News

Push to ban Strawberry Fields

by
May 18, 2017

A retired Finley nurse is urging Berrigan Shire Council to take a stronger stance on drug use in the community and not approve this year’s Strawberry Fields Festival.

A retired Finley nurse is urging Berrigan Shire Council to take a stronger stance on drug use in the community and not approve this year’s Strawberry Fields Festival.

Olwyn Mathers, who is also a Finley Court House volunteer, believes there is too much drug use at the Tocumwal event.

She said council’s continued support is a contradiction of sponsorship of drug and alcohol educational events in the past.

‘‘The festival is infamous for the use of drugs and alcohol,’’ Mrs Mathers said.

‘‘I volunteer at the court house once a month and I saw how many people were charged with drug and alcohol offences (last year).

‘‘Even though there is a strong police presence at the event, there is still plenty of drug and alcohol affected people coming through court.’’

Mrs Mathers attended the April 20 meeting of the council in an effort to influence it not to approve the event’s development application to hold the festival this year.

She said she was told the councillors would not discuss the matter until an official application had been received from organisers.

Until that time, Mrs Mathers said she would be doing more research and return to council with a more detailed argument against the event.

‘‘Council’s argument is that the event brings lots of people to Tocumwal spending money, but there are unknown figures as to exactly how much is generated,’’ she said.

‘‘It is a well organised event on paper, with medics and lifeguards, but with such a huge number of people unexpected accidents can happen, especially if some are under the influence of drugs.

‘‘I intend to find out accurate numbers and information, and also charges, so I can be ready for when the application is submitted and the discussion arises again.’’

Mrs Mathers believes there have been issues in the past with ambulances accessing the festival site, which she says is another reason to deny the festival’s application this year.

Responding to Mrs Mathers’ concerns, Strawberry Fields event director Billy Staughton defended the approach taken to drug and alcohol use at the festival.

He said 1500 tests for drugs and alcohol were conducted on the private property hosting the festival last year, in addition to roadside stops by NSW and Victoria police.

‘‘We are very proactive in tackling drug activities and were very aware of potential harm,’’ Mr Staughton said.

He said organisers paid for a NSW Police presence on the festival grounds, had St John Ambulance personnel on-site and a doctor.

‘‘Our medical facility is far superior to Cobram and Tocumwal, it’s the best within 50km and certainly not something we skimp on.’’

Mr Staughton said he accepted the event was not ‘‘universally loved’’, but he believed acceptance had grown since it began in 2011.

He said this was evident when nearby property owners were willing to offer their land for the festival when it was jeopardised by floods last year.

The Strawberry Fields Festival, a music and arts event, is set to be held from November 17 to 19.

—Kacee Johnston.

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