It was 10:18 pm when I awoke and realised I was not alone.
My eyes peeled open to the leathery face of a man who I did not know silently watching me sleep.
Through the half-light of the tent I could see the man, who was about fifty years old, had quietly zipped himself inside my sleeping chamber and was now lying centimetres away from me.
“What are you doing in my tent?!” I demanded, terrified and confused.
Calmly and quietly the man replied, “Oh, I knocked before I came in…”
“What?!” I said, flabbergasted by his pathetic excuse – how the fuck can you knock on a tent door anyway?!
“Yeah, I knocked before I came in. You mustn’t have heard me. Probably because you have those things on,” he smiled, pointing at the headphones now around my neck.
“That’s because I’m sleeping! Get out!” I shot back.
He didn’t budge.
“YOU. NEED. TO. LEAVE.” I growled, lowering my tone and raising my voice.
“Oh, ok then,” he said passively.
The man sat up, unzipped my tent, and escaped into the night.
For a few moments I toyed with the idea of just going back to sleep. But, mortified by the fact he’d managed to get so close without waking me, I decided to alert my neighbours.
I slipped out of my tent, and shuffled over to their camper.
“Laura, Murray, are you there?” I whispered.
My heart sank at the thought of having to return to my tent alone, not knowing where the man was or if he would come back.
I started to cry.
“Guys, are you up? I really need to talk to you!” I squeaked.
“What about?” came the weary reply.
“I just woke up and there was a man in my tent, and now I’m scared,” I wailed, my composure now completely gone.
Murray shot out of his camper.
“Are you OK? What did he look like?” he asked.
“Caucasian, male, older, brown hair..” I told him, and he immediately darted off in the direction of a Sunseeker van one tent over from my own.
“I know who it was” he panted, returning to our camp moments later.
“His van’s been left open and unattended. We had a bad feeling about that guy right before we went to bed.”
Laura agreed. She too had felt uneasy, especially when he was around her children earlier in the day.
We tried to go back to bed, but couldn’t.
So, I decided to tell security.
As we piled out of the tent, Laura and Murray noticed the same man, his body now lying half inside another tent that was not his own.
“Is that him?”
As Murray confronted the man another of our camping party returned from the festival dance floor.
“What’s going on here? This conversation sounds intense.”
“That man just crawled into my tent while I was sleeping. Can you please go get security.”
“What? What the fuck?” He ignored my desperate request, instead going further into our camp to see what was going on.
Tears rolling down my eyes, I marched down the hill by myself.
At medic station they radioed over security.
“Oh, you know, he was probably just very drunk…” ventured one medic, while we waited.
“No. He wasn’t.” I snapped back.
“You know what it’s like at festivals, it’s easy enough to get the wrong tent,” another said.
“He was staying in a van.” I said, increasingly frustrated at their attempts to locate an excuse for the man.
Security arrived and we trudged back up to the camp.
“Do you think what he did was illegal?” I asked.
“Yeah, probably.” the guard replied, disinterested.
When we got back, the man was still there, arguing with Laura and Murray about whether he’d done anything wrong.
“Look, I’m sorry.” he said.
“He says he just put his head in your tent, he just wanted to see if you were up.” Laura ventured, unconvinced.
“I don’t care.” I said.
“How would you like it if someone did that to your daughter?” the guard said, trying to reason with the man.
I couldn’t believe that we were standing around arguing the legitimacy of his actions. If I had awoke to a stranger hovering over my bed at home, a man-hunt and litany of charges would have quickly ensued.
But no. This was a bush doof and, as a work colleague had flippantly remarked in the days afterwards, “Yeah, well, what do you expect at a festival?”
So, the security guard told him to go back to his own camp – which was only 15 metres from my tent – and the guard said he’d wait around our camp for a bit but if he got another call on his radio, he’d have to leave.
And that was that.
This is the problem with sexual predators at bush doofs: Festival organisers can’t be fucking bothered dealing with them.
Often, the predators set up camp in the thick of other tents and vans, making their physical extraction slightly more difficult than kicking someone out of a nightclub or bar – especially if the evictee is intoxicated and unable to drive themselves out of the festival.
Their prey, also in tents or unlocked vans and cars, are not always sober and able to stand their ground like I was.
And what if someone does commit a serious crime in the dead of night?
What if a man or woman chooses to sleep alone, as I did, and is raped?
Nobody can call the police – there’s no reception.
Security aren’t legally allowed to detain someone, so the perpetrator is free to wander off, lay low, or spend the festival looking for someone else to victimise.
And, even if organisers do decide they need to alert authorities (bringing unwanted attention to their beloved alternative scene), these festivals are often 20-30 km down dirt roads, and hundreds of kms from a proper police station. Help won’t arrive for at least an hour.
Anything can happen in the meantime.
Sometimes, as in my case, there’s a friend who will come to your aid.
Sometimes there is not.
And that, my friends, is why sexual predators love bush doofs.