Falls blast over exit strategy
FALLS Festival organisers created “bottleneck” exits at a major stage that led to a dangerous stampede on Friday night where crushed revellers feared they would be killed.
Authorities will investigate the decision to this year to erect a fixed barrier around the Grand Theatre marquee for the first time, leaving only three narrow exits.
WorkSafe Victoria officials conducted an urgent review of the site yesterday, ordering staff to pull down part of the barrier to create a far bigger exit for fans last night.
It is understood that in previous years wider exits were used and the plastic barrier around the tent was not fixed, meaning festival-goers could duck under it.
More than 80 people needed medical treatment after the crush, with injuries including broken legs and ankles and a potential spinal injury.
Victim Olivia Jones, 19, said: “I had thoughts that this could be my last breath as every breath was getting harder and harder, as if my lungs were shrinking.”
Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley called the stampede “unacceptable” and “very, very dangerous”.
Festival organisers did not answer questions put to them by the Sunday
Herald Sun yesterday.
Mr Foley said: “WorkSafe has investigated and worked with Falls Festival management. They’ve made some immediate requirements for change to make sure that there is no repeat.
“We want to thank our paramedics, ambulance staff and our hardworking medical professionals for making sure those young people received the best medical treatment.”
The lack of phone coverage at the site was also highlighted, with worried parents unable to contact children.
Mr Foley added: “One of the benefits of the Falls Festival is its beautiful location, but that also means communica- tions, as we’ve seen in the last day, is a bit of an issue. This is clearly an issue WorkSafe will work on with the organisers.”
Victims of Friday night’s chaotic scenes were carried out by friends, with some witnesses reporting broken bones sticking out of legs.
The crush occurred as fans hurried from the end of popular local act DMA’s set in the Grand Theatre marquee to watch British headliners London Grammar on the Valley Stage, just before 10pm.
Six men and 13 women were taken to hospital with lower leg fractures, pelvic fractures and cuts and bruises.
It is understood questions will be raised about scheduling a popular local act to finish at the same time as the international headliners were set to start. But the decision to close off most of the big tent — partly due to the construction of a new bar alongside — has prompted the most criticism.
Festival-goers reported seeing fellow fans unconscious “underneath stacks of people”.
Falls organisers did not hold a press conference yesterday and did not answer questions from the Sunday Herald Sun as to why the tent was left with three narrow exits.
In a statement, they said: “In response to last night’s incident we have considered the egress into and out of the Grand Theatre and made some modifications to today’s event.”
The festival Facebook page said a “large section of the side of the tent” was yesterday removed “to alleviate concerns”.
Fans slammed the decision to have a fixed barrier at all.
“Concerns? It’s not just anxiety or concerns, it’s the reality of creating a safe venue. Stop minimising. Truly poor form,” one Facebook user said. “A bit like putting on the seatbelt after the car has crashed,” another posted.
The Falls Festival was established in Lorne in 1993 and has since expanded to Tasmania, Byron Bay and Fremantle. It emerged yesterday that three girls were sexually assaulted at the concurrent Tasmanian version of Falls Festival. The assaults occurred on Thursday and Friday.
Organisers have since put on extra security at the Tasmanian event, and police are appealing for witnesses.
Olivia Jones recovers at home yesterday.