Downtown Shakedown: No pill testing for the Wellington festival, but a weather-proofed marquee

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The festival will be held in a 3500sq m marquee. Photo / Supplied

Wellington’s first festival of the Summer – and the biggest of its kind since Covid – is ready to brave the elements with a 3500sq m marquee this weekend.

But it would be too short notice to organise pill testing, with the bill legalising it passing before Parliament just this morning.

The Downtown Shakedown, at Waitangi Park on Saturday, has brought the biggest marquee in the country – a 40m by 90m structure – up from Christchurch.

The Downtown Shakedown has brought the biggest marquee in the country up from Christchurch. Photo / Supplied
The Downtown Shakedown has brought the biggest marquee in the country up from Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

Festival organiser Andrew Tuck said weather-proofing the event had been the plan long before wild conditions hit the capital over the past week.

“It’s Wellington in November/December, and it can be beautiful and it can be terrible, as it has been over the past week,” he said.

“The marquee itself is phenomenal – it’s 3500 square metres, it can take a wind speed of 130km/h, it’s pretty watertight, so people can just come in, enjoy and it will be just like a huge venue.”

“The marquee was always to make sure it was weatherproof and that whatever happens with the weather the event can still go ahead.”

Although a bill legalising pill testing at festivals had passed through Parliament today, it was unlikely there would be any present at the festival, as it would be challenging to arrange in three days.

But generally Tuck was a big supporter of pill testing at festivals.

“The issues we’ve ever had across in festivals in the 20 years that I’ve been involved, have always come from people taking something and they didn’t know what it was,” he said.

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“They’ve bought it locally, they’ve bought it from a friend of a friend they didn’t know – and they’ve ended up in one of our triage units or in hospital.

The marquee can withstand wind speeds up to 130km/h. Photo / Supplied
The marquee can withstand wind speeds up to 130km/h. Photo / Supplied

“It’s not my moral decision to decide what people should or shouldn’t do – that’s their choice – but for us at a festival, [it’s] the ability to be able to let someone know not to take something.

“For me it’s just about making sure those people are kept safe and looked after.”

On Wednesday Justice Minister Andrew Little passed the Substance Checking Legislation Bill with support from the Greens.

The Bill changes two pieces of legislation – the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act – to allow events to host drug testers and festivalgoers to get their drugs tested without prosecution.

Tuck hoped people would look after themselves on the weekend and enjoy the freedom of being out and about while many places around the world were locked down.

“It’s the first really big festival of this size since Covid locked us down in March … at the moment it’s probably one of the biggest events around the world because no one can actually do anything.

“The opportunity to get out and actually do something is really important for people’s mental state … hopefully with the whole experience people will just leave with a huge smile on their face, going we’ve got through what’s been a really testing year for everybody.”

There would be QR codes and hand sanitiser available throughout the festival, and Tuck asked anyone who was feeling unwell not to attend.

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