A walk on the alternative side

WALKING TRACK: Lois Kelly and Ross Wallace planning Nimbin’s next attraction.
WALKING TRACK: Lois Kelly and Ross Wallace planning Nimbin’s next attraction.

A VALUE-PACKED walk around Nimbin town, showcasing the town's history, communities, innovations and ethos, is in the early stages of planning.

"It's a bit of a magical mystery tour," said designer Ross Wallace.

"An experience and an adventure, encompassing all that comes out of the psychedelic era."

Sitting in a Lismore cafe with project coordinator Lois Kelly, Ross props up his iPad and shows me a series of inspired design ideas for built pavilions, walkways created with recycled materials, sculpture gardens, a quirky exercise garden where human energy drives kinetic art pieces, and a natural amphitheatre with an outdoor stage shell behind the Nimbin Hall.

The track will expose the walker to Nimbin's famous expertise with solar power and permaculture, and act as an "interactive storytelling mechanism" to promote the village's colourful history.

Starting in the main street, with its world-famous, heritage murals repainted, the 2.5km walk will take in Nimbin's latest futuristic project, the Sustainability House; Rainbow Power Company and the Solar Farm; the Djanbung Gardens Permaculture hamlet; differently-themed shelter pavilions; a walk through a patch of rainforest; school and community gardens, dotted all along with interpretative historical signs telling stories from the Dreamtime to the timber-cutters, the dairy industry, the Aquarius Festival and beyond.

Lois said the aim of the project is to create a walk that would be a destination in itself, to augment the "hop off the bus, look round the museum and shops, get offered drugs, and get back on the bus" schedule that most visitors follow.

"Actually," she tells me, "drugs are about the ninth reason people come to Nimbin. Research shows that what most visitors are looking for is the legacy of the Aquarius Festival, rainforests, and the indigenous, alternative and hippie cultures."

Nimbin is visited by 140,000 people a year. That's a lot for a one-street town.

Most visitors are "international leisure seekers" - backpackers to us - many of them coming on bus tours from other centres, especially Byron Bay, on a day-trip.

Other frequent visitors are people from south east Queensland, and families and friends of Nimbin folk.

The average visitor spends less than three hours in the town.

"This is a perfect project for Nimbin," Lois says.

"It has all the ingredients. It's internationally recognised, it attracts existing visitors, it has community support - and it will deliver triple bottom line outcomes."

Lois breaks the outcomes down into the economic: "By getting just 25% of visitors to stay just four more hours and spend $20, that's $700,000," she says.

"And if 25% stay overnight and spend $100 that's $2.5 million… everyone wins."

Then there are the social outcomes: "The walking track will be a great community facility, with lots of family and people-friendly interesting activities.

"It will strengthen the micro business base with more jobs and more wealth in the community - and it's good for fitness, too."

The third outcome is environmental.

"The track will be a showcase of leading edge environmental initiatives."

"We're planning to launch an app to go with the walk," Ross says. "And there will be merchandise for sale too ... among other things, we want to create a Nimbin drinking water bottle that can be filled with pure water at the Sustainability House."

As part of the consultation process, people are being encouraged to send in their ideas for the walking track project, to nimbinwalk

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