Nimbin; Pot Paradise or Dissolutioned Dump

I’ve always been a curious (semi) outsider to cannabis culture.

Embarking on a road trip between Byron Bay and Cairns, I just had to fit a trip to Nimbin into my itinerary.

Excited when I heard of this little mountain town that had all but abandoned the notion of cannabis’ illegality, I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

Having heard tales of local legends alongside anecdotes from fellow travellers, Nimbin sounded ahead of its time in a world where the eventual legality of weed is inevitable.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.


Nimbin was first recognised as a location for alternative lifestylers, hippies and party people in 1973 following the Aquarius Festival which was held in the town that year.

Following the festival, many of its attendees decided to stay/quickly return to the town to form various communes in search of an ‘alternative lifestyle’. For a time, the town flourished under its new inhabitants following the collapse of the dairy and timber industries which had declined in the previous decade.

I expected to arrive into streets covered in tye dye, friendly hippies carelessly wandering around and the sound of reggae permeating the air just as much as the smell of dope. I wanted to be provided with a friendly, safe and welcoming environment.

The reality upon arrival was locals who looked physically and mentally unwell, run-down buildings and the not-so-inviting sound of psytrance accompanying the dopey fragrance in the air.

If you are going there to buy weed, it is extremely easy. We were approached by numerous characters in the 45 minutes we spent there, all selling the “best grass this side of Jamaica”.

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

One issue that contributed to me leaving Nimbin empty-handed was that these people looked like they were selling weed purely out of necessity, with few other opportunities available to them here.

One of the local dealers who approached me was clearly mentally unstable. He rambled incoherently about CCTV cameras and his time in prison which combined with the open wounds on his arm wasn’t the best sales technique.

Hoping there was more to this town, I went into a couple of shops. There were some fun little trinkets on sale, mostly consisting of obvious marijuana symbolism.

Before leaving, I went to get a coffee and even those behind the counter were completely out of it.

As I left Nimbin, I felt quite sad. The locals were harmless to me and I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe there. It did feel like I was taking touristic advantage of a community which has been left behind as opposed to one who is looking forward.

My conception of a pot paradise had been crushed.

Sadder still, I realised that we need ‘norms’, ‘squares’ and ‘geeks’ to level out a society which I still believe is enhanced by the inclusion of the more… extrovert.

In stark contrast to Nimbin, is the town of Maleny. a 4-hour drive north and across the Byron Bay/Queensland border.

Maleny is also seen as a community for those pioneering an ‘alternative lifestyle’. With a focus, less on drugs and more on the arts and music, the town has a much friendlier, clean and habitable feel to it.

You can see the benefits of cooperation between those who run yoga practises, healing stores and music parlours and those who run the things we also require in this modern age such as estate agencies, supermarkets and garages.

The streets are clean and the people look healthy. There isn’t a CCTV camera on every corner and the parks are filled with people jogging, not instead of slinging pot.

It was hard to come to the realisation that a town filled with people doing exactly what they want, when they want (or maybe just doing what they think they want) didn’t work.

My hedonistic younger self would be ever so disappointed to read the following, but rules and laws are so necessary for successful modern day society.

Without them, people and places simply fall apart.

The people and town of Nimbin are victims of circumstance and with harder drugs entering the town, I can’t see it improving anytime soon.

If outsiders did come in and try to help, I fear their help wouldn’t be appreciated, wanted or welcomed.

A town which showed so much early promise as a destination for free love and free spirits needs help and needs it fast. From all good accounts, Nimbin is not the place it once was.