In Nimbin at the first anniversary of the Museum fire, Michael Balderstone, Aaron Richardson, who gave the alert about the fire, with Jingo the museum dog, who survived the fire. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star
In Nimbin at the first anniversary of the Museum fire, Michael Balderstone, Aaron Richardson, who gave the alert about the fire, with Jingo the museum dog, who survived the fire. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Homeless man helps rebuild Nimbin village destroyed by fire

ONE YEAR ago yesterday, Aaron Richardson, sleeping rough in an open shed adjacent to the Nimbin Museum, was the first to alert police to the Cullen St fire.

His shed still stands, next to the space where the iconic Nimbin Museum, Rainbow Cafe and Bringabong shop used to.

There are grand plans for a two-storey retail and cultural development for the vacant land.

But while plans are debated and the Tuntable Falls community inches toward a consensus for a new Rainbow Cafe, Mr Richardson is kept busy.

The devastating scene as fire took hold of businesses in Nimbin’s Cullen Street in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Photo Contributed Trout Christian
The devastating scene as fire took hold of businesses in Nimbin’s Cullen Street in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Photo Contributed Trout Christian Contributed

The homeless man acts as the unofficial, unpaid custodian and groundskeeper of the ruins, keeping the public space clean. He has built seating, paving and a cubby house - all from nothing.

It will be at least a year until the community sees redevelopment, said museum owner Michael Balderstone.

"We are very patient in Nimbin. Wisdom is patience. We've always lived in the future, so we can wait," he said.

One of the redevelopment backers, Mullumbimby restaurateur David Piesse, was present at the anniversary smoking ceremony yesterday. The day remembered the past and celebrated the future.

Gilbert Laurie, doing a smoking ceremony on the one year anniversary of the Nimbin fire which destroyed the museum. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star
Gilbert Laurie, doing a smoking ceremony on the one year anniversary of the Nimbin fire which destroyed the museum. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Mr Piesse and Dr Simon Rose bought the decimated land in December for $500,000 from Sydney businessman Richard Andary.

"We want to keep the feeling of the town in what we are doing here to include a garden and lots of little shops out the back - similar to what is going on in the streets. It is going to be a reasonably big building and we have to bring that to the community in a gentle way," he said.

The building will include a backpacker hostel above the retail space and the precinct will include a live-in space for artists.

Yesterday Mr Balderstone was selling "burnt offerings" - charred remains salvaged from the museum. The proceeds, he said, would fund a heritage walk to replace the museum.

"We are not going to make another museum. We are going to make a heritage walk through the village and incorporate Aboriginal time, the European pioneers, then the hippies. We don't have to pay rent anymore and people can go there any time of day or night," he said.

Bundjalung artist and Nimbin Rocks custodian Gilbert Laurie led the smoking ceremony to remember the tragic event.

"All the memories are still here inside of us. They are not going nowhere," he said.

The suspicious fire is still a source of consternation for the town which champions cannabis legalisation.

"The fire was lit by those who felt dispossessed. Perhaps homeless. There was ice and alcohol involved in the fire. That we know," Mr Balderstone said.

"We have to start addressing these problems as a health issue rather than criminal ones," he said.


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