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Roll Up, Roll Up

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Jun 12, 2002.

  1. Editorial
    Source: Sydney Morning Herald

    Joint rolling, bong throwing, the Cannabis Cup - it's that time of the year when Nimbin rolls out the green carpet in an orgy of resistance to marijuana laws. To mark the 10th Mardi Grass, Greg Bearup takes a trip to hippie HQ.
    In another town, Chicken George could well be the helpful old bloke who gives tours for the local historical society, or the fellow who gets up early on a Saturday to mark the lines for junior soccer. But this is Nimbin, and in Nimbin, Chicken George's community work for the past six years has involved dressing in a green suit with a hood, and dark glasses, to campaign for the decriminalisation of marijuana and to educate youths about responsible drug use.

    "I am, if I may modestly say so, The Man," he says as we settle down to talk in his home, a 1958 Bedford bus. "I am indeed the Ghost Who Tokes - The Plantem, or I was until I retired from that role, but my spirit lives on."

    On this weekend, however, he will assume a new mantle. "Yes," says the former Coffs Harbour Council ordinance officer, "I will be appearing as Constable Grunter and, along with my dog Sniffy, will be representing the Manly CIB at this year's parade. Just for this weekend I will be open to any form of bribe or corruption that may come my way. This is a weekend of civil disobedience and I think it only fair that the police should partake in that as well."

    And so it is that the following day, as the crowd gathers, as Ganja Faeries dance and as the Big Joint is loaded onto marchers' shoulders, Chicken George, as Constable Grunter, with a loyal Sniffy by his side, leads the parade down Nimbin's main drag before thousands of cheering onlookers. There is, of course, an obligatory stop at the police station. A line of real police stand with arms folded. As one pulls Grunter and Sniffy aside, the rumour spreads through the crowd that George has been busted for pot, "and that he had a pound of green stuffed under his shirt". No, he is being charged with impersonating a policeman, someone else says. Another claims that Sniffy will be done, too - for impersonating a police dog.

    George emerges from the police yard after a few minutes, angry and indignant - Sniffy, it seems, is unregistered. "He's had his shots and been desexed; this is a disgrace," he fumes as he stomps off down to Peace Park.

    Other towns pay homage to country music, to fat lambs and potatoes, to tuna. But at the annual Nimbin Mardi Grass, Australia's most bent and disorganised cultural festival, the local hippies have somehow managed to get it together for 10 years to pay homage to Australian pot.

    Years ago, they held a pickers' ball, a harvest festival where the small-time cannabis growers, who live scattered in their thousands in the hills surrounding the village, gathered to celebrate their earth-given bounty. But things changed in the early '90s when NSW police spent millions on large-scale raids, scouring the hills in helicopters and destroying the crops.

    As the Sydney Mardi Gras began as a protest against the outlawing of homosexuality, so the Nimbin Mardi Grass is a protest against the prohibition of marijuana. While almost half Australia's adult population have tried it, the growing, trafficking and possession of marijuana remain criminal offences in most states.

    And so they come to celebrate and to protest. Nicki and Joey and their three children, Josh, Kelana Paru ("It means wandering butterfly in Malay") and Promise, have travelled from Cairns in the family Kombi for the event. The Kombi is a work of art, covered with shells and bits of wood and paintings of animals. "Nimbin is about enjoying being a human being," says Nicki. "There's good tucker, good music and everyone is merry and, yeah, there's good pot. You have a peaceful day, hey."

    In the main street, the sons and daughters of Nimbin's hippie generation sell pot to tourists and students. They are dressed in immaculate white Fila and Nike tracksuits, with matching sneakers, listen to hip-hop and like to be clean: they've rebelled against their parents' generation. "They did their thing and we're doin' our thing," says Junior, a well-dressed love child. "There's a big hip-hop scene here, man." Junior grew up on a commune but has rejected the old ways - he likes hot showers. "Man, I've been clean and I've lived dirty; clean wins." Yo, soap.

    The three-day festival is a place where reality is hard to distinguish from fantasy, where every conspiracy theory ever hatched gets an airing, where you'll hear the most ridiculous and funny things, where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. At breakfast in our hostel, overlooking the lush green valleys that rise to deep green rainforests on the peaks, we chat with Hayley, a 19-year-old feral who's travelled up from Bellingen for the weekend. She's dressed somewhere between Goth and earth child - flowing purples and blacks with Blundstones. "How do you get your clothes so clean?" the doe-eyed one asks us. Well, um, we wash them. "Wow," she says with a shake of her head. "That's so cool."

    While the hippies have been in Nimbin since the early '70s, they are still not reconciled with some of the original old-timers: the Nimbin Show Society won't let them use the showground. So they have set up Peace Park on an old soccer pitch; cordoned off by a hessian fence painted with peace signs.

    It is here that heats are held for the Hemp Olympics, with bong throwing the first event. The idea behind this sport is that if the police knock on the front door, and you're out the back on the veranda, you'll have the dexterity to hurl the evidence across the backyard and over the neighbour's fence.

    Then there's the joint rolling, judged according to speed and artistry. The artistic rule stipulates that any design is acceptable, but it must be smokable. Marco, a Swiss backpacker, wins his heat with a joint in the shape of a flower. Marco had said it was a tulip, the judges called it a lotus flower - either way, he is trounced in the finals the next day when a bearded man rolls a joint in the shape of a fairy.

    The main event, however, is the Growers' Ironperson. Competitors follow a gruelling course: up the hill with a bag of fertiliser, back down again to collect a bucketful of water to tend the crop before the final leg, in which contestants must crawl through a thicket of leech-infested lantana, dodging imaginary police helicopters, to pick the crop and return triumphant with the booty.

    In the past few years, there have been calls to introduce mandatory drug testing in the face of indications that some contestants have not, in fact, been stoned at all. An aerobics instructor from the Gold Coast won the women's event last year to mutterings about unfairness. This year, Miranda Williamson, a local, says she is determined to bring the title home. "I've been in training," Williamson says.

    "I don't smoke pot, it's been all strictly cookies, so my lungs should hold out. Those hydro pot growers should have trouble with fitness compared to us hippies who have to lug water and fertiliser up into the hills." Williamson subsequently wins - her prize being local glory and a showbag from the Nimbin Hemp Embassy - and describes it as one of the great moments in her life.

    Michael Balderstone, a Mardi Grass organiser, admits the entire weekend is one of "disorganised stupidity", but that, he says, is pretty good for hippies. "The whole thing is no more stupid than the drug laws," says Balderstone. "As you can see, we are all pretty harmless. We all like our pot and don't think we should be made criminals just because of that." It is the Saturday night of the festival and Balderstone is relaxing with a beer in the pub, contemplating indications that for the first time in 10 years the organisers will break even. "We could get rich," he says, running his fingers through his beard as he considers the possibility. "It could get awkward."

    In the past few years, Nimbin has received a lot of bad press; it seemed that old hippie ideals were dying and a hard drug scene would take over the town. But the locals have fought back with the Jungle Patrol, a volunteer force that works with police to make the streets safer. Sixty locals are now volunteers, trained in basic first aid, conflict resolution and mental health. "We help homeless people, we stop fights, we calm people down when they are getting a bit heavy, we try to avert the situation without having to call the police," says Jungle Patrol's founder, Paul Le Bars. "It's working, too, man. This is a good community and we want to keep it that way."

    Nimbin police sergeant Gary Acton agrees that Nimbin is a good community, if somewhat different. "The carnival went off without a hitch and the crowds were extremely well-behaved, the volunteers were great and we functioned as one," Acton says.

    More than 10,000 people visited the village over the weekend and there were just two arrests, one for unrelated domestic violence, the other for trespassing (when police searched the trespasser, he had a small amount of cannabis in his possession and was also charged for that - the sole drug charge of the weekend).

    While the Hemp Olympics is a crowd-pleaser for the tourists, the holy grail for the locals is the Hemp Cup. Just as woolgrowers and cattle cockies submit their best to be judged at local shows, so, too, do pot growers.

    The 25 or so judges assemble outside the Hemp Embassy to be bussed to a secret location. Some have been chosen, others have won the honour in a raffle. Andrew, a backpacker from Dorset, says his mates were "absolutely gutted" when he was chosen in the raffle and they weren't.

    As we leave the bus and walk into the house that has been chosen to host the cup contest, the chatter stops and a sense of reverence descends. There, on plastic plates on a large table, is Nimbin's finest - enormous heads of marijuana. One is the size of a labrador's tail. "This," whispers a woman standing next to me, "is like porno for potheads." Behind the table is an enormous table laden with munchies.

    Andrew, the organiser, explains that the judges are to short-list three samples according to smell, look and feel, from the 18 on offer. The winner will be the one with the best taste and the best "stone". I ask Freja, a judge who's travelled down from Mullumbimby, how she can differentiate between the effect of one cone and the next. "Well, it's like that feeling when you see the cops," she explains. "You sort of straighten yourself out. I put myself in that frame of mind, go for a walk, and that allows me to distinguish between the stones."

    Dave has been a pot smoker for years, he tells me. He hates cigarettes and doesn't drink much, only the odd good wine, but he loves his pot. He is onto his second sample. "I like to compare good pot with good wine, where you look for various dimensions," he says, before placing the lighter to the bong. "This one is very smooth, yes, very friendly - you get that smooth texture which means that it has been slowly cured and given a lot of attention during the growing stage. It is a living organism and it responds to love and is sensitive to ... vibes. Yeah, vibes."

    After a while, Andrew calls the judges to attention. "We are about an hour into the judging here and by this stage you should have, ah, sampled your three favourites and, ah, you should be coming to a decision on which will be your winner. You should be sitting down and discussing it with other people, writing it down and, ah, we should be close to a winner. If not, then, um, well ... smoke them all again."

    Sample number two is the eventual winner, for the second year running.

    It's Sunday morning and heavy rain has fallen through the night. Sodden students and hippies poke their heads out from tents and Kombi vans beside the road. It has rained like this almost every Mardi Grass: they've tried to change the date, but that would require a decision, so they've left it at the first weekend in May. Down at Peace Park, a lone performer plays on the stage. The rain is still falling lightly and there is just one man dancing in the mud before the stage. The performer finishes his song and says, "This is an illegal announcement ... overthrow your government."

    Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
    Published: June 12, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 The Sydney Morning Herald
    Contact: letters@smh.fairfax.com.au
    Website: http://www.smh.com.au/

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