Festival goers question heat policy

Patrons have questioned Pitch Music and Arts Festival coordinators’ handling of a ‘crisis’ on Sunday after an “extreme” weather and fire danger warning was issued by the Country Fire Authority (CFA), forcing attendees to leave.

Patrons at one of the festival's campgrounds using wet towels and spraying themselves with water to combat the hot weather. Photo: Keely Nicopoulos

The true motivations behind the nature and timing of the coordinators’ decision-making are being scrutinised, with many patrons having experienced heat-related health problems before the event was shut down.

Due to run from March 8-12 in Moyston, Western Victoria, attendees were given a three-hour time frame to pack up their belongings, collect their car or organise another means of transportation.  

“I felt like I was in a dystopian movie” festival goer Zephyr Samuels said. “People were hitch-hiking up the street carrying their belongings on their backs. It was surreal.” 

Festival coordinators allegedly did not supply updates on increasing weather and fire risks, a running point of contention amongst attendees. This raised serious concerns about the conduct and management of the festival and whether organisers sufficiently prioritised people’s wellbeing. 

“It was Chinese whispers” Samuels said. “We were virtually given no information. We were delirious from the heat, and we didn’t have any phone reception. A lot of staff had dropped out and left. People were partying, and then suddenly we were told we had three hours to leave.” 

Others recounted cited a lack of resources and poor management, describing scenes of chaos, confusion and disorder.  

“When we were told we had to leave, I asked coordinators what I should do, and they asked me to work crowd control” said Helena Wolozynska, who was hired by Goji to work behind the bar.  

“Going from hospitality, with no prior experience in security or crowd management, to do crowd control was a bit of a crazy ask.”  

As a member of Pitch staff, Wolozynska was promised two free meals a day and accessible phone charging. “No one knew anything about it. I was given one meal the whole time I was there,” she said. “The helpers in the helper’s tent weren’t really helpful,”

During the festival, temperatures reached 37C. Several misting cannons broke down and icepacks were sold for $7 each. 

“I saw people slumped over ambulance buggies getting chest compressions. I saw people passed-out in the sun. No one was checking on them, there was no security around to get them to a (medical) tent or take them to the shade. The med-tent was a 20-minute walk from any camp site. It was honestly really confronting. Very scary,” Wolozynska said. “The media is trying to portray it as though it was lack of care with substance use, but it was a lack of communication about the heat and a lack of resources.”

A supervisor in the crowd-care team for Untitled Group (the organisation that runs Pitch), who wished to remain anonymous, said staff were offered “safety management and operations management plan training” prior to the festival.  

“We made sure to encourage all staff to come to pre-event training,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think it was mandatory.”  

“Before the festival, the staffing manager was told to cut the (number of) staff in half, and then two weeks before the festival they said to bring everyone back again,” she said. “They cut resources a lot when it comes to crowd care. The crowd-care customer-care team in Untitled Group have faced a lot of frustration with management.”

At $450 a ticket, many patrons demanded a refund for due to the cancelled event. In response, the Pitch Music and Arts Festival issued a statement on the official website:

“We are working towards an appropriate solution” it said. “There will be some form of refund for eligible ticket holders.”

The safety, legitimacy and nature of decisions made by Pitch coordinators continues to face heavy scrutiny, with many questioning whether they would purchase a ticket next year.  

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