A blast from the past: remembering the Sunbury Rock Festival

A collection of pics recalling the rock festival known as ‘Australia’s Woodstock’.

Known as Australia’s version of Woodstock, Sunbury Rock Festival was an annual rock event promoting local and foreign acts over three days of sun-filled togetherness.

The Sunbury Rock Festival took place on the Australia Day long weekend from 1972 to 1975, featuring great Australian bands such as Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Chain, Sherbet and Skyhooks, as well as overseas performers such as Deep Purple and Queen.

Fifty-year-old farmer and local identity George Duncan offered the use of his 620-acre private farm along Jacksons Creek, just south of Sunbury at no cost to the organisers. The site was famously known to attendees as ‘Duncan’s Farm’. Even though it was closer to Diggers Rest than Sunbury, the organisers marketed the event as being in Sunbury because the name was more suggestive of a good time.

The first Sunbury festival was promoted as the ‘Rock Happening of 1972’ and featured an all-Australian line up. The festival also signalled the end of the hippie movement and the beginning of Aussie pub rock.

Paul Hogan was master of ceremony at the 1973 event, which was touted as ‘Sunbury 1973 – The Great Australian Rock Festival’ with a line-up featuring Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Max Merritt and the Meteors, The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and veteran rocker Johnny O’Keefe.

In 1974, UK band Queen joined Aussie favourites Daddy Cool, Mississippi, Madder Lake, Sherbet and an early version of the Skyhooks.

The end of ‘an era’ came in 1975 when UK hard rock giants Deep Purple came to play, stirring up a scandal with a payment of $80,000 to perform, while Australian artists performed for nothing. AC/DC were also to play that year, but a disagreement with Deep Purple led to a full-blown fistfight between the foreign band’s roadies and the young Aussie rockers and, consequently, AC/DC refused to play.

Afterwards, Deep Purple created a fund that paid all Sunbury performers that year at the full rates for musicians.

The 1975 festival also fell victim to bad weather, with rain so heavy that it turned the site into a mud pit, making the event forever known as ‘Mudbury’. It also suffered terminal financial losses which signalled the end of what would become Australia’ favourite music festivals fondly remembered by all who attended.

So, hopefully, these images will enable you to enjoy this blast from the past.

Click NEXT to see more pictures. 

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    6th Nov 2017
    WE were cool man. I played in a band in the Hoadleys battle of the sounds.
    6th Nov 2017
    Queen were booed off the Stage,the crowed tried to do the same to J'OK but he defied them and kept going till he won them over.

    6th Nov 2017
    It was just a "boys" club. Women were pretty much excluded from performing (with only a few exceptions).
    6th Nov 2017
    Jim B ,there were VERY few females around in those days.They had to be available at the time,their Management had to be on side and they had to have backing Musos.
    6th Nov 2017
    I was there in ‘75. Waited all day for Deep Purple to come on. When they announced them, I was beside myself with anticipation. 2nd row from stage. They walked onto the stage to tremendous applause and some bloody mongrel slipped in the mud grabbing my arm on his way down. There I was, covered head to toe in mud. My boyfriend was shot with an ‘air pistol’ or something like that which appently hurt, so we left. Big bummer.
    6th Nov 2017
    I was there in 1974 and still remember it fondly. Drank beer and wine non stop. We would throw the grog over the fence to our runners waiting on the inside. It was bloody hard getting back up that hill to our van at the end of the day.
    7th Nov 2017
    Actually as Woodstock was the first, Ourimbah is the first Australian Rock Festival a full 2 years earlier. Max Merrit Slippin Away and Wendy Saddington Wheels on Fire and Doug Parkinson and Jeff St John and the ID . Bloody glorious!
    7th Nov 2017
    There was a small one at Toolern Vale/Rockbank before Sunbury!
    7th Nov 2017
    It was fun freedom and some of the funniest recollections. Here's one....guys used to walk around naked with just the cap off the top of a watermelon with a couple of holes in the top and string threaded through tied around the back. That acted as a cover till a girl walked past and they flicked the sides of the string the cap popped up exposing their wares. They got a lot of laughs but no one locked them up. Try doing that now you would be. I don't think we will ever see that kind of freedom ever again.

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