11 September 2020

Dragon Dreaming Festival granted three-year approval despite police objection

| Hannah Sparks
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Attendees at the 2018 Dragon Dreaming Festival.

Attendees at the 2018 Dragon Dreaming Festival. Photo: Supplied.

Organisers of an annual music, arts and lifestyle festival on the edge of Burrinjuck Dam in Wee Jasper say their event is safe despite objections from NSW Police.

Yass Valley Council has given Dragon Dreaming Festival the go-ahead between 2021 and 2023 with entry to 4500 patrons, nearly double the ticket holders who attended back in 2014.

The organisers asked for the festival to be approved up until 2025, however council limited the time frame to allow an earlier review of the development application.

Police in the Hume Police District objected to the approval, arguing drug consumption at the festival’s remote location poses a risk.

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It would take emergency services an estimated one hour and 45 minutes to transport a patient by air or road from the festival to a critical care facility in the event of an overdose.

Police concern was amplified when a 23-year-old woman died from an overdose at the festival in 2015.

Police raise objections to this event being held in Wee Jasper each year, and more fervently since the tragic death in 2015,” said Yass District Inspector Alison Brennan. “Police were unable to prevent the event from going ahead, but provided ample notice that any future development application at this isolated location would be objected to.”

A coronial inquest into the 2015 fatality reviewed council’s decision to approve the festival’s development application in 2014. However, no findings were made and council’s solicitors concluded that the council had satisfied its duty to ensure any risks associated with the event, specifically illicit drug use, were appropriately controlled.

Under the current development application, organisers must have police present at the festival, funded by a user-pays model.

Organisers had asked the council to remove the condition based on the cost and said they already contract security, medical services and DanceWize NSW to provide an alcohol and drug outreach service at the event.

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“Our aim is to provide the most sustainable, ecologically positive, professionally-run event that showcases local and upcoming artists alongside some of Australia’s best electronic, instrumental and live musicians in an environment that is safe, inviting and stimulating for attendees from diverse backgrounds and from a wide range of age groups,” said festival directors.

However, NSW Police previously charged less than cost recovery for policing the event, said Inspector Brennan.

Police have also recommended the festival contracts an onsite ambulance to reduce the transport time from the medical tent to the helicopter landing site. Organisers said they would talk to NSW Ambulance.

Inspector Brennan also said the remote location would make evacuation of the festival in the event of a bushfire difficult. The festival site is surrounded by dense scrub and located at the end of a 4.5km unsealed lane.

Under the festival’s current bushfire management plan, attendees would be sheltered onsite by the edge of Burrinjuck Lake during a bushfire

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said there was “no realistic scenario allowing the safe [departure] of all persons” and that the current plan “would not guard against smoke inhalation”.

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Despite noting the risks, the RFS supports a future event.

Wee Jasper residents say they don’t consider their home to be remote and that they shouldn’t be prevented from having events such as the festival due to their rural location.

A long-term Wee Jasper resident said they had been to the festival and never seen any trouble.

“I believe you would find more trouble in Yass on a Friday or Saturday night,” they said. “I had no problems in allowing my young teenage son to stay down there for the weekend, both as a festival-goer and as a volunteer.”

The Wee Jasper Community Association raises funds each year through its food stall at the festival and those funds have gone towards an arts program at the Wee Jasper Public School; the local volunteer bushfire brigade; and maintenance of the village’s 50-year-old memorial hall.

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It’s estimated about $9000 is raised for the community at each festival.

Helen Cathles, who hosts the festival on her Cooradigbee property, said the festival also brings money to the town of Yass with ticket holders and organisers buying food and fuel there.

The council estimates the festival brings between $350,000 and $615,000 to the region with convenience and grocery stores benefiting the most.

While the Dragon Dreaming organisers have council approval for the events, they still need to comply with whatever public health orders – including COVID-19 restrictions – are applicable when they are staged.

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we don’t need to be baby sat.
We do what we do understanding our own consequences without hurting others. MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS AND STOP SMOTHERING OUR WAY OF LIFE

Barry Hunter7:43 pm 14 Sep 20

How many people die from bad diets / drugs in the city / walking in front of cars with their heads down in their phones / suicided because of Morrison’s Robo-Debt ?
Where has our freedoms gone to ? I’ve ridden motorcycles all my life and could be considered a temporary Australian by many people – what have I done wrong ?
I suffer from PTSD / Depression / Anxiety – all because I spoke my mind about the NDIS before it became the shitfight it is !!! managed out by a charity company !

Ridiculous in the current environment, money over safety it seems.

I have been to many dragon dreaming events, I have found a monumental difference between their events and others- nrl finals games,concerts and even Australia Day events that I have been to over the years.
The location at wee jaspers gives a sense of separation from your woes in normal life,creates income for Yass ,wee jasper, Duffy and other suppliers of food and camping essential over the festival.
I’ve seen fights at a Kenny Rogers concert and police being attacked at a pantera concert in Sydney and complete caps at an Australia Day concert on the very grounds our nations Parliament House where hundreds of families were witness and involved in absurd drunken violence !! but never 1, not one act of violence between any festival goer to another or a police officer in the years that I have been to the dragon festivals.
To say having the festival is a hazard outright and not assessing it as a process with hazards is not fare.
I ask- What are the statistics on hospitalisation and fatalities involving non similar events and the cost the community incurs? ,Do the Canberra raiders pay for all the police rbt’s after a game in the ACT to control the hazard of DUI or violence related possibilities in order to have the event? And what are the figures for DUI’s and drug related arrests on game day?,Does every company have to provide a councillor to accompany a person who has just lost their job Home to control the hazard of an individual being able to make their own decisions and to use the machines and tools around them for whatever purpose or intention they have?
If we balance the positives of the event with the negatives we would have no issues granting the event approval and blessing, but we must assess the risks,the consequences in the form of a matrix with likelihood and controls.
Why not ask the police that have been on the ground at the events, the organisers and the medical teams that have been on the front line to do the risk assessments in part with others……. And determine likelihood.
Personal choice, social engagement are part of humanity and putting up walls to block these engagements of sharing, creating and Self expression are going to effect generations of people!- Australians and travellers, need to be free in a democratic country to congregate with others in a controlled environment and have some bloody fun!!

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