A large fire that tore through several businesses in the main street of Nimbin, destroying the northern NSW town’s museum and well-known Rainbow Cafe, in the early hours of Wednesday morning is being treated as suspicious.
The local mayor said the gutted buildings were “probably the most important” for tourism in the town, known as Australia’s unofficial alternative lifestyle capital.
“There’s like a big blackened gap in the streetscape of Nimbin,” Lismore City Council Mayor Jenny Dowell said.
Detective Inspector Cameron Lindsay said a crime scene had been established and the fire was being treated as suspicious.
“There are aspects of the fire that have raised some suspicion – the large scale and the damage that that fire has done.”
Detective Inspector Cameron said it was unclear how the fire started.
“Obviously with a very large fire, it will take some time to determine the seat of the fire and also possible causes.”
Several other buildings on Cullen Street suffered fire, smoke and water damage from the overnight blaze, although no-one was injured, Superintendent Michael Brett from the Rural Fire Service said.
“The reports we have is that the Rainbow Cafe has been destroyed, the museum which adjoins that has been destroyed, and there is another business adjoining the museum which has been destroyed,” he said.
Museum Manager Michael Balderstone told ABC Local Radio the loss of the buildings would have a “huge impact” on the town, which is famed for its drug history and alternative culture.
“It’s really right in the middle of town, the Rainbow’s probably the heart,” he said. “The museum’s the biggest tourist attraction. It’s a bloody mess. “All Tribes is the shop next door, it’s gone, and I’d say half of Bringabong’s gone.”
The museum’s collection chronicled the history of the town, its artists and its 1970s Aquarius festivals, which helped Nimbin make a name as a haven for counterculture.
“It’s a 30-year collection of stuff – you can’t hang on to anything, can you?” Mr Balderstone said.
“It wasn’t a normal museum in that it was really our effort to try to communicate to visitors what Nimbin was about and what hippy-thinking and alternative-thinking was about, and what we were about, because we get so many visitors here wondering how did this happen, what happened to this village and why is it so different.”
Cr Dowell said the loss of the museum would be socially and historically devastating.
“The building was packed; it was like a rabbit warren to go into because there was so much in there, and much or most of the material in there were one-offs, so the opportunity to replicate that is, I think, almost impossible.”
Mr Balderstone said the destruction would hurt the local economy. “We’re really resilient so the community will just power on,” he said. “But tourism’s a big business, a big part of Nimbin now so it’ll be a kick in the guts for that.”
Nimbin poet David Hallett said residents always feared the potential of a fire in the middle of town.
“The fire brigade must have done a fantastic job to save things because that [street] is just like a big wood pile,” he said.
“The beautiful murals that Benny Zable did above the Rainbow Cafe and above the museum from back in the Aquarius Festival in 1973 are all gone, and it’s just terrible news.
“Nimbin is a famous village, but it’s very small – it is just a one-street village and that [fire] is absolutely right in the heart of the village.”
Source: ABC News