Do you know the difference between the plant that gets people high and the one that could heal the planet? The sacred and vast land of Australia has withstood many lashings from farming resource-draining fibres. Although hemp might not be perfect, it is certainly versatile and has an unique biography.. here's a 3 minute snapshot!
With a history traceable 12,000 years, the production and use of hemp has allowed civilisations to grow exponentially. Said to have evolved where we now call Mongolia and southern Siberia, it eventually reached Europe. In 1533 A.D hemp and was so integral to society that if you weren't planting and reaping it on your land King Henry VIII would penalise you half a years wage!
During the Age of Sail, the Brits needed to rely less on Russian grown hemp for naval supplies. India was part of the British Empire so they tried there, but failed after planting the wrong seed and growing what's now known as 'Ganja' instead of the fibrous strain..
Now is a good time to discern dope from rope. Cannabis Stevia (marijuana) gets you high while Cannabis Stevia L. (industrial hemp) is the non psychoactive variety used for medicinal oil, biofuel, cooking and fibres that can build anything and everything, even a complete house. If you try to smoke the industrial variety you'll become violently ill..
History says the acclaimed ‘wonder-crop’ arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788 upon the advice of Sir Joseph Bank, the famous botanist, and his vision of a 'Hemp Colony' (an outlandish but proven initiative that was smothered by the narrative that Britain needed a place to put their ‘bad people’). Historian John Jiggens uncovered this evidence through his research and book, "Sir Jospeh Banks and The Question of Hemp."
Several decades later the rise of coal and steam propelled engines, the Age of Oil allowed America to create new fibres from petrochemicals and induce fear about the ancient plant. Plastic and paper companies needed to rule out the competition so they lobbied and lit the fire, burning coal and a future of responsibility.
Closer to home, Sir Joseph Banks' dream was squandered.. Pressure from the US reached its trade partner, Australia and hemp started to lose touch with its allied governments.
Australia quickly followed suit for the ban and prohibited the substance and its cultivation in 1937.
To really seal the deal industrial hemp was then wound up in the 'War on Drugs' with Nixon in 1971, demonising the long revered bush. Our harmless and nonpyschoactive friend to nature was thrown out with the drug water and has had a negative connotation ever since.
But, good news is around the bend. Australian Farmers are harnessing their curiosity and are dedicated to practices that will aid us through some of the most concerning climate years to come.
We cannot continue to reconcile 7 mega-litres of water for a hectare of cotton, or 11,000L of water to create 1 t-shirt. We must redefine our exports and learn from countries that are engaging with sustainable practices in industrial hemp. China whom we sell $800m of cotton to annually, are well acquainted with the green.
China continues to have the longest and most profitable harvest of hemp, cultivating the species to create fibres for 6,000 years. Companies such as Hemp Fortex have built and maintained a sustainable factory with their futuristic and conscious practices.
We can give hemp a new identity by investing in Australian farmers and learning about how our future can benefit from embracing this plant. Industrial hemp takes little from the earth, and adds a lot. We are not divided from nature and history has taught us that we truly do reap what we sow.