Alarm over 'possum' drinking game

Staff at the Dunedin Botanic Garden are concerned about the growing popularity of a drinking game called "possum", in which participants sit in trees and drink large amounts of alcohol.

According to the website Urban Dictionary, "possum" is a "drinking game in which players have to sit in a tree, like possums, and consume a pack of 24 beers ... until they fall out of the tree from drunkenness".

Dunedin City Council gardens and cemeteries team leader Alan Matchett said staff first encountered people - believed to be mainly students - playing the game about four years ago.

Since then, it had increased in popularity to the point where it was "not uncommon" for gardens staff or security guards to have to chase away people playing the game.

Mr Matchett said his understanding of the game was that multiple people climbed a single tree, taking with them large amounts of alcohol and sometimes food.

This was a concern, he said, because of the food scraps, broken bottles and vomit often left behind, the potential for someone to get injured falling from a tree and the effect it had on other users of the gardens.

Staff were concerned about the damage that could be caused to trees, some of which were classed as heritage trees and were more than 100 years old.

Anyone caught playing the drinking game was asked to leave, with gardens staff working closely with the University of Otago's Campus Watch in keeping an eye on the area.

A university spokesman said the institution regarded "any such activities" as a breach of its code of conduct and would "respond accordingly".

"There have been two occasions earlier this year where students have been located by Campus Watch in trees, drinking and causing a public nuisance in the Botanic Garden.

"Because Campus Watch was involved in both cases, the students were required to clean up their litter and to meet with the proctor for disciplinary action," the spokesman said.



Morse v Police is a decision relating to the meaning of 'offensive' in the context of section 4(1)(a) of the Summary Offences Act 1981, which is the section I believe you were referring to.

The example is therefore highly relevant (even if you feel the circumstances are totally different to the ones we are discussing) as it limits coverage/extent of the word offensive in relation to any charge under this section.

It is also relevant as the decison of higher courts are binding on lower courts, therefore any judge in the District Court or High Court must interpret the meaning of offensive in the same way.

Thank you

As well as missing my question I think you also missed my subtlety. You need to realise I was referring to the Summary Offences Act and not to a dictionary. Offensive behaviour is obviously a lesser charge than Disorderly, therefore has a wider scope (or less specific conditions) to be able to be charged with. The two paragraph example you provided was irrelevant IMO.

Offensive behaviour

Sorry Roadwarrior, been away and missed your question. You need to realise the dictionary version of offensive has nothing to do with the legal version.

Last year a unanimous Supreme Court in Morse v Police found that in line with the strictures of disorderly behaviour there has to be an element of disturbance or disruption to public order that accompanies the behaviour in question. Simply causing annoyance to someone else (ie. you), even serious annoyance, is insufficent if public order is not affected.

The Morse decision related to the incident where a woman burned the NZ flag at an ANZAC parade so if she can get away with that some kid having a spew is hardly going to be treated seriously. I don't think people realise just how hard the Police have to work to get convictions for anything in this country.


Perhaps in your wisdom you could explain offensive behaviour as well. You covered disorderly, but not offensive behaviour in your post. I'd like to know what would constitute behaving offensively. Does being so drunk that one vomits in a public place cut it? I might very well find that offensive, but not disorderly. In fact, if one is in that situation one is probably incapable of creating any kind of disorder (unless by accident).

Check some statutes

It is not an offence to be drunk in a public place. You would also be hard pressed to prove disorderly behaviour as the disorderly behaviour has to be of a manner likely to cause violence against persons or property.

Vandalisim, or intentional damage requires the damage caused to be intentional or reckless. I note the article doesn't actually say any damage has been done just that staff are concerned about it could be caused so it would appear out of all the games of possum played in the last four years there has been no actual damage. If there was surely they would have told us what damage. The offence regarding breaking glass is one of willfully breaking glass so if bottles are broken by accident it's not illegal (it hardly needs the Police to get some idiots to clean up after themselves).

Probably have to give you the littering offence though, but I do think the Police have rather more important things to be investigating than  the odd litterbug. It is not illegal to be sick or vomit in a public place and whilst it is illegal to urinate in a public place there is a defence if you prove you had reasonable grounds to believe you would not be seen.

If they are stupid enough to fall out of a tree and hurt themselves who cares. And don't start on the ACC cost and all that either because you would obviously be talking about negligible amounts or we would have had medical staff or vets reporting the multitude of 'possum injuries' before now.

What laws? Hmmm

What laws?...hmmm...I think there are a few listed. Lets' start with (I assume) drunk and disorderly, public nuisance, vandalism, littering ....... I believe these all count. I have seen people listed in the court news  charged with these.

Prosecution for what?

What laws would they be breaking?


Why aren't these people - students or not - being prosecuted for the laws that this "game" seems to be breaking? Is this another example of students being allowed to get away with law-breaking that the police would normally deal with?

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