Gather here again, please

Nelson Mail editorial, 5 Jan 1998

The music and the clothes were different but reports of the Gathering seem to show that in terms of atmosphere and behaviour this huge dance party represented a 1990s version of the 1960s and 1970s festivals enjoyed by the "hippie generation". Police, organisers, security and medical staff were united in the view that the 8,000 people who gathered to dance in the unlikely setting of a natural basin at Canaan Downs near the top of Takaka Hill showed a notable patience, tolerance and friendliness.

They stoically endured the lengthy traffic jams, in many cases for several hours, and once on site they seemed to all get along together without the friction that might have been anticipated, especially on New Year's Eve, when trouble is often an accompaniment to festivity where young people gather in large numbers. The problems experienced were few, and no more than might be expected if so many young people got together to camp anywhere for two nights. The typical experience seems to have been of enjoyment in a happy, party atmosphere. There wasn't a single arrest.

If those who flocked to the Gathering from around New Zealand and even overseas showed maturity, so too did the organisers and the police. An important ingredient in the recipe that kept it trouble-free was the insistence that alcohol was banned. Naturally, this did not stop determined individuals from smuggling drink in, but it did prevent most of the excesses that would otherwise have undoubtedly happened, especially since the security checks at entry were stringent.

Similarly, in today's world (and the world of a generation ago) it would be stupid to pretend that drug use could be prevented. Police recognised that and did not try a heavy-handed approach, noting that drugs would be at many other pubs and parties on New Year's Eve. There were some problems with both drugs and alcohol, but the organisers had medical teams available to deal with the overdoses and injuries such as the inevitable cuts and sprains, and an on-call ambulance was used a number of times to ferry people to hospital and sometimes back again. When there was a fire, professional help was on the spot within minutes.

The organisers are due compliments for their vision in seeing the potential in such a remote site more than two years ago, the careful planning that produced such a good result, and the sensible decision to limit ticket sales to 8,000 and to do away with gate sales altogether.

As well as the more than $400,000 spent on tickets, a great deal of money flowed into the district with the tide of party-goers, and for a few days the region was even more colourful than usual at this time of year. Many of the young arrivals were doing it on the cheap, but they were nonetheless seeing the Nelson region at its holiday-time best, and may well be tempted back again. The region's future prosperity in part depends on vacationing New Zealanders, and this event brought people who would never otherwise have contemplated coming here.

However, the traffic problems on New Year's Eve were no small thing. The Takaka Hill road is a lifeline for Golden Bay and should not be blocked in this way, especially when many holidaymakers are trying to use it. In what must be one of the quotes of the year, Sergeant Jim Burrows of Motueka Police said on Friday he would like to see the venue changed, preferably "to somewhere on the North Island". But that would be a loss to Nelson. The organisers, who have already said they will look for somewhere else, have proved themselves fully able to hold such a massive event. Their achievement is remarkable, and it is to be hoped that once they get over this year's Gathering, they will turn their attention to finding another, more suitable site within the region for next year.

Nelson Mail editorial, 5 January 1998

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