I imagine a music festival would suck huge amounts of energy to power those stages.
It’s massive. Everyone said to me, “You’re mad; don’t run all your generators on biodiesel, just run half and then if it doesn’t work you can still power your event.” They told me stories about generators clogging up and the filters clogging and not working, but I’d researched it and spoken to a lot of people, and the information I had was that it would work. It did work; it worked seamlessly. The event grew, about 2500 people came that year, and everyone had an amazing time; the vibe and energy were fantastic. In the third year, 2006, we decided to move it to New Year’s Eve.
That was the year I went.
Oh it was brilliant; it was the most chaotic year. In our infinite wisdom of moving it to New Year’s we didn’t think about changing the ticketing system and so, when almost everyone arrived within a three-hour period, I had to open the gates and just let everyone in so the cars weren’t queueing on the highway. We still had quite a lot of volunteers and were pushed to the max in running the event. We had ten stages and 300 bands perform that year. We came out of that realising that we now had a very big event on our hands and had to make some changes for it to be run properly. I spent quite a bit of time raising money and then hired a really amazing, professional team and we planned a very large festival for 2007 with 15 stages of music, 420 bands and a really major international headliner. In 2007 we had some pretty intense weather. There was a storm in June that was the biggest in 100 years, it actually washed out part of the Pacific Highway. All throughout the second half of the year it rained constantly. We went in to set up the festival and it was very challenging, there wasn’t one structure in the place we’d originally planned because we were trying to work around these terrible ground conditions. Then, for the last two weeks of the set-up, it rained in a way that it had never rained before. It was the highest rainfall ever recorded, and nine days out, with the whole festival pretty much set up, and 10,000 people projected to come, I had to make the decision to cancel because I couldn’t confidently say that it was a safe space for people to come into. That was a big decision and had far-reaching consequences, that’s for sure, but it was the right decision and I know that.
No other choice?
No, but it was quite cruel because over the days scheduled for the festival itself, it was beautiful and sunny. That wouldn’t have made a difference because there had been so much rain that the water table under the valley had come up to sitting on top of the ground. Anywhere there was a slight depression in the ground you could see it was pooled and it meant the ground wasn’t stable. So it was the right thing to do, but it was an enormous setback for the event. We were insured, but I spent nine months battling with the insurance company.
To get them to cover your costs?
To get them to pay on our claim. All our suppliers and everyone stood with us during that process. It was very, very, very stressful. That was what I was talking about earlier, the time of absolute darkness. Insurance companies are funny – they’re very good at what they do and they employ assessors whose job is to find out, however they can, the absolute minimum that you’ll accept and then stall you until you’re so desperate that you have to accept that amount. That’s what they did to us. It came to a point where they made us an offer which was about $100,000 less than I knew we needed to survive, but it was two weeks before the absolute deadline for being able to put the event on again. I really agonised over it, but in myself went, I don’t think we can do it for that, so I went back to them and said, “No we can’t accept it.” It had taken us months to get to that point and to say that to them took real faith and knowing that I valued the festival. I just thought they were taking the piss to a level that I couldn’t say yes to. I remember being locked away in my house saying, “It’s going to be ok, it’s going to be ok”, going quite crazy wondering if I’d just thrown the whole thing away. I felt this click in my brain and it was like, “This is going to be ok.”
It was a physical thing, I felt it, and as I felt it the phone rang. It was this guy I’d met months before who went, “I’ve heard about what’s happening to you. I’ve been working in insurance for 20 years and I’ve got two weeks free, can I help you?” I said, “Yes please.” Basically he took it to a very high level within the insurance company and said, “Do you realise that your actions are going to be responsible for taking out this amazing event which is one of the world leaders in promoting sustainability?” They came back and increased their offer on the last day.
What an angel!
It was still less than we were due, but we could survive on it. So then we started from scratch on the 2008 event.
Had you lost credibility through all that?
No, completely the opposite. It’s a funny thing; everyone respected us for what we did.