Having been starved of live music for nearly a year, the announcement of Byron’s Summerstage concert series brought a round of applause from local music fans and performers.
With a healthy slice of the ticket proceeds set to raise funds for the Red Devils football club, which is hosting the event at their oval near the centre of Byron Bay, the sporting community was also pumped.
But when the organisers, led by well-known local performer Lisa Hunt, notified the police about Summerstage, they got a very different response.
Despite the event endeavouring to adhere to all noise, parking and COVID-19 rules, and offering significant benefits for the local community and economy, a small group of police from Tweed Heads seemed intent on shutting it down.
They recommended that Byron Council and the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) impose a series of draconian restrictions that made the event almost impossible to run.
Many of these restrictions were subsequently imposed by Council and the OLGR, who then added further restrictions themsleves, forcing Ms Hunt and her team to consider cancelling the event completely.
Refusing to be defeated, Ms Hunt has borrowed money to ensure that the shows not only go on but go off with a bang, and believes locals will come out to support them.
But she and the other organisers are deeply disappointed that the boys in blue have refused to come to the party.
‘I can only conclude that police basically set out to stop the shows,’ Ms Hunt said.
‘There was no support for it at all. Every single thing they proposed went against the event.’
Ms Hunt’s original proposal to hold events every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening over summer was cut dramatically by police, who recommended just two events per fortnight over the three-month period.
Police also seemed to ignore the fact that, during the application process, Ms Hunt reduced the proposed capacity from 600 to 500 people.
This change brought crowd numbers into line with the number of people who attend Red Devil Park every fortnight for game day.
Yet police continued to recommend conditions based on the original capacity figure, referring to it as a justification for the tough restrictions they were proposing.
‘The conditions imposed were based on these erroneous assumptions – that it would be six concerts a fortnight, 600 people, potentially death metal (music),’ said a spokesperson for Ms Hunt.
The police later alleged that Ms Hunt had tried to conceal what she was doing.
Police allege ‘act of deceit’
‘They twice stated in writing that the inconsistencies between documents appeared to be a “deliberate act of deceit,” the spokesperson said.
‘Lisa has chosen to underwrite this to help a rugby league club, a community crying out for live music, and a group of live musicians who are on the breadline.”
‘These conditions have imposed a significant financial burden on her, and on the event. A significant amount of work had to be done that turned the attention of organisers to meeting the conditions rather than promoting the event’.
Every cent from the first 500 tickets sold will go to ensuring that the tough conditions recommended by police, along with those added by Council and the OLGR, are met.
The police are also charging Ms Hunt thousands of dollars for policing services at the concerts themselves, under the state’s User Pays system, treating them as commercially driven events rather than a grass roots program.
When The Echo put these allegations to police they declined to comment on any of them.
‘We’re not responsible for imposing conditions – we make recommendations to Council and the OLGR,’ a spokesperson said.
‘We never comment on the recommendations we make.’
Byron Mayor, Simon Richardson, said that Council shared Ms Hunt’s frustration, but had little choice but to impose the police’s recommendations.
‘Police, when it comes to events, are certainly an organisation that you need to have on board,’ he said.
‘We had staff trying to intervene with the police to try and find a way forward.’
He also said the state government had exhibited a ‘blatant double standard’ between its treatment of sporting events, and cultural events such as live performance since the COVID-19 outbreak.
‘It’s hard to fathom how they can justify how people sitting in a concrete stadium with nowhere to move around can have less stringent restrictions,’ he said.