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Byron Shire
March 23, 2023

Schoolies’ festival ban ‘insane’

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Lismore candidate Matthew Bertalli

With just a few days until we head to the polls, The Echo asked the candidates for the seat of Lismore one last bunch of questions.

Festivals. I’ve been producing them for 36 years. I travelled almost 10,000 miles to come to Byron Bay for a Melbourne producer to plan a festival catering to schoolies. You have the perfect venue here. But Belongil Fields approval to host up to 10 events a year means nothing in Byron Bay.

It looks like everybody over 45 is complaining about schoolies but there are no good answers. Various organisations collectively agreed to the Schoolies Strategic Plan developed in 2010 and the Schoolies Memorandum of Understanding prepared by the Schoolies Safety Working Group. I suggest you read it.

The joint vision document states: ‘The Byron Bay Schoolies Safety Working Group aims to provide a safe and secure environment in Byron Bay during the end-of-year school-leaver celebrations using the key messages of Respect, Responsibility and Relax. It is also envisioned that the initiatives implemented during this peak event can be effectively applied to the underlying behavioural management problems experienced in Byron Bay throughout the whole year.

The proclamation goes on to identify the stakeholders in this analysis and agreement to control and make safe the annual party. Stakeholders in the Schoolies Safety Working Group include members from: Byron Youth Service, NSW Police (Byron Bay), Byron Liquor Accord, North Coast Area Health Service, INTRA/The Buttery, BUDDI, Byron United, Holiday Letting Organisation Byron Inc (HLO), Byron Visitor Centre, Byron Shire Council staff, Red Frogs and YWAM.

Looks like they’re not doing a very good job of managing the behaviour. The reason schoolies come here is not, and never will be for Respect, Responsibility and Relax. Age 18–25-year-olds are looking for Booze, Booty, Boogie and Beach. Got it? Byron’s known worldwide as a great party place. Clubs, bottle shops, bohemian lifestyle, etc.

To try to change, modify or lock up celebrating youth experiencing a normal rite of passage is naïve at best. Peter Noble was spot on when he said the Byron Shire Council’s perspective toward music festivals was ‘draconian and probably illegal’. Limiting the number of music events or restricting attendance when venues themselves should only have (with the fire department) to decide this is wrong.

If Belongil Fields was in the US, denying business that has already been approved would be lawsuit time! That’s why we sue in the US, because people do wrong things requiring legal discourse and recovery for damages. Not here. Everybody just goes along with an out-of-touch council and schoolies Safety Working Group that has no idea how to provide a solution to your problem.

The Schoolies Safety Working Group joint vision statement goes on to say that if there were no accommodation for schoolies, they wouldn’t come anymore. Brilliant. And that ‘they were working with area hotels and guest houses’. To do what, encourage accommodation providers not to rent to schoolies? They’ll come anyway.

On page 4, the document admits ‘Weaknesses, No separate zone for schoolie gatherings at beach front’.

And what about the rest of them in town at night when the real problem is. Duh. The document goes onto say that ‘Beach Volleyball, tug-of-war and other activities are needed’.

What’s needed is a music festival slightly out of town (like Belongil) that would keep them occupied from 7pm till 2:30am, extracting them from your streets during the time of disruption. And not limit the attendance to under 6,000. Belongil is approved and their 57 acres can handle over 17,000.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. There’s nothing for them to do but drink, cruise and interact with each other. Let the testosterone fly!

Here is a revealing and depressing email we received in the last week about our inquiry as to the viability of a schoolies’ festival.

‘As you might be aware someone did try to do an “event” for schoolies last year. As a working group, over the last four years, we have an agreement across all agencies not to support “events” during schoolies as, first and foremost, we don’t want to promote Byron Bay as a schoolies’ destination in any way. What we provide is a safety response. Byron Shire Council is a member of our working group and it is highly unlikely that any events planned during schoolies would ever get approval from them.

In all honesty, when I first started thinking about how we should handle the numbers over schoolies, I went to the National School Leavers Conference and then wrote a report on the best practice from other areas. Those that have a ‘zone’ and contain their festivities did impress me. However, they also promote their schoolies’ parties and this is a problem here.

Nicqui Yazdi Coordinator, Byron Schoolies Safety Response

A festival is exactly what schoolies needs. We were going to bring a multi-million-dollar week-long campout event brimming with security, traffic control and a glistening, expensive Development Application made by the most experienced festival planners in NSW. A festival at Belongil would take the schoolies off the streets in the evening and entertain them in a controlled, patrolled, well-lit and monitored festival environment where they can be free, release their self-expression and dance to world-class music. The Safety Response Gestapo would have received a generous donation as would up to 20 charitable and non-profit causes. That’s what festivals do, they bring people together and contribute to society in more ways than the stakeholders can know.

Our plan was to not stage major artists during the day, so the school leavers could enjoy and spend at the beach and the town, then come back to the site at night, solving Byron’s schoolies dilemma.

But after seeing Nicqui’s email and testing the waters with other ‘stakeholders’, it’s clear that Byron’s schoolies problem will only do what it has done over the past few years: grow progressively worse.

The over-regulation in this town is hurting tourism, denying business to properties designed for it and creating division that is unnecessary. You can vote these people out and speak up about the good that festivals bring to any community fortunate enough to have them. Every other festival is allowed here.

To paraphrase Peter Noble, ‘it’s as though Byron is against the performing arts’.

Tourism should prevail no matter what shape or size it comes in as long as it is professionally planned and managed. There are more than two music festivals that would play here if allowed.

Our Schoolies Festival will happen… somewhere else.

Hal Davidson, One Summer Festival Consultant, Byron Bay


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  1. Yes…

    I don’t understand why when Byron business are bleeding so badly they don’t have the sense to take full advantage of schoolies. Up until about 10 years ago it was a wonderful town for the young but the prudes and the ‘haves’ have moved in and it is no longer an ‘alternative culture’ in Byron but rather becoming a conservative conformist one.

    Festivals are a “no-brainer”… especially for schoolies. I think there is also an element of those who came for schoolies returning for holidays or to settle with their families at a later stage. That is precisely why I now live in this region having spent a couple of weeks in Byron after finishing school in 1976.

  2. It is interesting that once again someone who knows nothing about Byron and does not live here, thinks he can come in and ‘do a festival’. He has never once spoken with any members of the Byron Schoolies Safety Response or the ‘community’, so what does he actually know about the kind of issues the Schoolies causes here. What we don’t want to do is ‘promote’ Byron as a Schoolies destination and end up having to deal with the kinds of issues that the Gold Coast does. Seriously, do we want Byron to go down that track? Byron already has enough problems with alcohol-related crime, without promoting it to all the youth of Australia as the ‘perfect place to come and party’. Hal Davidson calls Schoolies a “normal rite of passage” and in his vision “18–25-year-olds are looking for Booze, Booty, Boogie and Beach. Got it? Byron’s known worldwide as a great party place. Clubs, bottle shops, bohemian lifestyle, etc.” Yes Hal, this is exactly the kind of attitude we would just ‘love’ you to bring to Byron! Not! Schoolies is not a ‘rite of passage’, in fact it is for some the first time they will become seriously intoxicated and end up in hospital, the first time they will take drugs, the first time they will have sex with a complete stranger, the first time they will be raped, seriously assaulted and much, much more. For most parents, the thought of their young people going off to Schoolies, is a complete nightmare! Wake up Hal and get with the program… Byron Bay does not want to promote our town as a Schoolies destination and according to the majority of people who have spoken with me about it over the last four years of serious community consultation, they don’t want it at all! Nicqui Yazdi – Coordinator – Byron Schoolies Safety Response & The Schoolies HUB


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