if referring to an incorrigible child) where everyone proceeds to get their bags and get their brownies and get baked, Luca of course knows all the right people, tho it isn't hard to get around that way in Nimbin...

Then quick quick back to buses! we jolt up narrow mountain roads and shimmer down a spritely trail and trickle onto the rocks, involved spectators all stripping down, eyes a little glazed and everyone a little nervous... the swimming hole is dark and cold and the cliff is sheer and mighty high, mighty high indeed... about three story's, and up he clambers, then leaping splaying splashing crashing and yelling, everyone cheering and what are they waiting for? Up up I clamber, second to juummppp... FOOM! Straight shot a blur of brief facelessness resurrected in electric submersion and sudden reminder —shock treatment— and everyone must make the Leap eventually and eventually everyone does of their own volition, many of us go in twice wow whatta rush! ...all in on this little ritual together, thick as thieves in the valley in the shadow of the Mountain...

Then quick quick back to buses! And Luca has a last little surprise for us, we stop over at a little bush petrol station, dusty Australian cattle farmers soaking their lazy Sunday in beers and sun, here we come spinning around the lot all rosy-cheeked and... why yes we are very hungry, and the owner he throws open the little deli and suddenly the table is piled high with baskets full of hot delicious country fries and we have a feast courtesy of Luca and so and so everyone gets fed, and the Happy House is anywhere you like friends, in fact everywhere you like...

When we, greasy-lipped and calmly sipping beers, finally meander back to the buses, several of our boys quietly inform us that they are fully beat and are cutting out, so they depart with the others back to Brisbane via Byron, and then suddenly it is only Lyster and I left in the relaxed quiet, and such is the nature of the Bus I guess, calmly accommodating and ever impermanent, rolling over the asphalt dry and help yourselves to metaphors boys, there are plenty to go round...

And round and round back to Nimbin we go, for a more... thorough investigation... Nimbin you see, hidden in away in beautiful hinterland, was a quietly dying dairy town until transformed by the 1973 Age of Aquarius Festival. 10,000 heads descended on Nimbin for a several-day experiment in counter-culture and free love, and after the festival was over, many of them just sort of stayed, setting up alternative communities and communes back in the mountains. Following a standoff with local authorities, the new people of Nimbin recreated the town as an "experiment in alternative living," the most visible result of which is the ubiquitous presence of marijuana, now basically legal within the township. It is as if a smoky avenue of Amsterdam has been placed in the middle of the mountains behind frontier-style building facades. Nimbin supports a shady tourism racket, an eclectic and disheveled collection of artists, the international alternative-energy Rainbow Power Company, and a good handful of bums, who sleep in the park. Nimbin is a strange place indeed.

Cafes, headshops and little boutiques line the one-block mainstreet, and daily buses from Byron and elsewhere dump tourists along the stretch, nearly all of whom immediately find themselves incredibly stoned. Also the town is host to the annual Mardi Grass Reform Rally, which I fear is more of a blazing smoke-out than anything politically significant. The best place to get hash-cookies is of course in the café at the back of the weird and wonderful Nimbin Museum. If you never thought it possible to tire of people offering, then you have not yet been to Nimbin: "smoko, mate?" "ganja cookies, boys?" "bush buds, fellas?" Absurd, really. The atmosphere is a permanent haze, the entire town moves on a different time scale, wayout on the Edge in a heavy cloud of pungence and new age gibberish, a lost city of psychedelic relics drifting on the fantasy of combustible sacrament... I think of Jean Genet, writing in The Thief's Journal: "Repudiating the virtues of your world, criminals hopelessly agree to organize a forbidden universe. They agree to live it. The air there is nauseating: they can breathe it."

Nimbin, of course, has to be experienced, so we rock into the Hemp Bar order a pot of tea roll a New York joint and have a taste of the... atmosphere... and suddenly I am a covert anthropologist, participating while observing, and everything operates of course on a different logic in a very different... space, everyone is a character and this is a very hip Movie about a revolution-in-progress, man, and yadda yadda - and actually it is a movie because there is a webcam in the Hemp Bar and we are broadcast live in the syncopated rhythm of the internet, occasionally leaning over to scrutinize my own pixelated image and thinking well I bet this is going in my FBI file, the bastards...

If Nimbin is an experiment in constructing a society out of marijuana culture, then it is largely a failed one, as you may or may not imagine. It's all fine and well for heads and hippies to cruise thru, but strange little families are raising their kids there, often employing them as runners. Regardless, it is a wild and worthy experience, and anyways I suspect there are some really good things going on back in the hills, and we found our share of treasures in Nimbin as well...

As dusk crescendos we cut to the Bush Theatre, an old butter factory converted into a café and movie theatre, where we get dinner and a movie to lamp out on for cheap, reclined in big beach chairs, and afterwards we rock up to an amazing hostel outside of town perched atop a little mountain in the dairy fields, teepees in the yard and a veranda with a burbling pool and very tidy this little monastery, drinking wine while wallabies bound through our campsite under the starry starry night, the valley filling with mist and cool night air caressing us to eventual and welcomed sleep...

We spend the morning lying in hammocks after breakfast before slipping up to Nightcap National Park for a gorgeous and refreshing hike, and then give our blessings to Nimbin and leave it smouldering away in never never land, country roads and an eventual highway back to Brisbane, and... just absolutely perfect, it rains a bit and by the time we dock at College the bus is washed clean of the dust of five incredible days, incredible days of strange grace and real-time dreaming in the Bus and on the Trip, yep yep yip an'on...

And so it goes, and so I go. Script scrolls...

Wishing you all the very best in your own spheres.

Yours with love, A

10.11.2002

"The truth of serene-reflection
is perfect and complete.
Oh look! The hundred rivers flow
in tumbling torrents
to the great ocean!"

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9


Mt. Warning (from net)

Tallow Beach at Byron Bay (from net)

Sunset over Mt. Warning from the Eastern-most Point (from net)

The Spice of Life in Nimbin (from net)

Rainbow over the Hemp Embassy, Nimbin (from net)

The Nimbin Valley (from net)

Australia/New Zealand: Ch.2 | Ch.3 | Ch.4 | Ch.5 | Ch.6 | Ch.7 | Ch.8 | Ch.9

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