Ourimbah, 1970: Suburban Scene Of Australia’s First Rock Festival

Until January 24 and 25, 1970, Ourimbah was known mainly as a small township and suburb of New South Wales, just north of Sydney in Australia. Then its name became synonymous with modern music culture, as it hosted the country’s first major, outdoor rock festival.

Staged just a few months after the era-defining Woodstock Festival, the Pilgrimage for Pop was organised by the Sydney-based rock outfit of the time, the Nutwood Rug Band, who also opened the show. It took place on the farm of Lt Colonel Henry Nicholls, and history records that the organisers sent an invitation to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which they reportedly received after the event.

The bill featured the top names on Australia’s underground rock scene, including Sydney’s Tamam Shud, Levi Smith Clefs, Doug Parkinson In Focus, Tully and Rachette, the band formed by Stevie Wright after the demise of the Easybeats. They were alongside Melbourne’s Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Wendy Saddington, and Leo De Castro and Friends. The opening day’s festivities took place as temperatures raced to 85ºF (28ºC), encouraging at least one female fan to remove her blouse to dance. “Topless Pop!”, ran one newspaper report.

Straights and hippies grooving as one

Adrian Simpson, who was at the festival, later wrote in a blog: “As a budding rock musician, I used the festival to find out for myself how professional players operated – the way they worked the crowd, their set lists and so on. We all, short-haired ‘straights’ like me and the long-haired, blissed-out hippies grooved to the incredible sounds going down.

“Woodstock? Who cared about Woodstock when this was happening, man, right in front of our hastily-pitched tents! I would say Jeff St John & Copperwine took the honours as the best act over the weekend, but Billy and his Aztecs were not far behind.”

On the second day, proceedings concluded at a civilized 4pm with another appearance by the Nutwood Rug Band. Only 30 or so arrests were recorded for minor offences, prompting Sydney Sun columnist Keith Willey to write: “For once the hippies lived up to their reputation for gentleness.” The Pilgrimage For Pop had taken its place in history.

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