Uncertainty After Police & Organisers Offer Conflicting Views About Rainbow Serpent Festival

28 January 2016 | 5:25 pm | Staff Writer

The event says authorities "commended" its planning; Vic Police say the number of drug arrests was "frightening"

Depending on who you talk to, the 19th annual Rainbow Serpent Festival, in Lexton, was either an unprecedented success... or a "frightening" indictment on punters' inability to engage in responsible drug use.

At this stage, the latter seems to be the prevailing narrative, with ABC News reporting that Victoria Police are now questioning whether this week's Rainbow Serpent should be the last, after 40 people were caught drug-driving while leaving the festival.

According to Inspector Bruce Thomas, who estimated between 5000 and 6000 vehicles were at the festival, the ratio of drivers departing the event who tested positive at roadside drug swabs evens out to about one in three. "When you extrapolate those hit rate figures out, it's frightening," Thomas told the ABC.

"The high hit rate of drugs leads to a bit of a deadly cocktail when they haven't slept, they've got drugs in their system and they're driving long distances."

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"It's very high-risk to have that amount of drug use in the shire," Thomas continued. "It's also very, very risky to have that amount of drugged drivers driving through the community.

"I wouldn't want friends or relatives in a vehicle going the other way with some of these drivers coming the opposite direction."

Substance use wasn't the only issue to catch the attention of authorities, however, with police further explaining they had dealt with one assault, three thefts and four sexual assaults in the area from 22-27 January.

However, that perspective is a far cry from that offered by police on-ground at the event, with organisers quoting site supervising officer Sergeant Ian Billing as being "very impressed with the organiser's emergency management of the festival", and asserting that they issued alcohol and drug kits for punters to test themselves for potential impairment before departing the grounds.

Across the event, about 900 people sought treatment from the on-site 24-hour Medical Centre, with general manager Adrian Widuckel praising attendees for their behaviour.

"The vast majority [of examinations] were for soft-tissue injuries, basic cuts and sprains, dehydration and headaches," Widuckel said in a statement.

Festival director Tim Harvey reiterated that those on-ground at the event were — once again — pleased with the punters.

"I think, in general, our patrons over the entire 19 years have been generally very well behaved and have really taken on board our message to take care of each other while having fun," he said in a statement, asserting, "It's important to us that our patrons have an amazing time but do it safely, and that includes travelling to and from the event."