Dream Time Dancing

Bunjalung Dancers Taking Us All Into The Dream Time

I had been in the country for 8 days but had yet to experience anything beyond Byron Bay and I was itching to see the country side. My time had been spent figuring out how to join official Australia by registering with the tax office, setting up a bank account and genereally just figuring out how the System worked in this part of the world. But now the time had finally come to get my shirt dirty and go into the bush.

My amazing new friend Rad (see  Remarkable Encounters) had asked me if I wanted to join her in going to a so-called Rainbow Corroboree where Aboriginals from the region would be sharing some of their sacred dances with whoever felt like joining the event. Having always been fascinated with Aboriginal culture, and knowing how rare it was for white folks to be included in their ceremonies, I obviously jumped at the opportunity with great excitement, even without really knowing what I was getting into.

Into The Bush

When Rad pulled into the parking lot at the Arts Factory, it was the first time we had seen each other since we had initally met in India, some 5 months before. I was thrilled to be able to thank her in person with a great big hug for the support she had given me in Australia already.

I was also thrilled to see her daughters again, the lovely Saisha and Pad, who are among the wisest and most grounded kids I have ever met. After a good long hugging session, we all climbed into Rad’s ancient and beautifully decorated campervan, cranked up some mellow reggae and got rolling into the hinterland of Northern New South Wales – on the way to a most unusual meeting of cultures.

Climbing up and down the steep hills towards the heartland of Bunjalung culture, the tiny village of Tabulam, Rad told me more about the Rainbow Corroboree – also called “Julinbah Yowarl” by the indigenous Bunjalung Nation who refer to their land as the Rainbow Region.

It turned out that this was more than just a display of Aboriginal culture to uninitiated spectators: This festival was going to be a gathering of people who were eager and willing to share their arts and their beliefs across the vast gap between Aboriginal and White Australia. Not only was I going to experience the Bunjalung’s sacred dances first hand, I was also going to meet hundreds of hippies, travellers and like-minded people. It seemed that I had struck a golden ore less than two weeks into my trip!

Prophecy Come True

The Julinbah Yowarl was started 4 years ago by a group of white Australians – who were more than just sympathetic towards the rights of Aboriginals – and a group of Bunjalung Elders and their much respected prodigy Uncle Lewis.

To my understanding, Uncle Lewis has been chosen as the keeper and custodian of the local Bunjalung myths and legends, also known as songlines, and according to a Bunjalung Rainbow profecy the time has now come for the Bunjalung People to share their ancient wisdom with the rest of the world.

As we drove through the gate to Uncle Lewis’ huge property outside of Tabulam, 5-year-old Padma took over the wheel, sitting on her mother’s lap, while we tried to figure out which of the handful of dirt tracks in front of us would lead to the festival-site.

I’ve never seen a 5-year-old steer a car so competently (and stubbornly), and with everybody’s eyes on the road we found our way over a broad field and through the forest to a gorgeous meadow bordering a clear and sparkling river: We had finally arrived at the forefront of the ongoing reconciliation process between white and black Australians.

Far from the bushy-faced, Santa-Claus-bodied image I had conjured, Uncle Lewis was as lean a warrior as I’ve ever seen, with a sharply defined and designed beard, long shiny black hair and rope-like muscles bulging under his deep brown skin as he hammered in the last peg of the Children’s Tent.

“Jingiwala brother, heuw ya goin?” he addressed me as I rocked up to the site to offer my help. When he heard I’d come from the other side of the planet, he shook my hand and thanked me with a “booglebare” and his dark and intense eyes. He told me to start doing whatever I felt like doing.

Setting Up With The Go-To-Guys

We’d arrived a day early and on the main site you could hardly tell there was going to be a festival happening only 24 hours later. But just a 3-minute walk down the riverside there were already a small temporary village of elaborate camper vans, home-made teepees, tents and improvised shelters.

These were all full-time modern Australian hippie-gypsies it seemed, humans whose nomadic lifestyles and spiritual searches had brought them here several days early and most likely would only leave several days after the event was over.

I quickly got head-hunted to rig up a sun-shelter for the Elders of the local Bunjalung tribe. It was the gentle and hard-working Sky who gave me the honourable task. Sky is a Polish force of nature who immigrated to Australia more than 30 years ago, protesting the Communist regime in his native land and dodging the compulsary military service that would have sent him fighting into Afghanistan.

Some years ago, Sky and a few others had gotten to know some of the Bunjalung Elders of the area as well as Uncle Lewis. Together they had envisioned the Rainbow Corroboree which is now taking place twice a year at the time of equinox.

Somehow I had managed to get to know the main organizers of the Rainbow Corroboree within a few hours of arriving at the event, and I was feeling grateful to the point where I hardly knew where to channel my emotions.

After a long, hot and happy day, working away with the dedicated crew, I returned to the spot where Rad had put her van next to the river. On the way I enjoyed the setting sun behind the rolling hills and the eucalyptus and iron-bark forest, and the rising smoke from the many bonfires with laughing, cooking, singing and sleeping people sprawled around them – life was good!

Family Is All Around

The next morning I decided to give the guys from the Rainbow Chai Tent a hand. As soon as they heard I was from Christiania they treated me like a long lost friend. One had been there and loved it, another one had heard about it and was curious to know more and a third one used be with the girl who painted the famous mural by the entrance of Christiania: “She must be an old woman by now” he laughed and tried to imagine if she would be as beautiful as he remembered her. There was no doubt, I was among family.

As I made my way around the small festival area, lending a hand to whoever needed it, I rapidly made new friends from all over the world. With the scorching sun baking down on us from a clear blue sky, more and more camper vans and 4-wheel-drives came cravling over the hill and eventually the first band started playing from the main stage (the only one) and finally the festival was on.

Whenever one felt drained from the heat, the refreshing river was only a short change of clothes away. It was so clean that many of us drank straight from it, enjoying the beneficial effects of the water which apparently contains a small amount of colloidal gold!

Dancing In Dream Time

By sunset, most of us gathered around a great big bunfire where the festival’s daily highlight was about to commence for the first time: A corroboree is an indigenous Australian word for a performance which lies somewhere in between theatre and ceremony. I had heard that it was quite difficult to join a corroboree if you weren’t Aboriginal, so it was with immense anticipation that I watched my first corroboree unfold.

Now where did that image go?

These kids just spontaneously walked into the circle and created a small but powerful moment in Australia’s history.

Once a big circle of people had formed and a hush had fell over the crowd, Uncle Lewis stood up in the middle and welcomed us all, clearly moved by the interest and diversity of everyone there. Then the dances began, all accompanied by a didjeridoo-player (I thought I’d heard good didj-players before…).

Then came a series of dances dedicated to the various totem-animals of the Bunjalung People with the most prominent being the “Guruman” – or as we know it – the kangaroo. So life-like were the performances that the dancers seemed taken over by the spirit of the Guruman and its fellow creatures.

There were also dances that re-enacted different everyday practices such as collecting mussles and picking berries, not to mention a heart-wrenching performance showing us the first encounter between Bunjalung People and European Settlers.

It is said that during a corroboree, the dancers interact with the “Dreamtime”. I can safely say that during the corroborees, which took place every evening of the festival, everyone present seemed transported into a living dream.

During the very last dance of the very last corroboree, Uncle Lewis invited everyone to join in for a final cleansing dance. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to become a part of Aboriginal culture, if only for a single dance. Afterwards I felt both elated and proud and it was definitely a highlight on my Australian journey so far!

Corroboree Connections

Throughout the festival – the biggest one held so far – I made friends with too many great humans to mention here, but I’m sure you will hear of many of them later on, as I made enough connections to keep me busy for a good while as I explore the area around Nimbin, a hub for Australia’s counter-culture and home to thousands of like-minded hippies, artists, gypsies and wisdom-seekers.

I had so many golden moments that I am even struggling to remember them all as I write this. I cannot possibly thank my angel-friend Rad enough for inviting me to this incredibly beautiful festival – an event that started my journey through the spiritual realms of Australia and which I am sure will keep returning to me both in memory and through all the connections I made there.

Thank you Uncle Lewis and your crew and thank you Australia!!!

 

 

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Nimbin – Take One

On my quest for exploring the rare sites in modern society, where anarchy is a positive concept put into practice, I have – for years – heard of Australia’s flagship of freetowns – Nimbin.

Studying this cultural misfit from afar I have always thought it to be much like my favourite freetown Christiania in many respects.

There is, of course, the age-old issue of marihuana legalisation. Both Christiania and Nimbin are in it for the long haul. The carricature of a burnt out stoner with greasy long hair and lazy red eyes, drooling a “dude” between tokes, pops all too easily into the minds of conditioned net-surfers and news-readers. But there is more to Nimbin than that.

For the original Australians here – the Bundjalung People – Nimbin and the surrounding area is known as the “Rainbow Region”. The name Nimbin comes from the Nimbinjee spirit people who protects the area.

For the white Australia, up until 1973, Nimbin was your regular little town, where dairy farmers and banana-growers were barely holding on to a livelihood under the pressure of recession.

Then suddenly a gang of Hippies decided to throw a big bash of an experimental party: The Acquarius Festival was the first event in Australia that sought permission for the use of land from the Traditional Owners. The festival has de facto never ended. Thousands of people have attended it by now, lived in it, had children in it, worked the land in it. Imagine that.

A Way In

I wanted to find out more and I had a feeling that my street-wisdom from Christiania would serve me well here. But how to approach it? I could of course take the daily Nimbin Tour Shuttle – a 4 hour sightseeing from an old and colourful bus with “wicked tunes” booming out and the above mentioned stoner hunched over the steering wheel. It includes a sandwhich and a stop on Nimbin’s High Street (the one and only street in town) long enough for you to buy a few joints’ worth of pot from the local hustlers, whose business hours are directly aligned with the bus schedule.

Fortunately, I never even had to consider the tourist trap tour, for already by my 3rd Australian sunrise, my guardian-angel Rad sent me a text saying: “Planting work in Nimbin: 043476…”. I called the guy up, and the conversation went like this:

– Yello!?

– Yes, hello, my friend gave me your number. I am calling about the job you’ve advertised out in Nimbin?

– Yeah, too right mate.

– So I understand it’s to do with planting ginger?

– Yup, we grow ginger and other stuff. You interested?

– Yes! Very much so! But I was wondering what sort of wages you are offering and how much work you’ve got?

– Well it’s 27 bucks an hour if ya wanna do it by the books and 20 if you’re lookin’ for cash. Whatever you like man, we know how it is…

– That sounds very good. I’m still waiting for my TFN (tax file number) so maybe we could do a bit of both?

– Yeah man, no probs, we know how it goes.

– Excellent.

– We’re out in the back of Nimbin and if you’re on a working holiday visa, we can also give you the paperwork you need for the 3 months regional work. I guess you’re from Ireland eh?

– Well, I did live there but I am actually from Denmark.

– No shit! Could’a sworn you were Irish. What’s you name mate?

– My name is Cornelius.

– Dude! Planet of the Apes! You know!?

– Yeah, well, I am hairy but I am not an ape.

– Ah yeeh? Right on. So, Cornelius, do you smoke weed?

– Ehr, mmm, yes I do smoke occasionally…

– Good, it’s just that we smoke a lot of weed out here, and we’ve had a few guys out here before who, you know, by the end of the day when we start rolling up, they didn’t like that. We prefer people who are cool with weed smoking.

– Oh, I see! Well, to be honest with you I am from a similar community to Nimbin, also a pot-smoking community, so I am quite okay with that to say the least.

– That’s good mate, very good.

– Yes. So, when were you thinking to start the planting and also, how much are you paying?

– We’re just about finished preppin’ everythin’ and gettin’ the holes made, so I suppose around Tuesday or Wednesday…

– Sounds pretty good… It’s just that I’ve been invited to a corroboree  next weekend, and since that’s apparently a rare chance, I should like to go there first, so that….

– Ah yeeeh?

– Yes, it’s a sort of rainbow festival not far from here I think, my friend is going to take me there.

– Ah, you’ll be goin’ to the rainbow, I know about that one, lot’s of mates are goin’ there.

– Yeah, so I was thinking, if it’s okay with you guys, that I could start working on Monday 8 days?

– Yeah, sweet, whatever works for you mate.

– Fantastic!

– So, you can get back to me mid-next-week if you want the job mate.

– Well, I was just gonna say; that’s a deal!

– Ah yeeh? That’s cool…

– Great, so I guess I’ll call you sometime next week and get your address and some details.

– Yeah, you do that, Cornelius.

– That is just perfect, I’ll call you in a few days, and thank you very much!

– My pleasure mate, catch ya soon, then.

– Yes! Thanks, all the best, bye for now.

– Yeah mate!

Impossible Accounting

Hell yeah! How bloody brilliant is that! Everyone I told the story to, told me that this kind of money was almost impossible to find around the Byron Area, and especially Nimbin where the unemployment rate is the region’s highest. I could hardly believe my luck, and looking back I really shouldn’t have. I am a chronic high-hoper and I frequently end up in these imposible dream-like states of accounting, where the same money that I haven’t made yet is spent over and over like a never-ending magic purse. I like being optimistic and It’s a good trait to trust in goodness, but jeez will I ever grow up!

Thing was, I couldn’t get a hold of him again. I called and called and left one message after the other over the next week. I didn’t even know his address! But then at the Rainbow Corroboree (LINK coming soon!) I met a woman who thought she might know where this dude was living.

So on the Monday after the fabulous festival, Rad drove me all the way to the very back of Nimbin, over the hills and into the rainforest, only to find a farmer who’d run out of seeds out in the sticks where the phone conncetion had been off-line all week. He told me to come back 2 weeks later…

Needless to say, I was disappointed and somewhat in trouble. I was down to my last $30 dollars in the middle of no-where. Luckily my bus-driving “job” at the Arts Factory had earned me a 5-night voucher back in the jungle-camp. So Rad drove me back out to the coast (bless her soul) and I was back to square one again, wondering how I might get a second chance to get out and into Nimbin, land of the free and the freaky. Gotta be room for me somewhere out there…

To be continued…