CELEBRATING SUNBURY ’73
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:16 April 2021
Lashings of nostalgia surround the Australian rock festival that best captured the imagination of the general public in the early 1970s. Although far from the first such event, Sunbury ’72 made an impact reflected in dozens of newspaper reports, TV news spots, and magazine articles. One key reason for its fame relates not to any aesthetic or cultural impact, but because it was the first Aussie music festival to actually make money. This was a significant factor in the decision of organiser John Fowler to plan for a return of the event the following year.
Welcome to Sunbury ’73.
Held, in true Woodstock tradition, on a cattle farm at the fringe of Melbourne’s suburban sprawl, Sunbury ’73 was better organised and better attended than the first festival. This is not to deny, of course, that facilities were anything but primitive and limited, that injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises through to near-fatal drug overdoses abounded, and that there was an air of drunken celebration not experienced as convivial by every one of the 20,000 plus patrons sitting on the hillside of farmer George Duncan's property. But it sure had atmosphere. And plenty of sun.
The line-up was chock full of home-grown talent who delivered music in a marvellous variety of styles across the three days. If you had wanted to attend, by the way, a ticket for the whole shebang would have set you back $8. History does not record how much you would have paid for a chunk of the watermelon Michael Gudinski was selling, but legend has it that the young music entrepreneur made a killing with his fruity franchise.
Mr Gudinski, who died suddenly on 1 March 2021, did more on that hot January long-weekend of 1973 than flog watermelon to thirsty festival goers. He had just founded Mushroom Records (with Ray Evans), and decided—with admirable chutzpah—that the label’s inaugural release would be a triple-album set from Sunbury ’73. Six sides of vinyl, some two-and-a-quarter hours of music, managing to take gold, silver and bronze in the vinyl record marathon: Australia’s first 3 LP set; a mighty ‘Hello!’ from Gudinski’s new record label, and a fabulously diverse memento of the festival itself.
Alongside heavyweights like Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, blues-boogie kings Carson and the fast emerging Madder Lake, the line-up included some surprises. Legend of the 1950s and 60s Johnny O’Keefe was initially boo-ed when MC Paul Hogan cheekily introduced him as ‘this new bloke.’ Yet the veteran succeeded in winning over the skeptical audience during his set. Folk and country influences were present in the performances of the 69ers, Country Radio and Glen Cardier, while the under appreciated Australian progressive rock scene was well represented by Mackenzie Theory, Healing Force, and Mighty Mouse. Also present, twice, were the much loved Mike Rudd/Bill Putt outfits, Spectrum and their rockier, more concise alter ego, The Indelible Murtceps.
It is a shame Rudd’s bands do not appear on the album, but even a triple album cannot do complete justice to three days of music. Other bands who didn’t make the vinyl cut included Max Merritt (who had blitzed the crowd the previous year), bluesman Dutch Tilders, quirky folk-cabaret troubadours The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band and, perhaps most disappointingly, Mississippi. They were accompanied by a full orchestra and performed a spine-tingling version of the superb “Kings of the World”. (Film of this song is floating around on the net if you are willing to dig!).
Perhaps tapes of unreleased music from Sunbury will emerge from the Mushroom archives one day, but in the meantime you can relive highlights of the 1973 festival via the excellent Mushroom/Bloodlines 2020 re-issue of “Sunbury ’73”.
Beautifully packaged and sporting bright red (sunburned?) vinyl, it’s a welcome re-release. So turn up the heat, turn up your stereo, fill a glass with something quenching, then sit back and enjoy a couple of hours of pure Aussie rock history. Watermelon optional.
© Bruce Jenkins 2021
Stuart EBy: Stuart on 17 April 2021BRILLIANT ALBUM. Actually have an original copy