Hard News by Russell Brown

69

Chill out: it's a party

At the Cloud on Saturday, I watched the security guards. They meant well, but they were doing it wrong. A crowd of 200 was happily bouncing around to the baile funk and drum sounds of Nick D and Yaw, with as many again grooving and swaying on the edges. It was good fun.

But the guards, in their visibility vests, kept striding into the moving crowd -- either because they'd spied some potential infraction, or because they were simply looking for one; it wasn't clear. It also wasn't very wise.

You won't see bouncers at a nightclub do it. All you need is for someone to catch an elbow, or simply get annoyed at someone else suddenly getting in their face, and there will be tears. Competent bouncers will glide through a crowd when they need to -- not stage pointless sorties.

It wasn't as if the scene was not already thoroughly under control. The room was lit like a Blue Light Disco, complete with policemen. Punters had been screened and searched at entry to Queen's Wharf and were, so far as I could see, in high spirits and posing no trouble to anyone. But the staff seemed to have had the fear of God put into them.

When they finally did find something worthy of their time -- a young woman with a single white Steinlager can -- the slightly-built offender was rushed away by three large men.

Still, no one died. Although, according to the Herald on Sunday's editorial on the opening night fallout, that was solely by the grace of God:

The inescapable and chilling fact is that it was a miracle no one died on Quay St or Queens Wharf that night.

I think it might be wise to save the word "miracle" for the big jobs, because, apart perhaps from the traffic accident on Fanshawe Street, some distance from Party Central, there was no situation in which someone should have been killed but miraculously was not.

And this morning, there is this story, trailered on the Herald's home page as "Auckland's party mood worries officials". For goodness sake: is there nothing that doesn't worry officials since the RWC minister's public panic attack last week?

Yes -- hold the cover of this week's Wholly Unsurprising Things magazine -- the CBD's Irish pubs were thronged both before and after the Irish rugby team achieved a famous victory over the Wallabies. The Kingslander pub, five minutes from Eden Park was also very busy. Maybe someone should look at closing New North Road along the Kingsland strip on game nights.

On the other hand -- as my mate and I discovered -- getting into town and parking after the match was an absolute breeze, and the town was full of happy folk. Bars were bubbling along. No one was fighting. We left just as the first crowds of exuberant Irish fans were disgorging from Britomart station, and I'm sure the streets became more lively thereafter -- but isn't this what we wanted?

The thing is that the official alarm is only partially grounded in concern for public safety. At least as significant is an urgent desire to not be seen to be responsible for any bad thing that happens. And the news media have adopted a narrative that only encourages the official anxiety.

3 News last week repeatedly broadcast hell-on-earth characterisations of the opening Friday's events downtown over pictures of crowds on Quay Street who seemed to be cheering, laughing and smiling.

It was left to the police on and after the opening night to make it clear that the large majority of punters during Auckland's darkest hour were simply in high spirits. And to judge by their official communications, the police were positively delighted by what they encountered this past weekend. At midnight on Saturday, under the headline Another good night at Eden Park, they reported thus:

Police say fan behaviour at tonight's Ireland/Australia game at Eden Park was once again very good.

Police made three arrests for minor offences and twelve people were evicted from the stadium.

"Fans were ordered and organised in getting to Eden Park and were well behaved when they departed" said Inspector Gary Allcock.

"The crowd cleared quickly after the game and closed roads around the stadium were soon reopened"

"Many of the crowd appeared to be heading home rather than go into the CBD" said Mr Allcock.

Police will be highly visible in the CBD throughout the night but no significant issues have yet been reported.

The bulletin on yesterday's game in Hamilton was 'Good crowd post-Hamilton test match', which read, in part:

Waikato Police say the attitude of revellers enjoying post-match entertainment in central Hamilton makes the City that much easier to keep safe.

Officer in charge of the District's Rugby World Cup operation, Inspector John Kelly, said a good sized crowd was enjoying the food and hospitality Hamilton has to offer with a lot of positive interaction happening between Samoan and Welsh fans.

"People are heeding the messages, drinking responsibly, eating food and having a good time.

"Out on the roads the crowds emptied out pretty quickly and there has been smooth, larger than usual traffic flows heading north with no problems."

If the force responsible for public safety is publishing fan letters to the public, perhaps we should pay them some heed. Perhaps we need to get past the fantasy that every eventuality can be anticipated and therefore suppressed, and accept that a tiny bit of chaos is not only inevitable but desirable. We need to acknowledge the overwhelming goodwill being shown by RWC crowds. And perhaps we need managers from the minister on down to chill out and focus on something other than the coverage of their own butts. It'll be okay, really.

PS: I've only just seen the One News report on the crowds at Kingsland, which contains the following:

However, when the masses departed Kingsland to take their seats, the street was left with an apocalyptic scene of debris and discarded bottles for cleaners to deal with.

"Apocalyptic"? Really? I've heard from about a dozen people who were there, and without exception they had a good time and then went to the damn game. Would it be out of the question for someone to get a goddamn grip?

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