The first Drug War Freedom Ride

Getting Noticed in Grafton

Every day on the road with the Freedom Ride is full of revelation and challenge. This day we set up our beautiful rig in a central park of Grafton, market Square. The rig unfurls from its cocoon in brilliant colour like the new wings of a butterfly.

Max Stone, he of festive speech, had invented a new verb, "to butterfly" to describe our labours setting up.

Apart from the parkies (boozing kooris and young heroin addicts), we got a steady stream of well wishers (young people, old people, kooris and cabbies) but no big crowd.

We had publicised a rally with a few leaflets and just as we were gearing to set up, the Repoman arrived to claim the Repo van so we were thrown into a spin unpacking the Repovan and stripping it of any useful assets before the tow truck arrived. The Repo man knew our whereabouts from the web site. It's good to know someone is watching.

The Repovan and his partner were pleasant, commiserated with us and told us that Ford Credit were notorious bastards in this business of busting people late on payments, no latitude allowed.

So the Repovan left our convoy, its paint job incomplete. "Are you the 100th monkey?" its back flap demanded to know. At some car auction soon, we speculated, someone on a path similar to ours is going see that and say, "Yes!" and buy that van and know they have found treasure.

Steve Bolt, lawyer from the Northern Rivers Community legal centre came down from Lismore to speak at our rally. Steve is the legal adviser to the Nimbin HEMP Embassy, formerly of the Redfern Legal centre and a long-time drug law reform advocate.

For the first time we street tested our roof rack PA with the Blues Brothers era horn, 800 mm dia, made circa 1956.

My voice bounced down the main street. I watched people on the far side of the intersection stop to listen, but in front of me, except for the jacaranda trees, I had no audience at all. The small crowd we had had before the arrival of the Repo man had dispersed.

But we got noticed. No question. There was no one else publicly advocating drug law reform that day in Grafton and probably had not been for 15 years or more.

Steve and I walked down to the local commercial radio and got 30 minutes on air at drive time. That meant maybe another 10,000 people aware of our presence.

So we sat about in the park in our folding chairs making tea, talking to the park staff who had been so helpful with our set and entertaining our visitors.

Across the road from the park was the electoral office of Harry Woods, NSW Minister for Local Government and local member for Grafton. To our delight he came over to visit us. A good man, Harry has been a long time friend of the HEMP Embassy.

When he was a federal member he had hosted a delegation that travelled from Nimbin to the new parliament house in Canberra in 1992. Now in the state house, he had been amongst the first to greet the Cannabus when we arrived at the NSW Parliament House for the Drug Summit in May last year.

"Premier Carr is the sticking point for drug law reform in NSW," he told us. "It's a personal thing, family trauma stuff and despite all urging from his colleagues and advisers, he will not budge." I railed about the needless suffering and the rising drug deaths and incarcerations. Harry nodded in agreement and offered to personally deliver a letter from me to the Premier, a fellow from my era at the University of NSW.

One of the poignant stories was a young man called Michael who was on weekend detention at Grafton jail. He came from around Nimbin and we had mutual friends and I knew his young son. Michael had been a cannabis dealer in Nimbin and he had been set up by an undercover cop who had pestered him for a hit of heroin.

Michael had knocked him back a couple of times but when the man persisted he took pity on him, found him the hit and sold it to him. The few days later the undercover came back and asked again and again. The amounts were trivial (less than a gram all up) but Michael got shopped on a "three strikes and you're out" charge.

We talked of life on the inside and Michael told us of another Nimbin inmate who was suing the NSW Government for not protecting him from a savage beating he received from an inmate.

At 4 pm while we were fixing lanterns in preparation for the evening, a high level deputation from the Council comprising a very dour (Lady) Mayor, a concerned General Manager, Ray Smith, and a teeth gritting Director of Engineering Services (which includes parks), Col Harbridge, arrived to demand we quit the park forthwith. We had only booked the park for a one hour rally and we were over staying our welcome.

It had been a low key day for us but 'people had complained' about our presence in the park. And more to the point, two councillors had rung the Mayor to personally complain!

We stood negotiating under jacaranda tress and bright flags. Me asking for their forbearance so that we could enjoy the park with lanterns as well, not wanting to offend and not wanting to cooperate either. "What offence have we given?" I asked. Failed to fill in the booking form in full and honest detail, it seems. I asked for an 8 pm exit, we got a 6 pm departure. The lanterns looked lovely.

Mayor Adams - the Engineer wouldn't tell me her first (its Shirley) - was short, stocky and agitated. She told us she had been to conferences about drug policy and supported the Drug War. I recalled that Grafton, two years ago, had declared itself a "drug free city". Here was the person I most wanted to meet and dialogue with.

What a monstrous delusion the concept of drug free cities is. What suffering it creates and perpetuates. I yearned to talk to her about that suffering and about the social costs of prohibition, but she was fearful and cut off. Fear and ignorance is the currency of prohibitionists.

On the previous night, Bishop +Phil invited the crew to 'Bishopholme', a colonial bungalow on the banks of the Clarence, to share some of the grace his office provides. Hot showers, carpets and an indoor fire - luxury to us parkies. The crew lounged about reading scripture and pondering the religious art books he brought to us in regard our inquiry about Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.

This night we spent in a Grafton temple of another kind. Early in the day Beautiful ("Beautiful All" is his deed poll name) introduced himself and quizzed us about our cause and spiritual dispositions. Like me he is an aging hippy, a colourful eccentric, with Grafton as his playground. His pate was bald, his hair long and his skin tanned and fit from an active out door life. He exuded the intensity and presence of the prophets who know God and know they are God. A full on technicolour guru and not a little frustrated by the lack of devotees.

"Devotees are hard to come by these days," I empathised. He loved what we were doing and invited us to come visit him. He left a note to emphasise his invitation.

"Dear Brothers, Thanks for coming to Grafton. (My humble home) is yours for showers, coffees, biscuits & crashing." Signed with a daisy, Jim Beautiful. To further underline the invitation, later he came back and left the keys because he was going to be out for a while.

We arrived after dark exhausted from our labours and were feted with Tim Tams. Jim's flat, like his life, was an art work. The walls were adorned with religious art of the Textra pen tradition. The walls of his flat were like a Nimbin community notice board in Spring - everywhere colourful and eccentric messages from Jim Beautiful to Jim Beautiful.

The notes included names and honorifics of his gurus - "Billy Connelly is the Messiah", "I like Cher" - and his favourite books - Herman Hess' Sidhartha, Walt Whitlam's Leaves of Grass and Wind in the Willows "especially the chapter, Piper at the Gates of Dawn."

The sign on the door said: "Visitors welcome"; the sign on the stairs said: "I like having visitors"; and the sign at the top of the stairs said: " I like like liking having visitors." Another sign said: "Welcome Nimbin Gods!" There was a pile of fresh towels with a note on top. Another in the shower: "What a beautifuil naked body you are."

I felt at home at once and, when we aligned our lineages of mutual friends, "Family", I declared. Jim's heart took wings.

Beautiful distributed a largesse of chips and sweet biscuits and we promised to be his devotees for the night. He seized the opportunity to speak and, formally welcoming us, he gave us a short version of his story and his revelation. "Jesus is fabulous", he said. "And so are you. Son of God too. In fact more, you are God."

Amongst other claims to hippy fame, Beautiful said he had been a founder of the Cedar Bay beach community in far north Queensland in the late sixties. I heard about this community when I was organising the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin in 1973 and Nimbin and Cedar Bay became linked on the hippy trail.

When the Drug War began in earnest in Australia in 1975, it was directed first against the hippies, the "youth culture" which had taken up pot and turned its back on the Cold War. We hippies might have aged, but the Drug War still targets youth.

That year both Nimbin and Cedar Bay were raided in major police operations. At Cedar Bay the police, without search warrants or any regard to civil liberties, arrested the hippies, burned their houses and destroyed their gardens and property. At Nimbin the Tuntable communards were rounded up in a dawn raid and held in cattle trucks.

Prohibition historian, John Jiggens says that this coincides with the rise of major organise crime around cannabis - the first large scale cannabis cultivation in the Griffith area. This leap into industrial production, Jiggens says, was capitalised by Nugan Hand, the CIA backed, money laundering, merchant bank that came to Australia after the end of the Vietnam War. Jiggens argues that the cannabis was grown for export, the global illicit drug market, because the production far exceeded the Australian market demand at the time. Back in 1975, illicit drug use was very minor and drug deaths in Australia were very few. Less than ten.

From 1975 governments all around Australia started spending more and more each year on drug prohibition enforcement (police, customs, courts, prisons). The more they spent annually the more drug deaths annually to what we have today - in the next 12 months more than 1000 Australians will die from drug misuse. Graphed together, Jiggens research illustrates a parallel rise between Government spending and drug deaths.

In acknowledgement of the Aquarian connection, Jim gave me a gift, a six page photocopied document called "More Himalayan Wanderings of the Old Fool" by Swamiji Compassion.

Swamiji was an Australian yogi/saint who had gone wandering the holy path in India after World War II. He had had a following in India but came back to Australia to die. He was present at the 1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival, the high point in this land of the counter cultural explorations of the 70s, as a frail old body but a shining powerful presence. He died soon thereafter. The poems were written down by a devotee at the Festival and represent his last recorded utterings. First time I had seen this document.

The old man and his piercing eyes were instantly vivid for me.

Let me be at home
And everywhere.
But let me not
Make my home
Except in You
I am a stranger a guest
Even in this body.
Let me remain
To it
And ready
To leave it
As possessionless
As I once entered it."

Some karma was coming around. A timely reminder to this wandering old fool that the alternative to the punishment path of drug prohibition was the path of compassion and humility.

Graeme Dunstan
7 July 2000

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