I was out of the country for New Year’s Eve but I almost choked on my non-single origin coffee when I logged onto Fairfax Media the next morning and read that a story about a wild dance party in Melbourne’s Edinburgh Gardens was in the top five best read stories on all its websites around the country.My shock wasn’t so much that the nation was reading about my gardens, whose green fields I happen to live opposite in Melbourne’s inner-north. No, my coffee snorting astonishment was that a story about thousands of people partying in the Edinburgh Gardens and leaving a sea of rubbish behind was news.
Didn’t that happen at New Year’s the year before? Yes it did, and I was there observing the magic of thousands bringing in 2013. And at 7 am the next morning I and many other residents were also there to help clean up the mess.
That party of more than 15,000 people was an unadvertised and spontaneous event as the many people who live in this relatively congested area found themselves gravitating to its welcoming and expansive gardens, which act as the inner-north’s green lungs.
So why was New Year’s 2014 so different that it made Australia wide news? Reports, comments and opinions in the media expressed outrage at the “carnage’’ in the park, the “violence” (a 17 year old boy punched a policewoman), and the berserk and Bacchanalian behaviour of the 15,000 people who attended. One News Limited piece characterized the crowds as inner city, socialist, litter-bugging hipsters who are exactly the sort of take-take-take-never-give people who leave big government to clean up after their mess. Apparently the scene at 5 am on New Year’s Day was like something from Shaun of the Dead as scores of the living dead staggered from the flowerbeds to throw themselves at taxis on Brunswick Street.
True, there is an over supply of young men in the inner-north with neat comb-overs, bushy beards and penchant for wearing brogues without socks. And yes, young women dressed like Audrey Tautou in Amelie tend to float by on pushbikes decorated with fresh flowers as they flip through Frankie magazine, but until the gardens became a New Year’s venue I had never, ever thought of these hitherto well-groomed and eco-aware hipsters as messy.
If you don’t live in inner Melbourne, you’d agree because you would have seen these kinds of people serving free trade coffee or shopping for classic LPs in the background on shows like Offspring and Jack Irish. Almost every TV and movie made in Melbourne has its crews filming in the Edinburgh Gardens or the graffitied laneways of the inner north about every second week of the year.
The City of Yarra, which controls this part of town gets about a $1000 a day for a film crew to use its streets and parks to communicate to the rest of Australia just how artily hipster, grungily creative, kookily idiosyncratic and coolly photogenic this neighbourhood and its people are.
So it was a surprise to read that the City of Yarra leading the chorus and sheeting home the blame for the mess on New Year’s Eve entirely on the crowd, many of whom might’ve come because they hoped to find Eddie Perfect or Kat Stewart dancing in the charmingly whimsical rotunda in the centre of the gardens.
In a letter to residents late last week the Mayor of Yarra, Jackie Fristacky, did not seem to be joking when she said the council had learned from the year before so they put some extra rubbish skips and Portaloos in the gardens this year. She explained that, um,yes, the bins and loos were hard to find because the park isn’t very well lit, as we all know. She went on to say that the council didn’t expect the crowds to be so big and hey, they were monitoring social media too. Maybe Mayor Jackie thinks scrolling through Twitter is like being at mission control at Cape Canaveral.
The reason this story warranted national coverage might be because it reveals the schism between how governments, tourism boards and lifestyle-peddling property developers like to imagine how urbane and sophisticated we are, when in fact our authorities still expect everyone to behave like Sandy Stone asleep in suburban contentment.
State governments and city councils love to crow about where they score in livability and creativity ratings, but one of the consequences of the selling of the inner city “lifestyle” is the need to embrace our public resources and amenities.
Drive past most big parks in Melbourne and they are largely empty except for joggers and exercise groups whose leaders pay councils for the privilege. The Edinburgh Gardens are different because they are filled at weekends and summer nights with kids playing, families picnicking, dog walkers, cricketers, footballers, basketballers, lawn bowlers, and yes hipsters, some of whom can occasionally be seen jogging. No wonder so many thought this was the place to be on New Year’s Eve.
The Edinburgh Gardens is a living, breathing park and it, and every other large city park in our major cities should be enjoyed more, not less.
Years ago I lived a block from Central Park in New York and the city programmed free concerts and events every night and weekends through the summer. People didn’t trash the park because the authorities promoted and managed the events and its audiences were educated in how to behave.
No one can excuse the behaviour of those who junked the Edinburgh Gardens last week but if the City of Yarra is as progressive as it likes to bill itself then it should lead other local councils around Australia. It should use the fees it collects from ratepayers, dog owners, personal trainers and film crews to bring even more life to the Edinburgh Gardens by programming free events, including New Year’s Eve dance parties.