Hippie history of Bellingen told in new film

Peter Geddes and his family came to came to Bellingen in 1972
Peter Geddes and his family came to came to Bellingen in 1972

The realisation that a pivotal part of Bellingen's history was largely missing from the public record spurred former journalist Peter Geddes to do something about the stash of Super 8 film gathering dust under his bed.

His friend Pamela Whitehead, who used to own the town's video store, had asked him if he had any photos of the 70s and 80s era in Bellingen.

Peter said no, but he did have some old film footage.

"She told me she'd been to the historical museum looking for information about the hippie days, because people used to come into the video shop and ask her about it.

"She didn't have anything, and she was quite surprised to find the museum didn't have anything either. All they had was pictures of timbergetters and cockies. The whole hippie era had been missed."

Peter told Pamela the reason he hadn't done anything with the film he'd shot during those decades was because it would be too hard to edit and shape into a story unless it was transferred to a digital format, and doing that would be costly.

"She gave me some money towards the project so you could say she's the philanthropist behind this film," Peter said.

After getting the material digitalised, he put a section about a Kalang market on YouTube and it got 14,000 hits.

"My friend Peter Gailey [a film editor] got in touch and said we've got to do something with this."

So that's kept them busy for the last couple of years.

The two-hour documentary Bellingen The Promised Land focuses on the period when the Age of Aquarius children came to the North Coast, buying up defunct dairy farms and sending shockwaves through sleepy country towns with their alternative lifestyles.

Although the 70s and 80s are its main focus, the film also canvasses the Indigenous history of the area and comes forward to the present, with contemporary interviews with people like Wendy and Colin Tanner, Brett Iggulden, Ian and Ulrieke Kethel, Darcey Browning and Mark Oliver, to name just a few.

Peter came to Bellingen with his wife and young family almost 50 years ago, in 1972.

They'd returned to Australia from Canada, where he'd had a stressful job as a journalist and Joan had been a nurse with a keen interest in nutrition.

On a camping trip with their stationwagon and five kids, they visited family in Dorrigo and were encouraged to meet artist Ted Hillyer in Bellingen.

They became firm friends and the Geddes family fell in love with the town, but soon discovered there was nowhere handy to buy the sort of food they were used to eating.

We couldn't buy brown rice, we couldn't buy brown bread, we couldn't buy yoghurt.

Peter Geddes

"We couldn't buy brown rice, we couldn't buy brown bread, we couldn't buy yoghurt."

So they bought a dilapidated building on Hyde St opposite the pub and created The Good Food Shop.

"We hadn't had the shop open very long when they had the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin and a lot of hippies came to live on the north coast.

The Good Food Shop on Hyde St opposite the Federal Hotel.After burning down, it was rebuilt and is now a butcher's shop

The Good Food Shop on Hyde St opposite the Federal Hotel.After burning down, it was rebuilt and is now a butcher's shop

"They were attracted to our shop - we were selling brown bread, brown rice, lentils, mung beans - all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff that people hadn't seen in Bellingen."

The film traces not only the culture shock but also the conflict of those days, particularly the battle to save the Community Centre.

It argues that Bellingen would not have evolved into the unique place it is now if not for the hippie influx - in fact, it would have faded away and died.

"Forty years later, the hippie DNA makes Bellingen the town it is today," the film asserts.

Watch the trailer here.

Screenings

The premiere on Friday December 11 is sold out, but tickets ($21) are available for Saturday and Sunday matinee and evening shows.