'You know they don't wear clothes in Nimbin... and you'll get offered marijuana three times a day,' my uncles joked when I told them where I was going for an intensive Permaculture Design Course.
I hopped on the plane from Melbourne to Gold Coast Airport, where a volunteer drove me through twists and turns to reach Djanbung Gardens, Nimbin. I arrived after midnight, stepping out into cool but humid air with a distinct smell—with which I soon became familiar.
The only sound was the chirping of insects, and all I could see by the light of the communal kitchen were shiny brown cockroaches, scuttling across the floor and up the cabinets. My accommodation was an old caravan fitted out with a double mattress, perched in the corner of the carpark. I wondered what I would find when the sun rose...
A new way of living
Getting up early, I crunched across the gravel path to the central area, overwhelmed by a sea of green vegetation: broad-leafed plants, bushes, small, trees, herbs and edible flowers, and a plethora of structures made by hand from bamboo.
I was greeted by a staff member at the gardens, and met a number of classmates as they emerged from their tents and bunk beds. They seemed quite normal really—all wore clothes—with the only 'alternative' trends being bushy beards and long hair. Even so, everyone was really friendly, cooperating on their chores and interested in each other's stories and beliefs.
The day started with breakfast and chores: cleaning, kitchen duties, and feeding the animals (chooks, ducks, geese and a pig). At 8:45am, the gong sounded, motioning us to come together in a circle on the grassy area for the daily 'check-in', where we were encouraged to share reflections on the previous day, find out what was coming up today, and participate in icebreakers and group songs.
This was followed by five 90-minute classes in the earth-built hexagonal classroom, covering all aspects of sustainable living. These sessions were interspersed with fresh snacks and meals of fruit, vegie sticks, home-made hummus, pasta salads, spelt bread, and a variety of international stews with local dry-land rice. The day finished at 9pm, by which time I was thoroughly exhausted, but a few others stayed up to sing and play guitar and percussion into the night.
This rhythm continued day in and day out for the next two weeks, with afternoon breaks often providing the opportunity for swimming in the dam or local creek, cooling off and harvesting encroaching water weeds. I eventually joined in with the music improvisation group, making the most of afternoon breaks for music, to avoid wearing myself out too quickly with late nights.
We all share a mission
On Wednesday afternoons we traveled up to Nimbin Village to purchase high-quality, locally-grown produce from the Farmer's Market. The shops were more colourful than any I had seen before, offering the obligatory tie-dyed clothing, hand-made accessories, nutritious herbs, bulk-buy organic flour and other food staples. There was an abundance of cafes and street artists, adding to the creative and relaxed atmosphere of the community. People greeted each other and stopped for a chat as they walked by, whether they had met before or not.
By the end of two weeks with my classmates—learning about patterns in nature, destructive patterns of human production and consumption, and strategies to redesign the way we live on this finite planet—we were all determined to go back to our own communities and make a difference.
The sense of unity and encouragement in the group was empowering, and for the first time, it didn't matter what any of us wore, looked like, or were good/bad at. We sensed we were all there for the same reason and each contribution would be crucial for improving the quality of our fragmented, consumption-driven communities back home.
This was also the shared mission of many Nimbin residents, demonstrating sustainability principles in action: to cooperate with graciousness and care to see people and planet healed, and to develop a strong, resilient local community.
I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to go to Nimbin. Not only did I come back inspired and empowered to lead a healthier and happier life, I also learnt to look beneath a person's outward appearance. You never know where you might find hidden treasure to change your life in unexpected ways!
'The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them.
People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'
- 1 Samuel chapter 16, verse 7b
Rosanne Menacho has a keen interest in sustainable and healthy living, and enjoys learning new languages. She is studying a Masters of Interpreting and Translation at Monash University and is loving every minute of it. Rosanne lives with her husband and Staffordshire terrier in the outer south-east of Melbourne, Australia.
Rosanne Menacho's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/rosanne-menacho.html