History through housing

OCTAGONAL BLISS: Erwin and Adrienne’s River house, Whipbird Gully.
OCTAGONAL BLISS: Erwin and Adrienne’s River house, Whipbird Gully.

THE 1974 Aquarius Festival attracted a horde of dissatisfied, politically active students to Nimbin.

After the festival, many stayed on to found a new society based on ideals of self-sufficiency and harmony with nature. Integral to that ethos was creating dwellings modelled on counter-cultural ideas.

The Lismore Regional Gallery is celebrating this unique history with an exhibition, Not Quite Square, showcasing those unique housing options. It'll include an open forum with a panel consisting of owner-builders and distinguished commentators.

Richard Leplastrier is a Sydney-based architect and academic who brought groups of students to Nimbin during and after Aquarius.

"They were switched on to respect for the surroundings and I think that's a great step forward for this country because if you look at our buildings, one of the great pollutions is our mindless smother of buildings that just louses its way across the landscape," he said.

"These young people had different views about that and they flouted the law by putting more than one house on one piece of land, and they did it with a great deal of creativity."

Echo columnist S Sorrensen was one of those young people. He had experienced life in hand-built hippy mansions in Northern Queensland and moved south in 1980 to become one of the founders of the Billen Cliffs community.

"Billen was just an idea, a 900-acre, overgrazed property. There were no roads or anything on it."

S had no building experience, but a determination to transcend conventional ideas.

"The main motivation for me was I had a child in the offing and I was rebelling against lots of things and one of them was the idea that I had to be in debt for 25 years to get a home.

"I loved the idea that I could make something that was unique and totally reflected what I thought about living," S said.

"I had a perfect north slope so I made my house as passively solar efficient as possible. I made it out of recycled timbers and I just wanted it to work for me and a young family and thus has it done."

Adrienne Weber, co-builder of an octagonal river-house at Chillingham, sees its construction as integral to the raising of their family.

"Our house started as an open pavilion and grew with the family. We camped onsite in a tent for two and a half years, showering in a little waterfall, so there was always a close connection to the landscape," Adrienne said.

The house grew organically with the kids. There was no TV, we used to light the fire to cook on and we called it 'channel 0' because we'd look into the fire and imagine all kinds of things.

"The outside was connected to the inside - there were canvas blinds to let down when it was raining or cold - so our kids were linked to the plants and animal there and now they both have professions in ecology and botany," Adrienne said.

"What we as owner builders did through intuition is now understood to be the principles of eco-sustainable development of living locally and sustainably."

Not quite square

 Not Quite Square opens at 3.30pm on Saturday, April 20.

 S Sorrensen will be a panellist in a discussion prior to the opening at 2pm, along with Richard Leplastrier and Erwin Weber. The forum will be chaired by Dr Lee Stickells, Senior Lecturer, Architecture and Urban Design, Sydney University.

Topics:  aquarius festival architecture art lismore regional gallery

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