Inside that 800-Person Backpackers Party

Inside that 800-Person Backpackers Party

Inside that 800-Person Backpackers Party

On the Wednesday night of O-Week, View Street throbbed with DnB and pheromones as hundreds of third year students migrated to Backpackers flat for a “sports-themed” host. It was shut down by police in protective gear, and widely criticised online as a “dangerous 800-person party”.


Standing outside, a bystander would have seen a swathe of students milling around the View Street flat, sipping beers and enjoying the music. But upon entering the open doorway and traversing what was once the hostel’s reception, they would see what the media has fixated on: a throng of approximately 600 students, packed into the 20-person flat like sardines.


On the ground floor, hundreds of bodies are dancing, drinking and finger-banging the air. If one of the groundlings rips themselves away from the heaving masses and looks above them, they’ll see another 200 watching on from the top floor. This level wraps around the ceiling, with some folks milling around on the two staircases and on the balcony outside. There’s room to move and breathe up here, but the hostel-turned-flat is undeniably packed to the brim


As the walls pulsate with sweat, bass and cruiser, the flat’s residents party behind the decks, keeping tabs on the DJ’s, guests and occasionally manning the front door. Backpackers had become a living, breathing entity which felt like it could live forever. As the tale goes, however, when midnight struck, the princess turned into a pumpkin.


At around 12.15am, noise control arrived at the scene accompanied by eight police officers. Partygoers were caught off guard when they came face to face with a wall of neon vests slowly but surely moving through the crowd, forming a line at the front to block off the party. For over an hour, inch by inch, the cops steered everyone out onto the street, sending hundreds of partygoers to make their way home or to kick-ons.


Noise control had been called when attendees began throwing bottles off the balcony, which frustrated the hosts: “We felt disappointed that people were throwing glass,” said one of the residents at Backpackers. “It’s childish behaviour.”


However, the flatties did not believe that the party they hosted was as dangerous as the media has made it out to be. “We felt like it was under wraps,” said one resident. “We had our senses about us, and if we thought it was actually dangerous, we would have done something about it.” Police were quicker to point out hazards, citing “overloaded balconies, stairs, and overcrowded rooms” as dangerous elements.


The hosts said they took precautions to ensure that the party did not get out of hand. 300 people had clicked “Going” on the event’s page, so that’s what they expected, “give or take 100 people”. Clearly, word had spread about the party beyond the event page. The boys said they did not plan for it to get so big, but “there were 500 people, max. It’s not fair for reporters to blow things like this out of proportion just to get a good story.”


Multiple media outlets, including NZ Herald and Otago Daily Times, claimed that there were 800 people at the party, which the hosts felt was exaggerated. One partygoer told us that the 800-person headline “makes it seem like everyone was inside the building, which isn’t fair”. In fact, while certainly a hazard, this number is misleading. Police told us that the “800” number came from an estimate of 200 people outside and a headcount of 605 people “exiting the single exit in the flat”. In fact, when we counted the heads of partygoers in the videos that made the news, we only counted 212 (in the main room and upper balcony). Still, that being said, police clarified that the maximum occupancy of the building is 50, “for safety reasons”. A far cry from 212, 605 or 800, whichever way you slice it.


The hosts said they were being vigilant and watching out for unsafe crowd behaviour, and that they took other precautions such as not letting anyone in after a certain point in the night and blocking off the kitchen and all rooms. When asked if they would have done anything differently, the hosts said they would have had more security, and done more to control the use of glass bottles.


The residents of Backpackers felt like everyone was having a good time, and no one else seemed to be concerned about any dangers. “We were fucking loving it, and so was everyone else… Other than the people who threw bottles, we were happy [with] the way people acted. They weren’t being dicks.”


The residents emphasised that there were no fights and there was not much damage for the amount of people there, apart from some holes in the wall and cheeky vomit piles in the corners (at least they were in the corners?). But when the cops showed up, the boys were slightly relieved. They felt the police acted reasonably and fairly, and accepted their presence upon arrival. “We were thankful for the police’s response, because we know that any big party has the potential to be dangerous.”


But the residents also noted that Castle Street and Dunedin culture in general invites the potential for danger, given the high volumes of drunken students congregating in small spaces. With few licensed venues offering drinks at a price students can afford, many choose to stay home and party. The boys felt that their flat, given its large size and sturdy staircases, was safer than many smaller flats.


“This is just another prime example of overcrowded flats because of a lack of student venues,” said one resident. The boys broached this issue with the cops. “They told us that they’re looking for venues, but that feels just like another empty promise because they’ve said it so much, and no action [has been] taken.” The residents acknowledged the tragedy concerning the death of Sophia Crestani in 2019, who was killed on a staircase at an overcrowded party. The hosts said that they were aware of this event, and had they thought that any lives were at risk, they “would have acted”. If there were more safe spaces for students to party in, dangers like this could be prevented, said the hosts.


When asked about the venue situation, police simply told Critic that they recommend students to register their parties with Good One. In the meantime, the flatmates have been told by police that if they are to be caught exceeding the 50-person limit again, they could each be facing fines of up to $100,000.


The boys are disappointed that this has been the outcome, as they say they were not actively trying to do anything dangerous, and have been looking forward to hosting a ball later in the year.

“We don’t regret having the party, but we do regret how things have turned out.”


This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2023.
Posted 2:47pm Sunday 5th March 2023 by Anna Robertshawe.