Nimbin… The fabled place where you can find herbal remedies for all life’s stresses and where curtains breathe and teeny tiny purple wizards roam the streets by day (if you get the good stuff, that is).
Formerly a safe haven for military deserters and a hippy commune, the area’s population soared in the 70s and Nimbin, a small town in New South Wales, now enjoys infamy for its high drugs tolerance. I suppose that’s what happens if you get on it for so long.
The novelty of being able to indulge in minor criminal activities with next to no danger of being sniffed out and swiftly deported has brought backpackers to the town in their droves. But whether they come for a few hours to stock up on the things you just can’t find in Coles, or to take some holiday snaps of the local heroin addicts going about their business in the local playground, most people just come for a daytrip and get back on the bus feeling that little bit naughty. But I really wanted to experience the place, know what I mean? So, this is a diary of two of my more colourful days out in the country…
Day one. 3pm: I arrive in Nimbin Village centre and take myself off for a perusal of the local fayre. I soon get chatting to two sketchy-as-you-like locals. Mid-conversation, the talk turns to narcotics and, unprompted, my two new buddies casually announce their own vices.
Me: “So, how long have you two been in Nimbin?”
Skank #1: “Too long. So how much do heroin addicts pay per day for their habit in the UK?”
I confess I don’t know.
Skank #1: “Oh. I’m an addict, by the way.”
Skank #2: “Yeah, me too.”
I quickly take a mental inventory of everything on my person which might hold any street value. Grand total of about $1.20. Hardly worth their while, and as everybody here seems to act as a go-between for tourists and dealers to fund their habit, I figure they’re not in the business of mugging tourists for their kidneys. Relax a little.
My new friends tell me they can get hold of anything, and should fate dictate that I decide to indulge, I can be sure I’ll run into them around the village later. Thanking them, I run away as politely as possible.
4pm: Purchase cookies from shop bearing the legend, “Hemp Shop – we are not criminals,” and: “Fountain – Tomato sauce annexe.”
I enquire about procuring some mushrooms and aged hemp, to which the keeper behind the counter tells me to ask after a hippy named, er… Hippy.
I’m informed he can always be found lurking along the main drag. Helpfully he shows me a photo of a skinny guy in tie dye with a straggly beard and boggly eyes, captioned as, “Hippy says ‘just say know’”, in the local rag. ”That’s ‘im, there,” he says unnecessarily. I say thanks, and emerge from the smoke-ridden gloom into the glare of the street.
Everyone is sporting tie dye garb, straggly beards and boggly eyes. Great. Imagine a Spartacus-style scene where I enquire after a “Hippy” and most of the village get to their feet. I give it up as a bad job and ask in another shop. I mention Hippy’s name, and the shopkeeper sucks his teeth like a mechanic looking at a perfectly good motor and a gullible old lady. “Oooh, you don’t want to be dealing with Hippy,” he says. “Oh, no. But it just so happens that I have just what you’re after right here…”
4.10pm: Leave shop $50 lighter and clutching a pot of mushies. It occurs to me that the shopkeeper has his own commercial agenda and “Hippy” would probably have given me a better deal. Shit.
4.20pm: Eat half of cookie with fellow guinea pig, Fionna.
4.50pm: Decide cookie isn’t working and eat other half.
5.30pm: Face melts.
6.30pm: After spinning out for an hour, I gradually regain some control and start to stew up magic mushrooms which – according to neon label – are of the philosopher’s stones variety intended for “meditative purposes”. Laugh manically to self.
6:50pm: Drink hot mushie water with juice to cover the bitter fetid taste of filth, and then get a lift down to the local theatre to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Freak out. Ooompa Loompa clones performing homo-erotic dances, trippy musical scores, rampant squirrels, characters with mask-like features, and a lot of weird teeth. It was an interesting experience. But a fun one. I think.
9.30pm: Emerge from theatre and once in the fresh air begin to get a handle on our frenetic galloping imaginations. Stars are beautiful and we stop to giggle at an overtly-knobbly bridge before turning off towards the unlit country track up to our hostel. (It was excessively knobbly.) A semi-naked figure emerges out of the gloom, mumbling and jerking erratically and scratching himself with a stick. We really freak out.
Scatty scratch-man takes the turning we need. We hang around for a bit. La la la. Deciding it should be safe now, we gingerly follow him. But walking down a deserted track behind a smacked out skag head is definitely NOT what you need when you’re tripping your tits off.
A few minutes pass. We reckon we’ve gone slowly enough to lose our unwanted companion. I start to breathe more easily and discuss Tim Burton’s prowess as squirrel master and the commercial values of trained rodents. The conversation crashes and burns as a figure rises up out of the road like Michael Myers and lurches towards our dim torchlight.
We crap it, again.
Clinging to each other, we murmur assent with sketchy man until – thank God – he turns off to another hostel. We continue to our abode unmolested and settle down with some Dutch guys who are engaged in bong experiments using the pool as a bucket. It feels good to find some sane people at last.
Day two. 11am: Awake to go to local Protesters Falls. Consume some rather nice cheese and sweet chilli sauce sandwiches and some more local cookies.
3pm: Suitably chilled out, we return and head down to the village to stock up on more supplies. We check out Nimbin Museum and politely decline several offers of drugs of varying descriptions. Count eight sales reps in less than half an hour.
4pm: Laden with the finest of cask wine and some more of the green stuff, we catch stoner’s bus up to the hostel where a very slow game of Jenga is in full swing. We join in, our slow-mo selves being in the perfect frame of mind to play.
6pm: Have dinner, overshadowed by skies dark with foreboding clouds. The air is thick and muggy. Pressure is palpable.
8.15pm: Storm erupts in the next valley. Lightning frames the mountains behind the hostel, so we guzzle our remaining philosopher’s stones from the previous day and take blankets and wine to the darkened hostel annexe to watch the show. Crank up The Doors and listen to Jim Morrison rumble away as the horizontal lightning splits the skies and flushes the whole world into rolling celluloid negative.
A couple of hours pass, and then we notice a dot of light approaching through the hedge. A figure, hidden except for the bright orb of the torch, emerges out of the gloom and we see the light cast around for a couple of minutes, before retreating into the darkness.
”Oh,” says Fionna.
“That must be Darth Vader, looking for mice. Hard times, you know.”
“Oh yes,” I say, as we both turn back to the storm. Summed up the weekend perfectly.
A strange place at the best of times, Nimbin really goes to town during its annual celebration of all things chronic – the Mardi Grass.
Held this year on the weekend of April 30 to May 1, Mardi Grass has,
since 1993, been Nimbin’s effort to all come together and protest in favour of reforming the cannabis laws. Expect thousands of green-minded travellers to descend on the town to join in with the festivities, which include everything from the Hemp Olympix to a street parade.
In case you’re wondering, the Olympix include events like the Cookie Cup, Stoned Chess (drug testing compulsory), Joint Rolling, Bong Throw and a police vs stoners Tug O’War.
The damage & the details: A Golden Bud Pass, with entry to all Mardi Grass events, costs $50. Camping for three nights costs $50 per person. www.nimbinmardigrass.com