Gathering proves a big success say organisers

Nelson Mail, 2 Jan 98

Organisers of the Gathering are describing the 48-hour New Year music party on the Takaka Hill as a huge success.

The Gathering at remote Canaan Downs was to break up at 1pm today. About 1,000 of the 8,000 partygoers left yesterday, and others were packing up this morning. Jose Cachemaille, one of the four Nelson organisers, said today all the networks put in place to deal with any problems worked smoothly. "It's just been totally awesome, really fantastic," she said.

Red Cross unit leader Mike Price said he was reasonably happy with people's behaviour. By this morning, eight people had been taken by ambulance to either the Motueka Medical Centre or Nelson Hospital for treatment. One woman was taken to Nelson Hospital last night after overdosing on drugs. Mr Price said she and her friends told first-aiders they believed someone had spiked her drink. She was stabilised by the time she got to Nelson Hospital, he said.

A nine-year-old boy was accidentally pushed into a fire yesterday afternoon and got second and third degree burns to his feet. He was taken to Nelson Hospital. The boy's father was with him and was very upset about the incident, Mr Price said.

Organiser Grant Smithies said there were more people with drugs or alcohol on site this year but there was also twice the number of people. The party was advertised as alcohol-free. "The security did a great job but people were smuggling booze in soft drink bottles, which makes it hard to detect. But we had none of the usual new year alcohol dramas like fights and aggression. The alcohol and drug use we did have was relatively minor and dealt with quickly and well," he said.

Music in the five dance tents was stopping today at midday but the outdoor trance zone was to stop an hour later. "I'd say everyone will get up there for a last dance," Mr Smithies said.

Traffic was expected to flow better than on New Year's Eve when it was delayed for hours on Takaka Hill, prompting organisers to say that the Gathering will need a new site in future. "Unless there's an emergency or someone breaks down on the road and we have to stop traffic, it should be pretty straightforward," Mr Smithies said. About 40 people were still dancing at 7.30am today but many very tired people were having a slow start to the day. Those working at the site - organisers, security and emergency staff, disk jockeys - had managed on minimal sleep to ensure partygoers have had a great time, said Mr Smithies.

Sergeant Jim Burrows of Motueka police said he was not expecting major traffic problems today as the party would probably break up gradually. He said police had been tied up with motor accidents and drug overdoses at the event, but at least there had not been any violence. "It hasn't been as bad as it could have been. We haven't had any violence at all and that's a big plus."

Mr Burrows said he would like to see the venue changed, preferably to "somewhere in the North Island - that would be nice". He said police would certainly be opposed to staging the Gathering on the top of Takaka Hill again because of the traffic problems on the main road and the narrow Canaan Rd.

Deirdre Mussen, Nelson Mail, 2 January 1998

Candle sets van alight

Two burned Auckland people ended up with Motueka police this morning wondering how to get home after their van caught fire at the Gathering dance party at Canaan Downs.

Sergeant Jim Burrows said police found "two bedraggled people" at the front door, where the ambulance had left them after they had been treated by a doctor for burns [Actually, they had requested that the ambulance take them there after treatment - WebEd]. He said they had lost most of their possessions when their van ignited, had burns, and were wondering how they were going to get back to the Hibiscus Coast north of Auckland. This morning they were being helped by Victim Support before heading to hospital for further treatment, which was what a doctor had recommended.

Danny Fowler from EMT Ambulance Service said the pair had been dropped off at the police station becuase they refused to go to the hospital. One of the fire's victims, Kerry Morton, said earlier a candle caused the fire. "I just woke up and saw the flames, I reached up to try and put it out but couldn't. I leapt out. We must have gone to sleep with the candle still going."

Ms Morton had burns to her fingers. The other occupant, Rene Baker, tried to fight the blaze and suffered second and third-degree burns to his right arm and face. His hair was singed. Firefighters were on the scene within minutes and put out the fire with a powder extinguisher.

Private firefighter Mark Donaldson, of Stoke, said he had warned people not to use candles in tents. "It's so incredibly dangerous and I've been going around telling everyone just that." His privately-owned fire engine was on the scene quickly and Mr Donaldson said emergency lanes had been kept open in case of such a situation.

The Mitsubishi van was extensively damaged inside and a mattress badly burned. An LPG gas cooker was in front of the van and the situation would have been very serious if it had exploded, Mr Donaldson said. The van was surrounded by tents and nearby campers started giving first aid to the victims before the Red Cross unit members arrived.

Unit leader Mike Price said it was a good example of how well-prepared everyone was for dealing with emergencies, and showed the helpfulness of other partygoers. At last report, the damaged van was to be driven off the site.

Nelson Mail, 2 January 1998

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