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Over the rainbow: Michael Balderstone, at home on the outskirts of Nimbin, runs the Hemp Embassy. Photo: Peter Rae

Over the rainbow: Michael Balderstone, at home on the outskirts of Nimbin, runs the Hemp Embassy. Photo: Peter Rae

From smh.com.au – Forty years after the love-in began, Damien Murphy catches up with the aged of Aquarius

Educated at Melbourne’s high-caste Scotch College, a stockbroker with JB Were, an uncle the chairman of BHP, Michael Balderstone was once a long way from the rebellious spirit who kept Nimbin’s original flame burning bright.

So maybe it is some sort of karma that the week the northern NSW town celebrates being put on the map by the 1973 Aquarius Festival, a NSW parliamentary committee recommended the medical use of cannabis for people suffering terminal illnesses.

”Kismet,” says Balderstone, who runs the Hemp Embassy in Nimbin’s main drag. ”The medical use of marijuana should be a health issue, not a political one. I think 90 per cent of the public would support medical cannabis for people who are really sick.”

In May 1973, Balderstone was discovering another way of getting head lice hanging out in a Nepalese village, as he puts it, while about 2000 or more mainly middle-class young Australian men and women travelled north to a dying dairy village in the Big Scrub. For 10 days they partied hard. They sang, danced, listened to poets, watched street theatre, built dome houses, smoked pot, swam naked and restored Nimbin to life.


The festival aimed to celebrate alternative thinking and sustainable lifestyles, however the celebrants’ propensity to remove clothes and smoke pot openly led to the mainstream media labelling the whole thing hippie heaven.

Surfers opened up the NSW north coast to southern eyes. Nimbin lay down the template that turned Byron Bay, Bangalow and Mullumbimby into high property price New Age havens.

Nimbin residents might be living as alternatives in communes and shacks in surrounding bush, but they have done little to disabuse the idea they live in Hippie Central. There’s the annual Mardi Grass, and the shops lining Cullen Street are full of the colour, paraphernalia and grunge of a Haight-Ashbury snapshot, circa 1967. Artists who first painted the town psychedelic in 1973, such as Hazelbrook’s Vernon Treweeke, have returned to touch up their work. Balderstone’s Hemp Embassy, a non-profit venture spruiking cannabis reform, conveniently located next door to the Nimbin Hotel, seems to be the focus.

Hailing from Victoria’s Western District, Balderstone tried his hand at jackarooing and stockbroking before being sent to London where he discovered a new person.

He returned to Melbourne via the Greek islands and Afghanistan, and opened a bric-a-brac shop in then hip Greville Street, Prahran.

”He lived in one of those dilapidated Toorak mansions,” recalls a contemporary. ”They had a sheep. Come Saturday morning, they’d take it for a walk down Toorak Road to upset the poodles.”

Balderstone brought a similar style to Nimbin when he purchased two shares in a commune and returned permanently in the early 1980s. His lavatory offers a splendid up-close view of Mount Warning’s nightcap tip.

By the time Balderstone arrived, Nimbin was staggering under the weight of self-imposed freedom.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/where-have-all-the-hippies-gone-20130517-2jrvp.html#ixzz2TbSLlCif


Where have all the hippies gone? — 1 Comment

  1. Oh more glorification of the burn-out drop-out delusional type hippie. The people described in these stories seem so pathetic. They self-delude themselves in myriad of ways to justify their lifestyle to themselves and others. How about going to Oregon and looking up the hippies who really ARE living sustainably and devoting their lives to making a better world? Who, if they smke pot at all, do very infrequently. Many go to church every Sunday. They own houses and have steady jobs, typically not for corporations but for nonprofits or community-serving businesses. But they are still crazy hippies. Real hippies in the best tradition. Hippies who are not dropping out, but are working with kids, homeless, learning and teaching skills and raising the consciousness of the mainstream, building community in myriad of ways. And not just “their” community. They push back against bigotry and fear by embracing all.

    Yes, the hippies in these articles sound like bigots (like I said before, I’ve lived with them). Tribal, consciously making themselves “the other,” having a coded language which functions to identify outsiders and create separation from those who do not think like they do, creating stories to tell themselves how they are oppressed, enlightened, and to give excuse for living off the greater society so they can be lazy and high and smelly.

    I like your web site and articles, but I don’t get the glorification of what is now best represented by The Rainbow Family.

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