Monday, October 3, 2011

Festival of Rock, Wollongong Showground (29 March, 1970)

Wollongong's 'first' pop festival was fraught with obstacles
On Australia Day weekend in 1970 Ourimbah hosted the 'Pilgrimage for Pop' - Australia's first rock festival. An estimated 8,000 people (some reports put the number closer to 10,000) witnessed the likes of Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Tamam Shud, Jeff St John & Copperwine, Doug Parkinson's In Focus, and the debut performance of Stevie Wright's Rachette.

Quick to capitalise on this success, promoter and Oliver's venue operator Brian Neville proposed Wollongong's first rock festival. Only a stone's throw from Sydney, and close to the beach Stuart Park seemed like the promoter's dream venue - unfortunately local Council saw differently.

City health surveyor and opponent to the festival Mr A. King pointed to the high attendance numbers of Ourimbah to base his objections to the proposal. As such the original application was rejected on grounds that the festival would "be objectionable" to people camping in the area, potential noise complaints, parking problems, police concerns and that the park would be needed for a weekend cricket match.

Neville rejected King's concerns, stating that unlike the 2-day festival in Ourimbah, he was proposing a one-day festival starting after lunch and finishing before midnight, with an expected 2000 attendees - the majority of which would be local residents. Neville said he was unaware of any cricketing fixture for the Easter weekend, and believed the festival would attract "a smaller crowd than would attend North Wollongong Beach on any warm weekend of summer" negating King's parking concerns.

Ald. K. Dean however supported the idea, stating that as Easter was a peak tourist period "the city should attract people to the district instead of turning them away."

Not to be deterred, Neville contacted the Wollongong Showground secretary. Though there were plans to use the Showground for a rugby league fixture on Easter Sunday, the former ice-skating rink pavilion was available. Neville's plans however would need to be revised, as permission was given only for an evening festival - so as not to clash with the football.

Neville enticed Tamam Shud to the headlining position, with Leo De Castro, Turkish Green Electric Band, The Cleeves and Freshwater also scheduled to perform on the evening.

The competing festival attracted close to 1500 people
In the lead-up to the festival though, Neville started to predict numbers in the vicinity of 5000. The Festival Gods however were not acting favourably. On the eve of the festival Oliver's would close for the second time in six months following ongoing parking concerns. Meanwhile Capitol Hall in Corrimal was hosting it's own Easter festival with headliner Johnny Farnham sharing the stage with Masters Apprentices, Jeff St John & Copperwine, Flying Circus, Autumn and Gunther Cain.

As if that wasn't enough, plummeting temperatures kept the punters at bay. At a reported 15 degrees, youngsters wrapped themselves in blankets and coats "as they listened to the earsplitting cacophony".

Furthermore, as Gong Beat reported Leo de Castro failed to show whilst technical problems forced Freshwater to cancel their performance.

An estimated 2000 attended the Festival of Rock, while a further 1500 ventured the elements out at Capitol Hall.

'Stuart Park pop festival turned down', Illawarra Mercury 04/03/70
'Festival organiser seeks showground', Illawarra Mercury 06/03/70
'Pop festival ruling today', Illawarra Mercury 10/03/70
'Easter pop to go on', Illawarra Mercury, 11/03/70
'Our big rock-in Sunday', Illawarra Mercury 26/03/70
'Chilly notes hit pop festival', Illawarra Mercury 30/03/70
Gong Beat, Illawarra Mercury 03/04/70

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