Free Beer & Sex by Mike Dixon - HTML preview

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9 Hippy communes


Okay.  You've joined a commune and people are telling you it's run by a bunch of criminals.  They are making out that it's not much different from the motorbike gangs you've read about in the newspapers.  Of course you don't believe them.  The commune is about saving the planet.  You are trying to stop the rainforest from being destroyed by developers who don't care how much damage they do so long as they make money.  You set up road blocks and sabotage machinery.  It's not surprising the greedy arseholes are telling lies about you.  All they want is profit.

I first got to hear about the communes in the Daintree rainforest when I went to visit friends who had built a backpacker resort there.  The Daintree is on the coast, between Cairns and Cooktown in Far North Queensland.  It is an area of great environmental significance and large parts have been declared World Heritage.  I didn't doubt that there were people who wanted to develop the bits that had not yet been scheduled for preservation.  I knew some and had heard their boasts of chopping down any tree that stood in their way.  But that didn't mean the protesters were squeaky clean.

As a new development, the resort came in for a lot of flack.  The protesters had tried to stop it being built and were harassing people staying there.  That didn't deter them from using its facilities when they managed to sneak in undetected.

A couple turned up one evening when I was there and hung around the bar chatting up the girls.  They weren't my idea of the average tree hugger.  Suavely dressed in dark trousers, silk shirts, medallions and religious charms, they reminded me of the sort of young men who drive fast cars and frequent nightclubs.  My friend told me that their usual attire was sarong, headband and little else.

They lived in a makeshift commune in the nearby forest.  The leaders were male and Australian.  Their followers were predominantly female and many came from overseas.  My friend painted a picture of free love, drugs and squalor.  I asked how he knew and he said some girls had fled the commune and warned people to keep clear of it.

I returned to my hostel in Townsville, which is 500 kilometres to the south, and forgot about the Daintree for a while.  Then I started to hear reports of a battle being waged by environmentalists who were opposed to the construction of a coastal road that would link the Daintree to Cooktown.  I could understand their concern.  The road would cut through pristine forest.

Soon, the whole thing became highly politicised and accusations began to fly.  The protesters were allegedly growing marijuana amongst the trees and trading it.  The accusations were vehemently denied.  Anyone suggesting such a thing was labelled an environmental vandal in league with the most evil and reactionary forces in the land ... then bodies started to be found.

They were cropping up beside roads and the evidence pointed to gang warfare.  Drug trafficking was evidently involved.  I guess the police had the commune under surveillance and were waiting to gather further evidence.  That's normal in drug operations.  If you dash in too early, you get the small fry and the big fish escape.  When the bodies appeared, they were forced to act.

I might have forgotten about the episode if a young woman had not come to stay in our hostel.  She came from Canberra and I'll call her Joan (not her real name).  She worked for us while staying in one of our apartments.  One day we had a problem with a girl in the female dormitory.  She was hysterical and Joan managed to calm her down.

The next day she told me that the young woman was suffering withdrawal symptoms and she'd taken her to the drug rehabilitation clinic at the hospital.  It was then that I learnt about Joan's involvement with the drug scene in the Daintree four years earlier.

At the age of nineteen, she'd left stuffy Canberra for a life of freedom in a commune in the rainforest.  The noble thought of saving the planet had helped her overlook the failings of her companions who were preaching conservation while chopping down trees to grow pot.  She'd told herself the crop was solely for personal use, despite its huge size.  She'd ignored the other drugs passing through the commune and she'd been intimidated by the threats and physical abuse that were a way of life in the commune.

Like everyone else, she was detained for questioning when the police raided the place.  She convinced them she was not a person of interest and returned to her parents in Canberra.  They advised her to enrol in a social welfare course at the university, arguing that her wayward experience would help her save others.  It didn't.  Drugs had impaired her ability to concentrate.  She found it difficult to study, fell out with her lecturers and quit.  For the past year, she'd been wandering around trying to find herself.