Monday 28th March 2016
By the time we settled into our spot on the Nimbin Showground, we began to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounded us and started to wonder how we might get close up and personal with the trees and mountains beyond the campsite.
This was our tenth day out of Sydney and we hadn’t really ventured out of the concrete jungle and into the wooden one yet. I pictured a beautiful sunrise, soaring over the tree-lined mountainscape that dominated the near horizon and looked forward to rising early to catch the moment.
When I awoke, I was momentarily annoyed to discover that the universe hadn’t provided me with my own, personal sunrise, but had left me with a blanket of eerie mist instead.
I made my way to the toilet blocks and was startled to a halt by a figure on the pathway ahead of me. It was definitely an animal. It had definitely spotted me and it was definitely crouching and ready to pounce. I could sense the animal’s muscular tension, coiled down into its hindquarters and could see its head was cocked and pricked and sniffing out the shadowy figure heading its way.
I immediately thought it was one of the many dogs brought onto the site by our fellow campers, running feral and ready to attack. I felt the adrenalin rushing into my upper body and face as my half-woken brain and body kicked into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. My pupils widened. My heart rate quickened. My hindquarters twitched ready to throw myself up the nearest tree if necessary.
And then, in a blink, the animal released the power from its lower body and began its charge……
Fortunately, it charged away from me and beyond the toilet blocks……boing, boing, boing. “Hang on a minute,” I thought to myself. “Dangerous dogs don’t go ‘boing’!”
And it was then, I realised, I’d just had my first encounter with wallabies.
My body relaxed as it began to emit its own, personal, sunrise of neuro-chemical wonder and happiness, made lighter by the realisation that I’d foolishly mistaken a cute wallaby for a killer dog.
On my way back from the toilet I waded through the damp grass and pressed myself against the crooked, wooden railings of the centre circle that dominates all showgrounds. Through the mists I could see a family of three wallabies, one-by-one, bouncing across the middle of the circle like horse riders in a dressage tournament.
Back at the Dreamtime (our van) I unfolded one of our newly acquired five dollar camp chairs, boiled up a coffee and opened my laptop to jot down some reflections on the past 24 hours. I was drawn back into the present by the performing Wallabies, who brought their morning routine right up to the side of the show ring where I was sitting and hopped around in front of me for a few minutes, before finding a gap in the fence and bounding right past me, towards the misty horizon.
I felt like I’d had the privilege of being given a private performance by an Australian Wildlife Circus, something which seems to be on offer everyday here if you care to get out of bed early enough to catch the show.
I returned to the half sentence I’d written on my computer when a big, black dog appeared. It looked like the dog that had greeted our arrival with a great, big dirty dump, yesterday afternoon. I said “hello”, but it gave me a wide, suspicious berth as it sniffed its way across the site.
Then I heard the man with the holey clothes and the imaginary shovel talking to the dog in a way that suggested they were meeting for the first time. “Is it your dog,” he asked. “No, I thought it was yours,” I said. “So did I,” he laughed, “it looks very similar,” and we began a conversation that would last a good thirty minutes.
I learnt a lot about John. He’s bipolar. He does seasonal work harvesting cotton and wheat on the huge farms on the planes beyond the mountains. When he feels the darkness of his bipolar descending, he removes himself into the healing surrounds of nature, until his mental balance is restored.
He believes in fate. He has a sister who pestered him to get a dog and shortly after he finally capitulated, he found a little, black puppy, scared and abandoned by the side of the road. And that dog had now grown to have the confidence to greet our arrival at the Nimbin Showground, with a huge, steaming dog turd.
“It was meant to be,” he said (not he crap, you understand, but the meeting of man and dog). And he gave me a smile that reflected his experience of being connected to that universal force that is greater than all of us—the thing we call “the magic”.
Our conversation was interrupted several times by John firmly and lovingly guiding the stray dog back inside the invisible boundary where it belonged. He’d found out who the owners were, but they were still “dead to the world” and not about to wake up and take responsibility for their dog anytime soon.
Our conversation ran its course and he returned to his section of the chaotic campground, but left with me, a greater sense of being connected to a community of itinerant travelers.
It takes time to get to know people and places and we can tend to look for familiar cues to guide us into unknown territory. The little of Nimbin I saw felt–at different times—unfamiliar, unboundaried and even a little unsafe—which is perhaps not surprising for a town birthed by people who dared to challenge those who seek to enforce familiar boundaries on people, in an attempt to maintain a certain kind of social order.
One of my constant fascinations is the question of how we create a world that works for everyone. I’m clear that a world that seeks to squash all of human experience inside a limited set of cookie-cutter boundaries is not the answer.
Nor, do I think, is a universal answer that works for everyone, to be found here in Nimbin. However, I have no doubt there is more magic and beauty and inspiration to be found in Nimbin than our fleeting visit allowed. We would need time to adjust to the unfamiliar and allow our own boundaries, judgments and pre-conceptions to fade away to be truly present and in the moment for long enough to connect to Nimbin’s unique magic.
But not this time, maybe next time, maybe never….
We had a short chat with a friendly man who drove onto the site to collect our rent (“If you stay you pay” remember).
I also saw John to say goodbye before we left. He was walking around the site with his shovel, clearing up the dog shit, with a big smile on his face. And I was reminded that our reality is a constant reflection of the way we perceive the world. If you expect shit, you get shit. If you expect magic, then every moment can be magical.