Skip to content

the nimbin route from byron

The enchanted forests of Nimbin

   The Eltham Hotel sits at the bottom of convergence of ridgelines that slide down towards the Lismore flood plains and is punished in all the seasons by humidity, constant downpour, lack of air movement and the regular calling of the Nimbin bus from Byron Bay and all who temporarily dwell in it.

Nimbin is of course the home of the 1973 Aquarius festival and at present has the world’s best population of bent-brained pot smokers, grifters, old men in rags, feral wash-ups from all corners of this great land girt by sea and every shop in town under the local cannibas clouds caters for the Happy Buses from Byron.

Pot smells, ergo Nimbin smells – and town talk has it that every copper ever assigned to that station should have taken advantage of the opportunity so selflessly denied so long ago. Policing in these hills is not a great career attribute.

Altriusm is a fine thing in the NSW constabulary, Nimbin is its doubtful reward.

The Eltham Hotel sits halfway on the trek from Byron to Nimbin – a left hand turn just past the Clunes speed cameras, this is where we sit some days and watch the passing trade. The buses to Nimbin. The school bus in local parlance.

The heresay travellers* unload from the bus like slow moving beasts of burden, these youngsters from Germany and Brasil and the UK and all those foreign places away in another hemisphere, travellers who think that skin colour and language are a licence to familiarity. Occasionally a few noisy Americans will rise up amongst travellers (why do those people always have to shout?) and leave nobody in doubt about where they are from, where they are going and where they have been.

Three German lads wander past, all barefoot in public for probably the first time in their lives. We of course look to their feet for strength of character – this is a local custom handed down from the Bundjalung people – and somebody deeper in the hotel suggests that if Fellini wasn’t dead he would be filming the boy’s entrance. Not everybody present understands this aphorism, least of all the youthful travellers crowding the bar.

This is not Melbourne after all.

They ^ sit on the ground in the beer garden despite all the available empty seats and produce  papers and filters and tobacco and roll up a little shag for practice and comfort – They light up and charf away at the smoke, mumbling in their strange languages – all of them pale and skinny with their eyes all bruised from lack of sleep.

Nimbin is surely their Tangiers of 2011 and surely too will they return in a couple of hours loaded heavy with bags of good bushy and into the welcoming arms of the Byron clubs and hostels. What becomes noticeable though here and now is that they all seem to suffer from some endemic itch as they sit on the cold ground and examine their flesh and pick away at small things of unwanted rot – scabbed up midge bites, pavement scrapes, all matter of local decomposition.

They present an unattractive tableau, and their aura does not beckon.

Two strangely mature Englishmen alight from the bus and find a secluded table where they argue about an aborted arrangement with Dean and his damned commonplace attitude to what should have been a straight forward commercial arrangement. They are bored with eachother, Dean was to provide the solution. Byron after all caters to all tastes.

The solution never showed up.

The bus driver is a young babe of about middle-age with five-year dreadlocks, midriff blouse, tattoes, ripped jeans, a superior amount of metal insertions and a real problem with a couple of back teeth. She wanders away inside the hotel and comes back with a bowl of old Macca nuts and a schooner, not everybody wants to sit with her. Stoners are not usually nutters.

A young Frenchman drifts through the Pub like a cat along a wall in an alley – He is burnt black from many days in the sun and he has long dark hair to his shoulders, he amuses himself by flipping a beer mat up from the table and onto his elbow. This crafty manoeuvre pleases him with its many successes.

Unlike the Germans his feet are calloused and hard and he looks mostly at the older women who are travelling alone or in pairs. He has a lovely smile.

He is beguiling a soft faced woman today, for we have seen him often, and despite that she would rather be attending to her iphone and text messages he murmurs away and touches an elbow here and a wrist there and when his drink comes she pays.

His feet betray him though as they shuffle and rub each at other under the table and out of her sight. Those unsightly harbingers of greed and haste. Mucky five -toed crabs scratching away at their shared itches and wants. Karma, as we all know, begins its eternal and ever-renewing cycle of life where the flesh meets the ground, that is why the rubber thong was invented in Bronte in 1952.

Three local tradesmen on lunch are also watching the temporary show – the one wearing a blue singlet, shorts and boots is running a commentary on the methods he would use to occupy himself on some of the younger women, apparently he too has an itch, probably transferable.

They all come and go at Eltham, the Happy Buses, the middle-aged touring bikers and their second wives, tradesmen bankrupted out of the cities and living in farm sheds with the remnants of their families – and from time to time a single bogey trailer over-loaded with pigs roars through the cutting leaving an unimaginable stink that festers away on the valley floor for hours.

Author’s note: We could write about all the nice folks aboard the bus and in the hotel but where is the pleasure in that.


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Before, the Nimbin HEMP Bar used to allow the patrons to smoke cannabis while enjoying their fresh coffee and cake. But on April 2008, the police announced their intention to close the HEMP Bar and Museum. Because of that, landlords were sent letters. So they decided to voluntarily close the doors and move out rather than causing legal problems for their landlord. Though the HEMP bar was still open in 2009 as a coffee and hemp information center, smoking cannabis is no longer encouraged.

    August 5, 2011
    • Thanks Mark, but by the look on the faces of the tourists on their way up to Nimbin I reckon they still thought that the weed was available and on the street – I can remember the old nervousness when we were on our way to a good score –

      What do the drivers tell the passengers on the way up? .. Nothing or everything or some self serving commentary?

      August 5, 2011
  2. This is so magnificently rendered. It made me feel a little bit lonesome about my life, and the lack of exotic travels. Or more, it made me feel encouraged to start to jot down all the travels I’ve encountered on my homeground.

    Thank you for the shared adventure.

    August 7, 2011
    • nice to have you aboard – sometimes the ride gets a little rough –

      August 7, 2011
  3. Another wonderful piece of sustained observational writing. I feel as if I’ve been there now.

    It would be a challenge, though, to write about the nice folks and make it as engaging and interesting and absorbing.

    November 29, 2011
  4. marcus #

    love your work Peter, tried to get there for a look in 2011, the great floods stopped us.
    will have to make a second attempt some day

    July 5, 2013
  5. sjh #

    Thank the gods for the nullabor plain.

    July 9, 2013
  6. chris h #

    Very interesting commentary, i especially like the part about looking at travellers feet to check a persons character 😉

    July 17, 2013
  7. Pellinore #

    What stays with me about Nimbin, we happened upon the park, complete with limestone edifice and I saw Aboriginals smoking (this is before we perused the town), I was conflicted, this is something I had experienced in W.A with Aborigines drinkiging alcohol, but here it was meant to be acceptable. Not judging, I would be a fool to judge, but I felt sympathy, maybe for the first time.

    July 22, 2014
  8. Oasis settlements in Africa, jungle villages in South America, fields on the precipes of Nepal .. they all had their smoke …

    July 22, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. the eltham hotel – graeme’s game «

go ahead

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: