Emerald buds in the land of Oz

Two hundred million years back, a supercontinent called “Gondwana” began to fall apart, and part of it became a landmass now known as Australia.
About 50,000 years ago, people now known as “Aborigines” discovered the severed Australian continent. When these first human inhabitants arrived, the continent’s mega-fauna included a wombat as large as a rhino and a kangaroo bigger than a human, which were both soon hunted to extinction.

Enduring a surreal landscape, cataclysmic climate changes and an unparalleled collection of deadly animals, the Aborigines created a laid back semi-nomadic lifestyle and an admired, though misunderstood, theology.

In 1770, British explorer James Cook arrived on the continent, decided the Aborigines were “uncivilized” but happy, and claimed Australia as English territory.

The Brits decided to use Australia as a prison colony. In early 1788, the first of hundreds of convicts landed in Sydney Harbor. They got drunk and rioted. They terrorized Aborigines. Their empire set up British-style government and culture. Their descendants marginalized Aboriginal culture and cut down almost all the country’s rain forests and temperate woodlands. Massive extinctions, ecocide, and genocide have characterized Australia’s “modernization.”

Barge taking part in the festivities.  Photo: BargeBarge taking part in the festivities. Photo: BargeHemp father

Even before Australia was claimed by England, British farmers grew hemp. Around the same time that Washington and Jefferson were growing hemp in the American colonies, Sir Joseph Banks made himself “the father of Australia” by being the first British official to suggest that convicts be sent to settle Australia.

Father Joseph was also a hempster. He and other British leaders said cannabis was the most important seed to be carried on seafaring exploration-conquest journeys, because hemp was essential to the survival of the British navy. They speculated that Australia would be an ideal “hemp colony.”

Officials in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) grew thousands of acres of hemp during the 1800’s. 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.” This was in 1802; apparently the governor and Banks did not know that they were growing the “drug strain,” Cannabis Indica. Regardless, the drug crop’s stalks made high quality rope and other industrial hemp products.

As in America and England, Australians accepted cannabis as a medical herb from about 1840 to the early 1900’s. It was in the Australian-British pharmacopoeia for more than a century until its exclusion in 1958, and formed the basis for legal “safe and effective” tonics available in Australia from the 1800’s until about 1940’s.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyAustralian cannophiles proudly claim that famous Australian author Marcus Clarke bested the marijuana-centered 19th century writings of Moreau and Ludlow, when he wrote in 1868 about ingesting a potent oral dose of cannabis extract. Very stoned and under observation by a family physician, Clarke thoroughly enjoyed being high, concluding that “the drug seems to unlock the doors of thought.”

Australia’s power elite coveted a place on the playing field of capitalism, so they enmeshed the country into the web of international economic and pharmaceutical fascism that created the drug war in the early part of the 20th century. In 1938, American drug czar Harry Anslinger convinced Australian tabloids to publish blatantly false anti-marijuana propaganda. The US consul to Australia pressured the country to adopt Anslinger’s war. Fundamentalist church groups joined with police to demand eradication of “the noxious weed.”

Australia signed international anti-drug treaties in 1961, 1971 and 1988. In 1966, it codified the Poisons Act, and in 1985, the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, banning pot, bongs, pipes and other marijuana paraphernalia, as well as marijuana magazines and education materials.

Today, Australia’s government wages war against the plant championed by Australia’s founding father.

Photo: BargePhoto: BargeMarijuana returns

Until the 1960’s, only a handful of Australians used cannabis recreationally. This changed in 1964, when police and newspapers warned the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales that a wild crop of “the dreaded sex drug, marijuana,” was growing along a hundred miles of the Hunter River. The reports said marijuana was a powerful psychoactive aphrodisiac, not ditchweed, and that it was easy to use and freely available. Researchers subsequently discovered records indicating that the “hemp” had been growing in the region since at least 1840.

Hunter Valley’s pot scare gave marijuana a ton of unintentionally favorable publicity. Weedseekers flooded the picturesque valley. The most rugged of them, Crocodile Dundee/Mad Max surfer dudes who hiked barefoot and hatless to remote marijuana patches, were called “Weed Raiders.” They emerged from the bush with backpacks full of bush, selling Sativa for twenty Australian dollars per ounce. From these wild patches in New South Wales, weed raiders smuggled tons of sweet kind across inland trade routes, turning on the Baby Boomer anti-war generation that came of age in the 60’s.

Police launched a poisoning campaign to quell the Hunter Valley crop, but even as they began to reduce its easy availability, US military personnel on leave from Vietnam brought stronger Asian marijuana, much of it seeded, into Australia. By 1970, hundreds of thousands of Australians from all walks of life were smoking and growing genetically superior hybrids of potent Australian and foreign marijuana.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyPot-enlightened voters helped elect maverick Labor Party Leader Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister in 1972. Whitlam’s government was the most progressive Australia has ever seen. He quickly took Australia’s military out of the Vietnam War and tried to extricate his country from the expanding web of multinational corporate interventionists and US imperialists.

In 1975, Whitlam was preparing legislation to decriminalize possession of cannabis. Opposition leaders, in cahoots with American conservatives and business interests, were asking that cannabis offenses be punishable by the death penalty, and trying to remove Whitlam from the post of Prime Minister.

While the political drama played out, gaggles of marijuana smokers reconnoitered the coastline from Sydney to the most remote reaches of Queensland province’s coastline, creating communes that redefined the meaning of family and society.

Loggers, ranchers and miners bitterly resented the influx of “new consciousness,” and used marijuana laws and government-paid goons to violently attack hippies who sought to protect the environment or live non-traditional lifestyles.

From Cedar Bay in Northern Queensland to Protesters’ Falls and Byron Bay in New South Wales, the war on drugs hit home with American-style brutality in a series of 1970’s military anti-marijuana operations. The hippies responded with the fierce Aussie pride and sunburnt machismo that substantiates the caricature of Australians as independent, witty, and fearless. They grew tons of marijuana, saved significant ecoregions from destruction (many were later turned into national parks and world heritage sites), and showed earth exploiters that not all hippies were pacifists.

Photo: BargePhoto: BargeIn 1973, new flocks of ganja gypsies sojourned along Australia’s picturesque eastern coast from Sydney to Brisbane, swimming and surfing with whales and dolphins, smoking dope on deserted beaches, camping in tiny remnants of coastal rainforest and wetlands. They made word puns based on the names of towns: one particularly strong variety of marijuana was named Mulumbimby Madness. They harbored at Byron Bay, and sent reconnaissance missions to the Nightcap Mountains, volcanic Mt Warning, and the Border Range.

Finally, they discovered verdant hills and Aboriginal holy sites, including several landmark rock formations near the tiny village of Nimbin. The town was in a verdant valley decorated by rivers, cedars, and tea trees. Dairy farmers had decimated some of the land, but real estate prices were ridiculously low, and the hippie tribes felt they’d found nirvana.

Nimbin’s debut as an international site for counterculture gatherings came in 1973, when the Australian Students’ Union put on an “Aquarius Festival” in Nimbin. When police tried to arrest revelers who were openly smoking marijuana, the six thousand partiers turned into rioters.

In November, 1975, Whitlam’s struggle with fascist conservatives ended when he was overthrown in what many observers describe as a “coup.” He went on to become ambassador to UNESCO.

The conservative government that replaced Whitlam’s Labor majority quickly implemented a hyperaggressive drug policy. In August, 1976, peaceful residents of the pioneering Tuntable Falls Cooperative just outside Nimbin were attacked by 60 armed police who used military hardware and tactics against women and children. Almost 70 people were arrested and thrown into cattle trucks for transport to prison.

The dogs of war had been unleashed, and this was not the last time Nimbin would be plagued by their bared teeth and ugly snarls.

The ?Plantem? in the Mardi Grass parade.  Photo: BargeThe ?Plantem? in the Mardi Grass parade. Photo: BargeNowhere like Nimbin

While the rest of Australia suffered through a succession of repressive governments and rapid urbanization that resulted in blighted zones, like the high-rise hell of so-called Surfer’s Paradise north of Brisbane, Nimbin dubbed itself “the Alternative Capitol” of a region experimenting with holistic living and drug peace.

Permaculture farms, ecovillages, solar power from the Rainbow Power Company, bicycle lanes, organic gardens, communes, feminist empowerment zones, healing arts, herbal therapies, community theatre and radio, and glorious ganja gardens ? all flourished in Nimbinic ecotopia.

Charming little Nimbin, intersected by the bifurcated Cullen-Sibley main street that is less than a mile long, is today a self-contained sociosystem with all services ? banking, bakeries, churches, hardware, lodging, hospital, art galleries, schools, camping, community center, cannabis and police station ? within easy walking distance.

The village’s 60’s-inspired hippie roots are seen in its psychedelically-painted buildings and interiors, part of a public arts project began just before the Aquarius festival in 1973. Talented artists and arts supporters like Benny Zable, Vernon Treweke, Linday Burke, Elspeth Jones, Rolf Harris, and Peter Painter transformed whitewashed walls into murals depicting flying saucers, butterflies, history, spirituality, and of course, ganja.

Chibo the Hemp Olympix Torch Bearer.  Photo: BargeChibo the Hemp Olympix Torch Bearer. Photo: BargeDowntown Nimbin today is a pothead’s playground. Visitors enjoy places like the colorful Nimbin Museum, founded by activist pioneer Michael Balderstone. The museum features counterculture artifacts like a marooned, spaced-out version of the ever-reliable Volkswagen van, known in Australia as a “combi.”

Balderstone and others operate the Nimbin Hemp Embassy, which functions as a publicity bureau, political action center, and retail hemp and cannabis accessories store. Happy High Herbs and the Nimbin Apothecary sell legal plants that complement marijuana and promote healing. Wild and wonderful characters offer specialty munchies at Suji’s Indian restaurant, the Rainbow Caf?, Rick’s Caf?, Timbarra Caf?, and the Pizzeria Trattoria.

The Nimbin Tourist Connexion provides internet access, currency exchange, and savvy travel tips. Next door is the legendary Nimbin Oasis Caf?. Owner Andrew Kavasilas is an affable furniture craftsman who visited Haarlem, Holland, met Dutch coffee shop icon Nol Van Schaik, and decided to bring a Dutch treat to the Southern Hemisphere. Other coffee shops, most notably the Rainbow Caf?, also began to imitate the Dutch coffee shop model.

Sitting in the Nimbin Caf? one afternoon, watching Cannabis Culture photographer Barge conduct an icewater hashmaking exhibition that produced enough bubble hash to send 50 people into gales of torrid laughter, I believed that Kavasilas and his compatriots had successfully transplanted the Netherlands to the land down under.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyComplex Paradise

I got to Nimbin a few days before the village’s famous annual Mardi Grass celebration, which is put on by an all-volunteer force of dedicated superactivists, and immediately joined the ranks of people who arrive the first time as if waking from a tormented dream, look around in awe, then say, “There’s no place like this place!”

Nimbin combines the counterculture vibe of 1967’s Haight-Ashbury San Fran scene with the more urban buzz of Hastings Street in Vancouver, Canada. It’s an international crossroads for young adventurers ? a teeming backpackers’ mecca populated by attractive vagabonds from across the world. It’s a sacred and profane place, similar to Goa in India and Humboldt in California, where marijuana is an integral part of bold experiments in consciousness and freedom.

This edgy brew of progressive political activists, cannatourism and uneasy non-stoners is framed by an idyllic pastoral landscape that shows what rural Scotland and Wales would be like if they had warmer climate and more biodiversity.

Strolling along in lush greenery on communes within a few minutes of Nimbin, I saw (or heard) koala bears, kangaroos, wallabies, platypus, kookaburras, parakeets, bandicoots, huge lizards, frogs, owls, wedge-tailed eagles, and hungry leeches. The latter were undetected until I looked down to see my bare feet covered in blood, sliced into by leeches swollen nearly the size of golf balls. The cannabinoid content of my blood was quite high, so I examined the little monsters with a macro lens. Sure enough, they were smiling.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyLater, still bloodied from stoned leeches, I stumbled into a place between buildings, aptly called “Dealers’ Alley,” which seemed to be an open-air marijuana market. I was confused, and later amused, by Aussie lingo: buds are called “heads,” and mediocre pot is called “mull.” A good deal is called “fair dinkum,” and a bite to eat is called “tucker.”

Nobody in the alley seemed worried about getting busted, but I did question some of the older dealers about the some-what aggressive street-dealing scene, and about the plethora of hard drug users who hung out in tiny Alsop Park next to the community center.

“You know, Nimbin could be even more popular than Amsterdam if we marketed it right,” one dealer said. “You can be at the beach surfing in the morning and up here getting high in the afternoon. This place is like a Garden of Eden. We could bring in marijuana-smoking professional people and do ganja ecotourism, easy. But the government has made things needlessly hard for Nimbin; they don’t want our culture to succeed. We struggle with social problems, like the strung out people at the park.

“When the government cut the cannabis supply in 1987,” he continued, “the price went up sharply, as did the number of arrests. At the same time ? and some pretty knowledgeable people say this is not a coincidence ? the price of hard drugs went down while the purity and supply went up. The connection between cannabis and harder drugs is very interesting: the less easy it is for people to get cannabis, the more people will do hard drugs. Do-gooders who believe in heroin maintenance are in bed with the government. Instead of giving clean needles and free heroin, give marijuana, and lots of it. People can attest to the power of marijuana to heal somebody’s smack habit.”

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyBurn the torch

The Mardi Grass weekend swept in like a flood. On Friday night, Nimbin’s streets filled with revelers from across the world who were still awake when Saturday morning dawned warm and sunny. Huge spliffs circulated as the air filled with smoke before the opening parade.

At high noon, the sound of chugging Volkswagon combies, the “combie caravan,” heralded the arrival of the hemp torch. Chibo Mertineit, the German-born torch carrier who later skillfully handled master of ceremonies duties at the two-day Hemp Olympix, ran up the hill into town center, greeted by lusty cheers.

Scarcely had Mertineit’s gaunt visage disappeared on the downhill to the town’s “Peace Park” where the Hemp Olympix would be held in Saturday and Sunday sunshine, than the “Ganja Fairies” appeared, a hundred brightly costumed sprites, hoofing with choreographed kicks, while a ganja queen on her chariot smiled and waved.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyAt the Peace Park, 3,000 people listened to impassioned speeches and songs, led by long-time activists like Lisa “The Empress” Yeates, who announced the “annulment” of all marijuana laws. After the political speeches were over, Chibo cranked up the sporting vibe ? cannathletes threw bongs, carried 100 pound bags of fertilizer, rolled fancy joints, and ran in circles carrying buckets of irrigation water for outdoor pot plants. Nearby, dressed in traditional “whites,” a staid bevy of genteel lawn bowlers engaged daintily in their quaint British sport.

In a tent next to the stage, the Nimbin Seed Exchange engaged in unrestricted sales of marijuana, seeds and hash. Dr SpiderBudd, a bright, bald-headed, generous lad, used a cheese grater to shave hash flakes from a brick of Moroccan mid-grade hashish marked with a fish imprint.

Standing amidst thick clouds of marijuana smoke on a slope overlooking the Peace Park were two police officers. Senior Constable Dening and Constable O’Sullivan had red eyes, and their faces were fixed in permanent smiles. All around them, people were breaking the law. The constables weren’t just looking the other way ? they were enjoying themselves.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyEarlier, I had visited Nimbin’s tiny police station, attempting to interview constables about marijuana enforcement. None were willing to speak for publication, but as we watched the Olympix together, Dening and O’Sullivan knew my tape recorder was on, and spoke anyway.

Dening said he’d been a cop for 13 years, ten of them spent working in the nearby town of Lismore.

“I became a police officer, because I always wanted to be one as far back as I can remember,” he said. “It’s my little way of helping Australia be a better place.

“We quite often come to Nimbin,” Dening continued. “It’s pleasant. We are here today to protect people and make sure everyone has a good time. We have a policing plan for this event, and it doesn’t include making arrests for marijuana. I’m not going to say whether we have undercovers at this event, but it looks like people are having a good time and there aren’t any problems, so we are happy.”

Photo: BargePhoto: BargeDening said the police are aware that many people believe they should refuse to enforce marijuana laws, but he also said that “a considerable number of people in New South Wales and even in Nimbin do not like Mardi Grass, and they are angry at us because we let it happen. Some of these events get too political and people get abrasive about how they criticize my job and the laws. Street dealers are very aggressive. They chase people and bang on cars. You’ve got young girls being used as mules for big time marijuana dealers. My feelings about marijuana use is that some people can handle it and are fantastic while they are on it; but for some people, it gets the best of them.”

Dening and O’Sullivan left the Peace Park and began walking through the crowded downtown as we talked. They were embarrassed by women who offered sexual favors that would be granted only if the cops promised to smoke pot and also to never again participate in marijuana arrests. Blushing, the boyish constables politely declined the offers.

We carefully stepped amongst thousands of stoners and gawkers, past vendors selling delicious food, past town hall where pundits were bemoaning the drug war, past young men doing bicycle tricks in front of the Hemp Embassy, leaping from rickety platforms 40 feet high.

Suddenly, the officers sprinted after a car that was squealing its tires, belching monoxide and burnt rubber. They arrested the driver, who was drunk.

“You don’t have violence caused by marijuana intoxication,” O’Sullivan noted. “The only problems we have at Mardi Grass are from people drinking. If somebody is an adult and they want to smoke a joint, that’s their business ? nobody is twisting their arms to do it.”

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyCup runneth over

Mardi Grass weekend is a 72-hour party. By day ? Olympix competition, gourmet food, frolic, sightseeing, political rabblerousing, swimming, sampling dozens of varieties of Australian marijuana and hashish. At night ? musicians, fire twirlers, poets, comedians, buskers, people spilling into and out of the cafes, frothy coffees and space cakes keeping everybody awake and laughing.

In Alsop Park, surrounded by skeletal junkies, Hare Krishna devotees in white robes were chanting and singing, leaping and laughing, playing tablas and cymbals. Women and children wearing angel wings stood nearby. A few intoxicated young men, perhaps touched by Buddhist salvation, joined in by pounding rhythmically on a bus stop, their eyes opened to the possibility that there are better gods than alcohol.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyAboriginal tribesmen played didgeridoo, accompanied by percussionists. Inside a nightclub called “The Cave,” a talented six piece band, backed by a taut horn section, played space-reggae originals while 200 young celebrants, an attractive sample of human biodiversity, danced and swayed in a quasi-sexual frenzy ? girls with girls, guys with guys and mixed groups, in tune with each other, ganja, and music. Mardi Grass magic was in the air, and nobody had a care.

On Sunday eve-ning, Nimbin Oasis Caf? owner Kavasilas herded 45 lucky people into buses that headed in a raging thunderstorm to a hidden forest refuge. There, on dinner plates, were 52 varieties of marijuana and hashish ? the Fourth Annual Nimbin Cannabis Cup.

Many of the entries were grown by last year’s Cup winner, the charming Mr Ayers, a sweet man who doesn’t smoke pot, but does grow exotic pure strains and crosses, outdoors and in organic greenhouses, primarily from Marc Emery seeds.

Mr Ayers is probably the most skilled grower I have ever encountered. The menu of buds he produces ? Thai, Black Domina, AK47, Jamaican, Superskunks, Hawaiians, Durban Poison and Nepalese among them ? are astoundingly stony, tasty, and superbly cured.

Lisa Yeates, Mardi Grass Organizer.  Photo: Pete BradyLisa Yeates, Mardi Grass Organizer. Photo: Pete BradyStill, Ayers didn’t win the Cup this year. A long-time grower rival of his, Tony, bested him with an indoor Bubbleberry grown organically in soil. Ayers won second and third place, with his Blueberry-Bushman outdoor cross, and his pure Bushman, respectively, but he also won our hearts. How generous and professional a man he is, to risk all year after year to grow so many varieties, to give ounce after ounce for Nimbin’s special competition.

I lingered in Nimbin nearly a week after the Cup, meeting many others like Ayers ? generous, honest, fun people who treated me like family. People like Kog, the audacious but spiritual author of A Grower’s Lot, a hilarious book that defiantly proclaims how he grew many pounds of outdoor pot near Nimbin, sold it, got arrested, was sent to prison, and still loves pot. Or Lucy Charlesworth, an exceedingly intelligent and articulate woman who’s been a cannabis activist for 25 years, whose electronic magazine Weed Witches keeps the torch of freedom burning.

I met many fascinating, creative people in Nimbin: Maxx Maxted, an artist and poet whose multi-media work includes a gorgeous painting featuring a political allegory about the mythical crucifixion of Australian right-wing politician Pauline Hansen. Angelique Ketchell, a whitewater rafting guide, fitness trainer, singing starlet, oh so natural blonde photographic model who inspired a grower to donate a 22 inch purple bud for our photo shoot. Robyn Scott, a pot poet priestess whose cannabis coat of arms and armor, and brutally honest poetry, make poetry nights at Nimbin Caf? a real treat.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyA group of Canadian college kids who plant trees twelve hours a day, six days a week, until their knees and backs spasm and their hands become swollen and “like claws.” They were sleeping in a crumbling farmhouse with a septic tank leaking under the floor and used ganja to relieve the pain of sunburn and arthritis. Peppa Rose, a mysterious, sultry singer-songwriter whose “lonely moon music” rocks peoples’ hearts and gets them high. Rusty Harris, who had himself literally nailed to a cross in a public pro-pot event in Byron Bay. Silky Cayte, a cannagoddess who invited me to travel 500 miles to North Queensland to interview somebody who had been victimized by the Queensland police state when it was just beginning its reign of terror in 1976.

As I sat on the northbound plane out of Brisbane, with New South Wales receding in the distance, my mind’s eye flew back to Nimbin, recalling newfound friends laughing in the open air cafes, a group of kids doing homework and painting pictures while their parents toked nearby, ganja fairies smiling for the camera.

Nimbin has problems ? every human contraption has problems ? but Nimbin is more like utopia than any place I have visited in North America or Europe. It’s a land not yet ruined by traffic, pollution and conformist droids.

How long, I wondered, would Babylon allow sweet Nimbin to exist?

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyFrom reefer to reef

I ended up in Queensland’s Port Douglas, with its uncrowded wide beach and calm, coral seas, bounded by tall coconut palms where hundreds of raucous parrots gathered for choir practice.

Locals warned me not to go swimming, due to “deadly box jellyfish bigger than you that wrap their tentacles around you and deliver poison so toxic it stops your heart in seconds.” I took a hit off Queensland Rainforest Crunch, a sticky and peppery-tasting outdoor Sativa proffered by a backpacking group of Swedish girls, put on my long fins and hand paddles, and swam for three hours.

The next day, I was on a boat slapping through five-foot waves. Destination: two hours out, the Great Barrier Reef, which is actually 2500 separate coral reefs and the world’s largest reef system. Most of the 16 passengers on board became seasick. They vomited. They took pills. They whimpered. They passed out.

Knowing that marijuana kills nausea, I smoked a gram of locally grown Indica halfway through the boat ride. It immediately banished my urge to purge, stanched my headache, and set me up for a visual tripout as rainbow colors, manifested in fish and coral formations, blessed me during an afternoon of snorkeling. Marijuana’s anti-depressant effect also helped me deal with the disconcerting revelation that the Great Barrier Reef is rapidly dying, victim of agricultural runoff, intensive tourism, and unnaturally warm ocean temperatures.

Back in port, I interviewed a woman so scared of Queensland’s drug warriors that she would only let me identify her by the letter Z. She was 95 miles north of Port Douglas in the Summer of 1976, living in a hippie commune near Cedar Bay that also served as a base camp for radical environmentalists, who eventually forced the Australian government to prevent destruction of the superb Daintree Rainforest.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyQueensland is arguably the most conservative of Australia’s provinces, Z explained, and from 1968 to 1988, it was run by Premier Johannes Bjelke-Petersen ? a corrupt, dictatorial politician who Americanized Australia’s war on drugs.

On a morning in August, 1976, Z said, a battalion of military police in boats, helicopters and assault vehicles stormed into the commune, burned it to the ground, and arrested everyone living there. Queensland continues to produce megatons of marijuana due to its abundance of rainfall, irrigated sugar cane fields, forest cover, and isolation, she reported, but the state’s police and politicians continue to vigorously war against marijuana, so many pot-people have moved south to the relative safety of New South Wales.

“Nimbin’s the only good place left,” Z said wistfully. “They’ve got magic there.”

But when I called the Nimbin Caf? to touch base with Andrew Kavasilas, I learned that the dogs of war had put the bite on Nimbin’s magic.

On May 14, a quiet post-Mardi Monday morning was busted open by 40 police officers with drug dogs that raided Kavasilas’ caf? and the Rainbow Caf?. According to eyewitnesses, officers used the local schoolyard as staging ground for their raid, scared children and other residents, created medical emergencies, then arrested Kavasilas and a Rainbow employee on several drug charges.

The police actions weren’t entirely a surprise. During the week preceding Mardi Grass, police blocked all roads into Nimbin, using drug-sniffing Labrador dogs, trained as security for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, to search vehicles and people. Several arrests, “cautions,” and confiscations resulted.

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyNimbin Hemp Embassy’s Michael Balderstone and Graeme Dunstan organized a protest that included blaring the song “Who let the dogs out?” through loudspeakers in front of the town’s police station, which had been barricaded by posters and protestors to the extent that police officers could not exit or enter their own police station.

The use of drug dogs is increasing throughout the Nimbin area. Many dog busts have been reported in the nearby towns of Lismore, Byron Bay, and Ballina. Police officials say dog patrols will become a permanent fixture throughout Australia, and the Australian government recently announced that more dogs will be bred, trained and sold specifically for the international drug detection industry.

After the May 14 raids, police put Nimbin under siege, using blockades, dogs, more arrests and drug seizures. Nimbin activists responded with demonstrations and a media blitz, but police interdictions have increased, and Kavasilas and others face possible prison terms and the loss of several thousand dollars in cash and merchandise.

The arrests have driven some to despair. The marijuana scene is a stabilizing factor in Nimbin, reformers insist. The breaking of marijuana laws, in and of itself, should not be considered a crime, they say, and the cannabis cafes and trade were self-regulating and economically feasible. What good was served by enforcing the marijuana law?

Photo: Pete BradyPhoto: Pete BradyThe raids deeply trouble Lisa Yeates, a crucial Mardi Grass organizer and spokeswoman for the Hemp Embassy. She said she felt betrayed by government officials, and “deeply disappointed in their poor judgment and lack of manners.”

“Everybody is dodging responsibility for the planning, execution and consequences of these raids,” complained Yeates. “The police say, ‘We are only doing our jobs.’ The politicians say, ‘Marijuana is against the law and that’s that.’ We don’t see it that way here in Nimbin. We believe in democracy, peace, and community awareness. The government’s treatment of us is a contravention of human rights, and it is a disgrace. Nimbin needs your help. Please contribute to our legal defense fund and assist in any way you can. But there is one thing to remember: we have been through attacks like this before. We are tough and determined, because we know we have created something that honors the best in us and in this sacred land. With the help of Spirit and our friends, we will defeat this latest attempt to destroy the Nimbin dream.”Photo: Pete Brady

? Nimbin Mardi Grass: web www.nimbinmardigrass.com
? Nimbin Hemp Embassy: email [email protected]; web www.nimbinaustralia.com/hempembassy
? Nimbin Oasis Cafe: tel 02-66-890-199; web www.nimbinaustralia.com/nimbincafe
? Lucy Charlesworth, Weed Witches: email [email protected]; web www.jackal.inta.net.au
? Lisa Yeates: www.nimbinaustralia.com/lisa
? Marijuana, A Grower’s Lot: Greengrass Publishing, PO Box 140, Kyogle NSW 2474, Australia.