Friday, December 02, 2011

Mullumbimby madness

It is nigh on twenty years since Tori and I first ventured up to the lush green environs of Mullumbimby. We were bussing and hitching up the coast to escape the Melbourne winter and were hoping to stay here with our friend Brian for a few days. Tales that had filtered down to us in Melbourne from friends who had visited this part of the world were of a magical place, surrounded by subtropical rainforest and with a colourful assortment of folk who inhabited the dwellings there. Sister Nat had lived up there some years earlier, I'm sure adding to some of that colour and legend herself. She'd lived in a place called the yellow house with a couple of other girls. Collectively they'd come to be known as the "rat people" due to their choice of pet and probably the odd way that they looked compared to the locals down in the more conservative town of Mullum. Before the 1970s, the area had essentially been a rural area of farmland and banana plantations. The coming of the hippies and their alternative ways and appearance changed the flavour of the area forever. And with them they brought crops of their own. Having not spoken to Brian for some months since I'd mentioned that we'd be coming up on that first visit, and not knowing where he actually lived, the first obstacle was to find him. I knew that he didn't actually live in the town of Mullum, but somewhere up in the hills with all of the other hippies. We had no address and no phone number for him.  So our quest began in the Chincogan Tavern, the pub that he frequented. He'd told me that he was well known in town due to his regular poetry recitals and the humorous plays that he  organised. So I gingerly wandered up to the bar and asked the bartender if he knew the whereabouts of Brian the Poet, feeling like I'd just entered some kind of mystical role playing game. "I don't know where Brian is, but Jeremy will", he said as he pointed across the pub towards a guy sitting at a table on his own nursing a lunchtime beer. I wandered over and said "I'm looking for Brian. The barman said you might know where he is". Jeremy looked us up and down and replied in a friendly voice, "We've been expecting you". He picked up a bar coaster, flipped it over and proceeded to sketch out a map on the back. "Brian lives in Upper Main Arm, about 11km out from Mullum", he explained as he traced the route along the map with his finger. "If you start hitching up Main Arm Road, you're sure to get a lift. Brian lives in the dome house. Anyone going up there will know where it is". We had a quick beer with Jeremy, loaded on our heavy backpacks and began our walk up towards Main Arm Road. After only 5 minutes or so a car approached and stopped as soon as we put out a hitching finger. "We're going up to the dome house if you're able to take us", we said. "Oh. You've come to see Brian. He's been waiting for you", he stated rather than questioned. After ten chatty minutes in the car we were dropped off at the side of the road where a track went off into the bush. "Just walk up there a couple of hundred metres, take the fork on the left and you'll be right there". The track led through thick forest, full of bird song and noisy insects. Forest so thick and with such large trees that as soon as the path curved around, it was as if the road was never there. And after walking a few minutes, Brian's current abode came into view. A structure looking like an enormous wooden golf ball that had missed the fairway and dropped down into a forest. Inside was Brian. He said he'd been expecting us for a few days and had sent out his spies to look for us. Jeremy was one of his most reliable, he said. And for the next few days we had Brian's "gold pass tour" of Mullumbimby, going places, meeting an assortment of interesting characters and visiting all sorts of houses that seemed just as intriguing and magical as Brian's. Reggae Al and his girlfriend Nerada lived in a house with no doors, sharing their space with all the creatures of the forest, including the largest huntsman spider I'd ever seen in my life, sitting on the wall just behind me. Pete and Leonie had the place down in Mills Valley where jam sessions would take place on the large balcony. Rolie lived in his house on stilts on the outskirts of Mullum and Pete and Sandra lived in the village itself. He took us swimming at "Hell's Hole" which was a fresh water swimming hole sitting on the edge of a cliff looking a couple of hundred feet down to the forest below. We climbed Mt. Warning, so named by Captain Cook more than 200 years ago, because it is the first land that can be sighted from sea when approaching the east coast at that latitude. And we stayed with Dick and Jac, who lived in a caravan on their land in Uki while they were building their house. While swimming in the creek down there with their dog Archie, I saw the largest snake I had ever seen in my life, a diamond back python that must have been around 18 feet long. Its body was about as thick as my leg, and its head was several metres away tangled through the lantana. In fact its head was so far away, I was able to run my hand along its lower body as it slithered off through the scrub knowing that there was no way it could actually turn around and bite me, even if it wanted to. The whole region around Mullumbimby took on mythical qualities in the minds of both Tori and I. Everybody we had met had been so friendly and happy to open their doors to us. The forest was magical and as beautiful as any place I had seen. We talked for ages about moving up there, but just didn't get it together, not really sure what we'd actually do for a living if we did live there. Instead we have periodically dropped in over the years, to visit the people and the place. On one trip I got to experience cricket Mullumbimby style. Played on the picturesque ground up at Wanganui which was an interesting venue in its own right. Fielding at deep backward point meant fielding in the dip at a level a couple of feet lower than the rest of the ground. The game was a competitive affair with some decent skills on display and serious attitudes of determination. At the drinks break all of the players left the field and gathered under the wooden pavilion, I assumed for a liquid refreshment. Instead, a production line of papers, tobacco and locally grown produce appeared and a large number of spliffs were blazed up under the afternoon sun. The locals are so proud of their horticultural results that I felt it would be rude to refuse, so partook my share heartily. With my perspective suitably rearranged as we walked back out on to the ground, the skipper came over, tossed me the ball and said "have a bowl". Somewhat in a haze, I made my way to the bowling crease to trundle down a few overs of legspin. Like all good gear, the joint came on in waves with me becoming more stoned as each over progressed. I think I must have peaked during my second over which seemed to have me right in the zone, beating the bat a couple of times and right on line and length. By the third over I'd become slightly more erratic on all fronts, was still wicketless (though feeling unlucky!) and was happy to resume my place back in the field, taking in the game under the beautiful backdrop of mountains and thick rainforest. I think we won. I don't really remember too much of my time at the batting crease, other than that a well hit shot along the ground would pull up sharply in the grass, having been fashioned from a cow paddock into a sporting venue not that many years earlier.

Brian is still in Mullum today, as are a number of the other folk we met on that first visit. Trying to track him down is no less of a process these days, even with the invention of mobile phones. His spends most of its time uncharged, or somewhere that he isn't and anyway, there's still no reception up in the hills. Our van is stationed at the macadamia farm in Upper Main Arm, across the road from the yellow house where Nat used to live. The area is as beautiful as ever, though the town has stepped up a bit from a basic country town to something more shiny. A product of the  real estate boom. Brian is still writing and producing plays, so not much has changed in that regard either. Though now he is the proud father of a beautiful 17 year old daughter and so she remains a large part of his focus. As for the local produce. It is still as bountiful and strong as it always was. I've made sure my manners are still in check. After all, it would still be rude to refuse.


jason c said...

Is the dome house still there? I believe it was owned by Colin Scattergood, who was one of the leaders of the area.

Roger Garlick said...

I live in Upp.Main Arm for 43 years.... 20 years in a Dome.
You' re just another wanna be with verbal diahorrea 8-(

Greg Swedosh said...

Ah Roger. You just sound like a bitter old bastard who's spent too long living in the hills. I like visiting the area to catch up with friends, and while I love dipping in to the beautiful rainforest, am glad I don't live there. Too many crazy people for my liking. No doubt I'll end up running in to you some time on a future visit. Happy to have a beer with you if I do.