Boy overdoses at dance party

Christchurch Press, 2 January 1998

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A 12-year-old boy almost died after he overdosed on alcohol and drugs on the first day of a 48-hour dance party on Takaka Hill.

The New Year dance party, The Gathering, attracted a sell-out crowd of about 8000 people to an isolated site at Canaan Downs, 11km from the Nelson-Takaka road. Organiser Grant Smithies estimated about 10 per cent of the crowd had taken drugs.

Ambulance staff said the boy, from Takaka, had come with a friend and was unsupervised by adults. "He was so far gone we almost lost him." He was taken to Nelson Hospital with an erratic heartbeat, suspected ruptured pancreas, and to have his stomach pumped. He was later sent home with his parents.

Mr Smithies said the boy could have sneaked in a back entrance or entered in a car with older people. People younger than 16 were allowed in but had to be supervised, he said. Alcohol was banned.

The crowd of campers danced to DJs playing non-stop music in five separate areas. The party will finish today. Cars were still arriving at 1am yesterday. After a day marked by traffic chaos vehicles waited up to four hours in queues on Takaka Hill. On the site the fields and bush were jammed with tents.

Red Cross unit leader Mike Price said there were more people using drugs and alcohol than at last year's inaugural Canaan Downs party. "There are plenty of spaced-out people drugged to the eyeballs."

A mental health team of two drug and alcohol counsellors and two rape crisis counsellors were available with more than 100 Gathering staff watching for problems. Mental Health worker Graeme Clement said about eight people needed help after problems with LSD.

Mr Smithies said: "It's wall-to-wall people. You've got the strobe lights going, music pulsing, it's bound to make a few people freak out."

Several people had been taken away by ambulance after suffering serious injuries. One woman had the liquid contents of a fluorescent tube splashed in her eyes. Another woman had a bad cut to her face from broken glass. About 200 people had been treated for other minor injuries such as ankle sprains and cuts, and for problems associated with drugs.

Security supervisor Joe Bartle said the crowd had been well- controlled. No-one had been ejected from the series of natural amphitheatres used to stage the huge event. "The reality is it's a laid-back crowd. They've come here to enjoy themselves and not to have trouble," Mr Bartle said.

Organiser Jose Cachemaille said a lot of alcohol was confiscated at the gate despite the event being advertised as drug and alcohol-free. "Our whole philosophy is harm reduction, but people are always going to do things like drugs."

Traffic problems could make organisers limit ticket sales next year or move to a different site. "It's a beautiful site but it's just impossible for an event this size. We'll be looking for somewhere else," Ms Cachemaille said.

Zohar Frenkel, 25, from Israel, has travelled to dance parties all over the world. "This is great. It's nice to be dancing in the fields." Jackie Simpson, 28, of Christchurch, said she and her friends spent 10 hours getting there, "but it was worth it".

The annual event began five years ago and is the largest dance party in New Zealand. [oops! That should be one year ago - maybe they're counting Entrain too - WebEd]


CAPTION: PHOTO: NELSON MAIL Travellers Nicola Russell, top, from England, Todd Woody, Canada, Sam Russell, England, and Marcus Trepus, England, join the 8000-strong gathering in the tent city atop Takaka Hill.

Elinore Wellwood, Christchurch Press, 2 January 1998

Letter from the boy's friends to Gathering organisers

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