Editors note: Longtime youth advocate, performer and dance teacher Cayce Hill has watched the recent discussion around tighter regulation of music events and festivals with interest. While much of the debate has centred on pill testing Cayce sees other issues at play. Ahead of a NSW Coronial Inquiry later this year, Cayce makes her case through Region Media.
I have been fortunate in my life to witness first hand the power music has to turn a life around.
However, over the past few months, I have been forced to consider why government seem blind to this fact.
What are our policy makers missing? Why the war on music, Premier Gladys Berejiklian?
We’re being told the “war” is all about safety, as the NSW Coroner is set to hold an inquest later this year into five suspected drug overdoses at music festivals in the state since September. But there is another startling statistic underlying this discussion which local and state governments are yet to investigate. The fact that in Australia, among those aged between 15 to 44, suicide remains the most common cause of death.
I have strong reason to believe the increase in drug use and the growing rate of suicide in this country are directly linked to ill-advised political agendas and the out-of-touch politicians who champion them.
While living in Melbourne, I worked for a non-profit youth performing arts organisation, shepherding young people in the northern suburbs, bonding with them over a love of music and dance. Many of these kids were struggling with their sense of identity, looking for a place to belong. I was fortunate enough to watch many of them not only turn into incredible performers but also healthy, happy people.
I was hungry to do similar work in the Bega Valley Shire, first with fLING Physical Theatre and then by starting my own business, Funhouse Studio.
As a consequence, I have had the pleasure of supporting many young people in pursuit of their creative ambitions and watched as new business opportunities were created for both them and our economy.
Late last year, however, I decided that it was my turn. At the ripe age of 33, I’d harboured ambitions to throw a pop-up music festival targeted at our small, underserved youth demographic for some time. I finally made arrangements to have a former student from Melbourne visit and perform. I began assembling an all-star cast of local talent, including up and coming artists Tom Francis and Gabadoo.
We could all recognise the market opportunity was there, and couldn’t wait to dive in. We hoped to host 300 people at most, both locals and tourists.
However, the deeper into the process I got the more impossible this dream became. I’d organised community events in the area in the past, but hosting at 18+ event opened a can of worms there seemed to be no coming back from.
Under the guidance of police, I was encouraged to hire one security guard for every 100 people, to erect fencing, and maybe even hire a police patrol unit at a rate of $140 per hour, per officer.
As the budget began to stack up, and because I was prepared to take the necessary precautions, problems continued to arise.
Council staff denied me access to a local hall (the event, they said, would attract too much noise and wasn’t suitable for the space) and rather than support alternative venues, remained vigilant in their attempt to stall the event further because they didn’t have time to process the necessary DA application.
The situation came to a head last month when my friend and headlining artist JJay De Melo was found drowned off the Mornington Peninsula. He was only days away from opening for American Hip Hop artist TYGA, before making his trip to the Far South Coast.
Not only has this news struck me to my core personality, but it has also forced me to reconsider the importance of my work while remaining acutely aware of how short and precious life can be.
I have been left to wonder if it is our safety the government is really worried about or is there something else at play?
After the Tathra bushfires early last year, the Band Together concert united people under the banner of a great cause and some amazing music acts.
The event proved to be a point of healing for our community, and even then the incessant rules and regulations around it could’ve stopped it all from happening.
So imagine a town still in mourning, still reckoning with so much, still in need of music and celebration. And now imagine both state and local governments joining forces to make it as difficult as possible for that to happen.
Imagine the number of businesses affected, the hired PA systems that lay in wait, the cancelled accommodation arrangements and the talented local musicians who won’t get the chance to perform. Imagine the people who won’t be able to sing, dance, and connect with each other.
Now imagine a different model, one being championed in Melbourne, the live music capital of the world.
In 2017 alone, live music events in the city generated $1.4 billion. This all begs the question: why the war on music, Premier Gladys Berejiklian?
One of our Shire’s premiere venues, Four Winds, has tried introducing a more musically-diverse program over the years. But strict noise regulations have made this feat all the more difficult, which seems to ostracise younger audiences.
The noise restrictions, the amped-up security measures, the paperwork fees and charges – these rules seem to force many well-meaning organisers underground and keep these otherwise public events out of sight.
And even if an event manages to tick all the boxes, the reality is that these measures end up very costly (festival tickets can range anywhere between $100-$450). Is it any surprise that people are turning to drugs as a quick and cheap alternative to mid-strength beer?
When policies impede rather than empower, safety appears only to be a cosmetic concern.
Before moving forward to legislate for stricter rules around music festivals, the Premier would do well to examine the opportunity costs. She might find that her government’s policies are doing more harm than good.
Cayce Hill is the founder of the Funhouse Studio on Hill Street Bega. Funhouse is a social enterprise that aims to provide opportunities for young people as well as being an affordable community space for education, culture and hanging out.