Lismore. Tuesday, 12.30pm
‘What are you doing this weekend?’
‘I’m going to MardiGrass.’
MardiGrass – the very word elicits fear and loathing.
If it comes up in conversation over latte at a Lismore cafe, people blink, look at their watch and leave. Or look sideways to see if anyone else has heard this word which has tainted the conversation, and them. Or they quickly change the subject to something cool, like meditation, medication or megabytes.
More Lismorians go to Bali than to Nimbin’s MardiGrass. It’s easier and less confronting. (Byron people don’t even go to Lismore, let alone Nimbin. Who knows what horrors lie beyond the borders of the shire.)
MardiGrass is the epitome of unfashionable. It’s like Indian shirts with cargo shorts, dreadlocks with bald patches, green faces with red eyes, smiles with two teeth, congas with one goddamn never-ending rhythm. It’s chaotic and untidy. It’s smelly and unpredictable. It’s uncool – not like Bluesfest or Splendour.
It’s so uncool, even many Nimbin people don’t like it. That’s not why they paid top dollar for their five acres. They want better roads, faster internet and a dress code (like they had in Sydney), not an annual flood of people washing through their charming village scene.
These locals, and people all over the north coast, can have a joint and glass of organic shiraz on their deck at sunset, and no-one hassles them. They don’t need the drug laws changed.
They are not alone in disliking MardiGrass. The government hates it. The police detest it. That’s why I like it.
You know you’re onto something good when the government and police try to shut it down. Think anti-war demonstrations, anti-CSG rallies, the anti-logging protests, the human-rights-for-refugees movement.
Every year since 1993, on the first weekend in May, Nimbin has hosted MardiGrass to protest the drug laws and educate people about the positive uses of cannabis.
There is a war on drugs, you know. It seems drugs are winning. (That’s war for you.) And, like most wars Australia gets involved in, it’s not meant to serve the interests of the people, no. Rather, it takes a terrible toll on the people, especially the young people.
This war is not on all drugs, just some drugs; in this case, cannabis. Cannabis is evil. You won’t find sporting heroes wearing a cannabis logo on their jersey.
So, as the weekend approaches, health professionals, law experts, botanists, legal US medical cannabis growers, illegal Australian ones, entertainers, thousands of international backpackers, hundreds of Hemp Olympix athletes, some north coast people and platoons of police will swarm into Nimbin.
There will be forums, talks and workshops on the many virtues of cannabis as medicine, textile and building product. There will be music, food and sport. It’s a big party, all in the name of law reform.
The government, of course, hates law reform. Sure, kill the reef, poison the ground water, bomb the Syrians – but smoke a joint? No way!
So, the police will roam the streets of Nimbin in packs, bringing guns and a palpable sense of violence to the party. MardiGrassers are obviously a threat to society.
The police will encircle Nimbin with their drug-testing busses, and hassle citizens with their random searches. It’s intimidation. The government wants people to stay at home and watch television. Or go to the pub. Or the footy. Or Bali.
But the more the government tries to strangle MardiGrass, the more determined I am to go to Nimbin. I will make my stand against the unjust drug laws and a myopic government and its heavy-handed police.
MardiGrass. It’s chaotic and untidy. It’s unruly and unpredictable. It’s colourful and noisy. It’s fearless and funky. It’s human.