A picturesque setting in Glenworth Valley forest, a flowing river that hugged the venue and camping grounds, and one of the most characterfully constructed settings of any festival this side of the Pacific, Lost Paradise curates its New Year celebrations in the same way it curates its lineup: with weird and wonderful indulgence.

The four-day celebration, which started five years ago as an experience for those chasing fun, connection and expansion, was attended by over 11,000 free spirits.

Lost paradise crowd 2018
Credit: Jordan Munns

A boutique hub for counterculture, its punters came from all four corners of the nation to join as one, regardless of professional hierarchy. An advertising executive wore little more than a face covered in glitter, a retail manager donned lingerie and fishnets, and a tech entrepreneur in rainbow coloured Lycra tights carried a totem pole of stuffed animals.

This year’s Lost Paradise came with the theme ‘cosmic carnivale’. With experiences that range from healing arts, workshops and talks, and yoga classes from the likes of Simon Borg-Olivier, co-director of YogaSynergy, a research scientist and lecturer – along with enough stark loops and danceable rock to change a life – the festival is an alternate reality for just a few days.

From U-Khan’s club beats, to Flava D’s bassline house, to Vera Blue’s indie-pop, Genesis Owusu’s jazz-rap and Lime Cordiale’s unrivalled blend of pop and soul, Lost Paradise catered to all palates.

It served fans of the more mainstream too. Before Brighton quartet The Kooks left the stage on Day Two, before they played ‘Naïve’ as if it was the first time, frontman Luke Pritchard said: “You guys are beautiful thank you so much for your love and energy tonight.”

M.I.A. was as politically charged and celebratory as ever, serving up her own brand of agit-pop backed by her hype girl slash DJ and two dancers.

MIA at Lost Paradise 2018
Credit: Jordan Munns

Lost Paradise was a perfect setting for the Sri Lankan-born MC, who compared the festival to UK juggernaut Boomtown Fair, which hosts over 65,000 each August in Winchester.

“After Boomtown in England this is definitely the second festival with the craziest stuff,” she said before making her way into the crowd.

Following rousing performances of tracks like ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Bucky Done Gun’, and a failed attempt at a chant for her sidestage son Ikhyd, M.I.A yelled, “the best thing about Australia is Julian Assange!”

Nick Littlemore and and Peter Mayes dished out a light show of their own with Pnau, performing tracks like ‘Wild Strawberries’ and of course their ARIA Award winning hit ‘Chameleon’.

Joey Bada$$ brought the fire, literally, to the Arcadia stage. The 22-year-old rapper from the Big Apple hit hard with his verses about police brutality, societal injustices but of course, in true Jo-Vaughn fashion, optimism for our future.

2019 was brought in by local favourites Peking Duk. The pair’s high energy was only matched by the crowd when they delivered jams like ‘Let You Down’, ’Fake Magic’, and ‘High’.

Lost Paradise isn’t really about the headliners though; the Holy Cow Chai Tent – a hidden gem of teas and vegan cakes (try the iced green goddess tea) – Sydney Sufi Ensemble performing works from Persian poet Rumi, and Acroyoga in Shambhala Fields were just a few of the particularly quintessential happenings at Lost Paradise.

Organisers also made sure to focus on harm reduction. Lost Paradise, like all festivals, has a clear zero tolerance policy against drugs, and this was made clear by the car and bag searches, the ‘no pass outs’ and the random but regular camp site visits from security.

The festival grounds even featured an information tent from DanceWize NSW, which offers substance-specific harm reduction information and support from security and medical services.

What the festival needs, along with every Australian music festival for that matter, is on-site pill-testing. Multiple studies and trials overseas indicate pill testing often results in less drug taking and directly influences people’s decisions around drugs resulting in reduced harm.

On Day 2 of Lost Paradise 22-year-old attendee Joshua Tam, died at Gosford hospital after taking an unknown substance. Another two were taken to hospital and three were charged with drug supply offences.

Meanwhile, state governments still refuse to trial pill-testing. NSW government premier, Gladys Berejiklian has instead increased penalties for possession.

If we want to continue to enjoy festivals like Lost Paradise, and I’m damn sure we do, it’s up to the Government to make drug harm minimisation a priority.

Take Control, the national drug reform campaign launched by the Ted Noffs Foundation, has shared an open letter urging the NSW Government to consider introducing pill testing at festivals. Sign the letter HERE.