Travel Writing Awards Entry

By  R. Curtis

My first trip to Nimbin was so my boyfriend could buy some pot.  We timed our visit with the Nimbin Mardi Grass, an annual festival held to advocate the legalisation of Marijuana. We had heard that the little town of Nimbin was the sub tropical Amsterdam of Australia and that you could buy and smoke pot legally there, almost.  We drove through the winding ‘Rainbow Region’ passing exits for hidden waterfalls and rainforests full of real Australian bush creatures. It felt like a cliché story book of perfect green hinterland where there really were Koalas in the trees and back and white dairy cattle just like a dairy milk commercial.  We occasionally passed some scary looking hitchhikers and my boyfriend kept telling me there was definitely Mullumbimby madness growing somewhere.

Surrounded by massive rocks that aboriginal elders told me not to look at, Nimbin is in Northern New South Wales at the foothills of the Border Ranges and Night Cape
National Parks. Its most famous neighbour is Byron Bay which is a mandatory stop for any traveler with a backpack.  The most easterly point of Australia, Byron is famous for its alternative living and the local council has fought to keep McDonalds out.  Visitors arrive in Byron every year for the surf beaches, dolphin pods and of course the beautiful people.  The local classifieds are filled with demands for semi-vegan, organic or vegetarian flatmates.  Tourists that board the busses and have to leave always end up looking a little more relaxed than the ones landing, they board with a few more piercings, dreadlocks or something alternative.  Not all of them get to Nimbin, it is a bit more full on. 

Nimbin is so tiny it really only has one main street.  It has quaint rainbow painted shop fronts, a HEMP embassy, home of a political party that fights for the legalisation of Marijuana, cafés, a school and a pub.  The heart of the town is a thriving reminiscence of the 1970’s Aquarius movement that drew so many like minds to the area.  In some cafés you can order a hot chocolate and roll up a joint and no one will look at you sideways.  Other cafés have handwritten “no dealing” signs but people keep asking my boyfriend if he wants any pot.  I wonder why no one is asking me.  My boyfriend says they can tell I am too straight and boring.   I am in a white shirt and jeans, far too boring for a town still selling tie die shirts.

Tucked away in the hills are some very organised communes that started in the age of Aquarius with rules, permaculture and big moves towards sustainable living.  Nimbin has some beautiful multiple occupancies where people work together with solar panels, generators and common ideals.  Nimbin has a fantastic connection to green energy with local contributors like The Rainbow Power Company.  Energy users that use the company can store and retrieve energy from a locally set up community green grid system.  Some people really do their eco living in style and build beautiful eco friendly houses with a brand new bathrooms and hidden pit toilets.  I saw a house that looked like a Vogue magazine spread but you didn’t need to flush and it didn’t smell.    The entire town feels like a real community.  Everything local has its own flair and some memory of the hippie days and perhaps even some insights to the future.

It is not quite Australia’s Amsterdam.  If you do choose to purchase, smoke or carry marijuana in Nimbin, it is illegal.  The police are visible and especially during the Mardi Grass.  During the festival I saw two policemen walk alongside the giant fake joint being paraded up the main street.  Green ganja fairies dance around the cops and the whole town smells like strange incense.  The law is still the same as it ever was but somehow this little town seems very tolerant of the practice and the smell.  I drive back to my sea side home after the festival behind someone who is driving far too slow.

Since my first visit, I have taken my mother and father just for a look and I think it is worth it whether you want to inhale or not.  The intricacies of a place that exists outside the rules with rules of their own making and the determination to keep them is fascinating.  The close nit communities are so special, from the local football team that encourages something healthy in an indulgent town to the restricted access to communes with their own rules and waterfalls.  Nimbin is truly unique and people are proud of it.  It’s a little street with a lot going on.  The dealers, the buyers, the tourists and the locals all put on quite a show on a quiet Saturday morning right in the heart of the 70s.