Migrating across regional Victoria each year, self-styled ‘bush doofs’ are becoming extremely problematic for the rural shires they leave in their wake.
Loddon Shire recently rejected a permit application for the Yemaya Festival on a private property north of Serpentine, and its mayor Neil Beattie was scathing in his assessment of festival organisers.
“We could have prosecuted them (after the 2016 festival),” Cr Beattie said.
“Last year they essentially ran an illegal event.”
No fences, no access road constructed for emergency services, countless incidents of trespassing were all episodes worthy of punishment, according to Cr Beattie, who admitted to giving the festival the “benefit of the doubt” in its first year in 2016.
“Our planning officers recommended we reject the 2016 permit application, but three councilors overruled their suggestions – it’s not often that happens,” he said.
Loddon Shire let festival organisers off with a slap on the wrist, but their mandate was clear for the 2017 festival – get your house in order.
“A lot of these festivals leave it until last minute and try and rush it through on purpose,” Cr Beattie said.
“They (Yemaya organisers) did it last year and they thought they would do it again.”
The treatment of his council, and the process, irked the Boort Ward Councillor.
“All of the conditions required of the planning permit (for 2017) have not been met – not a single one,” Cr Beattie said.
“They just run an event, leave a mess and move on.”
Victoria Police was said to be one of the objectors to the 2017 event, after a “damning police report” from 2016.
Five neighbouring land owners also lodged objections with the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.
“It’s in prime farming land, and the neighbouring farmers are fed up with people walking across into their property,” Cr Beattie said.
Shires fight back
The smaller shires seem to be fighting back, however, with Buloke Shire last year winning a protracted legal battle against Maitreya Festival, who planned on holding a four-day event near Charlton.
The permit dispute was elevated to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in February 2016, and the tribunal ruled in favour of the municipality.
The council at the time argued it could not issue a permit after documents – including insurance, security bonds, emergency contingency plans, and agreements with Liquor Licensing and Ambulance Victoria – were not supplied by organisers.
It is understood Buloke Shire was exasperated at the tardy nature of Maitreya’s application, which is believed to be a common tactic.
One festival that claims to be breaking the mold of subterranean dance events is Esoteric.
The community-owned festival, which filled the void left by Maitreya in north eastern Victoria by holding its first event in March, claims to be financed by 80 per cent ‘silent investors’.
Event organiser Sam Goldsmith owns the cropping land on which about 1000 revelers gathered last month.
From a family of farmers, Mr Goldsmith was drawn to the idea of holding a large public party on private property near Donald through his industry contacts.
About four and a half kilometres of water piping was installed on the property before the event, which Mr Goldsmith hopes is “here to stay”.
Mr Goldsmith said a number of farmers may be drawn to the idea of temporarily subleasing their land for events of this nature, but most would be reluctant to run it themselves.
Esoteric had no drug-related problems this year, according to Mr Goldsmith.
Benefit of bush doofs questioned by mayor
The much-vaunted economic impact of the bush doofs is less clear.
After awarding Esoteric the event permit, Buloke Shire Council mayor David Pollard intimated the economic impact of the festival was a key driver behind the decision.
“I’m not keen on bringing drugs into our community, but you cannot stop a festival because there is a possibility there could be drugs there,” Cr Pollard said at the time.
Loddon Shire mayor Neil Beattie said a number of events are self-contained with in-house catering.
“The argument is the footy club might make a few bucks from selling food and drinks, but the reality is a lot of private food trucks are brought up from Melbourne,” he said.
Dance festivals and their associations with drug taking are inescapable.
A 22-year-old died this year at Rainbow Serpent Festival, near Beaufort in western Victoria.
Police at time time labelled behaviour at the event "completely unacceptable".
Despite repeated warnings, police said they dealt with a string of serious offences at the Rainbow Serpent 2017 event, including two sexual assaults, six incidents of drug crimes and 17 drug-driving offences.
Ecstasy, MDMA, ketamine and cannabis were among the drugs seized by police.
Ballarat Superintendent Andrew Allen recently told Fairfax Media: “Something must change.”
"Every year more and more police resources are required at this extraordinarily high-risk event," he said.
"Police had a strong presence at the festival, but our members can't stop people making risky and potentially lethal choices about their behaviour.”
Pill testing was an idea floated by Rainbow Serpent organisers recently, and indeed supported by Esoteric host Sam Goldsmith, but it is currently illegal to test illicit substances in Victoria.