|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Music Festivals|
ODYSSEY (WALLACIA) POP FESTIVAL
Wallacia, NSW, Jan. 1971
The La De Das
Barry McAskill / Levi Smiths Clefs
The Original Battersea Heroes
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs
Wendy Saddington & Copperwine
Thanks to John Low of Blue Mountains City Library and his kind colleagues at Penrith City Library, who have kindlty provided us with information from press sources, we have been able to put together what is priobably the first comprehensive account of the Odyssey Pop Festival. The Odyssey Festival took place about one week before the better-known Myponga Festival, and was held over the Australia Day long weekend on 22-23-24 January 1971 at Wallacia, west of Sydney, near Warragamba Dam. The promoters, a group called Sanchez Promotions, included Melbourne poet, journalist, promoter and all-round hip identity Adrian Rawlins, who was also one of the MCs.
The names of most of the major acts that performed there are known, but it is likely that others are yet to be identified -- for example, we have recently been contacted by a former member of The Magpies who, with an average age of just 12 at the time, was the youngest act on the bill. Odyssey is notable for the fact that the lineup was all-Australian (preceding Sunbury by a year), featuring a mixture of Sydney and Melbourne groups.
Wallacia is a small village surrounded by rural countryside and bushland; it is a few kilometres south of Penrith, NSW, and about 70km west of Sydney. The area was a renowned holiday resort area from the late 1800s to the 1940s. The region's main industries were dairying and grazing during the nineteenth century, but in the early twentieth century, because of its rural atmosphere and proximity to Sydney, tourism developed as people opened their homes as guest houses. After the Second World War however, the increase in car ownership and the availability of air travel saw a decline in the local tourist trade. Today Wallacia’s tourism is centred on the day-tripper trade. Growth in the area in the past few years has mainly occurred with the development of hobby farms by people seeking a retreat from city life. Although once relatively remote from the city, Wallacia and its environs are now gradually being encroached upon as freeways and urban development expand Sydney's ever-growing outer suburbs.
The Penrith Press newspaper ran at least two stories on the festival. One, published in the week preceding it (probably Wed. 20 January) was entitled 'GROOVY SCENE'. It said that a crowd of over 40,000 was expected, and that the festival would be held on 450 acres of land adjoining Bullen's Animal World. The festival was to start on Friday and continue until Sunday evening, and would include more than 30 top Australian groups from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. A festival highlight, the article announced, would be English group The Kinks. The organisers, Santley (sic) Promotions had arranged for 200 lavatories and showers for the site. The article also said that three members of the promotions company, Messrs Kennedy, Dillow and Rawlins, had helped to organise the Ourimbah Festival the previous year. An airstrip adjoining the festival site would be used to accommodate more than 2000 cars over the weekend.
Another (unidentified) local paper published that week reported that artists appearing at the festival would include "The Kinks, Hans Poulsen, Pirana, Tuly, The La De Dahs (sic) Barry McGaskill and Levi Smith's Clefs". The festival would be held on a 400-acre site belonging to Bullen Bros, it said..
The Sydney Sun reported on the festival in its Sunday 25 January edition in a page 2 story headlined 'FORMALITY FADES AT FESTIVAL' and written by noted journalist David D. McNicoll. He presented a surprisingly positive overview and begins by reporting that only 7000 people attended and that the opening of the festival had been hampered by power failures on the Friday. The music had been scheduled to start at noon that day but the technical problems meant that the first band did not appear until 11:45pm that night, although the music then continued all through the night until 6:30am the next morning. By Sunday morning, by which time there had evidently been a cold change, McNicoll said that more than 500 people were still gathered around the stage "despite the cold".
The festival, he said, began on a bad note on the Friday but picked up over the weekend, and that the sullen faces seen on Saturday morning became "relaxed and happy" as the afternoon wore on and the tempo of music increased. As the temperatures rose "dozens of men and women" swam in the three dams on the site. Notably, McNicoll says that police had reported "no incidents of violence or drug use", a statement directly at odds with subsequent reports in local papers. McNicoll wryly notes that "for a generation supposedly concerned with their environment, the young people at the festival did their best to ruin that image". The litter on the festival site, he says, is "incredible" and "hundreds of trees" had been cut down for firewood and for shelters.
"The camping areas around the site presented a weird jumble of abodes. There are large caravans, tents and tarpaulins and lean-to's fashioned from branches. Shops and stalls on the site are doing a big trade as is the small township of Wallacia.
McNicoll concludes by reporting that ambulance officers had treated dozens of people for cuts and abrasions caused mainly on the Friday night and Sunday morning, when people were "stumbling around in almost total darkness".
Ursula O'Connor of the Sydney Morning Herald also reported on the festival at length, in an article headlined 'NEW SOUND FOR WALLACIA' on Monday 25 January. Her account is fairly detailed and rather less effusive in tone than McNicoll's. She described the setting as "a 300-acre site of fields, hills and waterholes", and that 12,000 people had attended, thus giving us four totally different attendance figures from four reports! O'Connor describes a carnival area of sideshows and merry-go-rounds and a shopping centre "like an Eastern bazaar", selling everything from apple juice to "clothes styled after every country in Asia, to revolutionary literature courtesy of Mr Bob Gould". (Gould was at that time the owner of Sydney's controversial Third World Bookshop, and has for many years been the proprietor of Gould's Bookshop, originally at Town Hall, and later at Petersham and currently in Newtown.)
O'Connor also described residential area on the slopes, "of expertly erected tents, caravans, or just bed rolls and blankets". The site also had police, religious sects and a hospital.
"In three days no-one died and no-one was born. But there was a "wedding" witnessed by the whole population, and enacted according to their half-formed conventions.
There were traffic jams and pollution; air thick with smoke at nights from as thousand glowing campfires and from dust and exhaust fumes by day; ground littered thicker than any city street with beer cans and bottles, cardboard plates of half-eaten food and papers; water unsafe to drink because it had been used as a bath; and sewerage problems."
"There was even a newspaper published twice daily and called "Rubbish" It was produced by a group of visitors "for something to do".
And it warned its readers of police drug raids, criticised the Establishment (Sanchez Promotions), printed large amounts of misinformation on the internal politics of the organisation, plus the news of the day."
O'Connor said that travellers from Victoria, Queensland and even Western Australia left the festival with "mixed feelings about the worth of the trip", that lack of electrical power had delayed the start of the music for 12 hours, and that lavatories and showers could not be used until the Saturday morning. Ading to their annoyance, on Saturday morning, patrons who had secured a good spot on the Friday night were forced to pack up, move out of the arena and have their tickets checked and then be stamped on the arm with purple ink. Although some text appears to be missing from the article at this point, the biggest causes of crowd dissatisfaction seems to have been the long intervals between acts, which were "filled by MCs with the disc jockey's skill for inane chatter"
She also reported that Sydney Drug Squad detectives had made six arrests, that two people had been charged with possession and use of marijuana, and two had been cautioned. The festival's medical centre was reported to have been "flat out" on all three days, treating cut feet, sunstroke, sickness and "a few people suffering from 'bad trips' ". O'Connor concludes by saying that the festival organisers expected to "just break even" financially, although they regarded the festival as a success.
A column in an unidentified Sydney paper (possibly the Daily Mirror, and evidently published on Tuesday 26 January) gives a detailed account of the court appearances by the two people charged with drug offences at Penrith Court of Petty Sessions the previous day. 21 year old Ronald Thompson, farm labourer of Cobram, Victoria, was charged with possession and use of Indian hemp at Wallacia on January 23. Thompson pleaded guilty to both charges; he was sentenced to six months' hard labour (!) on the possession charge, which was suspended on condition that he be placed on a $500 bond to be of good behaviour for three years; he was also convicted on the smoking charge and fined $200. 18 year old Anne Margarethe Van-As, receptionist of Elizabeth Bay, also pleaded guilty, was given a three month suspended sentence and placed on a $500 good behaviour bond for two years.
"The court was told that Drug Squad detectives watched a pipe being passed around a circle of young people at the festival before making their arrests. A search of the area and some persons had disclosed the presence of about one ounce of Indian hemp and 'smoking instruments' ..."
[NOTE: this article appears alongside another which reported concerns expressed by Stipendiary Magistrate Mr Murray Farquhar about delays in a marijuana possession case involving singer Johnny O'Keefe (see Almanac).]
The Penrith Press reported the festival on its front page on Wed. 27 January, under the headline 'ALL PEACE AND LOVE AT FESTIVAL' It reported that there had been "only seven arrests" and that although up to 40,000 people had been expected, only 10,000 had turned up, and that the large squad of police sent to the festival "had little to do over the weekend". The Sydney Drug Squad, it said, arrested five people -- "two juveniles, one teenager and one adult" -- for smoking or possessing marijuana. Traffic Branch had arrested two men for having more than the prescribed amount of alcohol in their blood, and another had been arrested for negligent driving and for being an unlicensed driver. Sgt J. Byrne of Penrith police was quoted as saying that motorists coming and going from the festival had been "most orderly".
The article continued with information on the drug arrests, reporting that the two juveniles were remanded. It repeated the information contained in the report above, adding that Mr Thompson was given two months to pay his fine and that Ms Van-As was been placed on a $300 bond ($500 was reported in the other article).
The article is accompanied by three photographs (taken by CR Studios of Penrith). The largest shows a general view of part of the festival crowd; beside it is a photo of a young man (a Hare Krishna devotee) handing out religious literature; the third shows the hippie wedding that took place at the festival.
Apart from the information listed above, Odyssey was the venue for notably successful performances by several local acts. It was one of the major interstate appearances by Daddy Cool, who were very warmly received; according to Ian McFarlane, their successful performances at Odyssey and Myponga convinced Ross Wilson and his colleagues to abandon their earlier Sons of the Vegetal Mother concept and concentrate full-time on Daddy Cool. Ironically, Ross himself recalls (see below) that he was not playing at his best that day -- just before DC was due to go on, they discovered that Ross Hannaford had gone missing. He was eventually found (asleep in a truck!), but it put Ross off for his performance.
Spectrum are also known to have performed -- this would probably have been one of their first ventures north. Odyssey was also the first festival performance by the new four-piece line-up of The La De Das (Kevin Borich, Phil Key, Peter Roberts and Keith Barber). According to Vernon Joyson, the Sydney group The Original Battersea Heroes also "put in a storming performance at the Odyssey Pop Festival, which won them considerable attention in the short term."
A few performances were recorded on audio tape. Surviving audio artefacts include three tracks by Chain recorded live at Wallacia, which later appeared on the retrospective History Of Chain (issued in 1973), including a great live version of their hit "Black And Blue". The set by the short-lived line-up of Copperwine which was fronted by the great Wendy Saddington, was also recorded. Their performance, issued on LP as Wendy Saddington & Copperwine Live in 1971, was one of Australia's first Australian live rock albums. It was rumoured ca. 2000 that this recording was scheduled for a CD reissue, but Festival Mushroom Records scrapped their entire re-release program when they reorganised their operations and laid off staff, and of course the company subsequently went into liquidation, with the entire recording archive being sold off to Warner Music. It is not known whether Warner has any plans to reissue this album in the future.
Some photographic images of Wallacia are extant. Australian photographer Fred Harden has included five photos of Wallacia in his Photographic History web site:
The following link is to a French web page I recently located, which contains a fascinating group of photos taken by French photographer Emmanuel-Yves Monin. Members of our Rock'n'Roll Scars mailing list (who attended the festival) have confirmed that these are photos of Wallacia.
The photos and reports suggest that facilities at the Odyssey Festival were as rudimentary and poorly planned as those at many other festivals of the period. Star spotters should refer to the tenth photo down from the top of the page in Monin's collection -- the figure at right (with his hand to his face) is believed to be Gerry Humphries. Ross Wilson has confirmed that the person at the right in the picture you willsee by following this link is Daddy Cool's manager, Peter Andrews.
Another of these photos shows a group of Hare Krishna devotees (also photographed by the Penrith Press), beside whom is a man with what appears to be a 35mm movie camera, suggesting that at least some part of this festival was also captured on film.
from Ross Wilson:
(email, 6 Aug. 2003)
"It was a big deal for me to be playing a serious festival outside Victoria and had taken leave from our day gigs to do Wallacia and Myponga, so when we couldn't find Hannaford ten minutes before we were due to hit the Wallacia stage, it kind of threw me -- everyone was searching for him and he was eventually found asleep! in one of the trucks near the stage.
But the damage was done and I was off centre for the gig -- hearing we were warmly received makes me feel better even this far down the track, as I was definitely not my usual self.
There was a lot of psychedelic action at that festival."
References / Links
Our thanks to Ross Wilson for his feedback, and many thanks to John Low of Blue Mountains City Library and his colleagues at Penrith City Library for providing the press reports about the festival.
Fred Harden Photographic History
Dreams, Fantasies & Nightmares: Australia (Borderline Books, 1999)
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
RAINBOWS Gatherings: continuation of the Pop-festivals ...
Festivals in Australia: An Intimate History
(D.T.E Publishers, Spring Hill, Vic, 1986)
Council - Wallacia information page
Penrith Press, Wednesday 20 January, 1971 (page # unknown)
"Peace and Love at Festival"
Penrith Press, Wednesday 27 January, 1971, page 1
"Formality Fades At Festival"
Sydney Sun (?), Monday 25 January, 1971; p. 2
"New sound for Wallacia"
Sydney Morning Herald, Monday January 25, 1971, (page # unknown)
"2 guilty of smoking hemp at festival"
Publication unknown (possibly Sydney Daily Mirror)
Tuesday 26 January, 1971 (probable) (page # unknown)