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Ourimbah, 1970: Australia’s First Rock Festival

The town’s name became synonymous with modern music culture in January 1970, as it hosted the country’s first major, outdoor rock gathering.

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Ourimbah festival poster

Until 24 and 25 January 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.

OurimbahAdrian 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 civilised 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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Gary Dennis

    February 17, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    I got to fill in for a bass player in a band that played on a fairly high up stage and cant remember who they were!? I was there with my 3 piece band just to enjoy the festival and a guy announced on the microphone that the next band needed a bass player.! If anyone can help that w/b Gt

    • Steve lucas

      February 24, 2019 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Denns
      I’m just pulling together in my mind a timeline of the Goulburn Street Arts Factory days. On the web I’ve found 1 only reference (Julius Lighting)but I’m absolutely certain it states the wrong period from of 1973. I know it’s wrong because my family had already left Paddington for Nimbin by 1972. Arts factory days I’m thinking started 1969.
      The Ourimbah festival had been announced very briefly at one of the Arts Factory gigs plus there were flyers posted on poles around Paddo Surrey Hills etc. caught train up to Ourimbah and walked in…brilliant days 1970 i was 14 —parents pretty open plus they were days of innocents..
      Think the band was Kahvas Jute….

  2. Gary Dennis

    February 17, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Have wondered for years who the band was that i filled in for! I must have done ok, as they asked me to join their band, but i already had a band ! In Brizzy!

    • Dave C

      January 1, 2019 at 8:19 am

      Sorry, mate, I can’t remember who they were either.
      But it was a memorable event, a driving force for the first Fairlight Music Festival at Mittagong on Oz day weekend “71, of which I was the co-organiser.
      Cheers,
      Dave C

  3. Rick

    March 11, 2019 at 1:43 am

    I agree Jeff St John was a standout. I thin k maybe Heart n Soul also performed but could be wrong there. Too long ago. I was 17

  4. Peter Gawith

    April 1, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    Four of us drove up from Melbourne in my Hillman Hunter (top speed 80 mph, most of the way!!)
    My only memory is heat, thirst, hunger and Hans Puolson. (Spelling) We were underprepared but I’d love to do it again.

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