The first Drug War Freedom Ride


Refuge on a Hemp Farm

O ur refuge offered itself through Cannabis Dave. Back in May he had been part of a Nimbin crew who had harvested an acre of government licensed, experimental, low THC hemp. "It was near here somewhere," he said. Problem was that Dave had arrived at 3 am in the morning and was understandably - they were coming from celebrating the hemp harvest at the Nimbin "Good Medicine" Mardi Grass - vague about the details of where.

Sitting about our fire on the morning of our eviction from Tamworth, it was a problem solving session with cups of hot sweet ginger tea and a joint passing about. We needed a welder and a place off the road to repair our outlawed vehicles. Jab said the next step was to ring Dr Andrew Katelaris, the man with the license to grow low THC hemp in NSW. No sooner said than the mobile phone rings and it is Andrew with words of encouragement and support. He had been following our adventures of the web.

And so it was we took refuge on a hemp farm. Truly the Goddess Cannabis defends those who defend her virtues.

South of Tamworth are the Liverpool plains, a vast broad acre farming country. One million years ago a huge fissure in the Earth's crust created the basalt Liverpool Ranges which eroded and filled up the undulations of the old sedimentary plain like a vast lake with mineral rich soil.

The wind here whispers for quiet and reverence for the infinite sky through ragged, twisted gums like usherettes in cinemas used to do.

Andrew had phoned the farmer (I will give the alias of him Graham because he doesn't want to be distracted by notoriety) who agreed at once to give us access to his shed and its tools.

The shed could have served as a hanger for a 747. Fifty Peacebus.coms could have been dry docked there. For two days Jab worked late into the winter night, power tools screaming, the angle grinders sparks and welding arc making shadows dance in the vast cavern. He set about to rebuild the back frame of the bus, determined to keep our date with Cessnock jail.

Inside the shed and all about it were bits and pieces of agricultural machinery and the place could have been mistaken for an agricultural museum. The machinery yard and sheds covered 10 acres and one needed a vehicle just to move around it, With all this space, nothing gets thrown away and in this climate rust is not a problem.

Graham invited us to make use of the old shearers quarters with kitchen, hot showers and indoor fire. Although it had been a long time since the last shear on this property, the quarters had seen many seasons of men and disuse. Everywhere was mice shit. I noticed as I wiped surfaces clean, the droppings became bright green. Then I noticed a bowl rodent poison, pellets of the same green. Either the mice had treated the poison pellets as dessert or they were doing a lot of defecating before dying.

The green was the same as that of the eutrified creek by our camp at the Tamworth rest area, poisoned by pig farm effulgent upstream.

Graham was doing serious agriculture - 10,000 acres of which 8,000 was on the black soil plains, reputed to be the best soil in NSW and can grow any grains.

Our host showed me his latest tractor, a $300,000 Case IH Quadtrack, which is a Star Wars mechanical beast on four tracks that give the 250+ hp motor traction with a ground pressure of only 5 psi. He was planting chickpeas for the Indian market and the field he was seeding was 230 billiard table flat acres.

The seeder was about 10 meters wide and he had built it himself by converting chisel plough. The machine ploughs, pneumatically seeds and fertilises as it goes. He explained that next year he will be using satellite location technology to steer the tractor, which means that year after year it will follow the same tracks and minimise soil compaction.

The harvester will record yield at every meter. This data will be fed into the seeder so that it may be programmed to automatically optimise seed distribution with soil capacity as it goes.

Our host showed me the ruins of a piggery he had been operating and employing two people. Cheap pork from Canada under cut the local producers. The Gunnedah abattoirs closed and this put all the local pig farmers out of business.

A 100 sow piggery, he explained, had cost about $300,000 to set up. A two people operation, it was at one time trusted as a comfortable rural retirement investment by many people former Prime Minister Keating included. With the closure of the local abattoirs, these investments became so much scrap metal and it will be a long time before the infrastructure for pork production will be set up in this area again.

My host shrugged about this and said he and his team (just his son and one other man working this huge holding full time) were working to beat the globalists at their own game. Hence the chickpeas for India venture. I watched him load up the seed tank and mix in a 5 litre bucket of fungicide. Clumsy me had almost put my foot in it. It was bright green.

I suggested that he could never win up against the slave labour that the globalisation is cultivating. Whatever way the coins are thrown, the New York stock exchange always wins.

He replied that farmers have been effectively slave labour for years, asset rich/cash poor, yoked to banks from the debts accumulated in the years of drought and high interest rates.

His determination and capacity for innovation in agriculture was totally admirable.

"The profit in growing wheat, sorghum and the other standard grains have become marginal. We have to look for new crops to get an edge", Graham said. He had sought out and entered into a partnership with Dr Andrew Katelaris to trial a hemp crop after he had heard Andrew's industrial hemp advocacy. Later this year they are off together to an international hemp grower's conference in Europe.

He and Andrew Katelaris has since given up on the NSW for hemp production - too much governmental chain-dragging - and they are taking their industrial hemp research and experience to the colder and politically more receptive state of Victoria for the next season.

Going with them will be Australia's only (at this time) operational hemp harvester - a modified wheat harvester ("Twenty years old, 900 hours on the clock and only $5,000.") raised one meter in order to harvest the heads for medicinal cannabis.

The weeds and burrs in the fallow land were fierce, the trees distressed. Many were the dead limbs reaching to the sky like arthritic claws. Many dead limbs on the ground too. And plenty firewood for us.

Of chemical farming Graham said he was locked in and without it he would have massive erosion problems and that weaning of it would be a long slow process. He rotated legume crops for fertility but the scale and capital cost of the cropping made chemicals integral. Not only do farmers lose under globalisation, so does the Earth itself.


The refuge realised, it was rest and yoga time for me. Setting one of our travelling table tops on the ground, I spread my yoga blankets, stretched in the sun and reflected on our fortunes. Beloved John, strumming his new guitar, which he had purchased in Tamworth, city whose logo is a guitar.

Amongst the visual-verbal offerings of the Nimbin Museum I recalled this one:

Ananda: "What is the holy life?"
Buddha: "Companionship is the holy life."
Ananda: "Is that all. Is companionship all of the holy life?"
Buddha: "Companionship is the whole of the holy life."

And this one from Milarepa (10th century Tibetan saint): "Like a lion I have no fear.
Like an elephant I have no anxiety.
Like a madman I have no pretension and no hope!"

And from my morning meditation, this one from Rumi (13th century Sufi poet)
"..when misfortune comes, you must quickly praise.
Others maybe saying, Oh no, but you
Will be opening like a rose
Losing itself petal by petal.
What is Sufism? The feeling of joy when sudden disappointment comes."

By any worrier's estimate the Freedom Ride was in dire straits. On the way to our hemp farm refuge, Peter's Urvan dropped its gearbox. Money low and all vehicles were now laid up. Yet there was certainty amongst us that it was okay. We were enjoying ourselves, comrades on a quest, in grace, resting in God's shade.

Sitting still the messages of cheer, praise and support for our adventures past had time to catch up with us like the mail of an advancing army.

Brian Preston is a Canadian writer who got an assignment to write a book about cannabis cultures around the world. He discovered Nimbin and its annual Mardi Grass on the web and came visiting last May. He was present at the First Cannabist Internationale that followed and witnessed our Freedom Ride planning.

For sponsorship of the Freedom Ride, Brian had offered to approach Marc Emery, the British Columbian cannabis activist who is the money and brains behind Marc Emery Seed Company (mail order cannabis seed) and the glossy "Cannabis Culture Magazine" which is produced in Vancouver but banned from distribution in Canada.

In response to reading about High Noon in Tamworth, Brian sent us this email:

"hey graeme,

hope this reaches you... been reading your damned inspiring...

i never got emery to commit to giving you money... he's hard to pin down but i did see him giving other people money, mostly lawyers to fight marijuana battles through the courts here... anyhow i'm doing a story about him now for rolling stone which will pay me a decent whack of cash, so i'd like to give you 400 bucks canadian which is 500 or so au how do i do that? do you have western union there or what's the best way to get it to electronically?

keep up the fight!

peace and love"

From our Sydney based police liaison officer, Sgt Jeni Burdiken, we received this:


I just wanted to thank you for sending your regular updates and articulate stories from your journey for justice. From a personal perspective and from someone who has just completed a Social Science Degree (criminology and sociology), I find your stories and commentary most interesting. I not only appreciate the humour, which you manage to inject so well in part, but the passion and rationale for your cause.

From someone who has studied criminology and the way in which the law makes so many unnecessary criminals, I commend your efforts and wish you luck and success in hopefully effecting some most needed changes.


Jenni Burdekin"

Max Stone, our cyber passenger web master tells us that are getting a thousand hits a week now.

Small company, determined in spirit, holding firmly to the truth, big waves forming and following.

Graeme Dunstan
28 July 2000


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