Thirty Years a short time for a Fig Tree

The1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival was an affirmation of peace, a victory celebration for the student movement, which had successfully resisted the US War on Vietnam and Australia's complicity in it with so called ‘defence forces'. At that time the army was made up of conscripts.

The counter cultural re-settlement of Nimbin and district was inspired by the dreams expressed at that seminal event. Many were the seeds planted for peace and harmony. Many crops of social, cultural and economical innovation have been harvested since. And not just in the Rainbow Region because the influences of peace are subtle and graceful as ripples on a pond.

Thirty years on and once again Australian troops have sided with the rich and their managerial elites against the poor. Once more our politicians are lying and once more our soldiers have blood on their hands. Shameful it is to be part of the military levy we Australians pay as a vassal state of the USA as hyper power. No conscripts this time, all mercenaries.

And once more the US war has come to our streets as civil conflict. Like last time it is waged in the name of law and order, this time courtesy of Bob Carr, the super suit courtier of the corporate rich who, newly re-elected, moved at once to suppress student peace marches in Sydney.

What is the difference between Labor Premier Robert Carr and former Liberal Premier Robert Askin? As a fellow student at UNSW I know Carr never went to a Vietnam War peace protest. Truth is in the early days of the campaign he was as pro war as Premier "Drive over the bastards!" Askin.

Governments lied to us during the Vietnam War with the same arrogance and contempt with which they lie to us now. Just like Iraq War, the Vietnam War was asymmetrical: the US lost about 50,000 dead, Australians 500, and the Vietnamese an estimated 1.2 million.

And the peace movement is in much the same position: many individual voices, citizens feeling appalled, denigrated, ignored and powerless; people without much cohesion or organization up against the paid managerial elites and their technological resources; no one knowing with any certainty how to proceed.

A generational change or two of people and technology but the aggressor is the same and so is the story.

Did the Aquarius dream fail? Should we be not celebrating this anniversary and trying to forget our disappointments?

I say thirty years is only a short time for a fig tree, a mere minute in a morning in the life of a forest.

I remember when I was driving around organising and looking for a site for the Aquarius Festival, through a landscape cleared for a dairy industry gone bust, it was common to see old grey stumps of long ago cut hardwoods, the nicks which the loggers axed for their spring boards still visible. And on top a fig street sapling, safe from the munching cows, sending down a root.

In time the fig roots will enwrap the stump and become vast buttresses supporting a great fruit bearing canopy. An image of re-generation.

Come May, Aquarian pioneers like me, who have watched fig trees grow, will be celebrating our successes, happy to have had the good fortune to been alive then when sods were turned, delighted at the prospect of being around to see the crop of changes and their many varieties that will come in another thirty years.

Never before has the peace movement had such widespread and deep support; all kinds of people, all ages, races, and classes. Never before has the peace movement responded to a commitment to a foreign war in such swift assembling magnitude and with such colour and confidence. Never before has there been such mass disbelief in corporate mass media.

My golf playing Byron Bay mate, former Chamber of Commerce manager, Tony Narracott, tells me that amongst the people he meets at random on the Byron golf coarse its like 100% against the US War on Iraq. Whacko.

The Aquarius legacy that has always given me deep joy and satisfaction is the culture of social activism that has taken root and flourished in the province of what became known after Aquarius as the Rainbow Region. It first revealed its strength at the 1979 Battle of Terania Creek, the first successful defence of rainforest anywhere ever. But there have been many, many green and social justice campaigns since then and its in second generation now. The children of the dream are activists.

In fact activism has become an export industry. From the Rainbow Region came the environmental defence forces, which after Terania near Nimbin, also defended the Daintree forests in far north Queensland and the Chaelundi forests near Coffs Harbour. They shut down the cyanide gold mining operation at Timbarra near Tenterfield and now protest the cyanide gold mining operation at Lake Cowal in central NSW.

Likewise the Drug War that President Nixon initiated in 1975 specifically targeted to neutralise the counter culture. Opposition has been taken from Cullen Street, Nimbin, to Lismore and Byron courthouses, to the NSW federal parliaments, to the gates of all the major jails of NSW, to Sydney for the 2000 HEMP Olympix and to the gates of the s11, World Economic Forum in Melbourne in 2000.

And it was a great joy for me earlier this year to be far away and see 750 naked Byron ladies clustered in a giant heart, and making peace art on national and international TV.

Anniversaries are about storytelling and remembering. In a time of war we will be remembering the pathways we Aquarians walked for peace. We invite interested people to come join us as a circle of old friends link up and reflect on changes. Check the program at

Written for Nimbin News, April 2003


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