A N O P E N L E T T E R T O C O F F S
H A R B O U R C I T Y C O U N C I L
Dear Council members, I am writing to you in response to action taken against local band Flying Giant in regards to their attempts to promote an upcoming live show. I am a member of said band and am greatly displeased with the conclusion of these events. The purpose of this letter isn’t solely to communicate my dissatisfaction and disgruntlement. I aim to present some ideas that will hopefully effectuate change in our local policies, those which are currently a substantial hindrance to myself and others in my position.
Firstly, I will summarise the progression of events. Between Monday the 3rd and Tuesday the 11th of March, my band posted A4 posters in targeted areas of Coffs Harbour to try and promote our upcoming EP Launch. On the evening of Wednesday the 12th of March, our production team contacted us, saying that the local Ranger had ordered the posters removed or else we’d face heavy fines. The very next day, Thursday the 13th, I contacted the Ranger and tried to plead my case with him. I was unsuccessful, so that same evening I removed each and every poster.
Allow me to explain a little about myself and my band. We are all Coffs Harbour locals, having lived here almost our entire lives. We have spent nearly a collective century dedicated to practising and performing music. In the last two years we have put countless hours, dollars and effort into trying to build something great out of this band and share it with our community. We are proud locals and often play free, all age shows, charity events, even donating winnings from competitions to local organisations. Aside from serving our own interests, we also take any opportunity to help promote any other new local bands. We are quite honestly just trying to put on an exciting show that this town will remember, in hopes of re-igniting public interest in live and local music. It is painful to put in hours of hard work, only to have it be for nothing.
After the initial contact and looming threat of fines, I decided to do some research on the matter and concluded that indeed we were completely in the wrong. In hindsight, it would have been more prudent to have done this research well before embarking on such an exhaustive task. This is where the problem lies. We had already scouted the Coffs Harbour area to determine optimal placement before posting anything. We found that this town is absolutely covered with existing posters and promotional material. Hence, in our naivety we were lead to believe that this was an acceptable practice for our town.
I have attached nearly fifty examples that I photographed whilst removing our own posters. Even this is an utterly small representation of the massive scale of material already out there. In the photographs, I have blurred out any content from anybody local, as it is not my intention to cause grief for anybody else. The majority of these posters are advertising events that have either long since passed, are political, or are out of town events with absolutely no local involvement. It is clearly evident in all photos that these have been placed in prominent positions on Coffs Harbour’s busiest streets. One of which I found on the very street that the Council offices are located!
This is where this matter becomes so incredibly disheartening and frustrating for me. I acknowledge now that what we did was against the law. Nevertheless, the manner in which these laws have been enforced is incredibly selective and inconsistent. I have no quarrel with the Ranger personally; in fact I praise him for giving us time to remove the posters as I am well aware he could have fined us on the spot. Why is it that we were targeted so promptly and action taken against us so immediately? Granted, we did post many more posters than I have seen from most of the other offenders but should we be punished for being proactive?
The worst perpetrator among them is an electronic music event being held in Armidale. Their posters are absolutely everywhere and have been for quite a long period now. Not only that, they are specifically designed for telegraph poles! This is not a small group like us who frankly didn’t know any better. They are a large organisation who would clearly have to be aware of the laws regarding this kind of conduct. They are not local, they have nothing invested in this town, they have knowingly broken the law, and still their posters stand unaffected. It begs the question; is money changing hands for the council to look the other way? If you’re going to enforce this matter, I suggest that you dish out an equal serving for everybody. Or if anyone is going to get away with it, why not at least let it be a local!
It is hard to comprehend how such swift action was taken against us and yet the streets are still littered with other posters advertising other events. Is it perhaps only because we were easier to track down? We had absolutely every intention to maintain our posters leading up to the event, removing any that had become damaged or torn. We also planned to remove them all immediately after the event was over. We care about this town and want to ensure it stays clean and respectable. A trait not shared by the big out of town production companies putting their posters around, which evidently have no intention of returning to remove them. Why work so hard to stop the little guy trying to have an honest go whilst bigger companies, out of town groups, and political movements get a free pass?
It was clear that we were going to run into trouble when we noticed that many of our posters had begun disappearing, sometimes even the very next day. It has been stressed to me that this matter is about keeping the city looking clean and tidy. When our posters were actively removed by either the Ranger, centre management, or some other official, they merely ripped out the middle section of the posters, leaving two grotesque strips of torn paper and tape. This directly negates that very purpose for taking them down in the first place. I took it upon myself to return to those areas and cleanse this town of any and all traces that our posters were ever there. We had even removed many of the older and worse condition posters from other groups in the process of putting our own up.
If I were to end my letter here, I would achieve nothing more than being an unsatisfied member of the community, crying out for justice on a matter that has well and truly concluded. I want us to work together to try and achieve something greater. I wish to help cultivate a place where any local artist can flourish and reach out to their community. I am not completely opposed to everything the council is doing. There are things such as the live events showcasing our performing youth, now happening in the city centre, which I am pleased to see. This is a great forum for young musicians and new talent to gain valuable experience and exposure. There is still so much more I feel that we could be doing.
The current focus of my suggestions will be relevant to the bill posting problem that has triggered this whole outcry. Although it doesn’t have to be the extent of what we can achieve for our music community as a whole if we continue to work on improving the situation. One very practical idea would be to place more community noticeboards around town. There simply just aren’t enough of them in prominent areas. This would be a very minor improvement, but along with the other ideas I am presenting, could prove to be effective.
An idea that I have seen put into place in many other cities and determined to be successful, is an uncomplicated solution. Designate certain poles in selected areas throughout our town that are free for anybody to promote anything they want. They could either be existing fixtures, or what I would suggest would be to construct them specifically for this purpose. The rules would be simple; anybody can post about anything they want. With respect to anything already posted, they would have to find a blank space or something to post over that has already come to pass. Then somebody takes everything down, say once a week so that it’s free for new posts. This is a practical method that would help prevent a lot of the random chaos of posters around town. Plus anyone in the community who wants to know what’s happening can easily find their way to one of these points of interest. It is direct and will ensure better exposure for artists to the people they are trying to reach.
I think there should be a zero tolerance for any out of town events to be posted anywhere outside of these designated poles, unless permitted by the owner of any given property. Naturally we also don’t want every local act to be painting the town with posters for every upcoming show. However, I suggest that there should be a special event system in place. If an artist or local act has something special or big coming up, such as an album launch or important event, they should be given the opportunity to appeal to perhaps a committee for approval to advertise all over town for a period of time. There can be strict rules in place to ensure a minimum quality of posters, maximum amount, designated areas, maintenance of posters, and clean removal of all of them by a given date. Another approach to this idea could be to do the same thing, only in conjunction with Coffs Central, Park Beach Plaza, or similar site. One artist or group will be given permission to post throughout their property. There could even be a symbiosis whereby at the event will be prizes for coupons to use in the centres or something of the like. We could even arrange for events to be held at these sites, much like the live shows already taking place in the city centre.
The bottom line is that something needs to change. Whether or not we implement my ideas and others like it, or the policies stay exactly as they are, one thing is certain; we need to ensure that the same rules go for everybody and that whoever enforces them is consistent and rigorous. If executed correctly, systems such as what I have presented would maintain the cleanliness of our town, reduce or even prevent the unwanted posting of other advertisements, and serve as a vehicle to help our local, hard-working artists to really get the word out on important events.
These are just a few examples of what one person can conceptualise within a short period of time. I know my ideas aren’t perfect and may be greatly flawed, but what they are is a demonstration of my willingness to work together with the council on this matter rather than complaining without actually bringing about any change. This is just a start and I think that if a group of passionate, like-minded people can get together with the people who have the power to enact their ideas, we can achieve great things and improve this community to better accommodate our local talent.