I’ve been a reggae musician in the Byron Shire for 35 years. Who am I?
I am a reggae musician and reggae music has pretty much been my life since the early eighties. I’m also known by my alias ‑ Docta Bush, which as a reggae musician, is a helpful name for people to easily recognise and remember. The name is a reference to the healing powers of ‘the herb’ ‑ culinary and medicinal. It fits in very well with the rather laid back aspect of reggae culture and of this area, which is still laid back, but to a lesser extent today. I was attracted to Reggae because of the rootsy, social conscience of it. It was a genre aimed at raising consciousness. The message is much more mainstream now.
I first came to the Shire for the first time in the 1960’s on holidays. I still remember the whaling outside the site of the Byron Bay Hotel and the smell of the melting blubber. At the time, it was not considered very environmentally damaging. In about 1962, they decided that the herds had been sufficiently culled, with enough blubber harvested to put an end to whaling.
I eventually moved into the area to live in 1985, as a young man. I had previously been living an ordinary life in the city and wanted to get away from the hustle of city life. I arrived in a bus, which I had bought and renovated, with the plan of travelling around Australia. I got as far as Mullumbimby, caught the Mullum madness and hung around the area for the next 35 years. I encountered a whole lot of people whose worldly plans had similarly gotten transformed or deferred by the wondrous Mullum spell.
The first place I called home was in Main Arm, a place called the ‘witches hat’. As was usual back then, since no one was living in it, I temporarily moved in. It was a fiberglass hut within a commune. The hut had windscreens from old Holden’s and early sixties cars set into the roof to let the light in. It was makeshift, but what it lacked in formal elegance was more than made up for by the extraordinary human experiences that occurred within it. It was a really funky hippy house.
When I finally left the ‘witches hut’, I moved to Upper Wilson's Creek, where I lived until 1994. It was paradise. I luxuriated in the pristine freshness and beauty of the mountains, and frolicked in and drank its clean waters. Living in the Creek, I was surrounded by like-minded people who were very committed to rediscovering simple and natural living. We prioritised freedom of movement and doing what we wanted over being locked down seeking financial security or modern comforts. We were far from lazy or apathetic; we were just very selective about what we invested our time and effort into, because having ‘time’ to live and enjoy life was what we valued the most. It’s not a life that would have suited everyone, but for me, living this way was so unburdening I could hardly imagine wanting to live any other way. It was a true harvest of community living and spontaneous daily experiences. Detached somewhat from the daily pressures of life by choice, I experienced the feeling of being alive in a way I’d never known before.
Over the years, I ended up living in or working in nearly every house in the Creek, looking after people's homes, gardens, and animals whenever they were away. I got to know most of the people in the area. This was helped by being frequently invited to kids parties. Every week there would be a birthday party at someone’s house, which would literally go all weekend once the adults swung into full party mode. They were incredible times.
The year I arrived in 1985, I joined the "Earth Reggae" band as a foundation member. The band formed around a strong social conscience or earth consciousness. Our music was celebratory and uplifting, but was used as a platform to air our views on everything from legalization of marijuana, mining, logging and environmental pollution to Indigenous issues.
At the time, rock music was the most prevalent genre in the shire, so the band was recognised for bringing something new. We stood out, especially since we brought unwanted attention to the area by advocating for the legal use of marijuana. At the time, Mullumbimby, Byron and the surrounding hills were under heavy police scrutiny for the illegal growing and use of marijuana. The Shire had developed the unsavoury reputation as the Marijuana stronghold in Australia. Police raids were very commonplace and the media attention gave the area and its residents a murky reputation for being non-conformist and wild. Remnants of this remain today, though to a much lesser extent. The Marijuana raids always seemed to get tipped off. Word would spread and everyone would let everyone else know what was happening so they could hide their stash, even if it was only tin can sized.
In 1994, the band created a roadshow, and toured with it through as many towns and communities possible to Cairns. We sold T-shirts and CD's to fund the tour. The primary aim of the tour was to promote awareness of forest issues around the world. The money we made was used to purchase sustainable logging equipment for New Guinea tribes. We purchased portable logging mills to allow them to sustainably cut and prepare timber without destroying large areas of forest just to get one tree out.
Our roadshow was very well received, especially by the isolated communities up North. In the smaller communities, we were often paid in mangoes and pawpaw’s, and with cash where possible. The roadshow was a real highlight for the band and allowed us to integrate our conscious music with on ground action. In addition to playing and touring with the band, I put on reggae clubs all around the Byron Shire, made and sold ital food and worked at Bluesfest for 10 years in staging and production.
Looking back now, in my sixties, ‘homeless’ and living the fluid van life, I ask myself, what has changed? People are more affluent now, but the aged and those who chose not to pursue formal qualifications or the rigidity of the usual occupations can’t afford to live in houses. Without being disgruntled, vans are now our homes. What I miss most is the companionship through breaking bread together and creating bonds. Also, I miss the easier sharing we had in the hills ‑ the sharing of food, vehicles, accommodation, equipment and friendships. This enriched our lives. Perhaps the rougher, less certain and more organic lifestyle back then, encouraged more sharing. I’ve never cared for security or certainty. For me life is a constant struggle, which I enjoy because the end of the struggle is the end of one’s life on the planet. Happiness is something I’ve taught myself not to expect all the time ‑ some days are diamonds and some are dust. Many might object to this view, but this has been my view and this view has carried me through.
I’m 66 now, but I’m still get satisfaction out of simple food, simple joys and blasting reggae music. I love the idea of Table360 and would happily join many for a home cooked meal. I wish I could cook a meal of my own in return, but I’m less of a cook and more of a survivalist – an assembler of food. I love organic tempeh that still has the rhizomes on it. In a world that is so sanitised and pure, it is an anarchistic food. It's also good for gut flora. I enjoy having it with fresh veggies, lots of brassicas, pumpkins, orange foods and ancient grains like millet. Food is for healing. Let us share music, food and love.