Writers festival 'must go on'

IN its 12-year history the Byron Bay Writers Festival had never been cancelled, until yesterday.

Director Jeni Caffin described the forced cancellation due to rain as disastrous, but was determined to have the site drained and dried for the remaining events this weekend.

“I'm standing now looking at the most tumultuous rain we've had yet,” she said yesterday.

“It's like Dunkirk, but the festival must go on. We're telling everyone to wear the warmest clothes they can find.

“No ifs, no buts, we are going ahead.”

While the forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology gave hope with a promise of decreasing showers on the weekend, observer Simon Evans said there was still the possibility it would rain during the night on Friday leaving little chance for the saturated grounds at the Byron Bay Beach Resort to recover from the 90mm drenching it received on Thursday and Friday.

Northern Rivers Writers Centre president Chris Hanley said it was impossible to deal with exceptionally bad weather.

“We are in a part of the world where weather can be extreme,” he said.

“I have been coming to this site for 15 years and I have never seen it this bad at this time of year.

“I started this event and we've never had to cancel anything, we've never had the site turning into the bog that it is, it's unprecedented.

“We need four or five hours with no rain and most of the water will drain. We've got gravel ordered, crews of people and pumps, it's all sitting there ready.”

Byron Bay Beach Resort general manager Justin Leith was on the site with 10 crew eager to get the grounds ready once the rain eased off enough.

Yesterday afternoon the pump was running steadily helping drain the sandy soil and an excavator for digging drainage trenches was on standby, as well as seven truckloads of gravel.

“What we're going to have to do is form pathways with blue metal from marquee to marquee, and bridges in certain places,” he said.

“It does drain very quickly. If it stops raining it drains within four hours.”

When the rain started pooling on Thursday night, staff and festival organisers worked at the site until 11pm trying to stave off the water retention in the hope events could go ahead on Friday. Splendour in the Grass organisers also chipped in with some crew to ease the load.

Continuous rain during the night and on Friday however saw the grounds turn to mush again, forcing the festival's cancellation that day.

Ms Caffin said they made the decision to cancel events early yesterday morning, weighing up whether it was better to lose one day or risk losing both Saturday and Sunday with thousands of people trampling on the boggy grounds on Friday.

“If we insisted on going in today we would have lost Saturday and Sunday, we would have destroyed the site,” she said yesterday.

“Better to lose one day that to lose two-and-a-half.”

To confirm the weekend's events are on check the website at www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au.

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