Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Post/cards/email/screen savers/statements from the Rainbow Region.

There are very few guarantees in life however when people pull together as a community and set out to achieve common goals they can indeed change the world. Music can often be part of the catalyst for change with anthems developing a sense of belonging and helping to reiterate messages of solidarity, and narratives telling stories and educating people about events that have taken place. But the reception and use of these messages are dependent on exposure to them.

Music concerts are one forum in which music and community combine to create an environment and atmosphere where shared identity and purpose become paramount. The most famous of these was Woodstock held in the United States in 1969. This year has seen ongoing celebrations commemorating this festival. Forty years later it seems timely to ask what the ripple effect has been with some suggesting that little in the world has in fact changed for the better.

As a general observation it seems that society has long forgotten the messages of 1969. Artists and music that speak out about injustice, war, poverty, sexism and many other forms of political speech have drifted away from the forefront of our culture into the underground with the majority of the populous having little opportunity to access them. So was that sense of community merely a moment in time in which people felt the need to pull together?

The answer is No. In pockets of the world there remain people dedicated to the causes that were important at that time. While I have not had the pleasure of spending a lot of time in San Francisco, my understanding is that this is one place in which the values of Woodstock remain. I am very fortunate to reside in the Northern Rives region of NSW, Australia, where a similar perspective is taken

One local town, Nimbin, is in fact a sister city to Woodstock. Here, as in many other parts of the region, you will commonly find VW Combies (or the modern equivalent, the Subaru) with bumper stickers such as: “Think Globally, Act Locally”, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty” and “Magic Happens”.

I was reading in my local community newspaper (The Northern Rivers Echo) yesterday that a photo documentary on the alternative culture of the Northern Rivers, commonly referred to as the Rainbow Region, is being sent to the United States as part of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. This cultural exchange is taking place to help illustrate the ripple effect of the festival in other parts of the world.

Complete with rainbow flags, colourful clothes and long hair, there is a spirit here that never dies. The community care for the environment, are passionate about art, speak out against injustice, look out for each other and mobilise at a moments notice when there is action to be taken. There are many vegans, vegetarians and a diverse range of religions and cultural practices. Some people live in Multiple Occupancies (Communes) where the sense of community is even stronger. Many of the services offered here are done by community groups who seek out opportunities for grants to provide them for the towns.

There is art everywhere with the local markets teeming with hand made creations and a sea of local musicians that often busk to support themselves. My local market, The Channon Market, is one such example - when you go in the gates, if you are lucky you will be given a free buskers token to place in the case of your favourite performer who can then exchange that for money from the market committee. If you haven’t eaten Jan’s Lemon Myrtle ice cream (not turtle), then you haven’t lived.*

There are number of small villages scattered around. My town has 400 beautiful people. I once thought to myself that the people that live here do so because they don’t fit in anywhere else. Here it is a collection of ‘others’ in the most magnificent sense. We are unique individuals where non conformity with the mainstream takes pride of place.

There are rolling green hills, sub tropical rainforest (albeit not as much old growth as we would have liked to keep), waterfalls, and pristine beaches. I have two waterfalls near my house – Whian Whian falls where we like to swim in summer (tragedy of the commons when the tourist bus visits though) and Protestors Falls, the site of a massive environmental protest. There are rock formations that tell the ancient history of the Bunjalung people, the local indigenous community, with Nimbin Rocks and Mount Warning (the names given by white settlers) just two examples of the land that they hold in their hearts. A postcard tells a million stories.

I climbed Mount Warning once. It is the highest most easterly point in Australia – the very first place in the country to see sunrise. From there you can see all around with breath taking views of the coastline (including Byron Bay, one of the most famous beaches where you can watch whales at the lighthouse but only at the right time of the year) and the hills that stretch almost all the way to the horizon. I was pretty unfit at the time and I struggled to get up to the top – the last part consists of a chain where you must pull yourself up with all your strength. Ironically enough though walking down, whilst significantly easier, still had some impact with sore knees and wobbly legs (combining with my natural lack of coordination) making the journey difficult at times.

In recent years I have thought a lot about leaving. It has proven to be one of the most difficult decisions I have never been allowed to make. While I don’t consider myself to be of the status of ‘community icon’ (we have a lot of those) it takes at least ten years to be considered a ‘local’ (I grew up in Melbourne and sea changers don’t count for a long time) – if I leave I may never get back in.

But it has been achingly obvious to me for some time that while I share many things with the magnificent people that live here, there are some things that are very important to me that I cannot share. Some of the freest thinkers, some of the smartest most connected people live here but for the things that I think about there are largely only analogies and there are little opportunities for conversations on a detailed or conceptual level. For a person that speaks in symbolism, living literally at a dead end proves to be a visionary challenge. The knowledge here is on wheels. Not motorcycles as such but the local library is in a ‘bus’ that travels around to the local public schools and towns. Although I have a network here, academics in my field don’t seem to stay long. The isolation is physical as well as mental.

In the past I have referred to Lismore, the largest town in the area, as a gold fish bowl – it is in the bottom of a volcanic crater. It is safe and secure but at times very limiting. Once I sent someone a groovy card with a picture of a goldfish with snorkel and goggles on it and its head stuck out of the bowl. A family friend showed it to me when I was in Los Angeles (on my way to Northern California) and I said: “ohhh.... that’s me.” (I wrote on the left of it). I was out of the bowl for that briefest moment in time and it reflects the way I like to think.

I actually love living here just as much as I get frustrated by it. It is the tyranny of the tangible.

A common phrase around here, part of the eco tourism scene, is leave nothing but foot prints and take nothing but pictures. Making the great leap forward for me however would mean taking everything this region has given me and propagating it for the future. Perhaps life is not too short to do somethings twice and if I go it will be with the will to return for my restful years when relaxing is much more of a priority.

As we here in the Northern Rivers reflect on the ripple effect of Woodstock we can only think of how to make it happen again in the size of a Tsunami for if the world were more like the people and the environment around here it would be a much better place. I hope to be at the Centre of Everything to make sure that happens. But the weather remains to be seen.

No comments: