This is an article I wrote after visiting some Australian rainforest in 1991.

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I suppose I should have known from the slightly raised eyebrows, the faint "oh, really?" when I mentioned my destination to fellow-travellers. I was going to visit a friend who had left England some seven years before, and had settled in the vicinity of Nimbin, NSW. "Isn't there some kind of hippy colony there?" somebody asked me, tentatively, which should have given me a clue. "Yes, that'll be right" I responded happily, thinking no more of it "I think my friend was going out to join something like that".

It wasn't until I actually reached Nimbin that the full reality of the "hippy colony" hit me. Everywhere there were signs of an active hippy culture. The buildings were brightly painted with rainbowed psychedelic themes on boards above the shops. Children were evidently of major importance in the town, and people smiled as they greeted one another in the street. As I leafed through the press cuttings of the Rainbow Power Company, Nimbin's successful alternative energy business, I realised that Nimbin was more than just a "hippy colony", it had become a symbol of Hippie-dom throughout Australia.

But underneath the psychedelic superficialities, Nimbin has a deeper meaning. There is a common thread which holds people together - which has formed the underpinnings of the continuous and lasting culture of the town, and enabled this culture to survive where others have lost their values and drifted down the one-way tracks of drugs and egotism. That common thread is the rainforest.

Nimbin is situated in amongst one of the few remaining stretches of tropical rainforest in New South Wales. In the neighbouring district of the Channon lies Terania Creek - the site of the first major eco-political demonstration in Australia, where a group of some 200 or so protestors confronted loggers and the State police in the early 1970s, to protect the rainforest from further destruction. Many of the outlying areas of Nimbin, close to the rainforest, are peopled by groups who have joined together to buy up stretches of rainforest and cleared land. They live on the latter, draw their water and spiritual sustenance from the former, and above all, make sure that their particular stretch of rainforest cannot possibly be destroyed by logging. They don't protect it as a tourist attraction, or as a botanical nursery, but simply for what it is.

During my visit to Nimbin I was shown videos of the protest at Terania Creek, and talked with a number of people about the beauty of the environment around the area. The depth of feeling was revealed in the softened, intense tones in which even the most apparently cavalier individuals would respond to my comments. "Oh yes, it's a beautiful place all right" would be followed with an enquiry about where I had visited, as they assured themselves that I had seen some of its best, before the conversation returned to more mundane discussions about the day's work. They don't talk about it much, but everybody feels it.

I was introduced to the rainforest within two days of my arrival in Nimbin. We drove up a winding dirt track which twisted its way aloft until we reached a house on a narrow shelf. Like many other houses which I saw in this area, this was only half-finished, but it was weatherproof, and the basic construction was complete. You could look out from three sides and see forest above, around and below you. The fourth side nestled against the mountain. A short walk from the house took us among banks of lantana weed - a sprawling shrub which takes over areas of cleared ground where forest has been felled. In amongst the lantana were the white trunks of young trees - the first stage in a succession back to rainforest which will take 200 years, or more. "But at least it holds the ground together" my guide told me. "There's nothing but erosion where the ground has been cleared completely". At the very edges of the lantana the forest was gradually encroaching, with some active encouragement from the resident.

A few steps further on took us into the forest. Here, there was no marked-out path, nothing to destroy the natural integrity of the forest itself. We made our way across moss-covered boulders, soft coverings of leaf and bark and over fallen branches and tree trunks. The fragrant scent rose up around us as we passed deeper inside. The air was cool and damp, a refreshing change from the hot temperature outside. High above, the light gleamed through the tops of the trees, but below all was shady and serene. The only marker for our path was the thick black hose, half-buried in the vegetation, which carries the water from the weir high up the creek to the dozen or so dwellings on the slopes below.

As we climbed, we encountered majestic trees, soaring high into the canopy, with hugely buttressed trunks. I saw - no, met, which was how it felt - a magnificent red cedar, towering what seemed like hundreds of feet upwards, its top lost from view. Only the position of this tree had saved it from the depredations of the loggers. Although agreed boundaries would frequently be breached for a tree as valuable as this, the fact that its roots were virtually in the creek itself meant that the agreement not to affect the environs of the creek had had to be honoured. I met a huge strangler fig, its vast root system so intertwined that the tree could be climbed like a ladder. And I met several other other giants of the forest, whose names I don't know, and which survive only because this particular stretch of forest had been inacessible to the loggers. The respect which these ancient trees command is immense: they are true presences of the forest.

The atmosphere in the forest is indescribable. It isn't silent - the wind in the treetops, the birds and the water form a permanent backdrop to the softened sound of one's own feet. But it is peaceful, with a deep inner peace that sinks into the soul, putting minor considerations into perspective and filling you with the conviction that this is what truly matters. You can fully comprehend the emotionality of the protestors at Terania Creek as they watched the forest fall before the bulldozers.

The huge trees are intermittent, but every space in the rainforest is filled. Smaller palms, wattles, bushes and plants fill every part of the ground, and the trunks of the larger trees are covered with epiphytes, orchids and ferns. As you climb, the deceptive lawyer-canes grasp at you with their backwardly-barbed fronds: if you are caught you have to stop to work your way free. It's sometimes known as wait-a-while-palm, but the locals prefer to call it lawyer-cane. Given the behaviour of the palm, the names need no explanation.

Eventually, we reached the weir - a deep, circular pool of water, held in by a concrete and stone wall, through which drained an outlet pipe and the constant flow which kept the creek flowing, When I later accidentally referred to this as a dam, I was firmly corrected, "It's a weir, not a dam. We keep the creek flowing, and the water we draw off is more than compensated for by the regularity of the creek's flow". The weir certainly didn't look out of place in its setting, nor did it seem to disturb the integrity of the environment around it. If anything, I felt it was an example of the human presence working with the natural environment to enrich it, rather than the impoverishment which our modern presence generally tends to produce.

We scrambled around the weir, and over the fallen trees which appear to guard it. As we followed the creek upward to its source, the walls of the cleft became more pronounced, and strange rock formations showed between the palms and the mosses. Finally, we reached the head of the cleft, where a waterfall streamed down from an opening high above in the sunshine, and splashed into a small pool before running off down to the valley. The rock curved upwards, and the strata told the story of how some immense volcanic pressure had forced the rocks vertically, punching a hole through which, millions of years later, sunlight and water would pour from the forest high on the tops above into the coolness and green below. It was an awesome place.

The particular area of rainforest which I visited on that occasion is owned by the community who live on the lower land. On another occasion, I was taken to Mount Nadi, which forms a starting point for Pholi's Walk, a series of footpaths through rainforest which allows tourists to get some feel for the atmosphere. At intervals, numbered pegs set in the ground direct the visitor to an accompanying leaflet, which points out plants and features in the immediate vicinity, including a huge hollow tree, twisted about with lianas and aerial roots. and big enough for people to climb right inside. Tourist walks of this kind give even the casual visitor the opportunity to get some experience of the rainforest - and it really has to be visited to be fully appreciated. I've been hearing about, and reading about, rainforests all my life, but the experience is quite something else.

At Broken Head National Park, on the coast of northern NSW, we visited rainforest of a different sort. Here, the rainforest on the rim of the vast volcanic caldera which surrounds Mount Warning meets the sea. Notices around the area request the visitors to stay on the paths, since the constant salt erosion of the forest vegetation would be accelerated by human access. A narrow road leads you to a hidden parking place, and a small path winds downwards through the forest until it reaches the sea. This forest is lighter then the others: the trees are not so tall, and sudden shafts of sunlight illuminate the path as you round the corners. Its beauty is exquisite: the sombre greenness of the surrounding forest is interlaced with dappled sunshine, and towards the lower stretches, you catch glimpses of snowy beach and sparkling blue ocean surrounded by the forest covered hills. A dolphin came and swam in the bay with the swimmers while I was there. This is Shangri-La: an exquisite natural paradise. One feels privileged just to be there.

At Terania Creek, we visited the site of that historic confrontation which had affirmed such a commitment to the forest in the protestors, many of whom are still resident in the vicinity. The forest at Terania Creek is stunning. As you step inside it surrounds you - the change in the atmosphere is immediate and almost tangible. Feathering palms tower high, and broad, moss-covered lianas drape across the gaps left by old, fallen trees, which rest on a soft carpet of bark, splinters, moss and fungus. Huge brushbox trees covered in epiphytes lead the eye upwards to the sunlight above. The creek plays happily downwards, sparkling into pools and over rocks as you climb alongside. This is a holy place: the path, although not formally marked, is worn by the feet of pilgrims, winding through the forest and alongside the creek until it reaches its culmination: Protestors Falls.

Protestors Falls is a spectacular waterfall, dropping sheer down a high stone cliff onto the rocks below. We picked our way across the rocks, right right round the pool, until we could look at the forested valley below through the sparkling sheet of the waterfall. Although there were several others there on the day that we visited, the presence of other people does not detract from the atmosphere of the place, from the glorious and reverent inspiration which one feels in its presence. It is a fitting destination for the ecological pilgrims who come here, drawn by its political history and by the forest itself. .

It is the reverence and respect which the forest engenders which inspires people in this region with the need to defend it. Although much of this area is now National Park, a significant amount of it remains in private hands, and is thus vulnerable to logging. So little is left from the amount which once covered this whole region, that if much more goes, it will not be long before the remaining fragments are too small to hold their own rain. "All we can do is to buy up as much as we can and sit on it" I was told, and there are many people around this region who are doing just that. But political pressure from loggers continues, and the myths of selective logging and forest regeneration combine to make the general public unaware of how urgent the need really is.

So there are other tactics too, adopted by those who despair of the establishment's ability or motivation to protect the forests. "We spike the trees", I was told. "Steel bar right through the middle. Then we let them know: ‘you log this area, mate, your sawmill's going to suffer." It's an extreme tactic, but it works. And if other strategies are unavailing, as they seem to be, it is understandable. You only have to see the reality of selective logging to realise the myth that it really is: vast tracts of land, covered in wattles and fast-growing gum trees, but very little else: the richness and diversity of the forest completely gone. Regeneration is another myth: sure, it could happen in time, but how much time does it really take? Try looking back 200 years, instead of forwards, to get an idea of the scale. 1790-something to now, that's how long. That's quite apart from the fact that rainforests hold their own rain, but they need a critical mass to do so. Cut that forest down, and the rain goes away and never comes back, and it is in that single fact that we can see the origin of much of the drying of the earth's ecosystems. "Think globally, act locally" is a well-known slogan in Nimbin. Here, there are those who will protect their local rainforest at all costs - for all of us. For most, though, the passive resistance of living with the forest, and buying up as much of it as possible is the solution which they adopt.

They don't talk about it much, but the depth of feeling is very real. And in the process, they are helping to save one of the the Earth's most important resources. We know about the richness and diversity of rainforest life, and that in itself would be adequate reason to protect it. But the main reason, the consciousness which permeates of the people I met in Nimbin and its environs, is nothing to do with any instrumental value of the forest. It's just because it's there. Once you have met these trees, and experienced the respect which the forest engenders, you don't feel any need to justify it. As the host of Saturday evening's party said to me so intensely: "that rainforest is a lesson to all of us".

Written by Nicky Hayes, 1992

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