Canberra, ACT, May 1971

Australian National University
Canberra, ACT

May 1971 (8 days)

unknown -- believed to be the Australian Union of Students (AUS)




Company Caine ("Product" lineup)
Daddy Cool
Mother Earth (with Renee Geyer)
Jeff Krozier’s Indian Medicine Magik Show
The Dance Company
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs (unconfirmed)
(Note: the complete festival lineup not known at this stage)


Not to be confused with the later and better known 1973 Aquarius Festival at Nimbin NSW, the eight-day "Aquarius Festival of University Arts", held in Canberra in May 1971, is another major arts/music event that has been almost forgotten.

The festival, attended by thousands of students and other young people from around the country, was held on the campus of the Australian National University, just outside Canberra's city centre. Most of those attending from outside the ACT camped in the nearby Canberra Showground (well-known to petrol-heads as the site of the annual SummerNats car rally). According to the entry in Wikipedia, the event was sponsored by a major tobacco company.

Although a full list of the acts and events features is yet to determined, it is known that performers included Bakery, Company Caine, Spectrum, Daddy Cool, Mother Earth, Jeff Krozier’s Indian Medicine Magik Show and Monash University's official “wizard” Ian Channel, who had also appeared at the Myponga Festival in South Australia in January that year. It is believed that Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs may also have appeared, but this has not been confirmed; MILESAGO's Paul Culnane, who attended the festival, has no recollection of the Aztecs performing.

According to the "Dancing Australia" website, the Festival was also the venue for the inaugural season of The Dance Company (NSW), which was later renamed Athletes And Dancers and finally evolved into the world-famous Sydney Dance Company in 1979. The Dance Company premiered its first commissioned work, Love 201, at the Aquarius Festival. Love 201 was choreographed by the company’s resident choreographer and co-director, Keith Little. Love 201 featured music by Peter Sculthorpe and set design by Tim Storrier. The piece is presumably a dance setting of Sculthorpe's Love 200, which was written for the Captain Cook bicentennial in 1970 and premiered at that year's Sydney Prom Concerts, performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Tully and Jeannie Lewis.

As Chris Davies' article (see below) about the festival indicates, patrons encountered concerted harassment from the ACT police, who were evidently  determined to crack down on drug use and/or close the festival down. During an afternoon performance, members of the audience were attacked -- apparently without provocation -- by police in full riot gear, and more than 150 arrests were made. Many students barricaded themselves into the Union building. The next day they marched on Civic police station to protest the arrests, but the marchers were again set upon by police, who were accompanied by a group of 'bikers' who, Davies alleges, were colluding with the police to provoke violent incidents, resulting in more arrests.

The festival was filmed by director Phillip Noyce, who assembled the footage into a unique one-hour split-screen film called Good Afternoon, which was released later in the year. Fortunately this remarkable film – which was designed to be projected on twin screens -- still exists and is now part of the ScreenSound collection in Canberra. It is obviously an extremely important document, not least because it is probably the only surviving film records of the late Geoff Crozier in performance. ScreenSound also holds a 1977 oral history interview with Phil Noyce in which he speaks about the festival and the making of the film.

Given that it was evidently a student-organised event, it's seems likely that that the 1971 Aquarius Festival was a precursor to Nimbin 1973 Aquarius festival, which was organised by members of the Australian Union of Students, although this is conjectural.

Chris Davies
from the article "Tertiary: Arrrestable Offence"

Police, around the world, were happy to fulfil the repressive role they had been assigned: there were many baton beatings, tear-gas, and mass arrests. Charges laid against students ranged from the serious (there were cases of assault with intent to kill or inflict serious injury) to the absurdly malicious. One infamous example of such exploitation of the law was the 1971 Aquarius Arts Festival, held in Canberra, which turned from love-in to violent siege in the space of two hours. John Nugent, who attended the Festival primarily because of "the sex and drugs - as well as the rock'n'roll", remembers the determination of the police force to destroy the 'anti-social and subversive' event.

Participants and spectators, who were camping at the Canberra Showgrounds, had bussed onto the ANU campus to attend that day's concerts. "We were out on the lawn in front of Chifley library, and there were a lot of people listening to the music, a lot of drugs, and a really fun, relaxed atmosphere. The ANU was the centre of the event, and people from around Australia were here to have a great time"

Suddenly, in the early afternoon, police dressed in full riot gear -- black helmets, batons, and riot shields -- marched from around the side of the building. "We thought that they were after ratbags," remembers John, "but then the riot police walked up to three girls who were eating lunch on the lawns, and just started to beat the shit out of them. Other police began kicking and beating those nearest to them. People were running everywhere, and there was a lot of yelling and screaming." Someone started yelling to us to hide in the nearest building.

"We barricaded ourselves in what is now the Chancelry Annex (which was then Union House) for a week to stop the pigs. This turned out to be a wonderful location, as we were locked up with the Uni pub."

The newspapers reported the next day that 153 people were arrested, but it ended up to be much more than that. Those arrested were being held at the Civic police station, and the people holed up in the Union decided to march in protest to the doors of the station.

As they walked, John saw an odd thing. "There were police all around us, watching for any excuse to get stuck into us. I also saw a number of bikies from a gang watching us, and one of the bikies having a word with a cop. Later fighting broke out amongst the crowd, and the cops quickly descended into the march, making a large number of arrests."

John believes that the bikies and police colluded to bash and arrest those involved in the march."

from Kim Jackson: (email, 3 June 2004):

"I went to see Daddy Cool at the festival, and the supporting act I remember most vividly was Bakery. The bands performed in a large tent that was erected near the Library."

References / Links

Thanks to Paul Culnane and Kim Jackson for their recollections and additional information.

Chris Davies – politics
"Tertiary: Arrrestable Offence"


Australia Dancing