Festival culture in Australia: Is it an issue?

Festival culture in Australia: Is it an issue?

By Sam Aebi | @sam_aebi

It is no secret festivals are loud, busy and colourful events with a lot of young (and even old) people having a good time under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

But is this established “festival culture” of drugs and alcohol a problem and, more importantly, does something need to be done to prevent its negative impacts?

The 2018 Groovin the Moo (GTM) festival in Adelaide on Friday is an example of an event thriving in this type of culture.

Within five minutes of entering the festival, illicit substances could be smelt or seen through the behaviour of festivalgoers, making it clear party drugs were the go-to.

Picture1.pngFestivalgoers watching New South Wales funk band Winston Surfshirt at Groovin the Moo Wayville on Friday.

The GTM festival in Canberra on Sunday was a landmark case for drug-testing, with festival patrons being allowed to have their drugs tested for toxins, without punishment if caught possessing them.

Over 80 substances were tested by the Safety and Testing and Advisory Service at Festivals and Events, with results proving positive for highly-toxic chemicals in two cases.

Two clear capsules were found to contain N-Ethylpentylone (ephylone),a chemical which causes heart problems and hallucinations and responsible for overdoses previously.

It is possible those who could have been subjected to the capsules may have needed medical attention, possibly admitted to hospital with serious side-affects or even suffer an overdose from the pills.

Other findings of concern amongst the pills, capsules and powders tested included toothpaste, muscle cream and spray paint.

Festivalgoers binned drugs they considered “duds” following testing, while some even threw theirs away after seeing other’s test results.

These disturbing finds promote strong arguments against festivals, with many previous Adelaide festivals such as Stereosonic cancelled due to factors such as overdoses and drug arrests.

In 2015, a 25-year-old woman died from an ecstasy and MDMA drug overdoseat the Sydney Stereosonic festival, while a 19-year-old man died after taking pills at the Adelaide festivalin the same year.

The event was cancelled the following year, joining the list of cancelled Australian music festivals including Big Day Out (2014), Future Music Festival and Soundwave (both 2015).

While these tragic cases are horrific and the consequences unprecedented, patrons of events like these need to be educated on what can happen involving drug and alcohol use.

It is also important to note the negative impacts of these substances are not all bad, with many people using pills and capsules without their health being significantly affected.

Friday’s GTM Festival in Adelaide further highlighted the many safety precautions taken by festival organisers to prevent and reduce the likelihood of dangerous drug and alcohol cases.

The event, at Wayville oval, had three easily accessible first aid centres as well as four spots where festivalgoers could access drinking water.

Patrons were also handed free refillable water bags that could be clipped onto clothing and carried at all times.

In addition, the organisation headspaceset up a helpdesk for those needing someone professional to talk to about mental health or alcohol and drug use.

Another major argument against festivals is the effect on the location and environment through littering and damage.

While litter was prominent on Wayville oval, numerous rubbish and recycling bins were placed around the oval’s edge and stood out in bright red and yellow colours.

Patrons could also save money on drinks by returning their empty cans to the bar for a one-dollar discount on their next drink per can returned.

Incentives such as this significantly increase peoples’ willingness to commit to recycling and respecting the environment.

In addition to these positive aspects of GTM, one of the main benefits of festival culture is the general atmosphere by and for the festival patrons.

The day saw smiling faces and people enjoying themselves, whether or not that enjoyment depended on the use of alcohol and drugs.

Picture2.pngFestivalgoers watching UK DJ Duke Dumont at Groovin the Moo Wayville on Friday.

The idea of festival culture has slowly been established as a culture of drug-dealing, overdosing and environmental issues, rather than the music, enjoyment and friendship that it should be known for.

While festival culture holds a negative connotation when it is discussed, the positive aspects of it shine through when both event organisers and patrons work together to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.


Image Courtesy: Sam Aebi

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