Guest post: Looking for Rainbow – by Emmanuel Marshall

In this week’s guest post we join Emmanuel Marshall as he ventures through Australia in search of the illusive Rainbow gathering. After learning about this ‘hippy’ festival from an unlikely source the story takes a turn for the surreal as our narrator follows his new friend home. And so, with the aid of a dreadlocked Kiwi and a drunken Chicagoan, let us explore the highs of hospitality, the lows of dog sick and the fun of being open to new experiences.

Emmanuel Marshal - Looking for Rainbow

I heard about it from a bloke who gave me a ride near Budgewoi, on the NSW central Coast.
“You look like a bit of a hippy type” he says, “You’d probably like Rainbow”.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Rainbow Gathering.” He declaimed, making air quotes with raised eyebrows. “Its like a big get together of alternative-lifestylers, and weirdos ‘n that. My girlfriend used to go back in the day. She loved it. They go off in the bush and live in teepees for weeks, sit around and smoke pot and talk about peace and shit”.
“Sounds interesting” I said.

So I got online at a café, and tried to find out about it. I could only find v sketchy info. Nothing said where it would be held, but there were some dates, and a posting that said “…somewhere in the Victorian high country…”. The thing was supposed to start in about a fortnight, so I packed up my camp, and hitched south.

I got to Melbourne a few days later, and rode the train to flinders st. ‘Now what?’, I thought.

Waiting at a corner to cross, a handsome black man, wearing an expensive looking suit, stopped beside me.
He was obviously slightly drunk. I could smell bourbon on his breath, and he had that relaxed stance of the serious drinker.
“Hi” I said and smiled.
“Buy you breakfast?” he drawled, in the over-pronounced manner of the intoxicated.
“ok, sure” I said. I was hungry.

We walked about a block to the foyer of a very plush high rise hotel, and my host ushered me into the lift and we rode to the buffet floor. To the disapprobation of the waiters, we settled ourselves at an immaculately set table. I propped my backpack in the corner as discreetly as I could, and tried not to be too smelly. My companions breath was doing a pretty good job of disguising my BO, I thought.
“It’s a buffet so just help yourself” he said, and we loaded up our plates with fresh fruit and pastry.
“No bacon” said my host. “I’m a Muslim”.
We returned to the table.
“I’m Jason” he announced.
“Emmanuel” I replied. we shook hands and commenced eating.

The food was beautiful and delicious. We had several cups of coffee and talked about ourselves. Jason was a stock trader for a large firm. He had lived in Australia only 6 years, having come over from the States. He was curious about my travels, and I told him about my mission to find Rainbow.

“Jesus” he said, wrinkling his nose with distaste “it sounds awful. I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting around in the dirt for weeks, surrounded by smelly hippies. Why don’t you spend a few weeks in Melbourne instead. This city is fantastic, and the clubs are awesome. I go clubbing three nights a week and I never get sick of it, because there are so many and they keep changing the wallpaper!”

After we’d finished eating, Jason paid our bill (the most expensive breakfast I’ve ever eaten) with his card and we floated down in the lift.
“There’s nothing like good coffee for a hangover. Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee.” Jason urged, and we sat at an open air table on the footpath outside some kind of civic centre or museum.

We ordered coffees, and Jason continued to try and persuade me to stay in Melbourne. “You can stay at my place” he said emphatically, leaning closer to grip my arm, and breathing a mix of croissant and malt liquor into my nostrils. “I have guests all the time”.

Two tables away there was a girl watching us. She was in her early twenties, with dreadlocks and a backpack sitting beside her. We smiled at each other.
“Do you want to sit with us?” I asked her, feeling the need of some female company.
The girl came over and sat down, plonking her bag beside mine.
I introduced myself, and Jason, and she shook hands with us and told us her name… (I’ve forgotten it. Sorry. If you read this get in touch and remind me)

She was a Kiwi, she told us, and she had just arrived in Australia, at Melbourne airport, the night before. She had spent the night in a park, close to the station. I congratulated her on her thriftiness, and we chatted for a minute about our favourite ways to avoid detection by council workers when sleeping rough.
“If you want a place to stay tonight” I told her, “Jason here has a sweet pad in town, and he’s a very generous host. Maybe if you ask him nicely he’ll let us both stay at his place tonight?”
Jason made a face for a moment, but graciously extended the invitation and we all set off to find his car, which was in a mysterious location somewhere in the region of the club district.
As we walked, I asked the dreadlocked girl where she was headed after Melbourne.
“Well,” she said, “I’m not sure. I’m going to a thing called Rainbow gathering, but I don’t know exactly where it is…”

Once we found his car – a very shiny late model Mercedes coupe – the ride to Jason’s house was pretty quick. The dreadlocked Kiwi and I talked about Rainbow the whole way, and Jason did his best to hide his aggravation at being made the third wheel.

The coincidence of our meeting was irresistibly cosmic, so being hippies we naturally interpreted it as divine intervention. It was a pretty astronomic co-incidence. Some of her friends had been to gatherings in the past, and she reckoned only a few dozen people usually attended the Australian ones, so the odds of two of them finding themselves at adjoining tables in a café were pretty impressive.

Once we got to Jason’s we were back to earth though. Walking in the front door, one was struck first, by the stench. Once you got over the eye watering smell of unwashed stock broker and dirty carpet, you noticed the way the place looked. There was stuff all over the floor. Garbage, clothing, full ash trays, half full bottles. The couches had numerous large stains and were splattered with damp looking piles of what turned out to be dog vomit. (Jason had two long haired terriers, with dreadlocks almost as impressive as the Kiwi’s).

We sat down on the clearest patches of floor we could find, Jason poured us stiff drinks, and we tried not to stare at the dog vomit.

Jason told us to make ourselves at home and stay as long as we liked. Then he shuffled off to the bedroom with the bottle of whisky and started to snore.

The kiwi and I decided that it would be rudeness of the highest order to just abandon ship. She had a slip of paper with the number and address of one of the Rainbow organisers on it, and she was hoping to meet them the following night, to get a lift with them to the, as yet undecided festival site. Apparently the plan was the organisers would jump in their van with the tepee on the roof, and drive off into the Victorian high country until they found a suitable spot, at which point they would call someone else, who would then announce the location on the web forum.

If we met up with them the next day, we would get onboard with the festival from the get go, and get a ride to the site to boot. It seemed like a good plan to stick it out at Jason’s for the night, then locate the convoy the following day.

Jasons fridge was full of neatly stacked groceries in home delivery bags, so our food needs were taken care of. The kitchen was in an unusable condition though. There were dead cockroaches on every horizontal surface that wasn’t actually covered in rubbish, and live cockroaches on every vertical surface. We decided to do our host a good turn, and we set about cleaning the joint up. We cleared all the rubbish out of the kitchen, emptied all 13 ash trays throughout the house, scrubbed the kitchen, cleaned the bathroom, put the dogs out in the yard and sprayed jif all over everything until the place smelled like a hospital. Neither of us ventured into Jason’s bedroom. We didn’t want to disturb him (or find out just how rank his bedroom actually was).

We made some pizzas for dinner, and Jason shuffled out of his room rubbing his eyes just as we were getting them out of the oven.

When he saw the pizza he looked green. When he saw the house, he cried. Not a noisy cry, just a lot of hot tears running down his face. “Thank you, you guys” he said, and hugged us both.

Jason declined pizza, but poured us all big glasses of top shelf whiskey. We sat on the floor eating, and he got out a cigarette carton full of photos. Most of them were of a tall black woman with strikingly beautiful features, and primly coiffed  straightened hair. “That’s my mother” Jason told us proudly. “The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She died 10 years ago. I left Chicago when she died. I just couldn’t stand the family anymore. She was the only one who accepted me. I wore her second favourite dress to her funeral. She was buried in the best one, but I still looked fabulous. Not one single member of my family has spoken to me since that day.”

We had several more rounds of whiskey, and Jason passed out around eleven, with a picture of his mum in one hand and a burning cigarette in the other. We butted out his smoke in one of the thirteen clean ashtrays on the coffee table and put a blanket over him.
The Kiwi and I rolled out our sleeping bags on the floor next to our host.

The next morning, while Jason still snored, we rolled our sleeping bags up again, and set out to find Rainbow.

written by: Emmanuel Marshall

Emmanuel Marshall began traveling in 2006, hitchhiking around Australia and South East Asia. Emmanuel’s mission is to live a nomadic life with one bag and thousands of friends.

visit his website at:

About Hitch-Hikers Handbook

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7 Responses to Guest post: Looking for Rainbow – by Emmanuel Marshall

  1. I hope there is a sequel to this. I want to know what happened at Rainbow.

  2. Pingback: Hitch-hiking in pictures [photo challenge] – YOUR PHOTOS | Hitch-Hikers' Handbook

  3. Bogdan B says:

    What a lovely reading material!!! I also want to hear what happened to the festival. And yes, I also consider their meeting an interesting coincidence :)
    I hope to read more about it and maybe meet him, when I get to Australia :)

  4. Emmanuel says:

    eternal and bogdan, thanks for the positive feedback guys ! you certainly haven’t heard the last of me. read my latest travel stories at
    :P happy trails amigos !

  5. Pingback: Guest post: Moving house from Kraków to Montpellier in a two-and-a-half day solo hitchhiking journey – by Maria Dybicz | Hitch-Hikers' Handbook

  6. I’m a regular Rainbow Serpent Festival attendee:). Hope you made it! It’s considered by some to be one of the world’s best festivals and would certainly agree.

    Fascinating story! Do you use couchsurfing?

  7. I’m looking for one of these gatherings myself… Waiting for my thesis to get over so I can go off chasing the rainbow. You got lucky with the free breakfast :) But I guess his house more than balanced it out. Haha!!

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