Lismore/Nimbin: Day 3
The Northern Rivers hinterland seems like a tiny pocket when you look at a map, but once you’re behind the wheel and start exploring, you’re amazed at how many winding streets and back roads there are. I used to think I knew the region well, as I have friends living at Possum Creek (near Bangalow) which is a blink-and-you-miss-it hamlet where Paul Hogan used to live. But I was wrong. Today we travelled up and down Eltham Road and along the Lismore-Bangalow Road several times and took a few diversions and saw the names of towns I’d never heard of. There’s Booyong, Nashua and Binna Burra to name a few.
I’d also never heard of Eltham until we spent the night there last night in the historic Eltham Hotel – built in 1902. Now I feel like a local as I’ve walked the main street, which is about 500 metres long, checked out the tennis courts and driven past the school. At the Masonite Hall local ladies were putting Christmas hampers together to send to farmers out west who were doing it tough. They had received lots of support from local people including a transport company that was providing the delivery service for free. That is the beauty of living in a close-knit community. If there is one thing that you notice in spades when travelling around this gorgeous area is the involvement: the traditional community halls are still used and their noticeboards are crammed with interesting signs. There’s a pervading spirit that sees folk band together to fight for a better future. If it weren’t for the fighting spirit of these Lismore-Nimbin (and all Northern Rivers) folk, I’m sure that much of the sensational scenery we enjoy would not be here today.
I shall now step down from my soap box.
Over breakfast I chatted to Lucinda and Toby Black, owners of the Eltham pub. She comes from a family of hoteliers who have a couple of pubs in Darwin. When Lucinda’s father first met Toby, he proclaimed that he was perfect publican material. And he is. Toby is an affable guy who acts as the front man and Lucinda (or Lucy as he calls her) looks after the running of the business. One of the things she’s passionate about is the food. She’s well aware that the food in the Northern Rivers region is already top notch and she wanted to ensure that the fare served at the pub was worth travelling quite a few extra kilometres for. There are plenty of great cafes and restaurants in Byron Bay and beyond, and she knew they had to provide an equivalent or better culinary experience. And I’d have to say they’ve got it right. My roast lamb last night was exquisite and my morning soy coffee was just the way I like it. Toby and Lucinda source much of their food locally – from Peter the Booyong farmer who grows the hydroponic lettuces and the micro-herbs, to Salumi the small goods producer based in Mullumbimby. While chatting to Lucinda a brightly-decorated rainbow bus turned up and disgorged its young backpacker passengers. They were on a Nimbin Grasshoppers tour that travels from Byron Bay to Nimbin and calls at the Eltham pub enroute. Everyone bought a beer or coffee and some picked up souvenir postcards and other local trinkets.
From Eltham it was a five minute drive to Clunes, a hamlet of about 600 people. The General Store-cum-café was in full swing. We opted for an organic fruit ice block; I went for watermelon and my friend chose orange-mango. Both hit the spot. Clunes is seriously cute, with a couple of historic shopfronts including The Romantic Shack, a vintage clothing and collectables store, which was unfortunately closed.
We soldiered on to Newrybar, another tiny town not far from Bangalow just off the Old Pacific Highway. This is foodie-central for many folk including travellers from Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. A local institution, the 10-year-old café is absolutely packed on weekends (with bookings required) and although it was doing a huge trade today (Monday) we didn’t have to book. Harvest Café is part of a complex – the café, the deli and the bakery where moreish loaves of sour dough bread are churned out as fast as the loyal customers can consume them.
My Harvest lunch was an entrée serve of mussels with lemongrass and ginger sauce and my vegan companion chose – and loved – her wood-fired cauliflower and Brussel sprout medley.
Next door to Harvest Café is a great clothes shop, driftlab, with funky fashions for men and women. I was taken by a range of men’s cosmetic products that had masculine, action-men names, in an attempt, I imagine, to disguise the fact they were basically creams and lotions. Great marketing I thought.
From tiny Newrybar we flitted over to Tintenbar, only to find the café situated inside the little village church was closed. As I’d been there years before, I felt like a spot of nostalgia.
Our last stop was Bangalow, a well laid out town with many smart restaurants and home-wares shops which I fantasise is a touch of Mosman in the hinterland. We wandered up to the showgrounds and discovered that the annual show was taking place this weekend – November 14 and 15 – and looked to have a fantastic program. Apart from checking out the livestock on display, there are retro style events such as ‘beehive hairstyle’ contests and ‘best tart of the show’ for competitive pastry cooks of course! I wish I wasn’t going home tomorrow. I’d love to stick around for it.
With the sun sinking in the west and Bangalow closing its emporium doors, we headed home to the Eltham Hotel and ordered dinner of Penang Curry. Mine was the prawn version and my friend chose the vegie version. It certainly was spicy – and delicious. As we were the only diners on this Monday night, we didn’t linger too long as Emma the bar gal was keen to close up around 9.30pm – that’s country life and it suits me.
I’m more than a little sad to be leaving the Lismore-Nimbin region today. I love the place – the colour, the people, the hippiness and the community spirit. I wish the world could embrace the ethos of this wonderful warm Rainbow region. The world would be a better place. But until it does, come along, get lost on the back roads, eat well, mix and mingle with the locals and let a little bit of the magic rub off.