I finally got my fist experience(s) of Australian festivals this summer, albeit a gentle one-day only festival introduction and I hate to say I wasn't greatly impressed.
Whilst most of my festival encounters were a couple of years ago and who knows what might have changed since then I have been to festivals all over Europe so have a fair amount of experience in the matter, from a performer, staff and punter's perspective.
My biggest problem with Australian festivals (and this based purely on my experiences because I gather they may not be wholly representative) is the sheer amount of red tape, bureaucratic nonsense and instructions doled out left, right and centre. I have never witnessed so many pointless regulations, signs, metal fences, wristbands, passes, policies and (arrogant) people in high-vis jackets in one place and I come from the UK, (apparently) home of the bureaucrat. What's more, most of these systems in place seem fairly ineffective in enforcing whatever it was they were there to enforce in the first place, and seem to all be focussed in the wrong places, allowing other 'illicit' activities to continue un-abated.
For example at Big Day Out there were countless 'drinking pens', where those of us above drinking age had to be herded into by aggressive and rude security guards who ignored you and treated you like dumb animals in order to carry out the natural combination of consuming alcohol and watching music (as long as you don't mind watching music through a fence). However, once inside there were very few security to be seen and seemingly any sort of behaviour was acceptable. I can understand why you want to prevent the sale / consumption of alcohol to minors but there are simpler and more productive ways than this, it just creates bottlenecks and concentrations of drunk idiots and an increased feeling of lack of worth, patronisation and lack of trust.
Likewise at this years Laneway festival tremendous amounts of people power, instructions, signage and omnipresent metal fencing went into ferrying people in an out if areas around the city, most of which could be easily ignored and bypassed if you lost yourself in a stream of people. There also seemed to be no thought of the fact that there might be a lot of people trying to get in and out of small places at the same time, leading to ridiculous queues, near miss crushes, disappointed crowds and a lot of chaos. Once again, the entire infrastructure was concentrated into too fewer spaces; there were plenty of unhelpful security telling you that you couldn't take water into stage areas, but very few maps, signs, timetables or useful information. Also, whoever thought of running Laneway festival on the same day and in the same area as Chinese New Year celebrations deserves the sack.
Sadly this bureaucratic over regulation of everything seems to be steadily rising in Australia, un yet half the time no one who enforces it seems to notice that it is rarely actually effective, it annoys and alienates a lot of people, who left to their own devices, will do the right thing (and those who are intent on doing the wrong thing will probably do it anyway) and fundamentally it takes the fun out of experiences. So before we all turn into drones, robots and rule abiding automatons remember to question, live on the edge and have a little fun. With a good dose of sense, good humour and compassion for your fellow human beings thrown in of course.