Pot for Peace: From Gaza To Nimbin For MardiGrass 2024


Every year, thousands flock to the ‘alternative capital of Australia’ in the foothills of the mountains behind Byron Bay, for the annual Nimbin Mardi Grass festival, where there’s almost as much weed as there is talk of social justice. Harsha Prabhu went along.

“There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.”
― Navajo Song

It was Dr Andrew Katelaris, long-time Australian medical cannabis crusader, who nailed it for me at the Nimbin Mardi Grass over the weekend.

Speaking at the rally to mark the end of the Mardi Grass parade, and holding a Palestinian flag, he said: “This might seem like a long stretch, but the people that are killing Gazan babies are the same ones that run the drug war; it’s just a different face on the reptiles!”

Then, he said: “Listen carefully; support actively,” and introduced Subhi Awad, a Palestinian Christian and spokesperson for Northern Rivers Friends of Palestine.

Awad said: “We are all fighting the same thing. The same people who are criminalising our medicine, are the same people who are affecting our First Nations people; that are having this terrible justice system. They are the same people who, in our newspapers, are attacking our Queer Family. They are the same people who are corrupt and spreading billions of dollars on submarines we don’t need.”

Renowned Australian medical cannabis crusader Dr Andrew Katelaris, at Nimbin MardiGrass 2024. (IMAGE: Harsha Prabhu)

“What we need is the highest level of human and ecological rights, for everybody. So when we fight, please join us all together. We need to join our Queer Family in their fight; our First Nations Family in their fight. All together we can really make a difference! On our own at home we cannot. Let’s get together. Let’s do it!”

In my mind’s eye, it appeared that Awad was dreaming up the much-anticipated Rainbow Coalition of the Peaceful Warriors, the ones alluded to in the US First Nations’ stories and prophesies, that would emerge to guide us in times of darkness.

John Shipton, the father of Australian-born journalist and Wikileaks whistleblower, Julian Assange, now in Belmarsh prison in the UK and facing extradition to the US for exposing the crimes of Empire, began his speech at the Nimbin Mardi Grass by making a heart shape with his hands.

“Julian has spent, in one form of incarceration or another, 15 years, moving into the 16th year. Are you guys down with that?”

The assembled crowd roared “No!”

“We’ve had five prime ministers, five governments, five foreign ministers and nothing is happening to relieve an Australian unfairly persecuted. Are you down with that?”

“Shame!” roared the assembly.

He pointed out that in the case of Julian Assange, Australia, which is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, had abrogated every single one of the declarations.

“This time, a good one: the students, the youth of 112 universities across the United States, have turned their attention to Gaza and demand that the United States facilitate a ceasefire. Are you down with that?”

And the assembled crowd answered “Yes!”

John Shipton thanked everyone for their support and said 84 members of the Australian parliament had signed a petition for the freedom of Julian Assange and for the charges against him to be dropped.

“Everything ascends from the people. So I give you thanks,” Shipton said.

Nimbin peace, environmental and performance artist, Benny Zable.

A ceasefire in Gaza was also the theme of the costume worn by Benny Zable, Nimbin’s own peace, environmental and performance artist, in the Mardi Grass parade. Zable’s trademark costume, complete with gas mask, also sported the legend: ‘War, it’s costing the earth.’ A smaller sign read: ‘Coal, Oil, Gas: fuelling climate change.’

This was in recognition of the fact that the jackboot of the war industry left the largest carbon footprint on the planet. With the ‘fossil fools’ of coal, oil and gas extraction not far behind.

More than a few attendees to Nimbin MardiGrass 2024 wore their hearts on their sleeves (and slogans on their faces) in support of Palestine.

This dark message was framed by Benny Zable’s peace and environmental flags, sporting laughing dolphins and flying doves and all the colours of the rainbow.

Indeed, Benny Zable visited the West Bank in the early nineties. He painted his mural – Palesrael – his version of the One State Solution, comprising one state with equal human rights for all, on the Palestinian side of the separation wall in Bethlehem. He was prevented from doing this on the Israeli side by the IDF.

Notably, the Greens were the only major political party with a presence at Nimbin MardiGrass 2024.

Thus, while the Ganja Faeries danced through the streets of Nimbin in the Mardi Grass parade, followed by the mad Mardi Grass drummers and clowns of every description, and workshops on everything from medical marijuana to the medicinal properties of psychedelic mushrooms, not to mention joint-rolling and bong-throwing competitions, it was this radical, inclusive vision that wove together the rainbow family – from the killing fields of Gaza to the verdant hills of Nimbin – that captured the eye and heart of this inveterate, aging hippie, a veteran of the first Nimbin Mardi Grass in 1993.

Tellingly, Pot for Peace was the theme of this year’s Mardi Grass.

If peace is to mean anything, it will have to include peace in Palestine.

Yes: from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.

For, as Nelson Mandela, father of the Rainbow Nation, said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

* Harsha Prabhu is a long-time Nimbin Mardi Grass reporter and supporter. You can read a piece he wrote on the festival from 2018 here.