Life in Clunes in the Northern Rivers region of N.S.W. including the story of the Big Scrub
A new phase of my life began as we approached the 21st. century and I realized that, after sixteen years living in Bellingen and for reasons I wasn’t yet clear about, it was time to move further north.
The transition that followed involved preparing my beloved Windgarden in Bellingen for sale and then waiting for its new custodian to turn up. After a nine-month period, an artist came to look at the property.
And believe it or not, it was her falling in love with my guardian camphor laurel tree which shaded and protected my living area that persuaded her to buy. All was well. I knew that it was all in good hands, and I could move on.
So it was now time to pack , put all my worldly goods in storage, and set off up north early in 1999 to stay with a friend in Ballina, and started searching for the home that was to become the next Windgarden.
I had a feeling that it would be somewhere in the beautiful hinterland not far from the coast west of Byron Bay, – with an elevated aspect looking out over the countryside.
After several weeks of house hunting I was becoming impatient, and my good friend Noani tuned in from Canberra and, without personally knowing the area well, reassured me that it was just a little further west of Bangalow – and so it turned out to be – I was shown a house in the village of Clunes along the road to Lismore,
The access to the property was tucked away down a quiet lane, with a driveway entrance to the side of the house. As I walked out onto a long verandah and looked out across the valley and open farming land towards the eastern seaboard, and without having to explore inside, I knew I had found my new home!
The house was built on an elevated position up behind the main roadway, so, yet again, as I had been in Bellingen, I was to be blessed with an extensive natural view. I felt both relieved and excited and very much looked after.
Another good sign was seeing a large Poinciana tree growing in the garden. Their splendid red flowers and graceful horizontal branches make them a favourite in this area, and I was hoping to have one of my own even if I had to plant it myself and wait till it grew.
They provide a splendid contrast to the purple jacarandas, which tend to flower at the same
time, so it was exciting later on to discover a jacaranda over the neighbor’s fence, growing in just the right position to provide the contrast!
As for the long awaited vegetable and herb garden – organizing that would be my first project as soon as I settled in – as well as adding solar panels to the roof, and maybe even installing my own water tank..
Looking back, I recollected that I was already thirty, recently married and rapidly growing a family before I had had an opportunity to learn to create my own productive veggie and herb garden from scratch. This was back in our first family home in Wagga in southern NSW, and here I was, thirty years later in just the right area to start again.
This time it was in a very different region where sustainability was all the go, and with the encouraging advantages of generous rainfall and very rich red volcanic soil from nearby Wollumbin/Mt.Warning.
The area around the village of Clunes was relatively new to me. It is one of several villages and hamlets on the southern edge of the huge caldera surrounding this magnificent mountain. It is said to be the 2nd largest caldera in the world. I must find out which has the largest.
It spreads north towards Mount Tambourine, east to the coast down towards Ballina, and west, covering the Nightcap National Park and taking in Nimbin Rocks, the Pinnacles, Mount Burrell and the Sphinx Rock Cafe, and further on to Natural Arch – all special sites with aboriginal significance. It is also this stretch of country along the inland road heading to the Queensland border and beyond that I look forward to getting to know better..
Once having found my new home, I was able move in relatively quickly.
The house and its location was just right for what I now needed for a quieter life and a chance to heal at my own pace.
It was a modern light red brick house, compact, and relatively maintenance free with a large established garden surrounding it on three sides and a beautiful view in front stretching into the distance.
The gently sloping garden had a broad stretch of easily maintained lawn dotted randomly with a variety of flowering shrubs — a mix of exotics and natives — and a sheltering screen of tall eucalypts along one side helped cut down any traffic noise from the main road below.
There was always plenty of colour – tibouchinas, crepe myrtle, bauhinias (the butterfly tree), frangipanis, golden palms;
it wasn’t long before I discovered several flowering plants that beckoned me to create healing flower essences from them, tune in to their properties and add them to my collection.
A ground covering of five different shades of nasturtiums tumbling down the rockery was the first to be made.
Then there were the special succulents, Epiphillum Thalia, which I called the Red Cactus, and its cousin, Epiphyllum oxypetalum, the white Queen of the Night, so shy and delicate. They both only remain open for about a day, so it was very easy to miss their appearance in a large garden.
Later the blue Peruvian Lilly called Scillae Peruviana popped up for attention in another corner of the garden, and the last one to be made later on was the beautiful Rose of Sharon.
The most exciting find was down near the bottom of the garden beside the golden palm – a large handsome plant that nobody seemed able to identify in spite lots of enquiries and research .
Its splendid white lily-like flowers only remained open for a brief day or two also, and then only annually. It could be hard to tell if they were about to open or had just closed.
It took me ages to finally find out, thanks to Google, that it was a rare species from the tropical forests of Brazil called Philodendron Maritana.
A rich variety of bougainvilleas covered the long wooden fence directly behind the house, filtering the late afternoon sunlight with gentle tones of crimsons and purple coming in to each of the rooms through the back windows.
Like the house itself, the grounds needed little attention and allowed plenty of scope for whatever else I might be tempted to create in the future.
A generous verandah running the full length of the house was perfect for outdoor living in good weather and provided a restful view extending into the distance as far away as the
line of pines behind Lennox Head, and which I could also enjoy from the kitchen/dining area.
On cold winter nights a log fire provided all the comfort I needed.
There was a mix of healthy, well-advanced citrus trees to one side of the building.
There was a huge shady pecan tree in the far corner and a few bananas trees further down.
The right spot to create a vegetable and herb garden was handy to the house – once I had given myself plenty of time to recover from the move and the unpacking!
I was grateful that there was no real pressure to do anything in a hurry, including meeting the local people and exploring the surrounding countryside. My body was still in need of lots of healing post surgery to the spine, but visitors were always welcome.
The first to find me straight away were friends Peter and his wife from down south. Then, most appropriately, the next one soon after was Richie, a friend from Hervey Bay who spends his days travelling all over the country creating a network linking up sacred sites by activating and planting crystals. just the right person to share the task of blessing the land.
After catching up on our respective travels, we created a ceremony activating a small amethyst, charging it with Love energy and placing it together with rocks Richie had brought along from other mountains and gifted to the garden.
As we put them at the feet of the Lady Quan Yin, we were moved to find a small brown snake curled up there. We felt its presence as a blessing rather than an omen.
Later another very welcome couple who visited were Robin and Paul from Bellingen.They were interested to see where I had landed, and being very gifted dowsers, generously offered to check out the feng shui of the house and garden. Both passed with flying colours .
I soon discovered that I had some regular company too – withIn the first day I met the welcoming committee – a fly-over of squawking black cockatoos, a family of curious magpies, (or were they currawongs – I find it hard to tell), Sometimes a glimpse of a shy echidna burrowing into the lawn, and to top it off on the first evening a brilliant rainbow.
There was also a white-faced heron who would peck away as she strutted across the lawn and then settle on the open-air cubby house.
happily for me, she also turned out to be a regular companion.
Other regulars were the kookaburras, whip birds, occasional koels and owls and parrots, a splendid looking tree snake, and of course, lots of bees and butterflies. The only unwelcome inhabitants who turned up seasonally were ticks who would take
over the undergrowth below the eucalypts. I even became friendly with the neighbours’ rottweiler who turned out to be quite a softy, especially when there was lightening around and he needed a place to shelter.
Clunes is a charming small village – they say the name means Pleasant Place in Gaelic – and it lies comfortably within the fork of two rivers.
About 500 people live in the town itself and lots more are settled on small properties in the surrounding district, some of which were once dairies; many now growing coffee, avocados, pecans and macadamias and a variety of tropical fruits including kiwi fruit, custard apples and others I am gradually getting to know.
Its business hub is a busy general store / P.O./ bottleshop within easy walking distance of my home and all the other local amenities.
The Main Street is also the main road that runs through from Bangalow to Lismore which more or less follows the course of the Wilsons river.
In the pioneering days Clunes had served as a staging post for the coaches travelling west from the coast and for opening up the country to the timber trade and dairy farming.
Nearby on the same road, the Clunes Community Common on the old School site has become the true heart of the village. Here the locals have developed a natural community centre, making use of the old timber school building and the grounds which together provide a venue ideal for meetings and courses and entertainment, as well as a community garden and children’s’ play facilities for all to use.
There are several classic old-style timber churches, and other local amenities include a gift store, a butcher shop for the meat eaters with a reputation throughout the region for the quality of its produce, a plant nursery with plenty of native species to choose from, and of course, a service station. What you cant find here, then it is off to Lismore 20 minutes south-west, or Bangalow and Byron Bay off to the east.
The city of Lismore, built on the Wilsons River, soon became my main shopping and general resource centre, including access to several excellent therapists who were able to help me get back on my feet: I discovered a fine library and regional Art Gallery and a city hall for regular theatrical events, touring as well as local, – oh! and not to forget op-shops and lots of good cafes.
One day, I was sitting contentedly with a friend in the park near the river, she drew my attention to the loving presence of a spirit she could above the water. I heard her introduce herself as the Angel of Lismore and the name she gave us was Jasmine. ( I add here that experiences like this usually only happened to me when I was in the company of a psychically like-minded person.- one of us to hear and one to see! a bit like at the movies!) On this occasion, connecting with her made me feel very much honoured, accepted. – and at home.
I soon discovered a friendly garden club in the village, and a young lad to work the ride-on mower that I had acquired from the previous owner, also a wonderful Italian gardener and handyman called Dino as well as my friend Kate who help me maintain the three-quarters of an acre of lovely garden. Tanya, a young neighbour, visited regularly to help me keep the house in order.
There are weekly organic food markets at the Lismore Showground – a great selection available, and lots of generous encouragement and information forthcoming from the stall-holders on how to grow my own herbs and veggies.
I also looked forward every month to the colourful Channon markets with its rich variety of arts and crafts stalls, plants and produce and great food, buskers, and interesting people to get to know.
This was the original and most popular of the regular markets that were popping up in most of the towns and villages in the Northern Rivers region, and drew 100s of people from all over the district.
The Channon village is just a little way to the north of Clunes in the foothills of the magnificent Nightcap ranges. Its local Tavern on the bank of Terania Creek, once an old butter factory, is also a very popular meeting place.
There was also a unique annual music event held just out of town– Afternoon Opera at the Channon – held in Coronation Park which was little more than a grassy paddock;
Professional singers from Brisbane, together with conductor and orchestra entertained an elegantly dressed audience with lively arias once everyone had finished their chicken and champagne lunch in the large marquee.
Luckily I had friends who lived on the adjacent property, so, over two years running, we too set up our deckchairs on the other side of the wire fence, shared a fine vegetarian lunch, then listened and clapped enthusiastically as well; the conductor was a good sport – he turned, grinned and acknowledged our applause with a slight bow. We didn’t even blush.
I recall another unique cultural event, which brought delight to all my senses. The venue was St. Carthage’s Cathedral at Lismore. It was an evening with Slava Grigorian creating magic with his guitar, and by some wonderful synchronicity it coincided with a flower show: the whole church was filled from end to end with a magnificent display of flower arrangements, mostly roses. I can’t quite find the words to convey the effect that the blending of the sounds of Spain and heady aromas had on me. Bliss might have to do!
Clunes was certainly proving to be a good place to live. I came there trusting that it would be, while knowing that it would be the land that called me, but the question still remained for me — why was I led to this area in particular?
When none of the usual reasons why people move home seemed to provide an answer, it was time to ask for understanding on an inner level.
I was somewhat surprised that a clear response came to me from aboriginal elder spirits, and was moved and encouraged by the answer that I received clairaudiently –
‘-That the land around this whole area was in need of reawakening.
– That I would find other earth healers to work with in the area to assist in its healing and the energetic restoration of its ley lines and sacred sites.
– And that all this would fall into place in its own way and its own good time’.
Just as it had been in Bellingen, my connection to the landscape was to go well beyond caring for my own patch of garden. The request I heard fell easily on my shoulders. It was what I loved doing, and the years spent doing similar work around the mid-coast region were a great preparation.
My message from the aboriginal spirit elders began to make sense in one way as I came to learn more of the local history and discovered that I had been drawn to settle in the very heart of a large tract of land once known as the Big Scrub.
Before European settlement it had been the largest continuous expanse of sub-tropical lowland forest in Australia, with a great wealth of diverse bird life, plants and animals, going way back to when it was still part of Gondwanaland.
It was more or less circular in shape and records show that it had covered an area of about 75,000 hectares. – Difficult to imagine until seeing a map. It ranged from Minyon Falls on the edge of the Nightcap Range to the north, down to the area west of Ballina in the south, and spreading east/west from around about Bangalow to Lismore.
Such a large, undisturbed area of this type of forest was said to be very rare, even globally!
Beginning about 1860, the red-cedar loggers had moved in and cleared much of the forest in just over a period of 40 years. This was rapidly followed by settlers encouraged by the N.S.W. government to take up allotments for farming on condition that they completed the clearing.
I have read that the outcome was devastating for the aboriginal people of the Bundjalung Nation whose lands extended as far inland as the area west of the caldera.
Now they were no longer free to travel east the forest at will and to make their way along the rivers in order to reach the ocean, to set up their camps unimpeded, to hunt and to collect the nuts and berries and other food sources that were a regular part of their diet. Those who survived the white take-over of the land were driven into reservations.
A vast range of native plants and animals did not survive either. By the 1900s only a few very small remnants of this unique forest remained, scattered about in a handful of locations and amounting to no more than about 300 hectares – less than 1% of the original area.
No wonder that when there were further plans to start logging the magnificent Nightcap ranges in the early 70’s a massive protest movement was born which centred on Terania Creek right within the forest at the base of a large waterfall – an environmental struggle which came to be known as the three year rainforest war.
Fortunately the outcome was the protection gained by giving the area a World Heritage listing as a National Park, and recognizing it as part of the Wollumbin shield volcano groups of Gondwana forests in Australia.
I loved visiting there – such a wild, rocky place. It wasn’t far – just a little way north west. through Dunoon and the Channon and along to the end of Terania Creek
road, and then a short walk through the lush forest to the base of Protester Falls, so named because this was the main area where the non- violent protests against environmental destruction played out.
I was to learn later that it was in 1999 – the same year that I arrived in Clunes, that two groups, the Rainforest Rescue group and Big Scrub Rainforest Care, joined forces and began the work of clearing and restoring remnants of Big Scrub forest.
This helped give even more life to the environmental movement, and it has been spreading ever since.
The Rainbow region has led the way in growing public awareness, – One outing I often enjoyed was the yearly Big Scrub Festival at Rocky Creek Dam where most of our water supply came from – a great educational event with an emphasis on caring for nature, building community and providing lots of practical information about environmental issues in general.
Speaking of festivals, this is truly the Land of the Festivals, and I rarely missed one. There were annual Herb festivals at Lismore by the river and huge Gem Fests at the showground; Writers Festivals at Byron Bay, all manner of Music Festivals, a Bikes and Kites festival at Brunswick Head, a Beautiful Day out Festival at Mullumbimby – and much to my delight, a Flower Essence Festival at Lismore.
Soon after arriving in Clunes, I worked at three consecutive Starlight Healing Festivals. These are held each year over four days at Bangalow, one in January and one at Easter. – The first one was a marathon experience for me, testing my stamina, but it was an invaluable one as I met many like-minded people including those in the holistic healing community, and found giving healing sessions there was a great way of entering into the life of the community.
I also found two healing meditation groups who met regularly, one nearby at Rosebank, and
another just near my home, and later discovered a singing group who come together on Sunday mornings in a country home near Bangalow. They follow the Taize tradition of sacred music from France, mainly simple, tranquil Gregorian chant that blended with the sounds of the surrounding forest and the creek flowing near by.
I also met up with friends Paul and Susanna at the starlight festival. They had set up the Gunnebah Retreat Centre, tucked away in the hills near Murwillumbah in the area of Mt. Warning/Wollumbin.
They were offering a wonderful week’s R. & R. to help revive hard-working healers.
It was such a gift for me to have the opportunity to further my own healing out in nature, with a program that included meditations, yoga, and swimming, dancing lots of delicious meals with plenty of tips on how to prepare the food and grow the ingredients! And enjoy great company. It was to be the first of a number of happy visits there during the period I lived in Clunes.
The Australian Open Garden programme provided another great way for me to get inspiration from other peoples’ gardens as well as getting to know the area and what plants thrive locally.
One special property I remember, well out in the bush at Terania Creek, cultivated every imaginable variety of bromeliad and ways of growing them – here over half were attached to trees.
These also included the fascinating ‘air plants’ – the tillandsias – grandfather’s beard, for example – which are also part of the bromeliad family. The air-plants take sustenance from moisture and air-borne food particles.
Once I had settled in to my new home I loved having visitors especially my family, even though they were scattered widely across the country, as were many of my friends – one of the results of moving homes too often!
I was delighted when all the family arrived including my 90 year old aunt for my first Christmas here; we celebrated with a fine picnic spread under the beautiful pecan tree.
I was proud to be able to add some produce from own garden to the feast! I found I had to act fast and try shaking the tree every morning if I was to build up a good supply of pecans to share – the local critters were after them as soon as they fell to the ground.
When friends came to visit there were plenty of places in the landscape around to go off exploring together.
Once when my friend Kath arrived from down south we decided to spend a day doing just that; we began with the Booyong nature Reserve and Floral Reserve. It was just a short drive east from Clunes and It was the first of the remnants of the big Scrub to be chosen for restoration.
It was quite an adventure scrambling along a rough encircling walking track, slowly taking in the massive trees and jungle like undergrowth, – a small island cut off by the Wilsons river, a rail-line and time itself.
I was astounded to read that in just this 13 hectare remnant up to 90 species of rainforest trees had been identified. – amongst them were spectacular White Booyongs and Australian red cedars, and the giant Francis Water gum, with its huge buttresses.
We saw the rare grey-headed flying foxes and had hoped to glimpse the beautiful green Richmond Birdwing Butterfly which needs its own special vine to survive, but no luck!
A couple of goannas gave us a. momentary fright scurrying up the trees as we approached’
From there we took the back road, stopping at the historic Eltham Pub for lunch, checked out the display of antiques at the gallery, and then drove back to the main Road to Lismore, coming out at the Bexhill General Store. (famous for its indian curries, by the way).
When we left the store we found a turn off on the other side of the road heading up a small hill to Inspiration Point, where there was a great view of the surrounding area, with the Nightcap National range off in the distance.
Here is where you will also find the Bexhill Open Air Cathedral, with its simple arch bearing an inscription at the entrance “Enter the temple beautiful, the house not made by hands ” .
Then walk through it down the ‘aisle’ and at the other end is a plain stone altar and cross, with seating on either side. It has long been a favourite place for holding weddings.
While there, we were inspired to create a triangular pattern of healing and balancing energy by visualizing four sites in the area, each symbolizing and expressing an aspect of the four elements, – first beginning with the AIR Cathedral, then linking with the Booyong reserve to the east which we recognized as a perfect expression of the EARTH element with its giant buttressed trees emerging from the basaltic soil of a volcano.
And from there we imagined a second energy line running north to link with the WATER element at Minyon Falls on the edge of the caldera, then creating a link from the Falls back to Bexhill and so completing the triangle.
We then returned home to Clunes which lay in the centre of the triangle, and anchored the FIRE element into the Heart of Clunes in the Clunes Community Common, and finally all felt complete and in balance. What a magic day it had been.
There were many opportunities such as this one to continue to deepen my love and understanding of nature in a hands-on way while working with other earth workers in the community.
At the autumn equinox In 2001 a small group of us – all women – and all intuitive sound therapists, created a singing and toning event accompanied by the swirling sound vibrations of crystal bowls at the Clunes Community Centre. Its purpose was to activate the energy vortex within the heart of Clunes.
It turned out to be a special evening – the first of a series of ‘sound awakenings’ aimed at filling the land with the healing vibrations of love, harmony and balance. All the people who came joined in and the hall reverberated with sounds of joy and purpose.
For thousands of years sound has been used by many cultures to heal and harmonize the people and all living creatures on the land, and we were sure we experienced the land responding, and heard that the ancient Lemurian portal of Eternal Joy was once more activated in the area.
Lots more local landscape healing work was to follow as time went on. Four eventful years passed by very quickly and by the end 0f 2003 I was experiencing a restless feeling coming on, though it seemed far too early to think of pulling up sticks and move on to another home
Life had been good to me in Clunes and and I was grateful that I had always felt welcome in the community. I had no real cause for discontent, though, looking back, I realize I had never quite put my roots down here.
The gypsy in me was still active, though slowing down a little. I was often away visiting family and friends and answering the call to participate in earth healing work in a number of other areas as well. This had included a wonderful journey in 2000 through the gorges in central Australia, and on up to the Kimberleys, the Bungle Bungles and across to Broome and back
The Olympic Games in Sydney followed soon after, preceded by the Olympic Flame travelling right around Australia.
It felt as if my journey out west had some how been an earth linking journey as well so, though I was not so interested in sport, I went south to the Games after greeting the Flame in Clunes.
In early January 2004 I had identified one aspect of my restlessness. I had begun to hear the sea calling me. It took less than an hour to reach the coast, and as the call became stronger I began making little exploratory sorties across to the east, The idea of living by the ocean was quite an exciting one as long as I could remain within the ‘rainbow region’ which did feel very much like home!
I started to spend time just wandering around the area exploring – homes, landscapes , people, taking in vistas of the ocean and the nearby mountains. I kept being drawn to the Ocean Shores area and a little further north and in March I decided to test the waters and took the brave step of putting my home on the market.
I have kept a record of some beautiful inner advice I received at that time which came to light recently.
“The area to which you are being called contains a wealth of ancient Knowledge and wisdom. Attempt if you can to garner images below the surface of both land and sea, drawing you into a state of love and acceptance of so many diverse creatures, rock formations, lively weather patterns and unconventional ways of seeing and hearing and expressing. This will better help you to attune to that which is calling to your soul.”
I felt I would be needing some help from the whales and dolphins to help me with that one!
I checked through a number of homes and did find a house in Ocean Shores that showed a lot of of promise. It looked backed across the mountains and I wondered about the location. I think I had been expecting a sea view.
I was wisely advised that
“One’s vista may be ocean or mountain – it matters little when tranquillity is at the heart of the land and Its dwellings.”
As it transpired, my house sale in Clunes fell through, so I had to withdraw and I was left floundering. Again it was my friend Nonie who kept my hopes up as she had done pre- Clunes. She phoned from Canberra in june to relay an inner message she received. it was to tell me to be patient – that my home-to-be was still in the building process – a ‘spec.build’ not quite finished yet, and yes, it did have a view of the ocean – all would be well!
Come June I did find a place I liked very much. It too was in Ocean Shores, twixt forest and sea and, believe it or not, it was as Noni predicted it to be.
However, I still needed my home to sell before being able to make an offer. That didn’t happen until early December, yet, miraculously, the new house did wait for me till then.
One thing that helped to discourage other,potential buyers in the meantime was the agent accidentally advertising it in a brochure at $200,000 more than its actual selling price. I could hardly believe my luck!
Finally everything did fall in to place in December and both house contracts were signed by the summer Solstice. It had been a long wait but in the meantime plenty had still been happening back in Clunes.
Garden-wise, there was the usual Lismore Herbal festival on the river in August which I always looked forward too. This time it was the Spirit of the River who presented herself to my clairvoyant companion and me as we sat by the water. I heard her name as Elucinda and although I could feel her to be very light and playful, she chose to show herself appearing a little tattered, and indicated that this was the result of the toxic effects on her light body of the run off coming from the industrial buildings over on the opposite river bank.
She asked us to assist by regularly visualizing the river waters clearing and healing and encouraging others to do the same.
We had an opportunity to augment the work achieved in the area in the vicinity of the river during the Lismore garden competition held in September. It gave us the opportunity to spend a little time not far from there exploring the lovely prize-winning gardens particularly those in Charles St. in South Lismore.
Here we were asked “to dwell further upon the overall valley there, and begin to create further energetic links from this area across to the ocean before leaving, invoking the assistance of those angelic beings including Jasmine, Elucinda and others ready to help with any last minute healing and balancing needed “.
And so we did, winding up several years work during which my love and understanding of the nature kingdom grew during my Clunes years, reaching a deeper level as I learnt how much our spirits were naturally entwined. There was no end to the ways in which we could play out a loving partnership with Mother Earth.
In November I was delighted when the Clunes Garden Club decided to hold their monthly get together in my Windgarden, and so were able to help me say farewell to it and all the beings that inhabited it.
Two days later I showed it to its new owner- to-be and she generously encouraged me to pot up whatever plants I wished to take with me, as she had plans to put her own stamp on the garden.
Now I could finally go ahead with the
purchase of my new home. Friends and family started to arrive to help with the transition.
I thought it fitting that my last social engagement early in December was the Garden Club’s Christmas Party – lots of fun and good cheer around a bright big bonfire – music and dancing as well!
The removalists arrived just before Christmas and I was finally on my way! – off into the future!
To be continued.