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History project considers Aquarius social experiment 40 years on


Sharlene King
29 November 2012
It was a 1970s counter-revolution that heralded a cultural, social and consciousness shift in Australia and breathed new life into a dying NSW dairy town.

Four decades on, Southern Cross University is organising Aquarius and beyond: 40 years on, a two-day market of ideas to reflect on the events that together became the Nimbin Aquarius Festival of May 1973.

Cultural studies lecturer Dr Rob Garbutt from the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences said the Aquarius Festival was catalyst for change both regionally and nationally.

“Organised by the Australian Union of Students, the aim of the Aquarius Festival was to celebrate alternative thinking and sustainable lifestyles to ensure the long-term survival of the Earth and its inhabitants.

“From home-birth to farming, from architecture and building construction to local markets, from eating to social relations and political activism, the Aquarius Festival provided a stimulus for ‘alternative’, counter-cultural thinking and action on a kaleidoscopic range of social and cultural practices.

“Many practices, like solar energy, multiple occupancy communities and alternative medicine, continue today in Nimbin and across northern NSW and have been embraced in communities across the country.”

Aquarius and beyond will take place on May 23 and 24 2013 at the Nimbin Town Hall. The first day will reflect on the past 40 years, while day two will have a present and future orientation.

Dr Garbutt said he wanted to bring together a range of expressions and reflections that were both academic and personal.

“A 40 year cultural experiment has been going on in this country since May 1973. Aquarius and beyond will also consider how different Australia would be without the Aquarius Festival.

“Along with organisers and participants, I am interested in hearing from academics who may well have been at Aquarius or who are doing research on the Aquarius Festival and alternative lifestyles.”

Among the proposed panel discussions is one entitled ‘the children of Aquarius’ where children from intentional communities, now aged in their thirties and forties, can share their experiences of growing up in a community environment.

Dr Garbutt said the original Nimbin townsfolk have a story to tell, too.

“Not since the Gold Rush has a town undergone such a rapid transformation. Nimbin had been hit hard economic times prior to 1973 as dairy farmers and banana growers abandoned their properties.

“Thanks to the arrival of the ‘new settlers’ a cultural and economic change swept through the declining town.

“On the other hand, long-time Nimbin locals have had to adapt to an incredible cultural change that few of us have experienced. What have people learnt from that?

“No matter where one stands along the cultural spectrum, there is much to learn about living together in a community with all its differences,” said Dr Garbutt.


1 February 2013 - Ideas/Abstracts for Presentations and Expressions of Interest due
1 March 2013 - Responses to proposals
15 April 2013 - Draft program published
23 & 24 May 2013 - Aquarius and beyond: 40 years on at the Nimbin Town Hall (aka Nimbin School of Arts)

The community is welcome to contribute photographs, material and comments on the Aquarius and beyond Facebook page

Aquarius and beyond: 40 years on is a collaborative event organised by Southern Cross University’s Centre for Peace and Social Justice, the School of Arts and Social Science and the Centre for Tourism, Leisure and Work, in conjunction with the Aquarian Archive.

The organising committee is Dr Rob Garbutt, Graham Irvine, Rhonda Ellis, Nigel Hayes, Vanessa Bible, Assoc. Professor Baden Offord, Dr Nell Cook, Dr Adele Wessell, Jeanti St Clair.

Photo: Crowd in front of the Freemason's Hotel during the Aquarius Festival, 1973 (Courtesy: Harry Watson Smith)