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Aquarius counter-cultural revolution reverberates 40 years on


Sharlene King
30 April 2013

The original student union organisers of the 1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival are making a return to the birthplace of Australia’s counter-culture revolution to celebrate its 40th anniversary at an event being convened by Southern Cross University.

Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan are among the keynote speakers at ‘Aquarius and Beyond: 40 years on’, a two-day conference in Nimbin on May 23 and 24. The lead convenor of ‘Aquarius and Beyond’ is Dr Rob Garbutt from the School of Arts and Social Sciences.

The Nimbin Aquarius Festival, a counter-cultural arts and music event aimed at celebrating alternative thinking and sustainable lifestyles, was organised by the Australian Union of Students (AUS), including Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan.

Often referred to as Australia's Woodstock and the birthplace of Australia’s hippy movement, the Aquarius Festival had no line-up of music industry stars. Instead 'survival' was its theme and for 10 days 'the people are the festival' was its program.

Dr Garbutt said the ‘Aquarius and Beyond’ conference will revisit and critically examine the Aquarius Festival, its aftermath, and Australian counter-culture then and now.

“Aquarius has resonated well beyond 1973. Its ideas adapted and altered as time went on, yet the Aquarius spirit – hope for the future - is still clearly alive. Nimbin became a place where ideas mixed and morphed to create something new. Nowadays Nimbin remains a vibrant and passionate community,” said Dr Garbutt.

“Given the AUS organised the Aquarius Festival, it’s apt that Southern Cross University is organising this anniversary event. It’s wonderful to have the cooperation and endorsement of the original festival co-directors, Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan.”

Johnny Allen (Kaptain Kultur) and Graeme Dunstan (Superfest) will be in conversation with Lismore Mayor Cr Jenny Dowell on the opening morning of ‘Aquarius and Beyond’ on Thursday May 23 at 9.20am.

“In 1973, the Aquarius Festival rode the wave of rural regeneration with an explosion of energy and ideas,” said Johnny Allen. “Sadly, many of the insights and initiatives of the festival in terms of sustainable lifestyles are even more crucial now than they were then.

“What then is the legacy of the festival, if any, 40 years on? This is probably best decided by the young people of the Rainbow Region who will take the Aquarian initiatives into the future. I welcome the warts-and-all evaluation of the impacts and legacy of the festival by Southern Cross University on the occasion of its 40th anniversary in May.”

Graeme Dunstan said the Aquarius Festival celebrated a rare and precious moment in 1973.

“We stood in the clear light between the clouds of war and resistance to war. Back in 1972 we young people, who had struggled so long against the US War on Vietnam War and its conscription, had brought down the war government and won the peace.

“Compared to Woodstock and the rock festivals that followed, Aquarius was small in number and understated in form. Yet deep was the discourse and many were the ideas and fancies which found shape and nurture in its thrall.

“Temporary mass, as it were, but somehow solid enough to serve as a fulcrum about which many changes became possible - enduring changes in perspectives, values and community practice.”

‘Aquarius and Beyond’ program highlights include:


• Kaptain Kultur and Superfest in conversation with Lismore Mayor Cr Jenny Dowell

• Indigenous Australians at Aquarius - The Untold Story by Alethea Scantlebury and BauXhau Stone

BauXhau Stone is a Kalahari bushman (now living in Australia) who was assigned the task of engaging and involving Indigenous communities in the Aquarius Festival, including the local Bundjalung community.

Inspiration and motive by Vernon Treweeke
Vernon Treweeke was responsible for giving Nimbin a makeover ahead of the Aquarius Festival. He designed and painted Nimbin’s first murals and will discuss his motives and inspirations.

Before Aquarius and after: A panel of locals reflect on Nimbin’s changing scenes
Nimbin locals will reflect on life before and after 1973.

• Aquarius and the global counter-culture by Richard Neville, founder/editor of Oz Magazine

• Young panellists: Growing up Aquarian: Young people speak

A group of young people who’ve grown up on intentional communities will reflect on their experiences and their hopes and plans for the future.

Sustainable Nimbin - the journey through the noughties and into the future by Natalie Meyer
A discussion on how sustainability can be economically viable.

Aquarius Rising: Terania Creek and Beyond by Vanessa Bible

• Communities of resistance: growing a culture of empowerment by Aiden Ricketts

These two presentations will consider the environmentalism of the 70s, the tactics and strategies developed during the Terania and Nightcap forest campaign and how those learnings fed into current CSG protests and recent successes in the Northern Rivers.

Registrations are now open. Tickets are $20 for a one day pass or $30 for a two-day pass.

Find ‘Aquarius and Beyond’ on Facebook

Photo: Johnny Allen in 1973 at the Aquarius Festival (Credit: Harry Watson Smith).