Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

‘Extreme’ Weather, Suspected Drug Overdose Overshadow Australia’s Pitch Festival

By Michael Mar 11, 2024

A suspected drug overdose and the forces of nature soured the 2024 Pitch Music & Arts festival, a long-weekend camping festival in Victoria, Australia which wrapped its seventh edition.

Pill-testing is back in the national headlines after a 23-year-old man, who is understood to have consumed black-market drugs, died after being airlifted to The Alfred hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning.

“Our thoughts are with their family and friends. We have our Crowd Care team on site to support patrons and staff, and are committed to providing support services to those who need them,” reads a statement from organizers.

The identity of the man, from Niddrie in Melbourne’s northwest, has not been disclosed. “We cannot comment further at this time given the necessity to protect the privacy of those affected,” the statement continues.

As party-goers and their families absorbed the news of a suspected drug fatality, Greens spokesperson Aiv Puglielli called on the state government to “shift gears and finally set up pill-testing” at music events.

“While this Labor government continues to stall,” Puglielli adds in a statement “young Victorian lives are being put at risk.” Even with “pure MDMA we’ve seen how extreme heat can deal a deadly blow. So with untested drugs circulating, this was truly a disaster waiting to happen.”

According to the Guardian, two other men, aged in their 30s and 40s, were taken to East Grampians Health Service suffering suspected overdoses, and are said to be in a stable condition.

Pill testing was trialed at Canberra’s Spilt Milk festival in 2018, paving the way for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government launching the country’s first fixed-site health and drug checking service as a six-month pilot in July 2022. That service has now been extended to December 2024.

Victoria’s leadership, however, has no current plans to trial pill testing in the state, though a spokesperson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation earlier in the year that $21 million of taxpayers’ money is spent each year on harm reduction activities, which include engaging with attendees at festivals and nightclubs.

Pitch is produced by Untitled Group, the largest independent music and events company in Australia, whose festival brands include Beyond The Valley, Sun Cycle NYD, Grapevine Gathering, Wildlands, Ability Fest and more.

Earlier, Untitled scrubbed the final day of Pitch, set for Monday, March 11, as “extreme” heat swept through the state. “Through consultation with authorities,” reads a statement issued by organizers Sunday afternoon, “we have been directed to cancel the remainder of Pitch Music & Arts 2024 in light of an updated extreme fire danger warning issued this afternoon for tomorrow.”

The message continues, “we have consistently followed the guidance of relevant authorities throughout the entire process.”

Though guests weren’t in “immediate danger,” the statement continues, “everyone on site” was encouraged to “calmly pack-up” and move along.

The climate crisis is real, it’s here, and it’s ruined many festivals in this part of the world. According to Green Music Australia, the lobby body for music and the environment in Australia, over 45 music festivals in Australia have been partially or fully cancelled due to weather impacts since 2015. On top of that, notes CEO Berish Bilander, other cultural events have cited rising insurance premiums due to weather as a cause for cancelation.

Add Moomba Festival to that list; organizers scrapped Monday’s parade, due to hazardous conditions.

Following two consecutive sold-out events in 2023 and 2022, Pitch, a celebration of music, arts, and community, brought back a ballot system for 2024.

The event was slated for March 8-12 in Moyston, about 140 miles west of Melbourne, coinciding with Victoria’s Labour Day long weekend.

By Michael

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