Nimbin Aquarius Festival – Bauls of Bengal

Nimbin Aquarius Festival – Bauls of Bengal
Sam Meredith
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The organisers of the 1973 Aquarius Festival in Nimbin chose not to engage with the music industry, declaring in their manifesto that they would not be ‘sold’ culture.

Instead, the ‘festival without a program’ called on its attendees to be active participants and creators of culture and community.

Programs were replaced by a blackboard next to the low-lying stage which was left for people to add their names to and join in.

Promoters were subbed out for funding from the newly formed Australia Council for the Arts, who paid the fare of performers such as the South African pianist Dollar Brand and tightrope walker Philippe Petit.

Seen performing here are the Bauls of Bengal, led by Purna Das Baul Samrat.

Known as the ‘King of the Bauls’, Purna Das is one of the most highly regarded musicians of the Bengali spiritual and cultural Baul tradition. He and his brother Luxman lived in Woodstock in the late 1960s, where they became friends with the likes of Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan (the brothers can be seen on the cover of Bob Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding).

The Bauls had been invited to attend by festival director Johnny Allen, who is seen speaking in the microphone at the end of the clip. 

This footage was captured by Sam Meredith as part of a collective of filmmakers from Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide. After coming together at an Aquarius Film School, the group decided to take a new approach to filmmaking by dividing the 16mm film stock evenly amongst themselves to each shoot a unique perspective of the event.

Like much of the footage from the festival, it was intended to be brought together into a larger project which never eventuated.

However, the recorded fragments shot by attendees and students that survive from Aquarius reflect the key ideas of living together, working together and creating together. As Johnny Allen says to the crowd, 'there have been 10,000 people come through this festival and there are 10,000 versions of it'.