The first Drug War Freedom Ride

  A Day at the Grafton Cup

Rolling ahead of, "Happy Wheels" took me to Grafton as the advance man, the harbinger of the Freedom Ride. Oh, to be a harbinger of freedom! Here I am to say: "The Drug War is over if you want it." Shades of John Lennon. Thanks John.

Arriving, I discovered that the genteel orderliness of graceful old Grafton was in disarray because it was Grafton Cup week and that the City was taking two half day holidays off from commerce and its citizens were putting on their finery and outrageous hats to watch expensive horses prance around.

A week before when I had come to town no one had mentioned it. In one day I had met with the Area Commander Police, Inspector Arthur Graham, the Governor of the Correctional Centre, Doug Stanton, the General Manager of the Grafton City Council, Ray Smith, and the Anglican Bishop, Phil Huggins. All gave the visit their blessings. But none mentioned the Grafton Cup when we negotiated places and times.

The central park where we were booked to go, I learned, was expected to be as dead as a roach in a drought. So we did a swift rearrange and when came in from its refit at the Cybershack (2 Alternative Way, Nimbin!) we set up by the highway in a n avenue of young jacaranda trees, against the back fence of the course.

Biggest event of the year in Grafton, some 10,000 people were expected to drive right by us. And they did. We were 400 metres and around the corner from the finish line and stadium, but even at that distance I knew we were a hot topic of conversation that day.

Our rig of banners and flags is truly splendid.

We got lots of cheers, peace signs and toots of support all morning. We got some snarls too. "Get a job!" "Greenie scum!" And from what looked like the executive committee of the Clarence River Jockey Club, in a sedan which slowed down to say: "Germs!" I liked the idea of being a virus that multiplies inexorably and brings down prohibition.

A Clydesdale drawn brewery cart carrying brewery executives all dressed in charcoal black suits came by looking like they we going to a funeral. The legal drug pushers grinned at us.

As we set up a squad car delivered our first visitors. The officers had had a complaint that we were obstructing traffic. We weren't and the officers had come in peace, wishing us well, inquiring about mutual friends from Nimbin. The second visit was the Inspector Arthur Graham, personally checking it out and being re-assured.

The third visitor was the course steward, Brett Nay, producer of the Grafton Cup. He was in that high state of anxiety as events producers often are on the morning of the big day. He explained that he was responsible for course safety and that he thought that our flags might spook a horse.

"These horses are mad", he said. "Pumped up on exercise, special foods and ..." "Drugs?" we asked. "Drugs too", he said waving his hands about. "One horse wired to the eye balls might see your banners, think it is a monster, jump side ways and knock over a whole row of horses and jockeys. The 1600 metres race is going to start just where you are."

Here was a gift. Not only had we set up so that 10,000 arriving race goers would see us, we had set up beside the starting gate in full camera shot.

We calmed Brett and, by offered to take down all the banners if necessary reassured him and agreed to take them back four meters to the tree line. Then we settled is to our camp chairs to cook up a meal, make a cuppa, roll a number and watch bright clouds rearrange themselves on the canvas of a huge blue sky made bluer by the rich greenness of this lush valley.

The beautiful horse flesh and the gay silked jockeys rode right on by about 15 metres away, Friends from Nimbin came to visit, Drug law reform advocacy as sitting about with friends in the winter sun, drinking cups of hot sweet tea with a slice of ginger.

The Bishop of the Anglican diocese of Grafton, +Phil Huggins, is an Aquarian brother, and my first meditation teacher (TM). Some 26 years ago he gave me my first mantra. Long time brothers on the spiritual path, we recently reconnected when he became Bishop of the Grafton diocese which includes Nimbin.

+Phil offered me use of the Diocese office, phone and photocopier. He also came to our camp by the roadside, admired our art, and insisted on paying my entry and escorting me into the racecourse. He was wearing his purple shirt and crucifix, me my Nimbin fashions, hemp scarf and hemp T-shirt with cannabis leaf motif and the single word: "Inhale". So it was that I got to see the Grafton Cup, in the company of a Bishop.

On the first night in Grafton, I camped by the mighty Clarence River and watched the light on it change through the sunset. The sunset was followed by a wall of cold air, so retreated to a Pizza Hut and munched pizza, drank beer and feasted on Tom Robbins', 'Fierce Invalid Home from hot Climate', until the manager asked me to leave 3 hours later. I went out into the night again, my mind loopy with Tom Robbins' prose and fantasising wildly.

I rang Phil at 8 am and invited myself to breakfast. He was most gracious not to resist and made me toast and coffee. He had just returned from a swim and was just about to go to morning prayer. I invited myself to that too.

The morning prayer session took place in the nave of the elegant brick and lichen Grafton Cathedral. I was struck by the art presenting the Stations of the Cross. It was so good, so graphic, I could feel the suffering in every one. And looking at the broken body of Jesus on the cross high on the wall, I was aware of the ocean of sorrow and pain that had come through these doors seeking solace.

There were five of us at morning prayer - the Bishop, the Deakin, me and a 60 year old mother and her 35 year old daughter. The daughter had an instantly likeable, sweet easy smile. I learned that she was enroute to the Anglican drug rehabilitation centre at Binna Burra. The mother had come for blessing/support/relief. More drug war victims. What a torture heroin addiction is for families.

The morning prayers were read, the readings and the responses a gentle washing of the spirit. Then Phil said a prayer for the Freedom Ride and me. My response was to prayer for all those suffering injustice. "May their anger be healed. May their dignity, power and grace be restored."

Then Phil prayed for the daughter. He, the deacon and the mother put their hands upon her and murmured invocations. She sat there smiling, pure bliss in the morning light. I just sat there and wept.

Phil's influence has been to get me thinking in Biblical metaphors. Jericho! Let's do a Jericho when we go to the jail at 2 pm next Saturday 8 July seven times around the walls with horns! Divine inspiration. Absolutely crazy, wonderful idea. I could see our little procession of buses and flags going around and around the jail block and the big speaker horn booming out: "Prisoners of the Drug War, hear me. You are not criminals ..." The walls would have to fall. Metaphorically at least.

I rang the Governor at once and arranged a meeting (only the Bishop's Registry and the Jail do not take the Grafton Cup half day holiday) to test the limits of this madness. I raised the matter apologetically at the end of a meeting that was otherwise concerned with getting visiting rights to the 'pharmo-political prisoners of the Drug War' and in particular, the Nimbin folk we know who are in there.

The Governor threw up his hands incredulous and amused. "What you do on the road outside is not my business," he said. "But I doubt the walls will come down so I will not be leaving my office."

"It may be safer outside with us", I demurred. But what does it matters if the Governor stays in his office and all the cells of his jail are empty?

Graeme Dunstan
6 July 2000

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