March 14, 2008
It's hard to say who started the scrap over the spirit of the '60s.
Perhaps it was sparked by local fashion collective Ksubi, which, in
2006, erected Sign Of The Times, a sculpture of a hand forming a
peace sign, its index finger sliced off and spurting blood, in New
York City, for the fifth anniversary of September 11.
What is clear is that, since then, a motley crew of the decade's
champions - and bashers - have come out of the woodwork.
On the for side: filmmaker David Lynch and singer Donovan, who
announced their launch of a university in Scotland based on
transcendental meditation, and Beeban Kidron, director of the film
Hippie Hippie Shake, starring Sienna Miller, which glorifies peace
rallies, free love and velvet flares.
Against is author Peter Carey, a former commune dweller who slags off
the lifestyle in his latest book, His Illegal Self (residents come
off as fascist hypocrites) and countless bloggers who, noticing the
trend, have responded in forums such as "Spirit of the '60s, alive or
dead?" with diatribes such as "I hope the '60s stay dead. I remember
campus riots on colleges, assassinations (JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin
Luther King), Manson, Vietnam."
Other examples, such as Don't Worry Be Hippie, a Spanish YouTube
spoof of Bobby McFerrin's '80s hit, are ambiguous in their
partisanship. (The main character smokes a newspaper-size joint but
he's also wearing a nappy.)
Why, 40 years after the hookahs have run dry, are the relative merits
or weaknesses of the '60s - and the decade's most famous group, the
hippies - even up for debate?
Could it be as simple and vague a reason as given by Donovan, who
said last year: "I know it sounds like an airy-fairy dream to go on
about '60s peace and love. But the world is ready for this now; it is
clear this is the time."
Anthony Ashbolt, a senior lecturer who teaches a course on the era at
the University of Wollongong, takes a more pragmatic view, saying
there are several social realities that have put it "back into a
certain focus and discourse" including the Iraq war (reminiscent, he
says, of Vietnam), civil rights happenings such as local Sorry Day
gatherings and a general exhaustion with rabid consumerism that hit a
high in the 1990s.
"There's a feeling now that the meaningless grab for self-advancement
in economic terms only ... that there's got to be something greater
than this, and the '60s still hold appeal in that regard," Ashbolt
says. "[Particularly] the search for authenticity, a connection to
the land and other people, an ideal of community and togetherness
that transcends individual greed and ambition."
This holds true for Viola Morris, a 26-year-old mother of two and
self-confessed "neo-hippie", who recently converted her car to run on
vegetable oil (she collects it, used, from Paddington pubs). She is
also a co-founder of Sydney ConFest, a smaller version of ConFest,
the original annual hippie festival, which began in Canberra in 1976.
"People my age never used to have credit cards, never used to buy
really, really nice cars in their 20s," Morris says. "Now everyone is
enslaved to debt. My generation, we were raised on Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles - so much consumerism."
She says recent growth in communal gatherings based on hippie
concerns, such as ecological responsibility and sharing - the Peats
Ridge Sustainable Arts and Music Festival and Regen, a tree-planting
festival, among them - is proof the neo-hippie movement is growing.
"It's so nice to have something that doesn't feel so competitive," Morris says.
Many of the get-togethers still have the feral feel of Nimbin's 1973
Aquarius Festival, the launching pad for Australia's hippie movement
- ConFest is still clothing-optional. But their demographic is
changing, Morris says. "People I never thought would have made it
through a festival are running into me," she says. "I've seen Kambala
But Clive Hamilton, director of the Australia Institute and an avid
critic of consumerism, is cynical about the flocking of the moneyed
to counter-culture activities.
"It's sort of an ersatz hippiedom because it's people who can afford
to pretend not to care," Hamilton says. "It's not a movement based on
social change, for the most part; it's not based on a set view of
society and a set of political demands. Rather, it's a personal
This choice is now flooded with up-market communes - dotting the
Byron Shire are those comprising $300,000 designer homes. There is
also flower-child couture, provided by Longchamp (a tie-dyed bag),
Hermes (maxi-dresses), Stella McCartney (technicolour floral
playsuit), and art (Ksubi's sculpture spawned both a coffee table
book and DVD).
"The fact that people can make a lot of money by appealing to the
neo-hippie sentiment has to attract cynicism," Hamilton says.
It's true that, when pressed about the motivation behind the Ksubi
venture, co-founder Dan Single admits, via email, that while
generally critical of "the current state of world peace" and
organised religion, he thinks "politics in general is boring".
But could the latest converts - motivated by comfort and commitment -
have got it right in a way the original hippies never did?
The Haight Ashbury scene - that mecca of '60s counter-culture -
flamed out in a spectacle of drug abuse and exploitation after only a
year, and some of Nimbin's original communities struggle with decay,
but modern commune dwellers such as Christobel Munson and Christopher
Sanderson are still going strong after more than 10 years. Muson, a
former journalist, and Sanderson, a computer engineer, founded
Jindibah, an "intentional community" in the Byron hinterland in the mid-1990s.
The 12 households share 45 hectares, a business (cattle farming),
dance hall and an environmental philosophy (regenerating native
forest), but also live separate lives and enjoy the sort of mod cons
the original hippies would have found sacrilegious.
"We couldn't live without our broadband [internet] network. There's
no way," Munson says. "We wanted to be 10 minutes from a cappuccino," both say.
So why do it in the first place?
Munson says: "It's like being in an extended family but without the
responsibility of having children."