Locals gathered at the regular drumming circle at Torakina Park in Brunswick Heads on January 3 were disappointed but not surprised when the police arrived.
It wasn’t the first time the constabulary had made their presence felt at the regular gathering, which has been a focal point for community connection for much of the past 12 months.
But this time things were different.
Unbeknownst to the participants, the police had been paid by a corporation to conduct their operations.
Reflections Holiday Parks, the state-owned company that manages Torakina Park, had hired the officers to attend the gathering under NSW Police’s User Pays Policing Service.
Under this controversial state-wide service, private organisations and companies can pay the police to attend events; such as festivals and street events.
Generally, the police are engaged by the organisers of an event to manage traffic and to ensure things run safely and smoothly.
That was not the case with the January 3 drum circle. Far from organising the gathering, Reflections Holiday Parks has publicly opposed it, demanding that the ‘organisers’ obtain an event licence and even putting up signs in the park to this effect.
This is despite the fact that the drum circle gathering is not organised by any particular individual or group, but has evolved, organically, over time.
Futhermore, the police who attended did not appear to be interested in ensuring the event ran safely and smoothly. They appeared intent on shutting it down – according to many who were present.
The drummers at the gathering were told that they could not stay at Torakina Park, and when they moved to the grassy area next to the surf club they were told they could not stay there either.
Revelations that Reflections hired the police to attend the gathering on January 3 have drawn a strong response from some of those who attended.
Local resident, Laura McCaughey, said the actions by Reflections had been part of an ‘underhanded agenda’ to shut down an important community gathering.
‘I think this is clearly damaging to the community at a time when we know community connection is so vital to people’s mental health,’ Ms McCaughey said.
‘The actions by Reflections are clearly not in alignment with the values of the community.
‘What they’ve done is in direct contravention of our basic rights to freedom of expression and it impedes our civil liberties.
‘They need to be held to account and they will be. Perhaps they could reflect on that?’
Fellow resident, Laing Kerns-Stokes said the police had used the User Pays system to further a corporate agenda at the expense of those they were sworn to protect.
‘I respect the contribution of the police to peace and wellbeing of the community, but in this instance my respect has been diminished.
‘The fact that the police have taken money from a corporation to effectively suppress an informal, organic, non-hierarchical community gathering reflects an abuse of power and a gross misuse of resources.’
Mr Kerns-Stokes also said the tactics used by police on the day were ‘not clean’ and involved ‘power games’ designed to break up the gathering.
‘I call on those who made decisions in relation to the police’s actions that day to reflect on their motives, their moral compasses, and their deeper truths.’
But the CEO of Reflections, Steve Edmonds, said his corporation had engaged the police in response to an ‘overwhelming number of complaints and negative feedback from the community’.
‘Reflections had received complaints from the public about large gatherings within Torakina, Banner and Terrace Reserves,’ Mr Edmonds said.
‘Reflections then engaged the police through its User Pays system to manage the crowds that were holding unlicensed events within the reserves.
‘This included the drumming circle, which is a gathering of large numbers of people at one location for a specific purpose. It is therefore classified as an event.
‘Conservatively, there were in excess of 200 people congregating within Torakina Reserve and not adhering to Covid-19 social distancing and restrictions.
‘The drumming circle is classified as an event which requires a licence under the Crown Lands Management Regulation 2018.’
He said that Reflections would continue to engage the police ‘if unapproved events continue within our reserves,’ and that he had received ‘positive feedback from the community’ over the action they had taken.
‘The reserves are to be enjoyed by all members of the community and visitors as well as licence holders who abide by the rules.’
But Ms McCaughey disagreed and called for the community to keep coming to the circle.
‘Communities have been drumming, dancing and gathering on this land for tens of thousands of years,’ she said.
‘Are we really going to allow a corporation to bring that to a close?’
‘My “reflection” is this: Power to the peaceful.’