When bellbirds fell silent
THE POP HAPPENING AT OURIMBAH
Story by JULIE KUSKO Pictures by BILL PAYNE
THE air in the valley was hot and still, and
heavy with incense. Thousands of young people sat on the grass, some beside tents and bough humpies.
Recorded music, interrupted by pleas for lost articles and lost people, blared up into the hill, competing with bellbirds, kookaburras, and cicadas, and winning.
The crowd was waiting for the start of "the most spectacular non-stop, two-day show in Australian pop music history." It was the first day of "Pilgrimage for Pop" on a 700-acre property at Ourimbah, seven miles north of Gosford, N.S.W.
Now and then the pilgrims got up to wander to the nearest food-stall or cold-drink counter. Most were bare- foot, and this soon sorted real from weekend hippies. Prickles and thorns had little effect on the leather-like soles of the genuine. Shoes made reappearances.
Already the old oat paddock of Lieut-Colonel Henry Nicholls' property was well littered with empty beer cans, wine flagons, soft-drink cans, and food packets.
Preparations for the open-air festival of love, peace, and music had been in progress for two and a half months. Ernie Stoneball Productions, at whose head is a smart 23-year-old named Maureen Phillips, were responsible.
Maureen, a big girl with blue eyes and blonde, frizzed hair, has not been in the pop-promoting field for very long. An ex-air hostess, who worked in advertising agencies,
she has organised two other concerts, in Sydney and Paddington Town Halls.
Since the open-air festivals began in the United States, she had wanted to organise a similar event in Australia, and lined up 15 music groups. (Half defected temporarily to an opposition concert near Liverpool. This was cancelled because of lack of numbers, and the groups made their way back to Ourimbah.)
All Maureen needed was a place to hold it. The Nutwood Rug band had bought a small property near Colonel Nicholls' at Ourimbah. Because of their long hair, the boys were getting a bit of a ribbing from the locals in the hotel. The Colonel went to their aid, and they've been buddies. They talked about the concert. He offered his
Citizens of Ourimbah were somewhat astonished at the Major, as the Colonel is known there. He has a dis- tinguished Army record and five teenage children.
He won the Military Cross at Tobruk and a Bar to it at Korea. When Japan entered World War II, he trained as a parachutist and joined Z Force, which operated behind
But since retiring from the Army five years ago, the Colonel has not had much luck. He bought 1000 acres, named the property "Gilboolla (Bellbird) Park," and took up dairyfarming. He lost money through long droughts and sold 300 acres. Before the festival he sold the rest, but did not give up possession until after the concert.
Government bodies, reluctant at first, gave their permis- sion for the open-air event. But protests from the locals did not stop. One man, two miles away, was worried that the music might kill his chickens. Another was anxious about pollution of Ourimbah Creek.
Others were just plain terrified that it would all turn into a drug and sex orgy. They needn't have worried. Still, precautions were taken - over 60 police, the Drug Squad, and 30 bouncers employed by the company.
Dotting the landscape were 69 toilets, hessian-walled and stocked with 30,000 rolls of paper. Hessian also walled off cold showers. Bright official tents housed St. John Ambulance workers and a doctor (an old Army friend of the Colonel), reporters, and organisers.
By midday, the starting time for the concert, the crowd had grown to 6000, at $5 a head. Travellers from Perth and New Zealand were being allowed in free.
Most of the pilgrims came in cars. Others used an older form of travel - feet. From as far as Hornsby, 47 miles away, they trudged, laden with blankets and rucksacks.
Quiet and patient
At 12.15 the compere, Adrian Rawlins, thick-set, with a red moustache, told the crowd that John Lennon's peace ambassador was being delayed, and so the show would be delayed. The crowd hissed and booed - one of the rare times it showed any enthusiasm.
A band quickly took the stage. The lead singer screamed out a song consisting mainly of a four-letter word. Police later questioned and warned her. (The next day she sang that song again, or one similar.)
Near the hill an 18-year-old girl danced topless to the music. Several others stripped and bathed in the shady
seclusion of Ourimbah Creek.
At 2.00 the "peace envoy," Richie York, tripped on to the stage, a small figure in black. He said, "It is nice to be here and it's good that things are happening Down Under, as they are everywhere. I must take a picture to remember
yon all by."
LEFT: Start of the concert. This crowd had waited in 90deg. heat for the two-day. open-air festival of love, peace, music.
TENTS and a few trees provided shade for the fans on Lieut-Colonel Henry Nicholls' 700-acre property. By Sunday the crowd had risen to about 10,000.
LEFT: A singer and a song. Margaret Goldie, of the Nutwood Rug pop group, had the whole valley ringing.
BELOW: Baubles, bangles, beads, or books on meditation? These and other essentials like incense could be bought from hippie bazaars scattered through the grounds.
LEFT: Dawn, Sunday, at Ourimbah, N.S.W., mid- point in the weekend pop festival. The air was cold, the fog heavy, the grass wet, but hippies awake were bright and cheerful.
BELOW: Those near the stage had awoken at 5 a.m., Sunday, to the voice of an Anglican priest reading a lesson about faith, hope, love. Then there was a sermon.
BELOW: "lt's groovy." The music sent these fans into a frenzied impromptu dance. Most of the festival crowd were in the 18 to 24 age group.
WHEN BELLBIRDS FELL SILENT
From previous page
He clicked his camera and stepped back to the mike. "I've a message from John and Yoko in Denmark," he added. "War is over if you want it." And rapidly departed.
The crowd took his appearance and disappearance with its usual lack of enthusiasm. All through the afternoon they sat and watched, taking the long delays between poor performances without a murmur.
As it became darker and cooler, hundreds of small fires were lit. From the stage the valley had a fairylike atmosphere. It looked unreal. A hippie was saying, "We're free. We can do what we like. Peace, go in peace, brother, sister." He was eloquent.
One standard answer was, "It's groovy." Another was less printable. Between hippies and police was a kind of understanding: "If you leave me alone, I'll leave you
Dusk also brought the ominous revving of motor-cycles. Several "bikey" groups appeared. Some wore Nazi-style helmets, others spiked belts and armbands. Throughout their stay, police were near them. There was no trouble.
At night the music became better, and psychedelic lighting and colored searchlights helped. A couple of artists got standing ovations, surprisingly, for songs of the rock-'n-roll style of 15 years ago. The crowd had grown to
A hippie set fire to a sapling. A police officer went
over to him and said, "I don't think you'd better do
that. I think you ought to put it out." He then walked away. The hippie laughed and flung the sapling into his campfire.
The last pop group for the night was Tully, the group that gave the music
backing in the first months
of the Australian "Hair."
The valley quietened.
It was 1.30 a.m. Part of
the crowd bedded down in their sleeping - bags and blankets. Others wouldn't, or
couldn't, go to sleep. They
waited for something to happen.
Around 2.30 a.m. half a dozen youths, some in jeans or underpants, some naked, swam in the pond. Hundreds of spectators cheered. Someone manned a spotlight.
The police still played it cool. (During all the weekend they laid four charges of indecency and ten for language and offensive behaviour.)
There were calls to girls to "get your gear off and get in." One dived in, fully clothed.
Suddenly someone noticed that one of the boys who'd been active and boisterous in the pond wasn't moving. He was dragged out and taken to Gosford Hospital. According to the ambulancemen, when the boy woke up in the hospital he thought he was in heaven.
If the hippies had any sleep, they woke at 5 a.m. to the voice of an Anglican priest coming through a heavy fog. He was reading a lesson, St. Paul's message to the Corinthians about faith, hope, and love. Several of the "congregation" reached for their wine flagons.
The 15-minute service was the Colonel's idea. "I thought it would be nice, and aren't the kids listening?"
A deacon, from Christ Church in Gosford, said a prayer. The other preached a sermon. Halfway through, a boy near the stage, rubbing two sticks together, called, "Father, do you know how to light a fire?"
As the clergyman left the stage he was cheered. The service was followed by a lesson on meditation by a disciple of an Indian prophet. The music started again, the day grew hotter, the nude bathing became popular again.
An "in" place to visit was the St. John Ambulance centre, where volunteers handed out 3000 aspirins and treated hundreds of scratches and leech and ant bites.
As the afternoon wore on, the Colonel appealed to the diminishing crowd to collect their rubbish into large heaps and then please go home.
They did as instructed, and an hour after the concert there were only three fans left on the property. They had the Colonel's permission to sleep there before setting off
Colonel Nicholls, suntanned and wearing a psychedelic "Pilgrimage for Pop" T-shirt, stood smiling and reaffirming his faith in the long-haired generation. As we walked away he could be heard saying:
"They're marvellous, really marvellous. There were a few incidents. Naturally, you'll get one who causes trouble in every group. Even in the Army. But the kids were wonderful. I'm going to hold another concert somewhere. Perhaps I'll have a word with Sir Henry Bolte in Victoria."