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To preserve and enhance the cultural environmental and social sustainability of the Tyagarah Area and its inhabitants

« Letter to council | Main | Council transport forum Aug 12th »

May 21, 2005

Northern Star:Too many people are playing different tune

From a six-part series in the Northern Star...

Organisers of the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival say it is growing too large for its home at the Red Devil's football fields, yet they are struggling to find a more suitable site to expand, while the Splendour in the Grass music festival has come under attack by tourism expert Professor Robert Waldersee, of Queensland University of Technology, for adding to Byron Bay's escalating partytown reputation.

The quandary facing the town's community, business leaders, council and event organisers is how to balance the benefits the festivals may bring against the impacts they are having on a town already bursting under the pressure of popularity. Prof Waldersee has challenged the town to rethink what the big events are doing to Byron Bay's reputation, but at the same time he says hosting a range of smaller festivals aimed at attracting a different type of visitor could be the salvation of a town spiralling down under the dual pressures of development and tourism.

Keep reading for the rest ...

"Signature events are major drivers of reputation, and reputation is a major driver of the type of tourism that will come throughout the year," Prof Waldersee says. "Signature events should reflect the community, attract the target tourist market, and build the desired reputation." Of the town's signature events, Prof Waldersee says NYE and Splendour build the reputation of a party-town and the Blues is heading in this direction.

"Byron's growing party reputation is costing businesses the high-spending and family tourists they need to prosper, and costing the community culture and amenity," he says.

The only way to change the reputation is to change the signature events, Prof Waldersee says. "End Splendour, redesign NYE to be friendly to the target market (families), and remove the Blues and Roots unless they are willing to return to their roots and downsize their operation."

While Prof Waldersee's suggestion to change NYE back into a family-oriented event has the full backing of the Lions club and the chamber of commerce, the call to down-size the Blues and Roots Festival would appear to be falling on deaf ears.

Last year three of the biggest names in the music industry Michael Chugg, Glenn Wheatley and Daryl Herbert joined Blues director Peter Noble when they bought out the festival's founder Kevan Oxford,and down-sizing is the last thing they plan for their new investment. Within weeks of the takeover, Mr Chugg had added his biggest performing act, REM, to the Blues line-up and started talking-up a mooted move to a larger festival site at Tyagarah.

The move to a tea-tree farm at Tyagarah would see the Blues potentially grow from 15,000 punters a day to upwards of 40,000 with on-site camping and purpose-built performance venues that could be used year-round by the whole community.

However, Blues Festival director Peter Noble's oft-spoke of dream for the festival to turn into an event to rival Queensland's Woodford Folk Festival has hit a snag with the locals at the chosen site.

Residents' group, the Tyagarah Sustainable Community Alliance, has vowed to fight the move, concerned about the loss of neighbourhood amenity and safety, traffic, noise and pollution as well as the effect the proposal would have on the nearby Tyagarah nature reserve.

Kali Wendorf, founding president of the Tyagarah Sustainable Community Alliance, questions whether the shire needs another three or four events a year that would bring the equivalent of the shire's population into residents' backyards for a whopping great party.

The only major event the town hosts that receives a universal stamp of approval is the Byron Bay Writers' Festival, and the reasons for that may provide the solutions for the other big events, says festival director Jill Eddington.

"Essentially, if festivals have evolved out of the community, a la the writers' festival, they bring identity and pride to the community," she says.

"And we have an audience that fits clearly with high-yield, lowimpact tourism. We don't have that big partying element." Ms Eddington wants the Byron council to lead the way by employing a festivals co-ordinator, like neighbouring Tweed Shire does, strategically map-out a calendar of events, and streamline the development application process for festivals.

Meanwhile, others have taken on board Prof Waldersee's ideas of low-key festivals designed to project an image of the town that will attract the right type of tourist while showcasing the community's artistic talents and local culture.

Mayor Jan Barham says the council is preparing a cultural plan that will define what events the community wants to host, and when and where they will be held. She would like to see performance venues created outside the town and the establishment of a Byron festival, although where this would be and who would pay for it, is unclear.

"A cultural site (outside of town) would first of all diminish the impacts festivals have on the town, and it would provide the opportunity for other things to exist," she says.

"People have talked about a Byron festival for 15 years. It would be an event that celebrates our community." Cr Barham imagines the Byron festival to be a modern- day agricultural show as well as a performance event. However she concedes: Finding somewhere to hold such a community festival, purchasing the land required, and funding the infrastructure may depend on private enterprise, such as the Blues.

Before the community refuses a new venue for the Blues, she says: "We need to evaluate how much they are worth to our community. "We've all got to give and take."

The Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce is also looking at low-key events that will draw a diferent crowd to the town, and draw them in the quieter times.

A jazz festival, a salsa event, and a revaped Taste of Byron are options, says chamber president Greg Owens. While the larger events cop flak for the corwds they draw to Byron Bay, and the invevitable crowding and traffic issues they bring, to their credit the town's big event organisers do their best to minimise the impact they have says Jill Eddington.

The Blues are an example of somneone who deals with the impacts they have on the town. They've thought it through well," she says.

Both Splendour and the Blues have streamlined their traffic management systems, with the Blues spending an estimated $75,000 per festival on it. Splendour in the Grass festival director Jessica Ducrou also says holding her event in June, an off-peak time for tourism, is a key factor in its success, bringing in revenue for the town's retailers when they actually need it.

For the time being the Blues directors have announced they will remain at the Red Devil's, but Peter Nobel has indicated that the Blues may be forced to leave the shire altogether if they can't find another location. Blues director Peter Noble refused to answer The Northern Star's query of what benefits the festival actually brings to the town.

"I'm not interested in answering" was his response. But Byron Bay is interested Mr Noble. Very interested.

Posted at May 21, 2005 12:00 AM

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