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The story behind the cancellation of Trundle ABBA Festival

October 15, 2022


By Peter Holmes

As thousands of people across the Central West and beyond booked their accommodation and dry cleaned their best jumpsuits for the ABBA Festival in Trundle today (October 15, 2022), Parkes Shire Council found itself backed into a corner.

The council had this year taken over the running of the popular Trundle ABBA Festival, which had in previous years attracted more than 4,000 people, Parkes Shire Council mayor Ken Keith told The Orange News Examiner on Saturday.

It was the sort of event that gave a little town like Trundle, with a population of less than 1,000, a financial boost to help get through the rest of the year.

Some 2,000 tickets had been sold to this year’s festival, to be held at Trundle’s Berryman Oval, when the council made the excruciating decision last Friday to cancel it, putting in motion a series of heartbreaking and laborious tasks that all involved a word no promoter ever wants to hear: “Refund”.

Keith said that the event was cancelled for a number of reasons, most crucially a lack of insurance, terrible weather, and the need to minimise the financial hit taken by council.

As it stood, he reckoned the council would wear a loss of $70,000 to $80,000. They won't know for sure until the accounts are settled.

The 2018 Trundle ABBA Festival. Facebook.

By Friday October 6 Parkes Shire Council still had no insurance to cover the event.

Keith said staff had been trying to source coverage without success for "some time".

In this regard, there was nothing special about the Trundle ABBA Festival, it was simply that local and global insurers’ risk appetite for outdoor events such as concerts and fun fairs had waned significantly in recent years. Premiums had risen, if you could get insurance at all.

And if you couldn't get insurance for public liability and cancellation, your festival was dead in the water.

Which brings us to the weather.

Keith said that by early October insurers had told council they “can’t insure outdoor events at the moment with the way the weather’s been”.

A piece of art promoting the festival. Facebook.

“You used to be able to get rain insurance,” Keith said, “but [the rain] had to be on the day, and a certain number of millimetres. But they wouldn’t even make that available.

“We looked at the weather conditions for [Berryman Oval] last Friday, and it was going to be impossible with the rain to get the mobile stage built. And impossible to get people on the oval without wrecking it.”

The mayor said council had looked at the possibility of moving the festival to Parkes if Trundle became isolated, “but Cook Park in Parkes was the same as Berryman Oval in Trundle”.

The council had signed a number of contracts with vendors who were to provide key elements such as the entertainment, fencing, security, stage and food.

The contracts for those providing many of the services stipulated that cancellation had to be made at least seven days before the event.

“We had to make the call last Friday whether we were on or off so we could reduce our losses,” Keith said.

But there was another issue.

The headline act, Bjorn Again, was known internationally and had different contractual stipulations. It required 30 days notice of cancellation, otherwise the promoter had to pay, Keith said.

“Because of that we thought ‘let’s see if we can’t take advantage and move the show [indoors]’. Rather than paying out money for nothing, we might as well pay and put a show on for the ABBA fans that could get here.”

Fortunately, Parkes Leagues Club had no entertainment scheduled in the main auditorium.

“We contacted the 2,000 people who had bought tickets to the festival and gave them the option to see Bjorn Again at the leagues club, and then it’s been open to the general public from about Tuesday,” Keith said.

The club’s auditorium has a capacity of about 600, and by Friday about 400 tickets had been sold.

“I don’t know if there’s been a late surge,” said Keith.

A local band Amitie will also perform at the club tonight.

The venue in Trundle. Google Earth.

As for the hit to Trundle businesses, Keith described it as “pretty big-time”.

“We had discussions with them before we decided to close it off, and they understood and fully agreed.

“The new owner of the Trundle Hotel and the person that’s bought the coffee shop and business in the main street, they were desperately looking for a financial injection but, anyway, it wasn’t to be.”

To rub salt into the wound, Parkes Shire Council had just received notification from state government tourism agency Destination NSW that it had been successful in a grant application to support the Trundle ABBA Festival.

“The grant money isn’t available if you call it off, so we won’t get that.”

Asked if council’s enthusiasm for taking the risk on future Trundle ABBA Festivals had been dampened, Keith said: “It'll be a little bit of a hit for council, but we couldn't not support Trundle when we support Elvis [Parkes has an annual Elvis Presley festival] - that was part of our thinking.”

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