After being mercilessly trolled on social media for getting their knickers in a knot over their obsession with bongos and bongs, Gold Coast City Council (GCCC) erected a new sign in Justins Park, Burleigh Heads, requiring a permit for drumming, fire twirling and slack lining and threatening those without one with penalties.
However, getting their nomenclature right did not resolve GCCC’s woes, as hundreds of punters gathered in Burleigh Heads on Easter Sunday to defy GCCC’s writ. The gathering included mothers with babies, yoga aficionados, children playing hoops, flutes and cymbals and grandmothers, residents and visitors dancing to the beat of a monster drum circle, swollen to bursting with participants from Bundaberg and Byron.
The drummers, fire twirlers and gymnasts have been frequenting Jasons Park every Sunday between 5.30pm and 8.30pm for decades, providing free entertainment to locals and visitors and have become an iconic Burleigh experience.
According to local drummer Karen Achilles, GCCC officers who were present in the park ‘called upon the police back up to serve fines to anyone drumming. But because of the size of the crowd the police officers turned to the council officers and said it wasn’t safe for them to do so and left.’
The police said they were there to keep the peace but warned the drummers they could be issued with a GCCC infringement of $630 because they do not hold the required permit to drum in the park.
But because the drummers are not an incorporated group they believe they are not required to hold a permit.
‘Who’s in charge of you guys,’ asked one police officer.
‘Nobody, we are free people,’ was the response of the drummers.
The police presence was met with boos and slow hand-clapping from the assembled crowd.
The drumming ended on the stipulated time of 8.30pm and was followed by a didgeridoo healing session.
A GCCC representative who was present allegedly said the permits were a revenue-raiser to fix broken toilet doors and lawn maintenance, while drummers insisted they were like any other of the park’s thousands of users and should not be singled out.
One person suggested on social media that Justins Park, named after a family of local shop owners who planted the Norfolk pines that are a feature of the area, be renamed The People’s Park or even Kombumerri Gathering Ground, after the Kombumerri Saltwater people, the original inhabitants of the Gold Coast who gathered here thousands of years before European settlement.
Critics pointed out the move against the drummers in the park is another attempt to ‘clean up the Gold Coast’ prior to the Commonwealth Games. The Gold Coast has already seen homeless people pushed across the border into New South Wales as part of the spruce up.
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate faces opposition to some of his pet projects, including a cruise ship terminal, a light rail that threatens koala habitat on Burleigh Hill and high density high rise development planned on either side of the rail corridor. Neighbouring Logan City Council Mayor is under investigation for accepting a yacht from a Chinese developer who also donated to his election campaign fund.
While local drummers resolved to show up again next Sunday, the fate of drumming in Burleigh Heads remains unclear. Permits and insurance for drummers might become a sticking point and police are more likely to issue infringements if the numbers of drummers and their supporters drop.
Whatever happens in the future, Easter Sunday in Burleigh Heads was a clear demonstration of people power and common sense triumphing over bad laws and governments attempting to interfere in the community’s enjoyment of simple pleasures.
Australia’s slide into a police and nanny state – where environmental protesters meet with stiff penalties while polluters are rewarded with token fines; worker’s rights are thrashed and the homeless get railroaded while the big end of town get tax breaks; and the police get armed to the teeth with the latest crowd control technology while drummers need permits – was arrested, albeit for a moment.
May a thousand such moments bloom all over this land.