Organisers of a three-day music festival that police want shut down due to “overwhelming safety concerns” that pose “extreme risk” have hit back, releasing pictures of officers enjoying last year’s event.
Bohemian Beatfreaks is scheduled to take place next weekend on a 3000 acre remote private property about 55 kilometres southwest of Casino in northern New South Wales.
It features music acts, cultural activities, a market village, outdoor cinema, yoga and health classes, and various workshops.
But police today withdrew support for the event after inspecting the site and deeming it unsafe for attendees, emergency services and the local community.
“We have a considerable list of safety concerns,” acting superintendent Toby Lindsay said.
Rabbits Eat Lettuce, the company behind the festival, has run five previous events on the property without issue and said Bohemian Beatfreaks in 2017 was a success.
Erik Lamir-Pike, the organisation’s director, even released images of police officers in attendance last year in a bid to show it was so uneventful for authorities.
In one, an officer on duty at Bohemian Beatfreaks can be seen trying out a motorised Esky, while in another two policeman pose with a reveller.
Mr Lamir-Pike said his company had a solid safety track record and at five previous festivals there had not been a single ambulance transfer for drugs or alcohol-related incidents.
“In fact, a comment was made by a police officer in attendance at one of our events, held in April last year, that ‘it was one of the best days of my career’ … and they ‘had nothing to do all day’ and would ‘definitely be coming back next year’.”
Police withdrawing support has meant organisers could be forced to cancel the event, with a court battle now under way.
Even if Mr Lamir-Pike is successful in salvaging the festival, he said the estimated $100,000 in legal expenses could bankrupt his company.
“We have a dedicated emergency manager on site who was in Victoria Police for many years and our medical facility can accommodate pretty much anything except for surgery.”
At a meeting between organisers and police late last month, Mr Lindsay advised that support would be withdrawn.
“We have advised festival organisers to rectify those issues but we have not been satisfied that the risk to public safety has been appropriately addressed,” Mr Lindsay said.
Among the “extreme” risks identified by police are severely restricted vehicle access in the event of an emergency, poor communication infrastructure, a lack of perimeter fencing and the area’s bushfire-prone location.
There is also strong potential for harmful drug use and excessive alcohol consumption, with police saying they had detected “large-scale drug use” at previous events held on the site.
However, Mr Lamir-Pike claimed the senior officer made comparisons to the controversial DefQon.1 festival in Sydney, where two people died earlier this year due to drug overdoses.
“Our festival is a three-day camping festival, it’s one tenth of the size and very different to the DefQon.1 event in Sydney,” Mr Lamir-Pike said.
“It seems NSW Police are becoming opposed to dance music festivals across the state. If this was a Barry Manilow concert I doubt this would be happening — NSW is becoming a nanny state.”
Whether the event can be held is now in the hands of the Land and Environment Court.
“We have identified safety issues that are totally inadequate for a festival site and we simply can’t support it going ahead in its current form,” Mr Lindsay said.
“As police, it’s our job to protect people as expected by our local communities.”
Rabbits Eat Lettuce, the company holding Bohemian Beatfreaks, has held festivals at the property in the past. A request for comment has been made.
Thousands of people are expected to attend and camp in surrounding bushland, with promoters advertising around the clock musical performances — with 20 international artists and a slate of Australian acts — over the three days.
On its website, organisers warn attendees not to consume drugs and advised of a zero-tolerance policy towards any anti-social behaviour.
“We aim to create a space conducive to human creativity and freedom of expression,” the website said.
Police also expressed concern about the risk of overcrowding, an unfenced dam in the area and the location’s long distance from emergency services.
Mr Lamir-Pike said previous events had proceeded with harm mitigation strategies and user-pays policing arrangements.
“We are confident that the festival is safe to proceed and is adequately resourced by our emergency management plans, site security, medical resources, fire management plan, harm reduction processes and on-site facilities.”