Large crowd at a rock festival
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/collection/hero_image12-2021/the_great_australian_rock_festival_sunbury_73_1600x775.jpg

Early 1970s Music Festivals

Early 1970s Music Festivals

Sunbury, Aquarius, Rock Isle and more

In January 1970, 5 months after Woodstock, the small NSW town of Ourimbah hosted Australia’s first major music festival.

The festival kicked off a series of pop, rock and countercultural festivals which took place in Australia in the early 1970s, marking the end of the hippy era and rise of pub rock.

While these festivals proved to be financially fickle, and many folded after their first year, they set new precedents in the music industry and became part of the wider cultural imagination, as Australians bore witness to the power of pop music to bring people together.

The audiovisual legacy of these early Australian music festivals is an eclectic collection of documentaries, television specials, experimental films, home movies and sound recordings, as showcased in the collection below.

Main image: The Great Australian Rock Festival, Sunbury 1973. Photo by Milan Roden, Mushroom Group. NFSA title: 571173

Pilgrimage for Pop, Ourimbah – Jeff St John and Copperwine
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
319606
Year:
Year

The Pilgrimage For Pop festival, held in Ourimbah on the New South Wales Central Coast in January 1970, was Australia’s first rock music festival. Occurring only months after America’s Woodstock festival, Australian promoters decided the local music-going public was ready for an outdoor rock festival of their own. 

The organisers decided on an all-Australian line-up, although even up until a few days before the festival was due to begin, there were strong rumours that John Lennon and Yoko Ono would attend and perform. These proved to be untrue but provided welcome publicity for the event.

Local outfit the Nutwood Rug Band, a psychedelic rock group formed of American expats who also helped to organise the festival, opened at Ourimbah to ‘roars of encouragement’. Lead vocalist Margaret Goldie attracted a lot of attention with lyrics featuring, according to reporters at the time, 'a four-letter word, screamed repeatedly into the high-powered microphone'. 

Other bands at Ourimbah included one of the first appearances of the new-look Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs after their permanent move to Melbourne in 1969. There were also performances by other regular bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s including Tamam Shud, Tully, Doug Parkinson In Focus and Jeff St John and Copperwine.

Ourimbah was important for the latter band, as Jeff St John had only recently returned to performing live due to unsuccessful operations on his legs in relation to his spina bifida that resulted in him requiring the use of a wheelchair for the rest of his life. However, with a powerful bluesy and soulful voice, and backed by the powerful band Copperwine, he was a musical force on the pub rock circuit.

The band interpreted many songs in their career, including this powerful version of the Four Tops classic, ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’. In this version, Jeff sounds quite exhausted following the previous song, before giving it his all again in this amazing live rendition.

Pilgrimage For Pop, Ourimbah – Wendy Saddington
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
24461
Year:
Year

Blues, jazz and soul singer Wendy Saddington was a major musical drawcard at the 1970 Ourimbah Pilgrimage For Pop festival and one of just a handful of women who performed at these early music festivals.

After becoming one of the original members (although unrecorded) of Chain, she was often backed by several different musicians. At Ourimbah, she was accompanied by the progressive rock group Company Caine.

In this clip, Saddington performs a rousing rendition of ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’, first popularised by one of her main influences, Bessie Smith. This footage is excerpted from Once Around the Sun, an experimental film which documents the festival at Ourimbah.

The film is peppered with kitsch, hippy-era graphics and special effects which at times distract from the musical performance. Nevertheless, it stands as a welcome document of Wendy Saddington in particular, who was rarely filmed or recorded.

Following Ourimbah, Saddington joined Copperwine as co-lead vocalist alongside Jeff St John. This line-up (minus St John) performed the year after Ourimbah at the Odyssey Pop Festival, held at Wallacia, NSW in January 1971.

This set was recorded and released as Saddington’s only album, Wendy Saddington & The Copperwine Live, later that year. Her only single, 'Looking Through a Window / We Need a Song' was also released that year and reached No. 22 in September.

With a unique and incredibly powerful voice, Saddington led the way for many Australian female vocalists to follow, and it is unfortunate that such an important singer of this era was seldom recorded. She passed away in 2013 but her legacy speaks for itself.

Australian Festival of Progressive Music, Myponga – Daddy Cool
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
45675
Courtesy:
Chris Löfvén
Year:
Year

Chris Löfvén’s experimental film Part One: 806 follows the life and times of a group of friends and musicians over the years of 1969, 1970 and 1971. Included in the visual diary is footage from the Australian Festival of Progressive Music held at Myponga in South Australia.

The festival took place on the last weekend of January 1971 and was promoted by the company Music Power, the main figure of which was Hamish Henry, a millionaire entrepreneur and band manager.

In this clip a bus full of friends arrive at the festival, and we see an ecstatic embrace between Adrian Rawlins and Lyne Helms. Rawlins, a poet, promoter and organiser, was the compere at Myponga, and also helped host Ourimbah in 1970, Odyssey Wallacia Pop Festival the same month as Myponga, and the first Sunbury in 1972.

Here he hugs Helms, a producer of Part One: 806 who went on to work with Löfvén on the film Oz – A Rock 'n' Roll Road Movie (1976). Beside the bus and draped in starry robes is the ‘Wizard of New Zealand’, Ian Channell, who also performed at the 1971 Aquarius Festival in Canberra.

Myponga was a key event for the band Daddy Cool, who had only been performing together for a few months and were relatively unknown at the time. Daddy Cool had played the weekend before Myponga at Wallacia, and their performances were highlights of both festivals.

The band are shown both on and off-stage among the collage of people and happenings spliced together in Löfvén’s film. In the tent we see Daddy Cool’s frontman Ross Wilson sitting next to his pregnant wife Pat Wilson, a singer and journalist who sometimes wrote under the pen name ‘Mummy Cool’.

Löfvén’s footage of Daddy Cool on stage at Myponga was also used in his groundbreaking film clip of the band’s hit song 'Eagle Rock'.

WARNING: This clip contains nudity
Aquarius Arts Festival, ANU – Wiley Reed and Bob Maza
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
22475
Year:
Year

Filmmaker Phillip Noyce was tasked with recording the 1971 Aquarius Arts Festival held at the Australian National University in Canberra. Eight days and nights of eclectic programming are summarised in the resulting film entitled Good Afternoon.

Playing across two screens, the film was originally screened on a custom pair of interlocked projectors. The audience are left to decide what to focus on between the two sometimes conflicting, and sometimes complementary, channels.

Noyce adopted creative solutions to both stay within budget and escape traditional styles of documentary-making. He used both colour and cheaper black-and-white film stock, and was selective about what was captured over the 24-7 happenings taking place (Noyce would stand behind cinematographer Tom Cowan during interviews and tap him on the shoulder to start recording when something interesting came up).

On the split screen in Good Afternoon we see a range of simultaneous events, from a magic show by Geoff Crozier to a sea of people drenched in blue paint and the chants of Ian Channell, also known as the ‘Wizard of New Zealand’.

In this clip, American-born blues musician Wiley Reed is bookended by the powerful words of Aboriginal Australian activist, actor and playwright, Bob Maza.

Reed moved to Australia 4 years prior to Aquarius and had been performing with the likes of Billy Thorpe, Jeff St John and Phil Manning, as well as travelling to Vietnam to entertain troops.

Noyce’s clever pairing of Reed’s soulful performance with the interview reflects the climate of cultural change in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where the rights of Indigenous Australians, women, the queer community and people of colour were articulated and fought for by activists and protestors.

In Good Afternoon, Noyce also included footage of demonstrations that took place during the Aquarius festival and resulted in police arresting and charging 209 attendees.

The 58-minute-long film presents a cacophony of ideas and people, revealing the Aquarius festival to be a site for politics and protest as much as it was for performance and entertainment.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Sunbury Pop Festival '72 – Molly Meldrum interviews
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
285305
Year:
Year

The first Sunbury Pop Festival was held over the 1972 Australia Day long weekend on a private farm just outside of Melbourne.

Promoted by a group of television professionals who came together under Odessa Promotions, the event was captured by John Dixon and Ray Wagstaff in the documentary Sunbury ‘72.

The documentary opens with punters arriving at the festival – pouring in on trains, cars, motorbikes and on foot. In this clip a young Molly Meldrum, then a journalist for the pop music newspaper Go-Set, interviews attendees.

The audience are somewhat shy to Molly’s questions but there is a keen sense of excitement and anticipation among those coming to the festival. 'I’m expecting anything, really', says one person; another is there for 'peace, music, have a good time, see all the people'.

As the attendees arrive, the festival is being set up and the clip shows the vast infrastructure needed to stage such an event – from transport to emergency services, and sound systems to lighting towers (the scaffolds for which were destined to become adult climbing frames for fearless audience members seeking a better view).

Important developments in amplifiers and PA systems in the late 1960s had enabled bands and comperes to be heard by the thousands at large outdoor concerts.

Gerry Humphreys from the band The Loved Ones was the MC for Sunbury 1972 and here we see him booming into the microphone to conduct some important housekeeping: 'drink a lot of water... or whatever else you’re drinking', 'be cool because the fuzz are pretty nice at the moment, we'd like to keep it that way'.

Sunbury Pop Festival '72 – Billy Thorpe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
285305
Year:
Year

Billy Thorpe, along with his band The Aztecs, was one of Australia’s biggest pop stars of the 1960s.

Known for hits like ‘Mashed Potato’ and ‘Poison Ivy’, as well as covers of ballads like ‘Over the Rainbow’, he ended up being so popular that he hosted his own television show in 1966, It’s All Happening.

In 1968, Billy moved to Melbourne and formed a new line-up of The Aztecs after the break-up of the original band and out of a desire to move away from recording pop tunes. This form of the group was different to previous incarnations – Billy was now playing lead guitar, and his voice had developed from that of a Beatles-type pop singer to a loud screamer!

With help from guitarist extraordinaire Lobby Loyde and keyboard player Warren ‘Pig’ Morgan, the band became one of the first of the Australian pub rock era.

Playing at venues such as the Thumpin’ Tum and Catcher, the band developed a following that set them up nicely for their headlining slot at the inaugural Sunbury Festival in January 1972.

Although there were many fine Australian bands at the festival, the performance by The Aztecs is arguably the most memorable.

This clip, from John Dixon and Ray Wagstaff’s documentary Sunbury ‘72, shows Thorpe and The Aztecs at their rocking peak during their performance of ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’.

The footage is a great example of the amazing connection that Thorpe had with his audience. Here, his call and response routine sends the crowd into a frenzy, which is accentuated by the frantic editing of the film.

Sunbury Pop Festival '72 – Max Merritt
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
285305
Year:
Year

New Zealand-born Max Merritt and his band the Meteors visited Australia for the 1972 Sunbury Pop Festival, having moved to the UK 2 years earlier. On the Sunbury stage the band performed a cover of the song ‘Try a Little Tenderness’.

Written in 1932 by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M Woods, the song was reimagined and popularised by Otis Redding in his 1966 recording.

In 1967 Redding finished his legendary performance at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in California with this soulful hit. The festival was Redding’s last major performance before his untimely death.

In the same year as Redding’s Monterey appearance, Max Merritt and the Meteors had recorded a cover of the song, with Merritt’s low, husky voice a fitting tribute to Redding.

Fading between the performance and attendees listening, kissing, dancing and swimming, this clip is taken from the final scenes of the Sunbury ‘72 documentary and it joyfully summarises the good vibes of the festival.

After Sunbury, Max Merritt and the Meteors went on a national pub tour before returning to England, and then coming back again to play at Sunbury 1973.

WARNING: This clip contains nudity
Sunbury Pop Festival '72 - John Dixon Interview
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
377055
Courtesy:
Paul Harris
Year:
Year

Arguably one of the reasons that the 1972 Sunbury festival is so well remembered is because of the festival concert film Sunbury ’72.

Filmmaker John Dixon had been asked by Odessa Promotions to manage the Sunbury festival, realising soon after that it would be such a unique event that it should be immortalised on film. 

Along with featuring many of the musical performances, Dixon also focused on associated aspects of the festival – there is footage of a young man (potentially under the influence) on top of some scaffolding, several men getting arrested at a nearby pub and interviews with some of the musicians backstage.

This gave the film a well-rounded view of the festival and helps to give the viewing audience a fuller experience of just what the festival was like. 

In this excerpt from Triple R radio program Film Buffs Forecast from 1992, John Dixon is interviewed by Paul Harris about how the film came about and the unique way in which it was originally screened in 1972.

As documented in the accompanying poster, the film toured with Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs live across the east coast of Australia. Following this, the film was unavailable until 1992, when it was released in cinemas again to celebrate its 20th anniversary. 

John Dixon went on to write the screenplays of both Man from Snowy River films in the 1980s, as well as co-writing and co-directing the 1985 miniseries Anzacs.

Dixon passed away in 1999, but the results of his decision to document the 1972 Sunbury Festival will live long in Australian music history.

Rock Isle Mulwala – Country Radio
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1458387
Year:
Year

After the success of the first Sunbury in January 1972, a festival was organised just 2 months later for the Easter weekend in Mulwala, just north of the Victorian border in New South Wales.

Hoping to attract a big turnout, the organisers located the festival roughly equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne. But a lack of advertising, poor organisation and extremely inclement weather (the third day was completely washed out) led to the festival being largely forgotten. 

Even though there were two successful overseas bands (Canned Heat, Stephen Stills and Manassas) along with a great range of Australian acts (including Chain, Carson, Russell Morris and The Aztecs), nobody seemed to enjoy the experience.

According to Greg Quill from Country Radio, the two overseas bands 'were given star treatment and didn’t fraternise with the local talent'. They were also paid $35,000 each, a massive amount in 1972. This led to the organisers going broke and the rest of the bands possibly not getting paid. 

Even with these impediments, Mulwala still featured some very strong performances.

By all accounts, the local boogie band, Carson, blew the overseas boogie band, Canned Heat, off the stage!

It was also an important festival for Russell Morris, who was moving away from his pop idol persona to the singer-songwriter phase of his career, with songs like ‘Sweet Sweet Love’ and ‘Wings of an Eagle’.

Another band who flourished were Country Radio – one of Australia’s earliest country rock bands, they were a constant presence on the festival and pub circuit in the early 1970s.

They were regarded as one of the highlights of Mulwala, as this recorded performance of their anthemic single ‘Listen to the Children’ attests. The recording captures the band at their peak and effectively highlights their on-stage power.

Sunbury Pop Festival '73 – Johnny O'Keefe
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1043724
Courtesy:
Nine Network
Year:
Year

Sunbury’s 1973 iteration has been hailed by several pundits as the most successful of the Sunbury festivals.

With no accompanying festival concert film, unlike the prior year’s Sunbury, it is not as well remembered. Fortunately Peter Faiman (later director of Crocodile Dundee) produced a one-hour television special for GTV-9 Melbourne in 1973 that survives, part of which is seen here.

The 1973 festival featured another all-Australian line-up, with many of the bands' sets highly regarded. This included Country Radio, Carson, Mississippi (who later morphed into the Little River Band) and Ross Ryan. Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs played again and were once again very well received by the audience.

However on this occasion, they ended up being upstaged by arguably Australia’s first rock'n'roll star – Johnny O’Keefe.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, JOK. (as he was affectionately known) was the biggest rock star in Australia, having several big hits including ‘Shout’, ‘Wild One’ and ‘Move Baby Move’.

However, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, his popularity was in decline. On paper, it seemed like a bold move to book JOK for Sunbury ’73 as he did seem to be the odd one out next to the line-up of country rock and pub rock bands.

In fact, at the start of his set, he was booed by sections of the audience – however by the end, the crowd is ecstatic.

During the set, his voice is in fine form and his cheekiness with the audience shines through. In this clip from the Sunbury ’73 television special he is humorously introduced by MC Paul Hogan as a new kid called Jimmy O’Keefe who 'ran third in a talent quest in Dandenong the other week'.

JOK goes on to sing two of his biggest hits, ‘She’s My Baby’ and ‘Sing’, keeping the crowd in the palm of his hand. Johnny O’Keefe passed away a few years later in 1978 aged just 43, but this performance remains one of his most memorable.

Mushroom record label
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/12-2021/11._571173_the_great_australian_rock_festival_sunbury_73_mushroom_label.jpg
The Great Australian Rock Festival – Sunbury '73
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
571173
Year:
Year

The Great Australian Rock Festival – Sunbury ‘73 was the inaugural album release for the newly formed Mushroom Records.

The triple-disc compilation recorded by John French and released in April 1973 showcased live performances from 17 Australian artists. 

The second iteration of Sunbury in January 1973 featured a mainly antipodean line-up, with the exception of the American band Spirit.

Michael Gudinski, who formed Mushroom Records with Ray Evans in 1972, later said that Sunbury 'was a landmark event. A watershed, in a sense. Before Sunbury, anything Australian was regarded as second-rate. Import record shops were all the rage and people thought of Australian music as being second-rate to what was going on overseas. Sunbury was the start of people standing up and feeling proud of their own music'. 

Gudinski was 19 at the time of the first Sunbury festival, which he booked under his booking agency, Consolidated Rock. He also sold watermelon slices to parched punters, an enterprise that proved profitable until rain at the final Sunbury in 1975 meant that he was left with thousands of watermelons to dispose of. 

The Great Australian Rock Festival – Sunbury ‘73 not only provides a document of the important event but also helped put Mushroom on the map as a key player in the Australian music industry, with the label eventually becoming one of the most successful and iconic labels in Australia.

The Sunbury ‘73 album features the recognisable red toadstool label from Mushroom’s early releases.

Nimbin Aquarius Festival – Pastor Don Brady and dancers
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
778774
Courtesy:
Megan McMurchy and Jeune Pritchard, the Brady family on behalf of the Jawiyaba Warra Aboriginal Corporation and the Kuku Yalanji community
Year:
Year

In 1973, the Aquarius Festival moved off campus to the Northern New South Wales town of Nimbin. Organised by the Australian Union of Students, the 10-day alternative festival was a coming together of countercultural ideas, workshops and performances.

The festival was the first of its kind to seek permission from the area’s Traditional Owners, the Bundjalung nation, and to include a Welcome to Country.

The push to engage the Indigenous community was prompted by Indigenous activists, and it was purportedly Gary Foley who asked festival organisers if they had sought permission from the local Aboriginal community to host the festival.

In response to these calls to action, the festival organisers secured two Australia Council for the Arts grants to further Aboriginal participation. San people from the Kalahari Desert, including artist Bauxhau Stone, visited Aboriginal communities and missions around the country and invited people to attend the festival.

In this clip, Pastor Don Brady, an Aboriginal leader and foundational member of the Brisbane Tribal Council, plays the digeridoo while three young men dance.

Born on Palm Island, Brady was of Kuku Yalanji descent; his tribal name was Kuanji. Brady often visited the Aboriginal community in and around Lismore.

Having learnt to dance and play digeridoo as a boy, Brady was a strong proponent of expressions of Indigenous culture, teaching many others as well as forming the Yelangi dance group.

Among those watching Brady and the dancers perform is the well-known poet and land rights activist Judith Wright who, as a member of the Council for the Arts, went to Aquarius to check on the use of grant funding.

She spoke positively of the festival, writing 'all was love and peace and flying hair and oriental garb and some rather beautiful nudity (on the camp sites only) and recycled grass tepees and music, music, music, and unstructured events'.

Home movies and experimental films reveal Aquarius to be a space for creative and cultural expression. This clip was captured by Sydney-based filmmakers Megan McMurchy and Jeune Pritchard, who documented the festival across 4 hours of video footage captured using open reels of tape and a Sony Portapak.

Though low quality by today’s standards, the Portapak revolutionised video production and gave the world a readily available, relatively inexpensive and portable way to produce black-and-white imagery with sound.

Able to be carried by one person, Portapaks were swiftly adopted by artists and countercultural groups to document happenings and protests and offer a unique perspective on events which differed from that of professional television broadcasts.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Nimbin Aquarius Festival – Bauls of Bengal
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
39635
Courtesy:
Sam Meredith
Year:
Year

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'.