Drugs Aren’t The Problem

There’s been some negative news in the Australian press recently about a music festival called Rainbow Serpent.


 Photo Credit - Tom Andrews (legend)

Photo Credit – Tom Andrews (legend)

Well drugs, really.

People go into the Australian bush under the blistering sun and dance to music many don’t understand (full disclosure, I don’t out of context) and while they do so, some of the crowd inevitably push their boundaries with substances the government deem illegal and so rightly or wrongly the festival gets ‘bad press’.


I went to the festival this year after a two year hiatus.


This is what I saw, heard and felt and is in no way justification, denial or defence. It is merely my thoughts, my understanding and my memories which, because they’re mine cannot be anything other than a representation of my experience.

I have penned this blog in such a way that I hope to provide the space to raise broader questions that seem in the most part, to be silently ignored.


Deep breath, and here I go!


It’s hard to explain Rainbow Serpent.


How do you explain a place designed to delight in it’s playfulness, it’s colour, vibrancy and music from a grey laptop in a reality where structure, time and order rule.


How do you describe the childlike delight at watching a smoke filled iridescent bubble float past your eyes, carried by the wind and sinking to the baked ground to pop in a puff of grey magic.


How do you explain how it feels to sit on a hill with your friends, watching the sunset and knowing that in that moment nothing is perfect and yet everything is exactly as it should be.


How do you explain the vibration in the very cells of your being as the music pounds through you, shaking your core and cleansing you in waves of sound more powerful than logic.


How do you describe the unity between souls who in real life may never speak, but brought here together in the desire to be free from the shackles of a world too complex to bear, bond in a tribal force of togetherness, sweat and love.


How do you explain the heat, the dust and the light as you traverse across the terrain, feeling your life in its hands, reminding you of your fragility on this planet and calling you to rise up in respect of the land that bore you, holds you and will ultimately take you.


How do you describe the sound of laughter ringing through the night sky or the taste of fresh watermelon on burnt lips, gifted by a stranger for no other reason than to see you smile.


 Photo credit - Ryan McCurdy, McCurdy Media

Photo credit – Ryan McCurdy, McCurdy Media

How can you explain it?


I guess I can’t.


But there is more I can’t explain.


I can’t explain why this year the police presence had a different energy about it because when I was last there (2016) they didn’t seem to be looking for trouble.


I can’t explain how people come to a festival like this without a tribe to look out for them, to make sure they’re hydrated, safe and accounted for.


I can’t explain why I saw people being hauled off the dance floor for doing a bump of white powder because mate, that’s not keeping me safe, that’s you filling an arrest quota.

I can’t explain why I saw people being marched through the party by police to have their tents searched because that’s only causing a divide between us. You are making yourself the enemy.


I can’t explain the logic of detaining a guy for eating magic mushrooms when he’s causing no harm and posing no danger. In that moment you become unsafe to us instead of being the people we turn to when we encounter trouble.


I can’t explain why this year someone in a concrete office somewhere declared the ‘war on drugs’ should be notched up to attack the people who are not the problem, adding to the shame and the secrecy of drug taking. When and how is that ever going to end well?


I can’t explain other people’s choices because I am not in their shoes. 


But this is my choice and this is my story.

 Photo Credit - Tom Andrews (captured a golden moment here)

Photo Credit – Tom Andrews (captured a golden moment here)


At the beginning of 2018 I realised I had an issue with alcohol which ultimately led to me giving up booze altogether.

It was hard.

It is hard.

I haven’t had a drink since the end of May 2018.

I think about it every day.


Sobriety from alcohol has made me much more sensitive to other substances and now I question myself when I want to alter my state in any other way. Is it social anxiety? The desire to fit in? To mellow out? To perk up? To transcend into a different reality? For what purpose? Even my morning coffee comes into question. Why do I need, want or desire this?

 And so Rainbow for me was a very different experience this time around.

No longer needing to prove myself, my stamina or my legendary status I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, safe in the support and love of my friends.

This meant I danced when I wanted to dance, not when I thought it would look cool to.

It meant I ate the beautiful food and found sustenance in the earths bounty instead of rinsing myself until empty.

It meant I slept peacefully and woke up each day excited for my next adventure.

It meant I spoke to strangers and delighted in stories I could remember and retell, honouring the art of folklore.

It meant I respected my body and never pushed my limits beyond what experience (to be fair) had taught me I can handle.

It meant I was safe and more than that, my friends were safer too.

It meant I enjoyed the festival for what I believe it is there to provide – a place of love, culture, expression and fun.


But it runs so much deeper than that.

Because once the last tent in our campsite was down, I went home to a life I love.

Not one I was escaping from.

That’s the difference.

I can’t explain to you how amazing that felt.


So I’m not here to defend the festival, nor am I here to encourage drug use and nor am I here to demonise the police.


But I will question how we got to the place where we actively use ego, fear and judgment to rule; burying ourselves further in mis-education and a reluctance to see things a different way.

I will question when we failed each other as a collective; where someone’s friends are when he’s had too much or she’s lost in the dark.

I will question why individualism, free thinking and self-expression are so feared.

I will question when we will be brave enough to fund community projects so we have less need for the amazing medics who have to save the lives of people who desperately need educating, compassion and a reason to love themselves.

I will question why resources are being poured into shutting down festivals instead of starting mental health schemes to help people respect themselves enough to enjoy events like Rainbow Serpent safely.

I will question when we arrived at a place where people feel so disconnected that they are looking to escape their own mind.

 Photo credit - Ryan McCurdy, McCurdy Media

Photo credit – Ryan McCurdy, McCurdy Media

And honestly, I will question why we are talking about closing down a party and not asking how we could bring about social change.


Because the ‘trouble’ at Rainbow Serpent is just a reflection of the ‘trouble’ in normal society.

It’s just that in normal society it’s underground, unreported and not so covered in glitter.

Mental health and emotional wellbeing is an issue that reaches far beyond the festival gates.

This isn’t about drug taking.

This is about creating a world where people aren’t afraid.

I’m a huge believer in sharing tools to encourage healthy self esteem, self love and self worth so please feel free to jump over to my FREE Facebook group, That Crazy Thing Called Life to access them and join a phenomenal community. Join HERE.

If you like my open, honest and raw style then you’ll love my lives – every Wednesday at 11am on Facebook (follow here) and Insta (emily_thatcrazythingcalledlife).

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Thank you very much for reading. I’d really love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you personally.

Em x










Comments 11

  1. What an amazing account of a festival life I have loved so much for so many years.

    I dont think there is anything you didnt cover in your writing about an experience that has so much to offer.

    It is so sad and disheartening that a place created out of such joy and love is shamed upon and treated like a criminal event.

    I too hope that someday not too fat away, that we are looking at pill and substance testing as a way of keeping people safe and not having the law come down on them when they are harming noone.

    I love that you wrote about this xxxx

  2. Very very well written! You basically articulated my thoughts around the attitude shift this year so well. This needs to be said, So Thank you for Sharing a different very accurate perspective for people who havent been!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful articulate piece of writing.

    I feel that social media has helped create FOMO so huge in some insecure folks, that people who have never doofed, arrive clueless, prioritising the Instagrammability of RSF over the on-ground survival tactics required at a multi-day event.

    Sometimes I wonder if the more staff/services we put in place, the more it potentially attracts people with larger sense-of-entitlement? They sure do take the festival’s duty-of-care for granted.

    I met hundreds of people who had never camped, festivalled or Rainbowed before, who then found themselves very quickly psychologically out of their depth because they arrived, took drugs, went straight into urban-party-mode (thinking their car/tent was like a short distance away, much like a carpark at a gig). Then the sun went down, things got much harder to navigate in the hallucinogenic multi-stage dark, and they got confused and lost and sometimes ended up in dangerous situations in altered states.

    The onus on people to "be prepared" when camping at a multi-day festival seems to be playing second-fiddle to "wanting to be IN".

    And perhaps the same people who turn up unprepared are also willing to be a Liability to the staff/patrons instead of being an Asset to the community.

    There will always be people who try to take advantage of a ‘party atmosphere’. These people are Festival Tourists, not Community Contributors. Unfortunately I feel no amount of carefully-worded Survival Guide will reach them or their attitudes.

    Unfortunately these types of people (and their interactions at events like Rainbow) create the types of incidents which sell newspapers, provide excellent clickbait, and fuel divisive conversations (for example, at parliamentary level, influencing the strategic and operational budgets of the very services Rainbow requires co-operation from in order to meet legal (and ethical) compliances).

    Isn’t the fact that Rainbow’s emergency services operations includes a massive team of frontline volunteers, proof enough that Rainbow’s attendees are community members committed to looking after each other?

    The presence of heavy-handed authority to police the unsafe actions of a few loose units seems to me to be nothing more than an opportunistic PR stunt in order to be seen as "doing something about drugs". I guess it’s just not as PR-friendly if the cops are collaring all the coke fiends attending the month-long Spring Racing Carnival. Far easier to go after a bunch of Gen X music-lovers in the bush than face the metropolitan wrath of the rich old white men who run the wealthiest turf clubs in Australia.

    I hope articles such as this one galvanise people who have never attended the festival to understand why it doesn’t need to be shut down. Rainbow is in a class of its own and I hope it attracts and retains that sense of community for many years to come. Because it is exactly that sense of community which engenders a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging is the antidote to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). It’s the holy grail of connectedness. Being accepted for who you are. No social lubricant required. And as you rightly said, no-one needs to feel afraid.

    1. Agreed, FOMO is an educational issue and certainly cause for concern. I used to feel like I needed to prove myself (led me to alcoholism so that worked out well!) and we need, person at a time, to change the collective consciousness around what is ‘cool’.
      The volunteers and medical teams were/are amazing and to be fair many of the police were phenomenal too (the agenda was painfully obvious tho) and in the main I think most people felt secured and safe. But how we feel on the inside is so often magnified on the outside at festivals like RSF, regardless of the organisers – my own experience has taught me this. When I’ve attended in the past at a time when life was dark (break up, low self esteem, job I hated) I abused and no amount of volunteers could make me feel safe. Safety, trust and love is an inside job. And I think we all need to learn HOW to do that. Grateful I learnt it and now want to share it with as many people as I possibly can. Individual change results in collective change. love you feedback and thank you. E x

  4. @Lemur Lemur – "The presence of heavy-handed authority to police the unsafe actions of a few loose units seems to me to be nothing more than an opportunistic PR stunt in order to be seen as "doing something about drugs". I guess it’s just not as PR-friendly if the cops are collaring all the coke fiends attending the month-long Spring Racing Carnival."

    I wanted to note that VICPOL would, like any major organisation, have an eye on PR. But the underlying motivation for their policing of festivals is that’s where people die, in the public eye, from illicit drug use. A one-two punch for the cops in terms of their mission. Not saying that the Racing Carnival doesn’t have its own issues – I think you’ve raised an excellent point. I don’t think they’re going about it the right way, which is a much longer post, but I can’t fault their focus in terms of harm only.

    Your point about ‘festival tourists’ is well made. I saw a couple of people across the festival be stretchered off the dance floor and I kept thinking ‘where are your mates?’ The concept of looking after one another was heavily made by festival organisers, but clearly not heard or understood by all. This is a human problem, and it needs a step-change across multiple fields to solve it.

    I commend DanceWize for their challenging ongoing dialogue with police (and their national pill testing campaign), the local community for their clear eyed and crucial support, and the festival organisers for fighting the good fight year in and out. Maybe a public campaign or ongoing conversation by the festival community about smart partying is worth thinking about.

    1. I totally agree and DanceWize are SUCH a great support at these festivals. Thanks so much for commenting and I’m honoured that my little blog has sparked a beautiful conversation about how we can change the collective culture around mental health and drug/alcohol use. E x

  5. Honey, i feel ya, i love the balls you have for sharing this openly about the other side of the tunnel without any substances or liquids to help you escape life but where you create your life. Its so inspiring and needed to read that there is other ways, if we just dare to so openly be enough as ourselves, like you do writing here… ???????????? love love love to you, rainbow warriores

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