I was too young for the festivals and, although the music would’ve been right up my alley, roughing it would not have been as I do appreciate the comforts of home. Many of the Australian bands that appeared at these festivals, appear in my vinyl collection and played at Pubs when I first ventured into these premises – a little below the legal age of entry. There were thoughts of traversing to Sunbury (actually held in Diggers Rest, which commenced in 1972 and resiliently continued to 1975). But there would be no way my parents would allow me to go. This alone however, would not have stopped this mildly rebellious teen (my interpretation). On Saturday nights, when things were a little slow, I would ride the train network – going nowhere in particular just changing platforms and returning without a ticket.
Once, as a young teenager, I made my own way (obviously without my parents knowledge – till now) heading north of the Yarra River to the Showgrounds (approximately forty kilometres from home), getting my backside trackside to see my favourite harness horse up close. Monara would win in its customary style leading from go to woe with master reinsman Don Dove in the sulky.
Sunbury, however would have been stretching it somewhat, adding on another thirty odd kilometres and requiring an overnight stay. My recent interest in the ‘BS’ festivals was sparked firstly by my interest in Fraternity’s harp man Uncle and secondly by Mike Rudd’s stories of those glory days (tongue firmly in cheek). Mike Rudd’s band Spectrum promoted the Launching Place Festival with a single and the location held special interest being close to where we have set our roots. Mike appeared with Peter Evans (author of a fine book on the Sunbury festivals) on a special edition of my radio program focusing on Sunbury, which an edited version can be heard here Sunbury Reflections. A few years back I penned a Dawg Blawg titled Marooned At Launching Place, which reflected on an ill fated festival held in Launching Place. I’ll post a wee update later in this treatise.
Ourimbah’s ‘Pilgrimage For Pop’ festival was the first of Australia’s festivals held not long after the success of Woodstock in the US. Not too far from Gosford, the venue was an oat paddock on a seven hundred acre farm called Gilboolla (Bellbird) Park owned by decorated soldier, Henry Nicholls. Although a Colonel, he was better known to the locals (for some reason) as Major. Henry had befriended expat Americans who had moved into a nearby property. Not sure if he was aware they were draft dodgers.
These long haired hippies were also members of a group that went under the moniker of The Nutwood Rug Band. With Henry’s kind offering of his property as a venue, members of the band formed a production company EMLE Stonewall Productions. It is believed that EMLE was an acronym for Electricity Makes Life Easier. According to the Women’s Weekly (11 February 1970) the operation was headed up by a twenty three year old former air hostess, who had the extensive experience of organising two concerts in Sydney and Paddington Town Halls. From all reports the concert was well organised and catered for with 69 hessian covered toilets, 30,000 toilet rolls of paper and an ambulance tent with a doctor. Henry had sold his property just prior to the festival commencing, with settlement occurring at the finish of the program.
Nutwood opened proceedings to a crowd of about 6,000 and the proceedings concluded Sunday evening when 10,000 patrons were entertained by Tully.
Found this interesting report on the legendary Max Merritt. I wonder what that was all about? Probably borrowed a car to get to the venue. Surely just a misunderstanding.
The second festival in Australia and the first for Victoria, was the disastrous Launching Place Festival that suffered terribly from Mother Nature’s elements. It wouldn’t be the last festival to have these issues and this is witnessed in another festival which is covered later on. The update to my previous article on The Miracle Festival is simply to set out the relevant timeline and add a few more pictures. My current research suggests it went down something like this.
- It began, but was then washed out.
- Patrons were offered a free pass to a second festival to be held in December.
- Launching Place take two was going ahead till rain poured down a week before.
- This was rescheduled to St.Kilda to be held in a tent borrowed by Ashton’s Circus, which the council wouldn’t permit.
- Then as a consolation on February 6 under the Big Top at Burnley oval the T F Much Circus was held.
I fired off an email to the indelible Mike Rudd to see what he reckoned, he replied, “Shep, Sounds about right to me! Mike.
Next to go was The Odyssey Festival, Wallacia (Sydney) held on the weekend before Australia Day (January 26). In those times we didn’t celebrate on the day, but had a long weekend with a Monday holiday at the end of the month. The program kicked off at midnight on Friday the 22nd and concluded on Sunday the 24th January 1971. Promoted by Sanchez Productions trouble was afoot just three weeks out when the festival’s site they had reserved was ruled out of commission. Then the international act they had billed, The Kinks had better things to do. The festival kicked off twelve hours after the designated time and the toilets (the domes) didn’t arrive till some time after that. An all Aussie affair acts included; Fanny Adams (Doug Parkinson), Daddy Cool, La De Das, Spectrum, Chain, Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Country Radio, Lotus, Pirana, 69ers, Fraternity, Bakery, King Harvest, Tully and also, not listed on the bill, little known Elm Tree, a Sydney band of old school mates that included vocalist John Paul Young.
I sought out Aussie Festival authority Peter Evans on what these domes were all about. “Toilets! Air going in, none coming out, hot sun, and a dozen cans dotted around with a huge mound of toilet paper in the middle. Stank to high heaven.” I wondered if the red and white dome was a green room and if the lassies were looked after in the way of latrines. “Never visited the one backstage. The punter toilets were unisex – I think the women were thrilled. NOT. And the punter toilets didn’t get finished until halfway through the festival.”
A week later, on the Australia Day weekend of 1971, the The Fairlight Music Festival was held on a two hundred acre farm owned by Jim and Barb Henderson just off the Hume Highway not far from Mittagong. Peter Manley in conjunction with David Chilvers, organised the festival under the banner of BillPosters Promotions. On the card were local Sydney bands; Blackfeather, Khavas Jute, La De Das, Pirana, Tamam Shud and Tully. I think Syrius played here as well, however promoters wanted to hear their tapes first to see if they were suitable. Then the weather gods interfered. Heavy rain fell from 9pm on Saturday night and continued till 5pm the following day. It all ended in shambles with security not paid, takings hidden in the ceiling of the owners abode and then gone missing, threats and police. Bit of a tram wreck!
There is confusion regarding this festival as there was another one held at the same venue by the Hendersons in April of the same year. It is alleged it was financed from the missing takings of the first. This festival was marred by thirty arrests and attendances were affected by local protestors who had placed prominent signs on the side of the Hume Highway announcing that the event had been cancelled.
On the same weekend of The Fairlight, over in South Australia on a farm in Myponga, a three day festival that included the Monday holiday was held, with many of the same bands from Wallacia. Cat Stevens was booked, but he didn’t venture down under. All was not lost on the international front as Black Sabbath appeared and an American duo who were already performing in Adelaide, Black Ice, asked if they could be placed on the bill. Their request was dutifully honoured. New Zealand heavy rock band Biplane and Hungarian progressive rock outfit Syrius, also strutted their stuff. Healing Force, Co. Caine and Moonshine Jug String Jug Band, who later morphed into (would you believe) The Angels, also performed. All in all thirty artists were on the roster. The festival site was on a sixty two acre farm owned by local millionaire Hamish Henry.
Rob Tillett (pictured above left) from the popular anti Vietnam, Adelaide band Red Angel Panic, performed as a punter at the resisters camp at Myponga. His band were billed to perform at the festival, but they pulled out at the last minute in protest as they were only being paid a flat rate of forty dollars (no expenses) for an hour set, while other bands were being paid three hundred dollars. I think the thin edge of the wedge was the special treatment Fraternity received. Fraternity were receiving the three hundred dollars plus expenses. At this point of time Fraternity were viewed by locals (except for Hamish Henry) as just another interstate band from Sydney.
The other picture (above right) has punters frolicking in the mud by the dam. This is another one of those funny (peculiar) photos I throw in now and then for closer scrutiny. Where does that hand come from that sits on the gentleman’s right cheek and is it carrying a harmonica? Oh dear!
Mulwala on the Murray River New South Wales, although AS (after 72 Sunbury by a few months) I thought I would mention due to its rather negative review in the paper under the heading of ‘Grogfest’ (The Bulletin, 15 April, 1972). The other reason was the billing of both Canned Heat along with Stephen Stills & his band Manassas. Manassas received fine reviews, however Canned Heat’s were rather luke warm. To be fair Canned Heat had not long lost the incredible Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson and Bob ‘Big Bear’ Hite’s harmonica work probably didn’t reach the same lofty heights of Blind Owl’s. Mulwala was presented over the Easter weekend and attracted patrons primarily from the opposite bank of the Murray River in Victoria. The event would also suffer from Mother Nature’s elements with rain on the third day and eventually it would be canceled. I’ll let Jock Vetch the writer conclude, “It’s probably too much to hope that we won’t see another festival of this nature; on paper the profit potentialities of a successful festival are enormous. But the possibilities of such attributes as good vibes, good kama, good people and good music all happening together seem pretty remote.” I wonder what Jock made of the four Sunbury festivals that followed.
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5 thoughts on “BS (Before Sunbury)”
Really enjoyed the read – some festivals mentioned that I’d not heard of before, so thank you for enlightening me. Well researched and intrigued by the band listings. Biplane (NZ) is a bit of a mystery – no mention of this band on the highly reputable website – https://www.sergent.com.au/music/nzmusic.html.
I have tagged your blog on my own. Thanks again. AussieRock
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Thanks Aussie Rock. And right back at you – have enjoyed your site over the years. Cheers Shep
Here ‘Biplane’ gets a mention in relation to ‘Rockinghorse’:
Just found this page HRR and thanks for it. I seem to remember a lot of this, some only vaguely, so it’s very helpful.
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Thanks Bruce for the link on Rockinghorse and becoming a Riff Raffer. Cheers Shep