When I enter the store, Elliot is sitting by the window making “God’s eyes” while a couple of his friends are reading and chatting on the next bench; the record player entertains them all spinning an old tune. The room is shady and aromatic with incense, I look around and the lavish décor hits me: ceiling collages, wall murals, bookshelves, rugs, sofas, framed pictures, art installations and an eclectic collection of objects from another era transforms this space into something quite unexpected and it is hard to take it all in at once.
The Hip Pocket Bookshop is housed in what was once office space in one of the buildings that line the rural town of Murwillumbah’s main street; its neighbours are a psychologist and a mentoring service for writers. One gets there climbing a steep flight of stairs and walking through a long, anonymous, carpeted corridor. Finding a living shrine to the sixties’ flower revolution at the end of it is a bit of a surprise.
Once I have adjusted to the light, the smell, the music and the explosion of creativity and colour that now surrounds me, I strike up a conversation with Elliot, whose vision transformed this space into its current incarnation. As the room gives amply away, he is very fond of the ‘60s: ideas, images, lifestyle, music. All the books in store are of or about that era; they are sourced from opportunity shops and the internet and are lovingly selected to fit the collection. The Hip Pocket – as well as being the name of a local toad –comes from a quote from Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
When I ask how he managed to get this rent-free space to start the bookshop, he said that the owner let him have the room providing he cleared it out; “Do you want to see what it was like before?” he adds and leads me to the other side of the corridor where a similar room is full to the brim with archive boxes, documents and piles of rubbish. “It took me six months to clear everything out; all the documents had to be destroyed so I burned them”. I take a few pictures of Elliot in the middle of this junkyard and then move onto the bookstore and have a whale of a time documenting its many corners inspired by the 60s – of course – and by a trip to Sri Lanka and the fun that Buddhist temple artists have with colour over there.
After the store photo-shoot, I go back to its 20-year old owner, who is taking a year’s break from studying bio medicine at university, plays bass guitar – the same make and model that Paul McCartney used to play – in psychedelic blues group The Otchkies and enjoys surfing on nearby Wooyung beach. He is planning to start serving tea, once the weather cools a bit and is thinking of taking over next door and turn it into a community sewing space – if he can stomach another clean up; he is also worried that the colors he has chosen for his “God’s eye” may not key properly. I marvel at his creativity and make a mental note to pull out of my library “COLOR Form and Composition” written in 1966 by Wana Derge, who hated all things “unlovely” and published in her book a rather helpful explanation of color key charts. It might turn out to be the perfect gift for Elliot.