There’s More to Mad March

As Adelaide gears up for another intense month of Festival activity I ask at what personal cost.

When Ennio Marricone took to the outdoor stage on opening night of the last Adelaide Festival of the Arts he found he had more than just an accompanying orchestra. Competing with his overtures were the sounds of V8 motorcars testing night racing in the city’s east. While Marricone did not seem to mind, it left Festival Director Paul Grabowsky dismayed.

“At no point during the discussions we had with them did they suggest that there was going to be this event,” Grabowsky told ABC Radio.  “We had released details of our program in October and the details of theirs came out quite a bit later.”

Since March 1960 the Adelaide Festival of Arts had been the prominent event at this time of year, joined by Fringe Festival and eventually Womad and Writer’s Week. By 1999 the SA Motor Sport Board brought the Clipsal 500 in to the city mix and with the Adelaide Cup and Adelaide International Film Festival ‘mad march’ was born.  Of all these events only the Film Festival has moved to accommodate the overwhelming number of events.

With Adelaide audiences spoilt for choice and tourism booming hundreds of thousands of people are now moving in and out of the city’s east end. The Clipsal 500 alone brought another 263,400 patrons last year and contributed another $55.5m to the South Australian economy.

In 2009 the YWCA took an online and street survey of around 400 people to gauge how they felt about their personal safety during this time. The survey found 52% felt unsafe as a result of intoxicated males with 46% experiencing unsafe behaviour during Clipsal 500. Comparatively 49% of respondents said they felt safe during Womadelaide and the Fringe Festival.

SAPOL’s 2012 online data shows the highest number of threatening behaviour, harassment and dangerous acts against a person in the city’s east were recorded in February closely followed by March.

Of all the festival events in the city Clipsal 500 takes up the largest condensed area and has its own jurisdiction for policing. According to SAPOL the types of crimes dealt with inside the venue include: “people behaving in a disorderly manner or negatively impacting on other persons enjoyment of the event.”

Clipsal 500 spokesperson Mike Drewer stresses that Clipsal 500 “have a proud record of having a largely incident free event history.”

When pressed whether attendees contribute to the mix of threatening behaviour experienced at this time of year he insists: “like all responsible members of the community, I share the view that there is no excuse for anti-social behaviour. But sadly given the weekly media reports of drunken and violent behaviour in various areas all year round, what events has to do with it, I am not sure.”

He believes: “the issue of anti-social behaviour is far more complex than to attempt to simply link it to one particular period in the calendar where a number of organised activities are occurring.”

Tony Waters of the Victim Support Service cite 2011 research conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology.  It found young males arrested on a Friday or Saturday night were more likely to have consumed alcohol and peak periods were experienced around special events.

“When you have a very condensed 2-3 week period where you have something on every night you are almost rolling out more Friday and Saturday’s as it were,” he says. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if on some of those nights you have the same kind of behaviour.”

The YWCA took its survey results to both SAPOL and the SA Motor Sport Board with a range of recommendations.

“Neither indicated that they would act on the recommendations,” says YWCA spokesperson Chelsea Lewis.

“YWCA of Adelaide followed up with SAPOL and SA Motor Sport Board seeking information about any actions taken in response to the survey recommendations, but information was not forthcoming.”

They are planning to hold another survey in 2014 to ascertain whether experiences and perceptions of safety have changed over a five-year period.

According to the 2005 ABS Personal Safety Survey women over the last ten years felt increasingly unsafe alone after dark and on public transport. It also found 19% of women compared to 12% of men experienced some form or harassment, including comments about their sex life or unwanted sexual touching.

Often the reaction to these findings is to emphasis keeping safe, however this concerns Yarrow Place Manager Katrina Dee.

“Safety messages sometimes just give a community a sense of, well if we behave in the right way then we can prevent these crimes happening,” she says. “We really need to focus on the perpetrator and their responsibility for what’s occurred and what they need to do to ensure that they don’t behave in that way.”

Clipsal 500 is gearing up for night races in 2014 and whether the Festival of Arts experiences another embarrassing opening night is yet to be seen. But what is clear is there is more to mad March than just a mix of events.

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