The mother of all music festivals


It was the mid 1970s. Bayden Butler was nine years old, his bedtime was 7.30 and up to that point in his young life, the most exciting thing he’d ever seen was The Wonderful World of Disney on a Sunday night.

Then something extraordinary happened in his small hometown which knocked his world off its axis and left his little ears ringing for days.

Decades before the likes of Splendour in the Grass, Big Day Out and A Day On The Green, there was a massive open air music festival in Australia called Mother Rock.

Held over two years in 1975 and 1976, AC/DC, Skyhooks, Sherbet, Ted Mulry Gang, Daddy Cool, Kush, Billy Thorpe and Little River Band were among the headline acts.

The location was none other than Korumburra – a Victorian country town with a population then of just 2500 people.

The venue was the local showgrounds.

Tickets cost all of $5 and the proceeds helped pay for a new sports stadium in nearby Poowong.

With Countdown having only recently premiered on the ABC, popular bands like Skyhooks and Sherbet were now being showcased in all their glory on colour TV, attracting an even bigger fan base.

They were also dominating the Australian airwaves, from Sydney’s 2JJ to Melbourne’s 3XY.

Bayden remembers sitting on top of the fence which separated the stage from the crowd at Mother Rock ’76, watching AC/DC burst into action, Angus Young’s head banging so hard and so fast, you could barely see his face.

There was also an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction.

“Angus kept losing his shorts,” Bayden remembers. “I thought he hadn’t done them up properly.”

Almost 50 years on, Mother Rock remains one of the most incredible experiences of his life.

Skyhooks-loving Pete Rowe lived about 40 kilometres away in the Foster region.

He was supposed to be going to the Sunbury Pop Festival in 1975, but a self-described ‘dreaded catastrophe’ befell him in the days leading up to that event … a very badly timed bout of bronchitis.

Then he found out his beloved Skyhooks were coming to Korumburra, of all places, that same year.

Pete’s brother agreed to give him a lift to Mother Rock.

“It was like winning the lotto,” Pete tells Radio Today. “No rock acts played in Foster.”

“For people in some of those other Gippsland towns, you just didn’t have a hope in hell (of getting to gigs), unless you had wheels.”

At that time, Australia was obsessed with Swedish supergroup ABBA.

Not Pete. He was all about the ’Hooks.

“I already knew they would be big. Massive,” he says.

“But just how big – and how brilliant their shows would be – was an unknown quantity.”

Pete says getting a lift to Mother Rock was the greatest gift his brother ever gave him.

He remembers AC/DC’s performance like it was yesterday.

Out strutted Bon Scott in a schoolgirl’s outfit, looking like an escapee from St Trinian’s.

Other concert goers recall seeing Bon on the bagpipes, jumping on top of the giant speakers on the stage.

He and Angus never stopped all night.

Billy Thorpe was the third last act on in ’75, opening with Ooh Poo Pah Doo.

He followed that with Somewhere Over The Rainbow before bringing the house down with Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy.

“He had the crowd firmly in his hands, totally blown,” says Pete. “He left us gobsmacked.”

 Then Daddy Cool took to the stage and the crowd went ballistic.

“It was a pure blinder,” Pete remembers. “They were absolutely stellar.”

“Radio was wrong – this band was not ‘brilliant’ … they belonged to another dimension.”

With his brother supposed to be picking him up and Skyhooks still yet to make an appearance, a panicked Pete ran outside to the nearest phone box.

He rang his brother to plead his case.

“I said ‘They’re an hour late. Can you wait ’til I call you back? PLEASE?’”

“And he said ‘Yeah.’”

 “I would finally see the biggest act in Australia in 1975,” says Pete.

And he wasn’t disappointed.

Skyhooks finally took to the stage, dressed in some very zany gear.

Pete remembers lead singer Shirley Strachan turning to the crowd that night and saying ‘Ya know what? Ya should all look around, check each other out, say g’day to everyone and shake hands!’”

“So, on the count of three – like stunned sheep – we did just that, only to be met by the back of the person behind us.”

Pete was right up close to the stage, totally spellbound.

“I waited for about an hour after the show and my brother turned up in his trusty little Escort four door.”

“It was an incredible event.”

Carolyn was a teenage single mum with an eight week old baby when she went to Mother Rock.

She remembers some rough-and-tumble shenanigans – not to mention some very tight jeans!

It was hot that day too, at a time when people tended to baste their bodies in baby oil instead of sunscreen, often ending up as fried as a fillet of flake.

Sadly, half a century on, Australia’s music festival scene has taken a hit.

Splendour in the Grass – the Byron Bay festival heavily supported by triple j – recently announced it’s taking a year off.

Low ticket sales prompted Groovin’ The Moo to pull the pin this year, whilst Mountain Sounds, Stereosonic, FOMO and Big Day Out have all fallen by the wayside over the past decade.

With events becoming increasingly expensive to run and cost of living pressures forcing us to rein in our spending, many people today simply can’t afford a ticket.

But it goes much deeper than just the economic factor. We’re yet to fully grasp the social impacts of COVID lockdowns – particularly among young people.

Matt Rule is the Founding Director of The Music and Booze Company, which curates music for venues and festivals.

In an interview with The Australian, Rule says there’s no doubt the pandemic changed the way people want to be entertained.

“People are used to being at home, watching Netflix. The thought of going out there – it’s going to rain, sleeping in a wet tent – that adventurous attitude, I think, has waned.”

“The relationship with festivals has changed and we’ve lost a generation of young people.”

*Photos thanks to Mother Rock Memories Facebook page and South Gippsland Sentinel Times

*Bayden Butler review from

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Chris Brumby
3 Apr 2024 - 10:23 am

Went to both of these concerts. V line ran a train down as the Leongatha line was still open back then. Fair to say that the train trip back to Cranbourne was a full on party.


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