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Byron Shire
February 5, 2023

Where was the grass at MardiGrass?

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There was smoke in the air at MardiGrass but not the sort I was expecting

My first experience of Nimbin was when I arrived there in 1973 as a teenager for the now famous Aquarius Festival, which spurred the hippie settler movement that forever changed this picturesque northern rivers town.

A haze of music and dope smoke wafted over the hills for a week. Even if you weren’t smoking you could get a contact high from the fug.

I’m not sure what I expected from my first MardiGrass, all these years later, but it showed me how much Nimbin has changed.

Story continues below photo gallery

I arrived just as S Sorrensen was calling out the winners of the Hemp Olympix (not stoned but I still missed it).

The atmosphere was chilled and friendly, and the evidence of hippie capitalism was on display: from tie-died everything to silicon bongs and ‘scientifically balanced fertilisers’ (I don’t think they’re growing veggies with it).

There were a few hippies in the crowd, including one lone man my age wearing nothing but a lap-lap, but there was a surprising preponderance of mall-wear. Which made me ponder… are hippies finally dying out or is marijuana finally becoming mainstream?

Speaking of which, where was that certain smell that I expected to be wafting on the Nimbin breeze?

Mostly missing in action. It was a bit like the stoner equivalent of the pub with no beer.

I won’t lie and say I didn’t see a single joint being passed around but ironically it seemed there was more alcohol being consumed than weed.

It appeared the self-advertised ‘riot police’ patrolling the town didn’t need to lift a finger to keep the crowd in line.

Eventually I trekked down to the car park where the parade was fast assembling, from whence I could see smoke rising. But it was not what I thought: the Bundjalung parade leaders were conducting a smoking ceremony; the only green stuff they were burning was eucalyptus leaf.

The colourful parade and sunny weather had everyone smiling and chilling – including a couple of the cops –but as I left town I couldn’t help wondering if so many years of waiting for the law to change had taken the edge off what used to be a protest movement.


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  1. Of course you cannot smell cannabis being smoked during Mardi Grass week!
    There are so many undercover cops and cops in uniform and they are salivating at the thought of nabbing smokers. They know where the quiete hang outs are where smokers now go away from the main street, it’s not safe anywhere around town to smoke dope any more this week
    Yeah it’s pretty sick. I call it Red Coat consciousness. We are still all convicts in the mind of our Police culture.

  2. I’m happy that I’m going to Canada for six weeks where these kinds of “crowd control” shenanigans don’t happen. Look up 4:20 Vancouver, cops are present but turn a blind eye.
    I am proud of my Australian brothers and sisters who are being strong through all this messy prohibition and oppression. Without them we wouldn’t have a chance to move forward.
    And I am happy about the presence of the Bunjalong elders burning eucalyptus as in the symbolic ritual is much needed in a dichotomy of free thinking and a police state.

  3. I was in Nimbin in 1973 too. What a difference a few decades of economic rationalism makes!! Mardi Grass is quite a joke really seeing as Nimbin has become such a cesspit for every other day of the year. Last time I spent time in Nimbin I was accosted daily every morning on my way to get a meal for breakfast by young, off their faces dealers who insisted I buy some pot off them. When I asked not to be accosted any more they became really aggressive and started abusing me. At one stage I was chased down the street!! Peaceful hippies? I doubt it. More like psychotic losers. The real hippies stay away from Mardi Grass. They have better things to do.

    • You obviously haven’t been to Nimbin recently then. We live nearby and go shopping there a couple of times a week. I have never, ever been accosted by anyone asking me to buy drugs.
      Nimbin is a wonderful colourful town full of interesting people who take the time to smile and say hello when you walk down the street. That’s why we moved to such a beautiful part of the world

  4. I agree that the police attendance while minimal was significant enough to scare people off passing a joint around. The almost certain chance of getting gob swabbed by the boys in blue on the way out of town is also a major deterrent to anyone who would like to have a smoke but has to go to work or home. I think people are still every bit as Hippie at heart despite the clothes they wear. The clothes on your back should never define who you are in your heart and your way of life 🙂

  5. The reason you couldn’t smell any marijuana is because of the massive police presence and roadblocks. As for the lack of hippies, I too came to the Aquarius festival in ’73 and stayed. I brought my children up on a community, I livein a hand built house with solar panels, composting toilet, vegie and fruit gardens, worked in both paid and volunteer rolesin Nimbin and was partof building someof the organisations you seein Nimbin today. No doubt if you’d seen me in the crowd you’d see an ordinary 65 year in a green silk shirt and blue jeans. I don’t have to dress as the young hippie I was in the seventies to feel that I’m partof the Alternate community. Those hippies haven’t left, they have just changed form as most people do. Many of children who have stayed here don’t look like hippies either, but they still have the values they were brought up with. Anyone can turn up here wearing tie- dyed clothing, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s what people are and do that matters.

  6. When I was in Nimbin for the Aquarius Festival as the “Aussie” member of the New Zealand multi media group BLERTA (the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition), there was an agreement with the local Sargent at the time, “you can smoke your dope in the fields, but not in the town” to which Johnny Allen, Grahame Dunstan and Trevor Bau Cau Stone, the organisers agreed. The fact that there was an abundance of ‘Magic Musrooms” (Gold Tops), growing abundantly in the fields, made that an easy agreement to keep.

  7. Yep the government and police are doing their best to ruin public and international relations. I went last year for the first time and got a lift with a couple from NZ. We were pulled over on the road from Lismore at the road block. The bloke tested positive from the swab. I never did see that couple again on the weekend. Felt so sorry for them and their Australian, mardigrass experience. Could just imagine the report they gave back home about how backward we are here !?

  8. Well I was able to enjoy my self in the jungle even seen a tiger . Johnny was next to admit he seen it too ! Was a little sad to hear now this maybe the last Mardi grass because of politics :/


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