Major music festival refused

'It's been a wild ride': Arcadia organisers shared news of SDRC's decision with their community online last week. Picture: FACEBOOK

By Jess Baker

Much-loved electronic music festival Arcadia has been abruptly cancelled following a decision by Southern Downs Regional Council (SDRC) to deny a permit for the event.

The two-day festival was set to take place in just four weeks’ time, from 1 May to 3 May, in Goomburra Valley and would have been the fifth event of its kind.

Arcadia is now the second Southern Downs festival to be rejected by SDRC since 4 July 2019, when then-QPS assistant commissioner Mike Condon wrote to SDRC objecting to all future music festival events within the Council area.

Organiser Eddie Kingswell said the refusal came as a complete shock to him, as Arcadia has been held at the same location every year and has always seemingly had the support of both SDRC and the local police.

“We had been planning for the 2021 event since the last event ended in May 2019,” said Mr Kingswell.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and money, there’s close to 200 tickets now that we’ll have to issue refunds for.

“I think it’s important we have these kinds of events in the region … (imposing) a blanket ban is absurd. It’s a terrible shame for the Southern Downs.”

SDRC advised Arcadia organisers of its decision to refuse their temporary entertainment event permit application on 8 March 2021 and received a request for review shortly thereafter.

Southern Downs councillors discussed the decision at last week’s ordinary meeting and voted to uphold the refusal, with councillors Marco Gliori and Sheryl Windle the only two who wished to overturn the refusal and approve the application.

“When I hear this region described as rural and conservative, an older population not supportive of these events, this definition worries me,” said Cr Gliori.

“Without diverse festivals within this region we’ll be encouraging our youth to continually travel to the Byron Bays, the Woodfords, the big cities and beaches where youthful exuberance and cultural experimentation are accepted.

“It is ludicrous to believe we can deny our youth the opportunities that our generations enjoyed.”

QPS’ blanket objection to music festivals within SDRC area is said to be based on the risks to the community and the demands on policing resources associated with such events.

More specifically, the objection has stemmed from the tragic events of the 2019 Rabbits Eat Lettuce festival at Elbow Valley, near Warwick, where two attendees were found dead from supposed drug overdoses.

Arcadia organisers said they understand SDRC’s concerns in relation to public safety, but their event is “materially and culturally different” to other festival events like Rabbits Eat Lettuce.

“Our event has actively sought to sever any links or connection with so called ‘bush doof’ festivals and culture,” Mr Kingswell told councillors last week.

“We have always promoted our event as a showcase and celebration of music and arts.”

Mr Kingswell said Arcadia has an impeccable history and has not had a single safety incident in the six years it has been operating.

The report tabled at last week’s ordinary council meeting also notes that the 2021 event had been approved by Allora QPS in November 2020, and was formally objected to by Warwick QPS in March 2021.

Councillors Stephen Tancred and Ross Bartley said they understand QPS’ caution and would be loathed to go against their recommendation.

“Even though the organisers are trying very hard to do a quality event that is safe, they cannot be responsible for the patrons … and the substances they might take,” said Cr Tancred.

“We’ve got to think of our public safety first and foremost.”

“QPS have quite clearly articulated their position in this and I don’t think they take that position lightly. It’s sad that some people do ruin it for (others),” Cr Bartley added.

Mayor Vic Pennisi said that until SDRC understands what kind of music festival event QPS is willing to support, he believes SDRC has no choice but to reject such event applications.

An additional council motion was passed to have SDRC engage with QPS and establish what types of musical gatherings and events could be supported in the region into the future.