This is Lucky Phil. Phil is 68 years old. He lives at the Backpackers’ at Granny’s Farm, in Nimbin, New South Wales, Australia. He earns his keep with a couple of hours’ gardening, and other chores, each day.
Lucky Phil came to Sydney from northern Queensland in 2003. He was 55 then. He was part of a conference. A treat for everyone was one of three side trips from Sydney. Some chose a couple of days in Melbourne. Some went to Byron Bay. Some went…Lucky Phil can’t remember now.
He arrived in Byron Bay, ready to unwind after the conference. He had three days before heading back to Cairns, and his family. Wife, four kids. His wife was younger, and they’d started a family late. His youngest was six. No, his first family. He isn't one for doing things twice.
Lucky Phil took the Byron Bay shuttle down to Nimbin for the day. He was curious. He’d heard about Nimbin, and he’d smoked a little grass in his time. He got to Nimbin around midday. By 4pm he was so baked he couldn’t move.
He laughs about it, makes a reference to the special cookies for sale. His backpacker fellow residents, Martin, and John, laugh too.
Phil lounges easily in an old club chair - an faded shade of ancient pink satin. He is a study in worn black: runners, jeans, a Led Zeppelin tshirt. His hair is grey, with a slight showing of darker roots from way underneath. His beard is grey. The stainless steel stud in his ear is dull from many years’ of just being there.
Martin produces a maple syrup bottle. He’s been experimenting with cannabis oil and finally has a successful batch. Lucky Phil, and John cheer. This has been a long time coming, apparently, with many failures along the way. They look forward to cooking with it over the coming days.
There’s a general consensus that they’ll cook sausages and chops, because no one knows the recipe for pancakes off by heart. The maple syrup bottle has suggested pancakes.
Lucky Phil goes back to his story. He liked Nimbin, and he suddenly realised, when he woke up at 5am, on the couch of a backpacker’s hostel, that he didn’t have to go back to the rat-race. It was all here in Nimbin. He saw people around him who lived at the hostel and paid for their bed with chores.
Phil phoned in his resignation that day. He turned a ready hand to gardening, and bed-making, and scored himself an abandoned tent until such time as he could work up to a room.
He applied for the dole, and had to wait a while. He had moved to a low employment area, and had, after all, quit a good job, not been sacked.
He nipped back to Byron Bay to get his suitcase of clothes, and traded his suits for a more relaxed way of being.
He’s been at the backpackers’ ever since. He’s now on the old age pension.
He doesn’t run a car. There’s no need. He walks up to town when he needs to buy food, beer, or dope off the sellers outside the H.E.M.P. Embassy. If he needs to go to Lismore to the shops there, he gets the shuttle bus, or hitches a ride.
His chores are usually done by midday, and he has his meals for the day sorted. He’s made his own bed, aired his room, swept his floor, done his washing. He has his ciggies, his dope, and a new book from the Nimbin book exchange.
By 3pm, he’s ensconced in the hostel outdoor lounge area. John is on his bong, and Martin will shortly arrive with his newest cannabis experiment, be it oil, biscuits, butter, or chocolate.
This day, it’s chocolate. Deep brown, soft chocolate set into ice cube trays. Cocoa, cocoa butter, cannabis oil, sugar. Martin prises the cubes out with a knife and offers them around. Lucky Phil takes a whole one in his mouth, and lets it melt slowly on his tongue. He temporarily can’t speak for the sheer gooeyness and gumminess of the mixture.
When he can talk again, he says that his name isn’t really Phil. He changed his name by deed poll when he moved up here to the Nimbin hinterland.
Was it so his wife couldn’t track him down?
He shrugs. He needed a complete break from everything.
He squints at the landscape. The sun is lowering. He guesses it’s 4pm. Time to light up. He rolls himself a thin joint and cadges a light off Martin. Martin flicks his lighter and nearly sets fire to one of the long aqua cotton dreadlocks woven into the tips of his moustache. They hang down to mid-chest.
“I’ve learned so much here in just three months!” John suddenly announces, his mouth finally off the neck of his glass bong. He is in his 30’s, and has been mentored by Martin, and Lucky Phil, and another, younger man who is proud of his two broken arms (sustained whilst driving under the influence). The younger man says the injuries have been a blessing, bringing him to a new understanding of Life.
Lucky Phil speaks, mouth around his joint. “There are other ways of coming to enlightenment. Less painful ones.”
“I’m really glad it happened,” the younger man maintains, his face is almost inviting more of the same.
Lucky Phil sinks back into his book, number six in a Wilbur Smith series. The book has done the rounds of the resident backpackers. Martin is keen to discuss the ending, but Lucky Phil keeps cutting him off.
Lucky Phil has his routine. Alternating cigarettes and joints until his 7pm dinner, a few beers, then bed.
He has half an hour allocated first thing each morning for coughing up his lungs.
It’s a good life, out here in Nimbin, but it’s not for everyone.
Photo: Lucky Phil _ Helen Patrice