Nimbin MardiGrass 2004

HEMP History

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From author John Jiggen's book: "True Hemp in Australia",
and other sources.

Before Federation:

1778: Sir Joseph Banks, "the Father of Australia", the man who sent hemp seeds on the First Fleet and devised the scheme for a convict and hemp colony, must be claimed as hemp's Australian Godfather.

1800: As per Royal instruction, the early Governors of New South Wales - Phillip, Hunter and King - did their best to encourage the hemp industry. By 1800, cloth manufacture had begun. In New Zealand a fibre plant, used by the Maori population was noted, and named New Zealand Flax (Phormium Tenax) and for the next sixty years, various attempts were made to perfect an economic way to prepare it. The Maori used to hand beat it. On Norfolk island, work continued on phormium tenax, and an experimental planting of European flax was begun. In Sydney, King (now Governor of New South Wales) set dressers and weavers among the Irish convicts to cultivate European flax and hemp, and "every woman that can spin" to manufacture what these others grew. By the end of 1801, these efforts had produced "279 yards of fine and 367 of coarse linen" and he sent samples home. In 1801, King wrote about European hemp which promised "a very abundant return on the lowlands about the hawkesbury and Nepean rivers" and "might also be manufactured and sent from hence in cordage". During his period as Governor, King also had constructed a manufactory for canvas, sacking, blanketing and rope.

1802 : NSW's governor wrote Banks that he had sown 10 acres of "Indian hemp seeds" that grew "with utmost luxuriance, generally from six to ten feet in height." The governor and Banks did not seem to know that Cannabis Indica was any different from European hemp.

Hemp Plant1808 - 1814: Shortage of hemp in Britain due to Napoleon's blockade. Colonies encouraged to produce hemp.

1813: An expedition was mounted to New Zealand. Included in the crew was some of Samuel Marsdens missionaries. (who had contact with the Maori cheif Ruatara) and Robert Williams, the colonies first rope maker and flax dresser. By 1814, Marsden had obtained 13,000 acres at Kerikeri and had started a settlement there consisting of 22 settlers including flax dresser, John King.
After his journey to New Zealand, Robert Williams made a long submission to the British government about phormium tenax. Reviewing the efforts by the British to work the New Zealand "hemp" plant, Williams notes that: Phillip and King "were at much labor and expense and made great efforts to bring it to perfection at Norfolk Island...but the best mechanicks in Europe have failed in their attempts to manufacture it."

Note: "Phormium Tenax", New Zealand Flax. The terms seem interchangeable or collective in this era, as it changes from one to the other in the text quoted. European Flax (Linum usitatissimum) was different to New Zealand flax, and the New Zealand flax did not easily respond to their efforts.

In his report, Williams claimed that he succeeded in solving the mystery of dressing the New Zealand plant.

Very well aware that substantial encouragement is being offered by the British government for processing hemp, Williams further offered: "that the British market may be supplied with large cargoes of hemp and in three years the principle part of the British navy may be supplied from this territory and New Zealand at a great saving from the average price of hemp from the north of Europe."
This proposal by Williams for the cultivation of native "hemp" in New Zealand and its manufacture into cordage was received with interest in London and had the support of the commisioner of enquiry, J. T. Bigge, who came to Australia to report on the colony's development and agricultural choices as it moved on from being a penal colony. Australia was now of little use as a penal colony, difficulties having been overcome, and now people wanted to come. It was no longer a forbidding destination.

1821: A rope made by Williams from New Zealand "hemp" was tested in Chatham rope yard and showed great strength. Mostly hand prepared (beaten) flax is exported from now to 1860, when a mechanical method of production is perfected.

1822: Williams made plans to go to New Zealand but trouble with his debtor, Samuel Levey, delayed him. (the debts were incurred when two boats were burnt by the Maori's). To help Williams depart, the colonial government made arrangements for Levey to be paid in cedar and land.


Archibald Bell's views on developing the colony: "The present mode of farming here seems not to deserve the name of a system. Wheat and maize are indeed almost the only crops raised, this arises in the market for any other produce
...first, public encouragement should be given to the growth of flax and hemp, the rich land on the banks of the Hawksebury and Napean are capable of producing as we know by experience, the most luxuriant crops, the manufacture of which would afford fit employment for female convicts and lame men.
...the propriety of cultivating hemp and flax seems strongly pointed out to notice, as in curing and preparing of so many hands would be required, and would thus ensure for female convicts, (and also lame and infirm old men now a burthen to the crown) a consideration as it respects the female particular of no small importance to the well being of morality."
Archibald Bell's views were echoed by Provost Marshall John Cambell in a letter to the new Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane on February 12th 1822.

(Archibald Bell, who presented the argument for New South Wales as a hemp colony to Bigge, was the chief police magistrate in the Windsor area where he was the first paid magistrate and occupied a government house valued at one thousand pounds. A member of the New South Wales Corp, Bell had been in charge of the guard at Government House in 1808 when Bligh was arrested. After Bligh's arrest, he served as military commandant at the Hawkesbury, and received a grant of a town allotment and 500 acres at Richmond, and a larger grant of 1000 acres. He was one of those "with the largest property and highest respectability" consulted by Bigge, and he was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1832.)

Macarthur campaigned for a wool industry. We all know the outcome.

1846: Francis Campbell publishes the first edition of the only Australian text on hemp. "A Treatise on the Culture of Flax and Hemp". This collection of essays was originally serialised in the Australasian. There were two subsequent editions of this book in Campbells lifetime. the third edition being published in 1864. The book was re-published by Wild and Woolley in 1977, along with a marijuana growing guide. Interestingly, the copy of the book in the Mitchell Library in Sydney was donated by John Fairfax MLA, the founder of the Fairfax dynasty.

1856: Victoria imposes duty on opium: 21,890 kg imported in that year, earning £56,979 in duty. The goldrushes and the opium smoking Chinese population they attracted made imposts on opium a good source of revenue.

1859: Demand for hemp in Australia is high, but most seems to be imported. The Sands Directory of New South Wales lists two rope manufacturers in that year. After 1867 the industry grew and expanded. Between 1859 and 1890 about 39 rope businesses were listed. Only eight were in existence by 1890 as business life expectancy was apparently low.

1860:The production of phormium tenax fibre on a large scale did not commence until the late 1860s, when a machine was invented to beat the green leaf between a revolving metal drum and a fixed metal bar. Metal beaters on the surface of the drum struck the leaf at great speed, stripping away the non-fibrous material and releasing the strands of fibre. This machine (which became known as a ”stripper”) produced a much coarser fibre than the Maori hand-dressing process, but one machine could produce about 250 kilograms (a quarter of a tonne) of fibre per day, whereas one Maori worker (using a mussel shell) could produce only one kilogram of fibre in the same time. By 1910 the stripper had been improved to the point where it was capable of producing 1.27 tonnes of fibre per day.

1868: Colonial Monthly publishes the story "Cannabis Indica" written by Marcus Clarke as an experiment while under the influence of cannabis. He is out to thrill his readership rather than scientifically record. "Cannabis Indica" is Australia's first recorded drug writing.

Marcus Clarke Exhibition PromoIan McLaren has described Marcus Clarke as "essentially the journalist. He was able to sense a story; he was aggressive and combative, ready to translate his thoughts into arresting words that caught the imagination of the public, or aroused antagonism to his views expressed so forthrightly"

. He was kept busy by the Argus and Australasian, writing leaders and literary articles and reviewing books and theatre. A series of articles, 'Lower Bohemia', about Melbourne low life appeared in the Australasian and were particularly successful, being "strong pieces of investigative journalism".

Patent Medicine - Cigares de Joy1880 - 1890: The use of now prohibited or restricted drugs was widespread and tolerated to an extent that would cause outcry today. For example laudanum, a household painkiller available without a prescription, was a mixture of opium and alcohol and was used for infants with teething problems. Cigares De Joy, marijuana cigarettes were available in Australia and, to name just two of the numerous drug-laced patent medicines available, Bonnington’s Irish Moss contained opium alkaloids and Ayre’s Sarsaparilla Mixtures contained opium. In the 1890s, morphine lozenges did not come under the existing poisons legislation. Opium was seen as a valuable commodity and was exported in vast quantities from India into China to balance the British Empire’s tea trade. The Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1856-58 broke out as the Chinese tried to resist the importation of the drug.

1891-1895: Some early opium bills failed. For example, opium growing farmers of Bacchus Marsh defeated the passage of a bill ‘to restrict and regulate the sale and use of opium’. The Sale and Use of Opium Act 1891 (Qld) controlled opium distribution, essentially to protect Aborigines from being paid in opium. The growing awareness of addiction meant growing opposition to free availability.

Opium Act 1895 was applied to South Australia and the Northern Territory, making it an offence to sell or give to ‘any Aboriginal native of Australia’.

The Three Lawyers 1897: At the Federal Convention, Adelaide, March 1897, the drafting of the Australian Constitution was entrusted to three lawyers shown here: Edmund Barton (standing), John Downer (left) and Richard O’Connor. Edmund Barton went on to become Australia’s first Prime Minister. O’Connor and Barton were appointed to the High Court in 1903.

Act No 17 of 1897 (Qld) forbade sale of opium to Aborigines. Sale of alcohol to Aborigines carried a £50 penalty, opium a £100 penalty.

Post Federation

1900:Federation of the Australian states into a new country. We are Australia.

1901: States give up power to levy customs duties although they retained some Commonwealth duties for some time.

Customs Act 1901 prohibits import of non medicinal opium to stop recreational use spreading beyond Chinese community. Collector of Customs grants licences to doctors and pharmacists.

1905: Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905 (Cth) - controlled packaging, marking and marketing of patent medicines (medicinal opium, morphine, heroin, cannabis and others).

Premiers Conference – decision made to take action against non-medicinal use of opium under pressure from feminist and church groups, as more Europeans were believed to be smoking opium.

Opium Amendment Act 1905 (SA) – risk of fine and imprisonment if non-medicinal opium sold, bartered or given to any race, ‘Asiatics’ risk deportation.

Opium Smoking Prohibition Act 1905 (Vic) - campaign supported by Chinese merchants but focuses on Chinese opium smokers.

1907: Royal Commission in Secret Drugs, Cures and Foods presented to Commonwealth gives first warning of dangers of heroin, used as cough mixture. Commission noted heroin in medicine not controlled.

1908: Police Offences Act (NSW) – offence to sell, smoke or possess preparations of opium for smoking. The Labor leader, W A Holman protested at the use of opium being made an offence at law, when used ‘by an adult man who knows what he is doing and is master of his own actions’.

1910: Joint Commonwealth State Conference - drugs for therapeutic purposes; dispensing and labelling of medicines.

Customs Act s 233B(1) - non medicinal opium wide-ranging offences.

Shanghai International Opium Conference was held at the insistence of USA, supported by European powers, China, Japan, Siam and Persia.

1912: Hague International Convention on Narcotics - control production and distribution of raw and prepared opium (morphine and cocaine); required parties to Convention to ‘examine possibility of making it a penal offence to be in illegal possession of’ drugs covered by the treaty.

1914: Dangerous Drugs Act (UK) - adopts terms of Hague Convention re control of drugs in treaty. Western powers more in touch with opium producing countries.

1920: Australia implements Hague Convention

1925: Geneva Convention adds cannabis to Hague Convention narcotic list, and sets up a permanent Central Opium Board to supervise international trade in controlled drugs.

Opium Den 1926: Australian Opium Proclamation prohibiting Coca leaves and Indian hemp. (This is eleven years before America prohibits hemp.)

1931: Convention on the Limitation Period in the International Sale of Goods (New York) - signatories to give estimates of legitimate controlled drug needs. Embargoes against signatories exceeding estimates.

1953: Ban on medicinal use of heroin. Overprescription/unnecessary prescription by medical profession prohibited.

1961: Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 (New York) - schedules of drugs adopted at conference of 71 nations:

Schedule I – opiate narcotics, cocaine and cannabis for medical and scientific purposes.

Schedule IV – cannabis, cannabis resin and heroin ‘particularly dangerous’, requiring more stringent controls. Signatories to Convention to adopt whatever methods necessary. Article 36(1) requires signatories to make production, possession, importation and other activities serious offences to be punishable by imprisonment (when committed intentionally).

1964:Cannabis found growing wild in the Hunter Valley, survivors from early Australian crops. Enormous newspaper publicity arouses public interest. Eradication program begun.

1967: Appendix to Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 adopted Single Convention. Domestic manufacturers of narcotic drugs licenced.

1970: American soldiers on R&R from Vietnam buy local pot and introduce more potent strains. Kings Cross becomes a known centre for R&R drug trade.

1971: Convention on Psychotropic Substances extended beyond narcotic drugs to cover drugs not listed in Single Convention Schedules. Dealings to be controlled for medical purposes; more flexibility than Single Convention.

1972: Protocol to Single Convention - treatment or rehabilitation as alternative to conviction or punishment.

Age of Aquarius1973: Aquarius Festival at Nimbin. Australian Union of Student's and Peter Stuyvesants put on a festival that begat communes and cannabis and publicity.

1976: Psychotropic Substances Act 1976 incorporated 1971 Convention.

August 12th NSW Police conduct a pre dawn raid on Tuntable Falls Co-operative, rounding up 42 people at gunpoint, loading them into a mixture of vehicles, including a cattle truck. There was a shortage of pot at the time and only a pregnant mothers stash tin and a Sunshine Milk tin containing twelve ounces was found on the entire property. The Police said they would divide it among us to charge us all.

August 29th The Cedar Bay commune is raided by Queensland Police. Using a helicopter, a naval patrol boat and four wheel drives they rounded up the members of the isolated community. Finding only a small quantity of marijuana, the police discharged firearms into water tanks and burned down the hippie's houses before they left. ZZZ radio broke what would become an international story at the time.

All cannabis charges made in the course of the Tuntable Falls raid were dismissed.

Queensland was the same, with compensation sought and gained by some of the defendants.

1984: South Australia decriminalised minor cannabis offences with a fine in expiation of a charge for cannabis use, referral for assessment with option of treatment and rehabilitation as alternative to prosecution.

1985: NSW comprehensive schedule of drugs prohibited except on prescription.

1992: ACT - small amounts cannabis police discretion re fine (NT follows in 1995).

First Nimbin MardiGrass Law Reform Rally held after years of bi-annual helicopter raids that find little to justify them, unless you believe the bizarrely optimistic $2000.00 a seedling formula the police employ?

1997: In September Police use helicopters to raid the Wytaliba community, between Grafton and Glen Innes in the Mann River valley. Despite being videotaped they abused their powers by refusing to produce a search warrant or identification, and using excessive force. Charges were dismissed and the NSW police force sued.

1999-2000: NSW small amounts of cannabis - police to direct offender’s attention to harms and treatment - police cautioning system.

NSW trial of supervised heroin injecting rooms, modifying prohibition.

2000: The 100 or so alternative lifestylers living at Wytaliba were in the mood to celebrate hard. They'd just been awarded $1.3 million following an unlawful search by police that happened to be captured on video - including one policeman saying "we got no warrant".

2004: Medical Cannabis flagged by Carr, but nothing happens. Howard can block it.

South Australian expiation notice scheme now only applies to only a single outdoor plant.

In Western Australia from 22 March 2004 police have the discretion to issue a Cannabis Infringement Notice to you if you are aged 18 years and over, and found to be:
- in possession of or using no more than 30 grams of cannabis;
- in possession of pipes or implements for use in smoking cannabis on which there are detectable traces of cannabis;
- growing no more than two outdoor cannabis plants at your principal place of residence, provided that no other person is growing other cannabis plants on the same premises.

Federally the Conservatives consolidated at election time. The size of the mortgage ruled the voters choice. Federally it is still "zero tolerance".

Raids continue while the drugs of the twenty first century whistle through our village, stimulants that provoke violence and vandalism amongst some of the young. The cannabis smokers are still the same peaceful lot they allways were, still protesting against unfair laws, still putting on the MardiGrass every year, still working to make the world a better place.


Some of the information and points of view in this Table are taken from John Lonie, A Social History of Drug Control in Australia, Research Paper 8, Royal Commission into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs South Australia, 1979 (The Sackville Commission)


MardiGrass 2004The Nimbin MardiGrass Law Reform Rally will be held on the First Sunday in May every year to encourage Australia to change its laws, and for all to have a good time.

Remenber, it is easier to argue with the wise, than it is to argue with the ignorant. Stay cool.

If you feel you have information that should be included in this history, or that something is incorrect, feel free to send that information and inclusion will be considered.......

Thank you for pot smoking and may the force be busy elsewhere attending real crimes ......

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