Members of Beaufort, Lexton and surrounding communities have expressed their support and excitement in the lead up to electronic music, arts and lifestyle festival Rainbow Serpent.
The connection between the surrounding communities and the long-running festival held at a farming property in Lexton has grown since it was first held in the region in 1999. Many say it is events like this that small towns need.
Co-owner of the Lexton property that hosts the festival Jayne Briody told media the Lexton community barbecue that runs 24 hours during the festival from Thursday to Tuesday usually raises more than $50,000 for community groups with the help of more than 180 volunteers.
Lexton Community Co-operative and post office co-director Ingrid Johnson said visitor money spent in the town was a ‘huge’ help to its small businesses; the post office/ general store and pub.
“If we didn’t have this event we wouldn’t have the store here,” she said.
“People buy heaps of supplies, food, toiletries, they even forget to bring torches. They’re obviously people from big cities who think we have everything here. We have been smart and bought stuff in so they can buy it.”
Ms Johnson said the festival also created work opportunities for residents like her husband who is a plumber and has been working at the site for several weeks.
Twenty five kilometres down the road, Beaufort has also seen the festival’s benefits, with coffee shops, the pool and supermarket usually packed with festival-goers during the Australia Day long weekend.
Two young women from New Caledonia were buying supplies at the supermarket before traveling back to the festival grounds where they were volunteering when The Courier visited Beaufort on Monday. They had just been swimming at the Beaufort pool.
Beaufort Motel owner Peter Saunders said his motel was booked out with officials and artists attending the four-day festival. He has been taking his family to the festival for 11 years and said it was a well-organised event that felt safe.
“The community awareness is growing that the organisers try their best and do everything they can to have a safe event,” he said.
“The festival has been in the area so long now. I think five years ago it would have been 50/50 for those in support and against. Now the community is more aware of what it is like most do support it.”
Rainbow Serpent Festival organiser Tim Harvey said community members were integrated in the production of the festival while other community efforts include the creation of a sculpture park and art tour and indigenous wall mural.
Town support outweighs drug concern
Rainbow Serpent Festival organiser Tim Harvey says dispelling the ‘stigma’ and ‘misconceptions’ about Rainbow Serpent Festival goers will be an aim of staff this year.
While media focus remains on deaths, drugs and pill testing at Australian music festivals, Mr Harvey says it is important to draw attention to the ‘amazing’ and ‘diverse’ community that is the Rainbow Serpent Festival.
“I have personally met a brain surgeon and a nuclear physicists at the festival and I know a police officer who comes every year as a patron,” he said.
“We are an amazing community and a very diverse community and that is one of the things I would like to make people aware of,” he said.
Lexton resident Ingrid Johnson said while community members were aware some people will take drugs into the festival, they acknowledged the ‘tremendous’ organisation of the event and feeling of safety.
Debate has continued about pill testing, with a demonstration at Rainbow Serpent cancelled and the Victorian government continuing its firm stance against it.
Mr Harvey called on the Victorian government to introduce pill testing.
“It is a matter of time before this really important harm reduction strategy is introduced. It can't come soon enough. We can’t afford to let young people suffer the ultimate consequence of a moment’s poor decision,” he said.
“That is not just at music festivals. When you look at the overdose rate, the vast majority do not happen in a festival, they happen in community.
“Whilst I am willing for festivals to bear the brunt of attention, harm reduction strategies need to be rolled out community wide.”