Nimbin. Friday, 6.50pm
The last rivulets of sun have drained from the street and are replaced by a tide of colours as the street lights and the MardiGrass people turn on. Smiles flash from the swirling crowd, and the fashions are more neon than the shop signs.
The crowd swirls around my table on the footpath like a rainbow stream around a rock. Familiar faces nod to me from the current as they’re swept by. Sometimes a person detaches from the stream to talk to me. They speak loudly over the street drumming, the reggae from the park, the community announcements, and the general hubbub of humanity.
Friday night at MardiGrass. I love it.
In an improving world, it would be the last MardiGrass ever. MardiGrass was created 25 years ago to protest the harmful drug laws in this state by hosting a protest rally every year – until those laws were reformed. Then, like Portugal which decriminalised all drug use in 2001, harm to citizens would be reduced and health improved. Seems like a good idea.
Reformation of drug laws is on its way, as inevitable as the demise of the coal industry. It’s only the Australian governments which resist social evolution, being completely rooted in yesteryear’s mire of corporate compromise and political pocket-pissing.
These governments will never do the right thing; they must be forced to by its citizens. MardiGrass is a resort to the third pillar of democracy: the right to protest. Protest is all we have left.
I am at a long table on the footpath outside the Trattoria. My friends and I partake of the Italian food, the organic red wine, and the MardiGrass ambience. My co-diners are from outside Nimbin, but we are united in our appreciation of this event.
A multicultural sea flows around us, the colour and diversity a visual symphony. If you’re a people watcher, and I am, this is heaven on a buddha stick. But now and again a scowling knot of blue floats by, bloated with weaponry, searching for relevance. And pot.
MardiGrass obviously scares the shit out of the state government and its police. The Public Order & Riot Squad is here. (Yes, really.) Their presence, like their name, is confusing: Make up your mind, boys – public order or riot; you can’t have both.
Like the election of Trump, the intimidation of Nimbin is the last convulsion of a dying dynasty: the rule of money. The police, puppets of this ridiculousness, are uncomfortable here. It’s hard to be an enforcer of an absurd concept – MardiGrass is a threat to society – when the pleasant rub of humanity around you kindles your own humanness, and shows you it ain’t. So the police huddle together, the group reinforcing its copness in order to maintain focus on its mission. But it’s hard to create a riot at MardiGrass…
Near me, a woman with a microphone talks to a man with a marijuana-leaf headdress and green undies, a cameraman filming. Yes, journalists may pop in for an hour or so for a photo opportunity, the stereotypical story already written, but we at this table appreciate the larger narrative, the bigger picture.
When some democratic accountability has been forced onto the government by its citizens and the drug laws are reformed, MardiGrass’ job will be done – maybe next year (times are changing fast) or the next, or the next. Whenever.
Then the village can celebrate, without harassment, the pioneering role it has had in creating and providing medicine, supporting textile and building innovation, freeing recreational cannabis users from the yoke of criminality, and invigorating democracy.
My fellow diners and I raise our glasses to Nimbin.
We thank you for your good work.