There’s a town in the hills where the tokers all go.There’s a plant in the town that the smokers all grow.
It’s against the law, but the coppers all know.
Up in the rolling hills of Nimbin…
Long bombed touchdown
The first thing I learned when headed to the Mardi Grass Festival in Nimbin is that Australia is a very long way away. After four movies, thirty-five meals and eighteen hours on the plane, we touched down in Brisbane at 6:00 am. It was now three calendar days since our departure and we were bleary eyed with bodies that didn’t quite know what to do. To add to the confusion, this was the first time that our airline had ever landed in Brisbane, so there were TV cameras, kids dressed up as giant Koalas, and a band playing “Waltzing Matilda.” It made me wonder what had happened to all the other planes that had tried to land here.
After receiving souvenir books from the Koalas and a rousing round of G’days, we scanned the crowd for our ride. Nobody was holding a sign that said “Cannabis Culture” or “Canadian Pot Smokers,” so we just looked for anyone who might have gotten up at 3:30. And sure enough, our Nimbin connections were the only two guys drinking cappuccino. Brian and James piled my wife Donna, CC photographer Barge and me into a tough old Toyota, and we started out on the two hour trip south into the hills of Nimbin? on the wrong side of the road!
Minutes later, a three-paper cone and a big bag of buds were produced and the Toyota filled with the sweet smoke of Sativa. Every few minutes James would offer another sample to taste and roll up. Earthy, sticky, organic outdoor that brought a smile to our faces. The skies opened up into a monsoon rain, almost obliterating the sign that said “Speed According to Road Conditions.” We were doing 125kph. I looked at my watch; it was 8:00 am. I wondered when the sun was going to set.
The industry and suburbs of the port city of Brisbane quickly gave way to farms and sugar cane fields to the south. Turning right into the Tweed Valley ? where someone had thoughtfully erased the “T” from the sign ? we headed into the rain forest. Lush vegetation grew up to the side of the road and carpeted the valley beyond as we drove around the edge of the largest extinct volcano in the Southern Hemisphere.
Swollen rivers made the bridges look like they were floating. “No worries mate,” James pointed. “There’s markers at each end to tell you how deep the water is if you can’t see the bridge.” Comforting as that was, I didn’t see anything that would indicate where the bridge might be between those markers.
And the tourists drive into the town every day
Call in for a cup at the Rainbow Caf?
Out on the street buy a bag from Moon Ray
Then head back up to the Coast.
James had rolled the biggest joint yet for our arrival into Nimbin. As we emerged from the forest and peered through thr smoke in the car, this magical little town appeared. No stop signs or traffic lights. One main street with shops covered with rainbows, wild murals and pot leaves. The people walking around were as hippy as I’ve ever seen ? barefoot, bangled and tie-dyed. Brightly painted VW Mini buses were parked everywhere. It was like being transported back to 1968. Just what I needed ? it was tough enough knowing what time or day it was, let alone havingthe year change on me.
As we hesitated at the intersection for a moment, a fellow asked us if we wanted to buy some pot. We all laughed and James predicted we would be asked five times more before we got down the street to the Hemp Embassy. It was Biblical as it came to pass. It seemed we had arrived in Nimbin.
The Hemp Embassy was our first stop. Essentially a hemp store, selling all manner of hemp and cannabis related goods, but also acts as the center of cannabis activism for the region and perhaps the entire country. We were greeted warmly by store managers Rob and Margaret, who promptly asked if we needed any pot to smoke? our kind of people. James gave us a knowing look and we said that we’d be fine.
We also met Michael Balderstone, Australia’s version of Marc Emery. He as well, is a tireless activist and just as busy. So much so it would seem that he never had time to put on shoes! We all got acquainted over several joints and talked with anticipation of the festivities ahead.
Accommodations had been arranged for us at the Grey Gum Lodge. We were hoping that the name wasn’t a dental reference. As it turned out, gum trees grew around the property and it was a lovely house nestled amongst them. Our hosts Shirley and Jeff couldn’t have been friendlier or more accommodating, making sure we knew that there was no smoking in the rooms, but on the verandah, you could smoke whatever you wanted. Before we tested that theory, we took a moment to regard the fact that the address of the lodge was 2 High Street!
The jet lag and wacky jungle bird noises kicked in about 4:30 the next morning and we all awoke to greet the sunrise over the mist-filled Nimbin Valley. Parrot type birds that we dubbed the “run out of colour birds” squawked and jumped from branch to branch as we found that smoking pot on the verandah worked just fine. Oddly enough, everybody at the lodge got up shortly thereafter. I guess they were jet lagged too.
Nimbin isn’t a very big place. It has one main street that looks like a set in a Western movie, except the shops are all brightly painted with rainbows and murals. The dominating feature in the center of town was a 20-foot joint that hung out in front of the Hemp Embassy. The handful of people on the streets was almost camouflaged by their tie-dye, until they stepped out and asked if you wanted to buy some pot. If this was a movie, I was pretty sure it was directed by Dennis Hopper.
They grow that weed with a certain finesse
And the weed they grow will stand any test
‘Cause the strains go back to Aquarius
Up in the rollin’ hills of Nimbin.
All week long, every once in a while, James would disappear for a few moments only to return with yet another new bud for us to examine and smoke. Each one an improvement over the last. But then he would always add, “Just wait until the Cup if you think it’s good now.” Little did anyone know that our friend Mr Ayers was on his way.
You might remember Mr Ayers from last year’s account of the Nimbin festival. He’s an Australian grower who first contacted us with a strain of pot that doesn’t look like pot, that we call the Australian Bastard Cannabis. He’s got to be in his 50’s, has an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye. He doesn’t smoke pot, but loves to grow it and defy the government any chance he gets. He arrived two days before the festival with a big box containing 15 strains that he would enter in the Cup.
They were beautifully manicured and dried and glistening with resins. . It was hard to tell that they were grown outdoors. Upon breaking a bud open the aromas were fabulous. Soon everybody in the place was lending his or her nose to the process. In minutes the back room of the Hemp Embassy was covered with bags of pot, while Barge feverishly set about photographing each strain. With a generous gift bag included for each of us, the Canadians suddenly had the best pot in town.
So if you’re up this way anytime
It’s easy to find, just follow the signs
Call in for a cup and the pleasure’s all mine
Up in the rollin hills of Nimbin.
The Nimbin Caf? was a few blocks from the center of town and was known as The Oasis. Owned and run by Teena and Woody, it was an Amsterdam-style coffeehouse where you could grab a seat, roll a joint and have a “cuppa.” You couldn’t buy pot there, but bring your own to smoke and there was plenty on the table. Woody always had a new bud to smoke with us, each one bigger than the last. Sweet, sticky sativas that kept us grinning all night.
They did have an unusual custom though, where they wouldn’t accept money from a Canadian. So with unlimited coffee at hand and a full supply of fabulous pot we couldn’t be stopped. Conversations invariably turned to cannabis, which would always lead to talk of activism. The atmosphere was stimulating and we spent many an hour there smoking and changing the world, or at least our little corner of it.
I found Australians to be very similar to Canadians. Both are commonwealth countries with little love left for the monarchy and even less for the constant influence of the United States. We both have somewhat adventurous spirits and prefer to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit. The only thing I saw that divides us is a common language. Does anybody know what these people are saying? It was like talking to someone on a cell phone ? some parts are very clear and others seem to be cutting in and out.
The language is colourful; I’ll give them that. They use a lot of rhyme words and phrases. For example, “the missus” would be “the cheese and kisses” and your best mate would be “me ole china plate.” Unless of course your best mate had red hair, then he’d be “Bluey.” Why? Because that’s the opposite of red. But then you might have more than one mate with red hair, so you’d have to find a rhyme for bluey.
I have a feeling that most of the Australians didn’t understand any better than I did, and were nodding and smiling just like me.
Olympian joint effort
And every year just the same as last
There’s the Nimbin Cup and the Mardi Grass
They come for miles cause its such a blast
Up in the rollin’ hills of Nimbin.
The traffic into town began to increase noticeably on Thursday. By Friday it was a steady stream. None of the organizers I asked would commit to how many might eventually show up. They would always just look skyward and hope it didn’t rain. As we were heading into their late autumn it rained pretty much every day, so a little praying looked like it might not hurt. But as many of the bumper stickers proclaimed, “Magic Happens,” and Saturday turned out to be sunny and tropical warm. The numbers weren’t record-setting, but around 10,000 showed up for the festivities.
The weekend kicked off with the Kombi Konvoy, a caravan of thirty or so wildly painted and hippy filled VW campers that would arrive to the cheers from the now packed Main Street. The procession ended at the park for the official opening ceremonies, where Michael Balderstone welcomed us all and introduced two prominent seniors in the community, who roused the crowd with a positive message about cannabis and the need for decriminalization.
The Cannabis Culture crew was introduced, and then “Princess Anne” gave a very funny and poignant address to open the Hemp Olympix, (the royal family having most recently been snubbed by the Olympic Committee in Sydney.) The Ganja Fairies dance troupe concluded the ceremonies with a colourful dance to a song called Tetra Hydra Cannibinol ? a tune we would be humming days later as we returned through customs.
Dana and I made our way to the Town Hall for speeches and discussion about the future of cannabis on the planet, while the Hemp Olympix got underway. The events consisted of the Grower’s Iron Person, a grueling course set up where a grower tends to his plants by carrying heavy bags of fertilizer and buckets of water and crawling through the “leech pit.” The Bong Toss, inspired by being chased by police, competitors toss a homemade bong as far as they can. The Sobriety Test, where stoned participants are encouraged to fool a police officer, face to face. And the speed and creative joint rolling contests.
Every event was a blast with lots of participants. The creative joint rolling was really impressive, with wild creations from the Anarchy symbol to a beautiful dolphin. Even more impressive was that the same guy won both the speed and creative contests ? Bob, a troll-like fellow that had a bong for a hat. The Cannabis Culture crew was well represented with Barge in the Iron Man and Donna in the Bong Toss. Both came away with a renewed sense of self-respect and the motto “We didn’t finish last.” Good on ‘ya mates.
Saturday night brought the Harvest Ball, with a couple of bands dancing and smoking until the wee hours. Sunday morning brought the realization of just how many people were crammed into this little town. Everywhere you looked there were cars and vans parked, filled with sleeping Mardi Grassers.
The rain held off for the Milllennium Marijuana March parade that snaked through town, as everyone joined in with banners and floats calling for the end of prohibition.
A seed swap was held, where everyone got together to swap and sell seeds. A fellow approached me out of the crowd saying “Two and a half weeks,” and held up a bag of pot. Seeing the question on my face he continued, “I ordered the Marc Emery Outdoor Mix for $20, it took two and a half weeks to arrive,” and he threw the bag onto the table. Every bud was different and they all were extremely sweet and frosty. “Thanks,” he added and disappeared into the crowd. Oh no, thank you.
The Nimbin Cup was held in a “secret location” and we were instructed to walk to it in small groups. The small groups all walked together in a big group, to a barn on the outskirts of town. Turned out to be the same barn as the previous year and everybody knew where it was. The beauty of it was that nobody cared. We did though, and a virtual cannabis buffet awaited us. Not to mention, the Cup itself.
After humbly accepting the Cup we made our way to the Oasis for the usual recap, nightcap and to be not so humble. It was about this time that the much-touted “great pot” started coming out of the woodwork. Growers who weren’t into a public competition stopped by to share their buds with us. This was some of the best stuff yet! Very nicely grown and prepared. One of the best was a Northern Lights x Superskunk. Full, rich flavor and really strong. The wee hours would came by again. Time really flies when you’re smoking great pot!
The mass exodus of the multi-layered nation must have taken place in the night. By Monday morning Nimbin had once again returned to the sleepy movie set we had arrived at only days before. The wall to wall throngs had thinned to a handful, who still were kind enough to ask if we needed any pot. We wanted to answer the question by showing them we still had enough left to choke a horse. After a quick look around for a horse, we decided to smoke it instead. So, it was off to the Embassy for our final good-byes.
Our departure time arrived all too soon and before we knew it, we were headed back to the unreal world. No band to meet us at the airport. No giant Koalas. Just the memories of the people that we met and the fabulous time we had at this crazy town in the jungle. Thanks to everyone who made our trip so magical. Everybody should visit this place, but like the T-shirts Woody gave us say, “If you haven’t heard of Nimbin, you don’t need to know.”
Up in the rollin’ hills of Nimbin you’ll find me
With the wife and kids livin’ happy and free
And when my pipe runs out they’ll bury me
Up in the rollin’ hills of Nimbin