“Such A Disgrace”: Secret Garden Artists Slam ‘Intimidating’ NSW Police Presence

It was the festival's 11th and final year.

Secret Garden

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NSW Police have been accused by musicians and punters of maintaining an ‘intimidating’ and overbearing presence at the final ever Secret Garden this past weekend.

Located in Camden, the two-day festival saw 4,000 punters and the likes of Ali Barter, Genesis Owusu, Okenyo and The Preatures play.

According to Ali Tomoana, artist manager at Soul Has No Tempo, the festival also featured NSW Police intimidating one of her female artists. She alleges that the artist was subject to strip-search before her performance, and when found all-clear, was stopped again and told by police they were ‘pressing charges’ as a joke. The post was then picked up by the Facebook page for The Greens’ anti-drug dog campaign Sniff Off.

What's the funniest joke in the world? Civil liberties and basic human dignity according to NSW Police.

Posted by Sniff Off on Monday, 25 February 2019

Tomoana tweeted about the incident on Saturday 23 February, the last day of the festival, later promising to make a formal complaint with NSW Police.  In a statement to Music Junkee, NSW Police said: “at this time, we are not aware of any formal complaint”.

In response to Tomoana’s original teet, Secret Garden artist Mojo Juju also said she’d had “bullshit” encounters with the police.

She also alleged her car was searched and ID was checked 3 times on the way into the festival. Juju later warned fellow artists they should “be prepared for long waits, potential strip-searched and general contempt from the police.”

The Jezabels guitarist Samuel Lockwood also played the festival, calling the police presence “so intimidating” and a “disgrace”.

When Music Junkee asked NSW Police about the issues raised regarding intrusive searches — specifically to ask for comment on Juju and Tomoana’s experiences — they said that “there are controls and safeguards about how extensive and on what basis officers can proceed with a search”.

The NSW Police have also been criticised for having too large of a presence at the festival. In another Sniff Off post, nine NSW Police can be seen sitting at a festival stage. There appears to be one other person there.

In a photo posted on Twitter by Sydney musician Anatole, a group of boomers can be seen at Secret Garden wearing Rip Curl shirts and packing suspiciously holster-shaped bumps at their waists.

The not-so incognito outfits got absolutely rinsed in the replies (and later Sniff Off post), with people saying it was extreme “dadcore”.

NSW Police have confirmed to Music Junkee that “both uniformed and plain clothes police formed part of the operation, as they would with any major event”.

At Secret Garden, NSW Police conducted 109 vehicle searches and searched 300 people, finding 40 drug detections (via 10daily), arresting one man and giving a dozen people court notices for drug possession.

The complaints from artists at Secret Garden come amid what has been called the NSW Government’s ‘war on festivals’, as new regulations in response to several drug-related deaths have caused last-minute festival cancellations, moves to Queensland, and protests from thousands.

As of March 1, new regulations will come into effect where 14 NSW music festivals have been controversially classified as “high-risk”, subjecting them to higher fees and stricter rules. Pill-testing is not being considered as a preventative measure to improve safety at music festivals, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian continually saying it only encourages illicit drug use.

Organisers of Laneway Sydney have called it “preposterous” that they’re included in the 14 high-risk festivals, and say it puts the future of the festival in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Wollongong Festival Farmer & The Owl has told a week out from the festival that they were no longer “high-risk”, after being told their licence was cancelled in February.