Best year yet

November 22, 2017

(From left) Marni Pyle, Joe Dohnt and Will Pyle enjoying Strawberry Fields Festival.

‘‘It was the best year we have had so far — artistically, musically and culturally.’’

That is Strawberry Fields Festival director Tara Benney’s summary of the ninth annual music and arts event, held on Lower River Rd at Tocumwal on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There were 6500 attendees at the festival this year, hailing from most parts of Australia.

Ms Benney said the event far exceeded organisers’ expectations.

‘‘Seeing Yothu Yindi performing was definitely a highlight,’’ she said.

‘‘They had a great turn out and were really moving; some people in the audience were crying.

‘‘It shows what’s great about the festival. We have diversity with activities and broad entertainment.

‘‘This year we really hit out stride with our community involvement too.’’

Yothu Yindi was one of 80 musical performers to take to the stage in Tocumwal, along with Cobram based DJ CC:Disco which was also a crowd pleaser.

As well as immersing themselves in different styles of music, festival goers also enjoyed art installations, food trucks and camping, all while taking in the tranquil setting of the Murray River and bush surroundings.

A community stall hosted by local youth provided bags of ice, toasties, and peppermint tea for patrons, and raised more than $1200 for the Finley High School Immersion Program.

There was also a jewellery stall run by Tocumwal residents.

While organisers and police praised the behaviour of festival goers overall, police say the number of drug related charges as part of the NSW and Victorian Police Operation Strawberry Fields is still a concern.

Deniliquin Police Command Inspector Jy Brown said NSW Police drug detection dogs used as part of the cross-border operation made 80 positive drug indications.

He said 58 people were charged with driving under the influence of illicit drugs, compared to 31 last year.

NSW Police made 102 arrests is total and laid 65 charges, Insp Brown said.

On the Victorian side of the border, Cobram-based Senior Sergeant Darren Wittingslow said Victorian Police recorded 52 positive drug driving tests, from 842 tests conducted.

Snr Sgt Wittingslow said none of the 2471 people tested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Victoria over the four days of the operation tested positive.

‘‘The results are alarming, in particular with those people continuing to drive under the influence of drugs,’’ Insp Brown said.

‘‘Their impairment level puts all road users at risk of serious harm or death.

‘‘Drivers need to realise they cannot get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Enforcement operations will continue to target these drivers.

‘‘We do acknowledge the committee is working hard to make the event safer and we will continue to work with the festival organisers to promote change into the future.

‘‘In saying that, we do not condone the use of illegal drugs and will continue to target this event.’’

The drugs seized by police included cannabis, ecstasy, crystal methylamphetamine, ketamine, magic mushrooms and GHB.

Insp Brown said police only had to intervene in a small number of incidents at the festival, which he said included assisting with suspected drug overdoses.

He said six patrons were treated for overdosing, with three transported off-site for further medical attention.

Three people were arrested at the festival site for resisting police arrest and drug possession.

Ms Benney said event organisers were happy with the police response to the festival.

‘‘In any large gathering there are always a few who try to ruin it for the many, but overall everyone was very well behaved,’’ she said.

‘‘We are so grateful to the small army of hardworking emergency services, crew and volunteers who make that a reality.

‘‘We are thankful for the efforts of New South Wales and Victorian police in enforcing road safety.

‘‘New South Wales Police maintained a presence on site throughout the weekend and worked collaboratively with our team. It was great to see them smiling in the crowd and interacting with patrons.”

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