Newtown Festival fenced in

Encased in a steel cage and with people prevented from choosing their own drinks, yesterday’s Newtown Festival ceased being a true community event and became yet another “officially-sanctioned party.” It’ll never be the same again. But why should it be that way?

Story is, the police gave festival coordinator Sue Anderson three choices: fence in the event and ban BYO alcohol, pay them to provide 30 officers, or… no festival at all. With user-pays policing apparently too expensive, she went for the fence.

Sue tried to spin the decision. “It’s only a fence,” she claimed in The Drum Media Official Guide to the Newtown Festival 2006. And she said there’d be a variety of drinks to buy on site.

Wrong on both counts.

A fence isn’t only a fence. It’s also pig-ignorant private security staff unable to open their mouths fully. It’s a surly “Move to the next gate!” instead of a smile and a “Hi folks, the queue’s shorter just over there.” It’s bag searches and do as you’re told.

It’s only a fence in the same way that Israel is only building a wall — one of the most powerful symbols of exclusion society has devised. No longer is it Our Community gathering in Our Park. It’s just those community members who are acceptable to an authority following an arbitrary set of rules. Sure, it was all-in this year, but the mechanisms are now in place to clamp it down further.

A fence and a “voluntary” gold coin donation is just one step short of yet another Ticketed Day Out.

Beer? Some choice!

The promised variety of alcohol simply wasn’t there.

The beers? Two. VB or Carlton Draught. Both lagers — even though Newtown is probably the most ale-conscious part of Sydney. Both from CUB. Both shit.

The spirits? Vodka Smirnoff Red, UDL Vodka, Lime & Soda, and UDL Vodka & Orange. In other words, any spirit you like — as long as it’s vodka. And as long as it’s canned lollywatershitevodka.

Sue, none of this is your fault. You were pressured into compliance. It’s a shame you felt you had to do this.
Bar Shakespeare (nee Coopers Arms Hotel) chose their wares cluelessly. But despite this, the event was a success. Well done.

Why fence us in?

The rationale is police perception that the festival “sits on a knife edge” and “could go crazy at any moment”. There were “quite a few incidents” last year, we’re told, including a stabbing outside the Courthouse Hotel.

That’s unfortunate. But if someone commits a crime it’s their fault, whether they’re tanked up or not, and regardless of where they got pissed.

However my main problem with police pressure to fence the festival is that it’s financial blackmail. Do things our way, or don’t do them at all.

“User-pays policing” is a disturbing concept. I’m guessing it was forced upon hard-working boys and girls in blue by politicians avoiding actually spending our taxes on services. Again. Perhaps if we’re talking about for-profit events there might be some justification… but no, actually!

Banks and bookmakers are for-profit, but police investigate thefts and frauds committed against them. Owners of expensive cars or properties are likewise supported, though you could argue that they attract theft through ostentation.

Why should a community event — something so perfectly normal as a spring festival, the whole point of which is for youngfolk to burn off hormonal energy and, yes, have a few beers on a sunny Sunday afternoon — have to pay extra for policing?

One Reply to “Newtown Festival fenced in”

  1. I did not read the spin but my suspect is financial reason is the hidden agenda. How do you profit the event — monopolise alcohol comsumption. Maybe putting up the wall is cheaper than paying extra to the police but having almost absolute control of smuggling BYO is somewhat in the consideration.

    That reminds me of “Mardi Gras’ Fair Day”: They were licensed premises, was not fenced yet but volunteers and security kept an eye on BYO in Victoria Park. The Gras has been struggling financially and finger pointing alcohol sales of the event. I don’t know if this is the first case of fencing a community event, well the first I have seen anyway, but I wonder if it would set a standard for the future. Will there be fence and bag search on drugs next year?

    BTW, you see, the NMG site is under construction. How annoying!

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