Festival furore

By David Rak

Police from the State Highway Patrol nabbed 18 alleged drug drivers as part of Operation Furlong in Tallarook on November 4.

Drivers were tested near the Chi Wow Wah Town music festival on Pyalong-Tallarook Rd between noon and 4pm.

In a four-hour period, eight men and 10 women, aged between 18 and 59, were allegedly detected with a prescribed illicit drug in their oral fluid test.

Drivers who did not have any prior convictions for impaired driving each received an infringement notice for $496 and their licence was suspended for six months.

Those drivers with prior offences will be summonsed to appear at court at a later date and their vehicles will be impounded for a month.

Superintendent John Fitzpatrick said police were “extremely disappointed with the behaviour of the participants driving home after the event”.

The arrests have further inflamed tensions between event organisers and neighbours of Our Friends Farm Environment and Entertainment Park, where the festival was held.

Mitchell Shire Council recently received a planning permit amendment application relating to music festivals held at the park.

The amendment application applies to the current planning permit that allows annual events to be held at the park on Melbourne Cup weekend, New Year’s Eve and Labour Day long weekends.

The permit currently states March 9 to 12 and the organisers are seeking to remove reference to the dates as the Labour Day weekend does not fall on those exact dates every year.

The application also applies to hours of operation and changed conditions regarding noise restrictions to suit EPA and state legislative guidelines.

Park manager Tanya El-Gamal said not all the 18 positive tests were from attendees of the event, which attracted 2000 people.

“Most of the positive results were from having marijuana still in their system from the weekend but were not impaired at the time of the test,” she said.

“The music finished at 1am the night before, allowing attendees a good night's rest before packing up and heading home the next day.

“It is a shame that while drugs and alcohol exist in every culture and every demographic, it’s the music festivals targeted with heavy police presence, sniffer dogs and drug testing units.”

Ms El-Gamal said attendees left no trace at the event venue which covered more than 20 hectares.

“(There was) not a speck of rubbish on the dance floor and each night I would see attendees walking around the entertainment area picking up any rubbish they saw,” she said.

“There was a full ban of single use plastics and our sustainability program was fully achieved with only one skip of landfill from the whole event.

“There was not a single violent incident or aggressive patron. The clubhouse was transformed into an alcohol-free bar and zen space with workshops and different therapies.

“The respect for the land and each other at this event and other boutique music festivals is unlike anything you will ever see at events like the Melbourne Cup, major sporting events and casinos which harbour more drugs, alcohol, gambling and violence than all the music festivals in the world combined, yet these social spectacles are supposed to be for the elite upper-class members of society and are completely left untouched by the police and media. They are praised while music festivals are vilified with an ongoing negative tinge.”

Pyalong resident David Waye said the 18 positive drug tests discredited Ms El-Gamal’s previous claims about the venue and future events.

“This festival is one of an ongoing series of music festivals intended to be held at Tallarook on public holiday long weekends well into the future,” he said.

“The proposed Labour Day weekend festival is described as a family festival. If that is the case, why apply to extend the permitted time for loud music out to 3am?

“The (planning permit) application seeks to delete a condition on the grounds that ‘surrounding residential dwellings’ is not adequately defined and the exact place within the dwelling where the noise is to be measured is not given.

“It appears the organisers are hoping to be able to generate unlimited noise, without fear of complaint from affected residents.

“Mitchell Shire is urged to consider whether it wants to allow a repeat at Tallarook of the experience of other festivals in the shire.

“The outcome of the police operation after the recent Tallarook music festival reveals this is a real possibility.”