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Last Update: August 2, 2012 10:45 PM

MardiGrass - The Early Years


Like anything revolutionary, the MardiGrass had humble beginnings. In March 1993 the Police made yet another raid on the town dealers. There are many towns and cities where the contraband cannabis trade supplements the local economy but Nimbin's trade is out there, in your face. Undercover police had traded with street dealers over the preceding summer and would return later in the year with warrants for arrests - the public Round Up. Generally, these police raids were met with frank but restrained resentment. This time, after one whose name was on the list put up a bit of a fight, the local, predominantly young, street people followed the police back to the police station and there unleashed a torrent of frustration, in the form of rotten tomatoes, eggs and toilet paper.

The Nearly NORML Nimbin group formed in 1988 as the district's first enduring drug law reform outfit and later became Nimbin HEMP - Help End Marijuana Prohibition - then later in 1992 this changed to the Nimbin HEMP Embassy.

This group saw that resulting adverse media publicity was doing the drug law reform movement no good and that the time was ripe to channel the increasing discontent into a fun, celebratory and non provocative form of political action. The "Let It Grow" may day rally and street parade was concieved as an opportunity for everyone to come together in a combined strength, and peacefully and responsibly indicate their opinions about the drug laws and their impact on society. Despite the refusal of permission by the local council, the Rally was planned to be held on Saturday, May 1st, 1993. At 1:00pm it took off up Cullen Street from the Bush Theatre carpark led by an impromptu marching band. The colour, zest and unhinged upfrontery burst forth and by the time the Parade hit the CBD of Nimbin the numbers had swollen to well over a thousand. The first of the flagship big joints stumbled blindly, hotly, proudly to the police station. Here the smoke machine at the front which had been chugging along throughout the march blew forth a monumental cloud of smoke, there was much cheering and dancing in the streets, then the ecstatic crowd returned to the Hall for the Let It Grow! People's Summit on Prohibition. The Plantem made his first known public appearance and distributed joints to the crowd. Social justice activist and lawyer, David Heilpern made rousing sense about the ridiculously unjust nature of the legal situation as pertains to cannabis. Many other speakers contributed considered insights into the evils of the drug laws. The feeling that day was one of empowered and heady optimism, and the belief that together we could do something to change these laws that hang over so many lives as a helicopter of paranoia. A great time was had by all; everyone was friendly, there was little alcohol, no violence and a tangible sense of camaraderie and empowerment. The Rally determined to hold a further MardiGrass each year until the repeal of prohibition. The National Aboriginal flag flew in the Nimbin Park all day and has flown there throughout all subsequent MardiGrasses.


1994 came by and despite our passion, optimism and our righteousness the drug laws still had not changed! The Beyond Prohibition Conference was organised and speakers included Dr. Alex Wodak, Prof. Paul Wilson, Tina Van Raay and Richard Jones MLC. Also from that conference came the stirring of a coalition of HEMP groups on an Australia wide basis. That year the MardiGrass street party on Sunday, May 1st (again refused permission by council) established itself as an occasion of pure Nimbin culture, the town alive with colour, green "Let It Grow!" helium balloons, Pot Art , Cafe Cabaret, The Nimbin HEMP Harvest Ball, and all overseen by the first Jungle Patrol (the MardiGrass Marshals). An 8.5 months pregnant Ganja Queen led the belly dancing Ganja Faeries in what has now become a traditional hookah ritual at the Ball, and Ed Rosenthal flew out from America and impressed the local growers with exacting details for the premium growing and curing conditions. It was a wild, free and unapologetic occasion. The attendance of the crowd for the march and rally (addressed by Andrew Katelaris) had grown to well over 3000 people.


1995 and for the first time the 1st of May didn't fall on the weekend. The organisers, despite being extremely exhausted as we'd just been involved in running two separate state election campaigns with all our friends helping out, made the ambitious move of extending the festivities from Friday, 28th of April to Monday 1st of May, with the march remaining on the Sunday, as in previous years. We had only a little over a month to pull together a festival that by now was going to happen anyway. Co-operation with the police was working well. Despite our lack of official council approval (We hadn't even bothered applying that year) the local cops' calm approach and cooperation in maintaining a smooth flow of traffic and not hassling the 6-7000 people who attended town for the Parade was a credit to both them and the Jungle Patrol. No arrests were needed to be made that year with the police impressed with the overall cooperative behaviour and peacefulness of the crowd. The MardiGrass was also becoming an important date on the international drug law reform calendar of events.

This time the local community got more involved with the Nimbin Designers Hemp Fashion Parades, market stalls, the Pot Art 2 Exhibition, the inaugural MardiGrass Growers Cup, the burning of a hemp/wicker man (old pagan mayday custom), and more besides. Jack Herer (author of "The Emperor Wears No Clothes") came with co-campaigner and author Lynn Osborne, and Ed Rosenthal came back again. A major coup that year was securing the World Premiere of Anthony Clarke's film, "The Hemp Revolution".


1996 became a five day event with a Kombi Konvoy from Lismore leading in to the opening ceremony. Rain did nothing to dampen the HEMP alternative Olympix flame as it was carried down the street, nor the enthusiasm of the hundreds? Thousands? who had gathered to see it arrive. There was an official Koori opening with performances from Nunukul Kunjiel and Quandamooka... and the rain continued. By the next morning Nimbin was surrounded by floodwater and you couldn't get in or out of Nimbin. On the Nimbin side of the floods MardiGrass 96 (Pot for Peace, Peace for Pot) carried on with dance, voice and lantern making workshops, a stunning hemp fashion parade, cafe cabaret, and the harvest festival ball sparked up by the full moon, albeit somewhat cloudy. There was the Grower's Cup (the judges positions were raffled....), the lantern parade, accomodation problems, and crowded footpath areas. The first Hemp Traders Trade Fair was on in the Hall along with forums, market stalls, a culinary expo and the inevitable bongo madness drummers. There was a joint rolling contest, the Hemp Olympix (including bong obstacle course relay, bong throwing, the marijuana growers iron person event and the Commisioner Woods Bent Cop Cross Country Steeplechase), a screening of the updated "The Hemp Revolution", and Pot Art 3 happening in the shopfronts throughout town. All culminating in the Street Parade on Sunday 5th of May for which the rain stopped and the floodwaters magically receded. Over 4000 people made it to Nimbin for the rally, which was addressed by Ian Cohen, Faye Scherf, Richard Jones and Steve Bolt



The MardiGrass has become a major underground ritual. It is also about raising public awareness and proposing feasible alternatives on an issue that affects almost every household in Australia, in some way or another. As an event it is always what whoevers there makes it. Come to Nimbin the first weekend of May of each year (we'll keep doing it annually until the repeal of prohibition) and be part of this unique, peaceful, joyful and productive play on politics. We couldn't ask anyone for any more than that.

From the "Nimbin High Times", of the 1997 MardiGrass.

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