Father and pint-sized son get the festival cold shoulder

Saffron Howden
January 10, 2011

AT NOT quite two years old, Hugh Price is a bit shy of 85 centimetres tall.

So at the balmy early evening opening to the Sydney Festival on Saturday, Hugh's father hoisted him on to his shoulders for a better view of the six-piece Chinese folk band Hanggai.

Through the crowd of families at Martin Place, a security guard noted the move and approached Hugh's father, Sean. The child had to come down. He was in danger

Mr Price, of Newtown, thanked her and assured her Hugh was safe. Moments later, a male security guard gave the same instructions. Four more joined him and ''surrounded'' Mr Price, his wife, Meg Quinlisk, and Hugh.

''They said that I was putting my son in danger because someone could come running through the crowd and it would knock me and him to the ground,'' Mr Price said.

''There was no danger. I had made an assessment as a parent does in that situation. It was early in the evening. There were just families around.''

Feeling intimidated, they left. ''I wasn't going to enjoy the performance. I felt like they were questioning my ability to parent,'' he said.

Festival organisers distanced themselves from the dispute. A spokeswoman said the guards were not acting on the instructions of organisers.

''The instructions that security had from the festival were they should approach people who were obstructing sight line,'' she said. But that was not the case with Mr Price and Hugh. ''The security guards went with their own reason,'' she said.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the guards' behaviour was ''completely inappropriate'' and could be setting a serious legal precedent.

''I've got an almost-two-year-old myself and she rides around on my shoulders all the time and she loves it,'' said the secretary, Stephen Blanks.

''It's giving the wrong message that security people are there for personal safety as opposed to crowd safety and there's a real difference,'' he said. ''Once they start doing this they're throwing up a legal nightmare for themselves.''

The security company responsible for the area on Saturday, ACES, did not return the Herald's call yesterday.