MARDIGRASS DREAMING - 2007
MardiGrass began in 1993. There had already been a spontaneous
demo in March of that year where the Police Station got pelted
with eggs, tomatoes and toilet paper as a result of an undercover
police blitz. That demonstration attracted bad publicity and
Bob Hopkins called for an organised and peaceful Mayday
Cannabis Law Reform Rally to protest march up the main
street of Nimbin. He called it MardiGrass and we all hoped it
would have the same political impact as the Mardi Gras in Sydney.
Bob was motivated by the injustice and negative consequences
for the Nimbin community of Cannabis being illegal. Lots of
people felt the same, and if they didn't Bob was on a mission
to educate them. He was pretty much the only one organising,
but everyone rallied that day. We were all with him. We rolled
a giant joint of sheets stitched together over a bamboo frame
and painted “Let it Grow” on the side.
Over a thousand people came they say. It was fantastic. We
gathered down at the river as the poster said. There weren't
many people at the rallying point and Bob was dressed as a Nun
with a huge dented tuba that sounded like an old elephant when
he blew it. We were worried there would not be many people marching,
but we were not going to quit. The exuberant rabble headed off
for the 300 metre journey up through the village main street
and on to the Police station, blowing smoke as they went. It
was while that extraordinary display of characters and costumes
marched, that it happened. Slowly, all along the way, people
joined in, the Rally getting bigger and bigger as it went through
town, collecting virtually everyone, which is how it is here
in drug educated Nimbin. So many people here know the law is
wrong about cannabis. The Rally made the front page and the
local TV news. The size of the rally was so empowering, and
we all had such a good time, that we vowed on the sacred skull
of the Plantem’s ancestor to do it every year until we
were no longer classed as criminals.
The next year the Rally doubled in clouds of smoke and speeches
and we had a better time than ever. The harvest had just happened,
and we had a wonderful annual Pickers’ Ball! The Police
left us alone that year, which was clearly the smart thing to
do. I think most of them would have marched with us if they
were allowed. The Nimbin community has many pot smokers or eaters,
including a number of older people who have discovered it is
good medicine for their aches and pains. The law that criminalises
users has made the whole North Coast a popular refuge for pot
users. It is accepted more here and better understood than in
most country areas, and of course the plant can grow well here;
acts of God, Police, native animals and thieves permitting.
The following year (1994) saw the national “Beyond Prohibition”
Conference, an academic-style three day conference that attracted
well known drug and drug-law-reform experts from around the
world. A smaller Hemp Forum of some sort has been held every
year since. The Plantem inspired the formation of the Jungle
Patrol that year, and their role grew over following years.
In 1995 the first Cannabis Growers Cup was held, and has been
held ever since. Quickly a reputation for a great weekend spread
amongst cannabis users across the globe. Soon Jack Herer, Dennis
Peron, Ed Rosenthal, the Cannabis Culture crew from Canada and
others visited and the MardiGrass reputation was established.
In 1995 the HEMP Party fielded Prohibition End as a candidate
in the NSW elections. On the ballot paper the name, changed
by deed poll, read “End, Prohibition.”
The fourth Mardi Grass (1996), was very important, in a number
of ways. It was a five day event, in order to include Wednesday
the 1st of May. It included the first Kombi Konvoy. We had to
deal with the annual crowd of revellers and onlookers who easily
blocked the only road through town, so the Hemp Olympix were
born. With the coming Sydney 2000 Olympics in the news we wanted
to do something educational as well as entertaining. For all
those people who thought getting stoned meant getting wiped
out we reckoned the "Growers Iron Person" obstacle
course should counteract a bit of the reefer madness propaganda.
I remember the session (or think I do!) when we came up with
the idea, including the lantana tunnel complete with leeches
and ticks, a tradition to this day. Joint rolling was clearly
important knowledge to share, and the Orchy bottle "Bong
Throw and Yell" took a while to catch on, but has now become
a science, the local plumber becoming the champ after studying
the hydro-dynamics involved. "Joint rolling" has since
expanded to include the adverse conditions roll, (blindfolded
to simulate darkness and a fan for wind) but the Hemp Olympix
has retained the three original events as the mainstay. Other
events come and go depending on the politics of the time. "Spot
the Undercover" is always very popular, like the hemp rope
"Tug of War", on again for 2007. We have at last got
a new rope to replace the one that disappeared years ago! That
was just what happened within the MardiGrass Organising Body
(MOB), but nature also stepped in…...
Many of the early Mardi Grasses were wet, but 1996 was the
wettest. After about five wet years in a row the farmers had
started to rely on us to bring rain. We just moved as many events
as possible into the Town Hall if it did. That has become "Plan-B"
ever since for when it rains. In 1996 there was a record crowd,
and it really bucketed down. It rained so much the village was
cut off. After a couple of days the shop shelves started to
look bare. The town was marooned with roads cut off in every
direction. Rumour has it fifty pounds was consumed! I do know
the footpath was covered in sleeping bodies and wet roaches.
Toilet facilities were “strained”. Understandably
many locals were upset by the prolonged invasion of freaks.
Fortunately the heavens parted just in time for the Rally on
the last day, the flood waters receded and everyone was able
to go home after. The event had so over-run the village and
the MardiGrass crew were so exhausted, that no one ever suggested
a four or five day MardiGrass again. So it was that MardiGrass
came to be held on the “First Weekend in May.”
We were even mentioned in Parliament. http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/PARLMENT/hansArt.nsf/V3Key/LA19960605031
In January of 1997 the Hemp crew made headlines when they chained
themselves to the helicopters and vehicles used by the police,
and invited the press along for the morning surprise. Helicopter
raids stopped for awhile, but then resumed.
In 1999 the Cannabus, loaded with Hempsters, took the Big Joint
to Bob Carr’s Drug Summit. The HEMP Party fielded candidates
in the 2001 and 2004 elections.
In the year 2000, an attempt was made to establish Cannabis
Cafes in Nimbin, as a response to the robust street dealing
culture of that year. Locals felt, after discussions with area
police, that this was approved, but in 2001 that illusion fell
away when twenty nine police raided all of them in one day,
and put an end to the experiment.
Things cruised along, as we tried to match publicity with expected
numbers and avoid overloading the village resources. In 2004
a couple of police officers walked along with the parade, but
late at night a few violent youths caused problems at the Doof,
and the lower end of Cullen Street, assualting people at random.
A period of late night vandalism and violence followed, that
abated as the perpetrators matured. During that time public
and consultative committee meetings with police frequently requested
increased LATE NIGHT policing, but this was not achieved. Instead
we got more daytime policing, and more local police.
Somewhere along the way MardiGrass became an official event
with Lismore City Council even if they won't mention it in their
tourist brochure! The Council passed our Development Application,
which is valid for five years at a time.
Chibo and the Ganja Faeries started taking the Big Joint to
the Sydney Mardi Gras. In 2005 we had the Marihuana Music Awards
kick off at MardiGrass, and had a peaceful time of it in the
village, but the Olympic Torch Bearer in the Rally was pursued
by officers eager to inspect the decorations on his garments.
Apparently he eluded them. Out on the roads, a cross border
Operation Viking was underway checking cars coming to, and leaving
Nimbin. The Kombi Konvoy was pulled over and breath tested.
They passed. Sniffer dogs were reportedly used by Queensland
police on the Numinbah Valley road late Sunday night to catch
Queenslanders returning the back way.
Street surveillance cameras were installed along Cullen Street,
and by 2006, were operational.
In 2006 local Nationals MP Thomas George claimed Nimbin was
the next Cronulla riot waiting to happen, and Labors Police
Minister Scully agreed. We had 80 riot police stifling the event,
police at Uki telling people that Nimbin was full or closed,
and the event ran at a loss.
Afterwards we took the Big Joint to Canberra, and parked it
on the Parliament House lawns. It was the Big Joint Embassy
while it was there. The laws didn’t change, but we had
a good time.
The four performance stages, many buskers, the Markets, Hemp
Expo, Hemp Forum, Pot Art, Pot-art Tattoo, Poetry, Comedy, the
Ganja Faeries and as always, the unpredictable, all come together
to make Mardi Grass a major annual north coast event. This ‘007
year we've managed to get the poster out early and there's plenty
of enthusiasm for MardiGrass XV, sponsored every year by the
Nimbin HEMP Embassy. The MardiGrass Organising Body (MOB) have
an expanding program at the moment which already includes joint
rolling and bubble-bag classes, an expo of the latest hem-plastic
products and even a proposal for hemp jelly wrestling!
There's something special about the gathering of thousands
of people getting stoned together. You don’t need to smoke
cannabis to feel the good vibes and, increasingly, many straight
families visit to see what it’s all about for themselves.
The pounds of pot consumed have made sure that MardiGrass has
had an extremely peaceful history. It was false information
that brought the riot squad from Sydney last year. The only
riot here was a riot of colour!
The HEMP Embassy has grown over the years alongside the MardiGrass,
all of it based on volunteer energy. Volunteers are the real
heroes of MardiGrass, because without the volunteers, it would
not be possible. Firstly, there are the volunteers who work
all year in the HEMP Embassy, and then there are the volunteers
who help throughout MardiGrass. Some volunteers go above and
beyond the call of duty. You see them at every MardiGrass. We
wish to thank all those unknown volunteers that have helped
through the years. There are also some year round volunteers
that have made remarkable contributions.
Bob started the event, was the first Plantem, and initially
carried the load of organising. He also contributed greatly
to other Nimbin community organisations. Elspeth Jones has produced
great posters and artwork for the Hemp Embassy, MardiGrass,
and many other local groups ever since we arrived in Nimbin.
Chibo Mertineit organised the Hemp Olympix for years, and has
been the Hemp Olympix torch runner and Cookie Man. The Ganja
Faeries have danced at the head of the Parade and supported
MardiGrass and the Embassy for years. They set the pace of the
Protest Rally Parade. Andy Putnam volunteers every year to man
information booths. “Chicken” George has manned
the shop and worn the Plantem uniform proudly for years. Simon
Cass organised the 1994 “Beyond Prohibition” conference.
Comedians "S" and Glover commentate on the Olympix
each year. Alan Morris organises the Kombi Konvoy. Andrew founded
the Medical Cannabis Information Service. Gary "Big Bong"
handles the Million Man Marihuana March, and tries to sell franchises
for the "Big Bong Burger Bar" chain. Lisa Yeates played
a gracious Princess Anne for us. There are many others, and
sorry to those I have missed in the moment, but these are the
sort of contributions that make MardiGrass possible.
MardiGrass has avoided becoming a big money event, as we are
determined to keep the focus on it being a protest about the
cannabis laws. The $20 all weekend armband pass means everyone
has access. If you really don't have the dollars you can join
the volunteers, a critical ingredient in the MardiGrass recipe.
Its a recipe that has evolved over 15 years. Many characters
only visit Nimbin on the first weekend in May each year. Its
not only a cannabis cultural gathering but an annual reunion
of friends who have something in common.
Without the volunteers, well, you know what other festivals
cost. A lot more than $20. Now that $20 can make a big difference
if everyone pays it, so if you come, please buy an armband for
admission to the official events. It means a lot to next year’s
If we can’t end prohibition, how about just getting the
price down to $5 a gram? Just kidding. Join us this year and
every year, until we are no longer criminals, to protest against
these bad laws.
The Area Command told the Press there would be more police,
and told us there would be less. Well, only half the number
of police were in Nimbin, and the Winnebago made it's Nimbin
debut, but it was one of the best MardiGrass yet. What they
did do, was make as many small busts as they could Friday and
late Sunday to get arrest numbers up. On Monday morning a negative
press emphasised the arrest numbers and carried the suggestion
that the Festival attracted harder drugs. They did not mention
Area Command's praise for the organisers. The media was unfavourable,
but the MardiGrass itself was everything we could have hoped
Thank you all for that.