We look into the dying festival culture in Australia and the policies against them.
A world where teens and students dance in grassy fields, sipping delightfully on Captain Morgan’s, listening to their favourite bands, covered head to toe in glitter. Ah, what a perfect world.
Not to Gladys Berejiklian its not.
As NSW approaches their state election this weekend, young voters are eagerly awaiting to have their say and chance to oppose Liberals at all costs. For many young voters, the promised policies from Parties such as The Greens and the Labour Party have been key stakeholders in the movement #votemusic and #savelivemusic, reaching out to the festival demographic and the music lovers of NSW.
Following the influence of Woodstock, a few countries tried to make their own version of Woodstock to relive the high of it all and hope that they too could mimic the success of the festival themselves. Australia immersed themselves in the world of major music festivals by creating the Sunbury Pop Festival in 1972, held on a 620-acre farm between Sunbury and Diggers Rest, Victoria. The Australian answer to Woodstock was held over the Australia Day long weekend, but only lasted 4 years. Whilst it wasn’t the first music festival to be held in Australia, its popularity and influence on the Australian music industry is said to have marked the end of the 60s hippie era and the beginning of the pub rock wave. The festival staged various Australian and New Zealand bands, and even had Queen on their lineup in 1974- despite being booed through their whole set. Mercury was right by retorting: “when [Queen] come back to Australia, [we] will be the biggest band in the world!”
With Sunbury as a benchmark for future Australian festivals, it may be evident where the influence of drug culture was born. However, it’s fair to say that not all festivals follow this trend, with many successful festivals such as Tamworth Country Music Festival, Gympie Muster, and The Big Red Bash that have a little to no drug use within their festivals. The genre of music as well as the demographic evidently plays a big part in the level of substance abuse and use in festivals, with events that were introduced more towards the end of the 90s and early 2000s to have more of a “festival=drugs” mentality.
For some more context for our non-Australian readers, NSW premier and leader of the NSW Liberal Party, Gladys Berejiklian, is determined to end all festivals as a retaliation to the increase of deaths and dangers due to drug use in festivals. Well, technically it was one festival, “Defqon.1”: a hardcore techno music festival where in 2018, two attendees died of suspected overdoses and seven other attendees hospitalised. Following this, Ms. Berejiklian stated that her government has a “zero tolerance” for drugs and its just snowballed from there. The pressure of her government policies eventually drove “Mountain Sounds” to cancel their festival in February 2019 due to the expense of police presence on the day- just as one example of the impact on the industry. So what does this mean for the Australian music industry? Consequently, and most bluntly, these changes ultimately risk the future and longevity of live music, as policies become tighter and tighter over time and event production companies eventually have no choice but to spend excessive amounts of money or cancel their festivals and concerts. The industry only wishes to seek progressive and optimistic dialogue on the ultimate safety of music lovers, and to continue to create and hold a safe environment to do so.
A common argument I have found amongst young festival-goers is that the reason increased drug usage in festivals occurs may be due to factors such as the expense of alcohol available, and the overwhelming police sniffer dog presence in these festivals. From what I’ve seen, attendees with drugs on them instantly ingest all of their drugs in fear of getting caught, upon spotting a sniffer dog approaching them, leading to possible overdoses. Over the years, festivals such as “Groovin The Moo” and “Splendour In The Grass” have provided pill testing services and encouraged drug users to utilise these services, to minimise their chances of dangerous pill experiences. Whilst not condoning the use of these drugs, pill testing services provide advice on how to take them safely and will dispose of any that are too dangerous.
Ultimately, I feel that the real fault is with Ms. Berejiklian, as her strict laws on drug use in festivals may keep attendees safe- but does this stop them from ingesting pills at home? At a friends house? At a party? It will still happen. Many other options to take the same risks, that are often less safe and unguarded, but are no longer within their liability? The real issue here is not excessive drug use without agenda, but other factors that contribute (such as alcohol pricing) which- if attendees’ safety is the top priority- can be changed or lowered to lessen the blow of drug intake and subsequent fatalities or injuries.
For our Australian readers: if your believe in the fairness and safety of drug use in festivals as well as keeping the Australian music industry alive- when voting this weekend please vote 1 The Greens, Keep Sydney Open, and Labour (in any order) and put Liberals, Nationals and One Nation last.