What’s the point of hippies?
At the time, between 30 and 40 years ago, and from the outside, I suppose it looked like a totally hedonistic rabble of people refusing to play the game. And there was that aspect to the hippy life. But there was also an incredible outpouring of creativity and a rethink about sustainable living taking place in a world that had 3 billion fewer people, where we couldn’t see where development was going to take us.
I think there have always been people like hippies, people who thought you achieved salvation/redemption through the rejection of society’s obsessions, and matter in general.
Or there were people who always felt like outsiders and just joined other people like themselves.
In general it was not a hard line political or religious movement, we were too odd a fit to agree on trying radical change. When we talked about taking better care of the planet, no more imperialist wars, not eating flesh, not mining Australia’s uranium for people to make bombs with and the life force it was about a different style of life on a personal, small group level.
Nobody talked about climate change then, and although we were aware of changing weather patterns and mutated vegetables, we put it down to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
We didn’t have electricity, running water or phones so I suppose we had a very low carbon footprint. It was the beginning of solar panels and several people had banks of tractor batteries storing their own sunlight to drive 12 vlt TV’s. And then there was the super modern technology of coiling a plastic garden hose full of water on the roof and letting the sun heat up your shower water. I remember that we seemed to know that being on the power grid was to be avoided.
Climate plays a big part of being a successful hippy. It’s easy to sit and watch the vegies grow in the sub-tropics and still have plenty of time to paint what it feels like to live in such a unique place. To be a hippy in northern Europe really doesn’t appeal as there would be no time to do anything else except survive in miserable circumstances and wear lots of horrible old woollen jumpers.
There were several groups of people at the turn of the first millennium who preached that the world would end if humanity didn’t change it’s sinful ways. Hippies were far too individualistic to preach to anyone but the general ethos was the same. And this time it’s going to be true - the world is really going to end for humans, and a lot of animals, if we don’t repent and take better care of the spaceship, very, very quickly.
And if James Lovelock is correct and there is no way to reverse climate change, well the hippies had the answer to that too - just sit down under a tree and get stoned. Man.
I feel like I was trained for life in how to look after myself and a small group of others in worst case scenarios. It’s greatly empowering to know you can survive outside of the state system and it’s something we might all have to do before this century is over.
What do hippies do all day?
So what was it like to live in a hippy training camp in the late seventies?
To be accepted into the community which I lived in you had to show up at a meeting and be approved by the others. The meeting was under the trees and I’d flown up from Sydney(bad) and went dressed in high heels, jeans and make up(very bad) then generally pranced around the Queensland rainforest as though I was still in London. But as I’d already paid the money they couldn’t really object.
I’m afraid that I wasn’t a very good hippy on a day to day basis - I didn’t smoke dope and drank a lot of wine, I didn’t live on a diet of roasted vegetables and pawpaw, took the pill, travelled overseas, went to the doctor when I was sick and didn’t do Om’s (although I do now). But on the big picture it felt like home.
So on a normal day you might help somebody do a bit of stonework on their house, or they might help you put on a new roof or you might work on the hall. I wasn’t very good at any of these things, but I was willing, and learnt to saw straight, mix up concrete and put cyclone bolts into the roof.
Then there was slashing with a fearsome, rock chopping lawn mower so that you could see all the venomous reptiles approaching the house.
On other days I’d go and rake duck weed (water hyacinth, big pest) off the local lake to go on the vegetable garden. This was a bad idea as the snakes went under it in the midday sun and I trod on them later. But I learnt to grow everything we needed, pretty much.
Sometimes I went riding with my friend Barb, galloping round the square cane fields like a couple of mad women. I never did get the hang of Australian horses, even though we half planned a trip on horseback across the top of Australia, they seemed as wild as the bush.
If it was really hot we’d jump in the swimming hole in the creek at the bottom of the valley. I never actually saw the peeping toms from the town rustling the bushes while looking at a few naked people swimming, but I believe it was on the locals itinerary for a good way to spend the afternoons.
Half an hour away were lovely long, deserted beaches to go and loll about on and eat tacos from a little shop on Coolum beach. I cant face going back to look at what’s happened to all that raw, extravagant beauty and ‘50’s style accommodation of Kelvinators and lino.
We didn’t have electricity so mostly in the evenings we’d read by the light of a Tilly lamp that hissed so loudly it drowned out the cicadas. I read all of Balzac and Tolstoy by Tilly lamp in those years. From the perspective of a shack in the Queensland rainforest reading about Paris and Russia in the 19th century was like reading science fiction.
A big part of what I remember is the way things grew. You could see vivid green things curling round other vivid green things and racing towards the light. It was like an acid trip.
The mandarin trees were laden in winter and I used to take suitcases of those little bursts of sunshine to Sydney for friends. But I never told them that the trees were fertilized with the shit from our shit bucket. We didn’t have running water or a bathroom, so it had to go somewhere. I wonder if they’d be sick, even now, if they knew.
No talk of hippies would be true without mention of dope. By the time I got to Queensland I didn’t smoke the stuff, it made me very paranoid and anyway I’d taken enough drugs in Europe to last a lifetime. But a few people (and some children) diced with living in a police state and smoking weed).
It really wasn’t much of a business that long ago and it all seems rather naïve now. If you live in a climate where seeds just sprout into bushes with no attention necessary, it really doesn’t seem an unnatural thing to roll it up and smoke it. But somewhere along the line the gangs took over and spoilt everything. A bit like hedge fund managers today.
I don’t know if was because we were all young, if it was the place itself or just that time in the universe but the life force seemed to be packed into that valley - the edible, the dangerous, the genuine, the mumbo jumbo, the scary, the hypereal, the dream, the affinities and the loathings, the songs of birds and insects, the flowerings and the mangoes.
Everything seemed animated as it either grew or was eaten, even the houses.
These paintings were shown at Watters Gallery, Sydney in 1981.
Conceived in Yandina