The first time I went to Falls Festival in Lorne five years ago I met new people, reconnected with old friends and had one of the best New Years Eve’s to date. This year at Falls Festival three women were sexually assaulted in Marion Bay and a stampede in Lorne resulted in the hospitalisation of dozens. What’s going on?

Reading interviews and statements from survivors painted a terrifying picture. Those who were there described being crushed under a pile of people, unable to breathe, fearing for their lives. I can only imagine what that might have been like. Once at Groovin’ The Moo in Canberra I got stuck in front of a group of dickheads hell-bent on getting to the front of Vampire Weekend. I got picked up and carried forward fifty metres. My friend tripped, fell and got trampled. Luckily, she wasn’t badly injured.

Almost three weeks have passed since the events in Lorne. The victims are doing their best to recover and investigations are underway. There are now two competing questions to examine; the legal question of liability, and the moral question of responsibility.

A quick look at the Terms and Conditions states:
– ‘Entry to the Event is at the Ticket Holder’s own risk.’
– ‘Ticket Holders waive all legal rights of action.’

Essentially, Falls have attempted to protect themselves from liability. However, this is not the end of it. According to the law, an organisation cannot contract out of its duty of care.

But will the class action have a fighting chance?

The issue essentially rests on whether the event was foreseeable. Well, a large crowd of people was going down a hill with a gravel surface, coming out of three narrow exits. One hugely popular band with an audience of thousands had just finished, and another also popular band was about to start. To top it off, it had been raining heavily the day before. In this light, it seems like the stampede was inevitable.

I found out from those who attended that Falls had changed the layout of the stages. Previously, the tent that DMA’s performed in was designed such that you could enter from any direction. This year, in a bid to protect those inside, fences were erected around the tent, creating three exits. With this in mind, it would appear that no matter what the Falls organisers did, the crowd was at risk. This makes one wonder, was the stampede the result of irresponsible planning, or impatience and pushiness? Perhaps, if people had just waited, the situation could have been avoided.

Whatever the outcome of the class action, and wherever legal liability lies, if Falls want to maintain their good reputation and protect the future of the festival they should be doing whatever they reasonably can for those who were injured. Falls Festival has a religious following. I have met people who have attended every year for more than ten years. If Falls want to maintain their base of dedicated punters, willing to pay $400 for a ticket, they need to do the right thing by them, legalities aside.

Additionally, Falls run a pretty clean show. This isn’t a Festival that makes headlines because of drug busts and violence. However, there is a school of thought out there (I’m thinking the instigators of the Sydney lockout laws) that sees festivals as a “Bad Thing”. For these people, incidents/accidents/plain bad luck provides just the reason they’re looking for to ban the “Bad Thing” in question. My fear is if Falls aren’t seen to respond appropriately to the events in Lorne and Marion Bay, the festival will become bogged down with red tape and bureaucratic bullshit that will wreck everything good about the festival.

In this instance, not everything can be put on the organisers. Sometimes we have to look at those involved. I would like to clearly preface these next paragraphs by saying; I am not blaming the victims in any way, shape or form. I am blaming those who kept pushing; who kept rushing and did not stop when it was clear people had fallen and were being trampled.

I’ve been to Falls Festival twice and in that time never once feared for my safety. I trusted those around me and the culture I was part of. It seems as though something changed this year. Perhaps the demographic of attendees has changed, or people no longer see music festivals in the same way.

For some, Falls Festival isn’t a chance to see their favourite band; it’s an excuse to get pissed in the woods. It’s not an opportunity to spend time with their mates, but to show off how much they can drink in one afternoon. It’s not about having a good time; it’s about – well, being a dickhead. Anyone who’s been to a festival knows the type: they’re the loud show off who pushes and shoves and doesn’t give a shit about anyone around them. Back to my story about the dickheads at Groovin’ The Moo. What happened wasn’t the fault of the organisers, the layout of the festival (it was an open field) or security; it was the fault of a group of dickheads who didn’t give a shit about the people around them.

I can imagine how it went down at Falls Festival. There was likely a group of dickheads deep towards the front of DMA’s who had pushed and shoved and just generally dick-headed their way there. Once DMA’s was finished, that same aforementioned group of dickheads wanted to make a quick exit to get to London Grammar. Instead of waiting for everyone to exit, they did what they do best and pushed and shoved their way out. They didn’t listen when someone yelled out to stop pushing and that they had fallen; they pushed until the whole crowd gave way.

Going to festivals isn’t about getting as drunk as you can. It isn’t about showing off to your mates. It isn’t about ticking acts off a to-do list (no matter the cost of the ticket). It’s about enjoying live music with your friends and having a good time. How can you expect the organisers to watch out for you, when you won’t watch out for each other?

The events at Falls Festival were the result of a number of factors. Wet conditions, a new (possibly not so well thought-out) layout, poor timetabling and some drunken idiots. A litany of errors culminated in the injury of dozens. We, the musical community, have to learn from this. If you go to a festival, don’t be a dickhead. Don’t push and shove and don’t put yourself first. There’s plenty of music to go around.

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author: Alexandra Milne

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