Paul Joseph's funeral was a fitting tribute to a man who was larger than life.
Paul Joseph's funeral was a fitting tribute to a man who was larger than life.

Tribute to Aquarius song man Paul Joseph Neilson

IN A poignant performance of melodious circularity, 200 mourners came together in song on Saturday to celebrate a large man who was larger than life.

After a moving, rainbow-splashed funeral, a 200-strong procession made their way through Cullen Street to the Bush Theatre to celebrate Paul Joseph, singing the song which the luminous Aquarius pioneer seemed to embody.

Nimbin resonated with his hippie anthem May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You from A Very Cellular Song first played by the Incredible String Band.

Paul often spoke of the epiphanous moment when he spontaneously led 1500 hippies with the song, like the Pied Piper, during Nimbin's famous Aquarius Festival.

His son, jazz musician Willow Neilson gave a moving speech about his 'rebel and ratbag' Dad who died after a long battle with cancer:

From son to father

 

Willow Neilson pictured with his Father, Paul Joseph in Lismore. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star
Willow Neilson pictured with his Father, Paul Joseph in Lismore. Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star Patrick Gorbunovs

 

"I find myself looking into a space where my father laid before he was taken away.

Listening for his laugh, his bass voice booming through the house.

There is a gap in the world now.

A huge presence left empty.

"I already miss being enfolded in his bear-like hugs, feeling the vibration of his voice all around."

"Paul Joseph is actually Paul Joseph Neilson.

"He was also known as PJ to the many who knew him and everybody seemed to know him.

"I grew up as the son of a local celebrity.

"As I grew older I found that he was known by a number of labels:

"Leader, Visionary, Spokesperson, Revolutionary, Rat Bag, Rebel, Agitator, Don Juan, Performer, Artist, Poet, Salesman, Shit-stirrer, Songman.

"We just called him Dad.

"Paul was a big man, tall with a huge presence and a with a voice that could project above a crowd, ideas that he communicated clearly and passionately.

"Born into a working class family in Newcastle of railway workers and coal miners, Dad rejected the mainstream culture, broke with accepted traditions and forged a new path for himself. His brothers - a barrister, a financier and a police chief and Dad, the hippy.

"He brought so much laughter, he shook things up and he brought so much music.

"Music - Dad's bliss. It's what we shared as father and son. We would jam into the evening until late.

"He leaves us a legacy of song ... and that spirit projected so powerfully within his vocal melodies has now dissolved into the great song of this universe.

"It was his tool of choice and big role in the hippie movement. He showed me its power for creating community connection."

His Last word

 

Paul Joseph preparing for the Aquarius Festival 40th anniversary celebrations. Photo: Dominic Feain
Paul Joseph preparing for the Aquarius Festival 40th anniversary celebrations. Photo: Dominic Feain Dominic Feain

 

Recovering from his first round of radiation treatment in March - his lung cancer had spread to his lymphatic system and brain - Paul Joseph spoke to Melissa Gulbin,

Reflecting on the legacy of the Aquarius Festival and the multiple occupancy Tuntable Falls community that followed:

I have had my worries that we were a flash in the pan but I believe what we did here is absolutely historical.

If the place survives long enough - the planet that is - I believe it will eventually be seen as not only worthwhile , but a pathway for people.

I set up Tuntable Falls.

Sold all the shares for $200 a share in 1973 and 74.

Well now it's still going and there are grandchildren living there.

Nothing like the dream that I had but it wasn't my right to have a dream.

You do something, but it's up to the people who take it on.

That's the lesson.

But still the most amazing thing was that we created a true democracy.

A living democracy and that is the thing that survived.

In historic terms, and this possibly sounds boastful, but what the heck, it was the most successful social democratic community created in our history.

I hated the idea of alternative society, because I always thought we should be transforming rather than creating something different but nevertheless, it stuck.



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