The morning after in Narara

Six Japanese journalists and record company executives brought to Australia from Tokyo by CBS-Sony were escorted by Triple Jay’s Nippi Rick. They came to see Men at Work, which has a large following in Japan, and Moving Pictures. In true gonzo style, 2JJJ-FM recorded a lengthy interview interspersed with lengthy translations. Will it blow up?

The Angels perform on January 30, 1983.

The Angels perform on January 30, 1983.Credit:Peter Solness

Anything aired? “What’s it like being a spunk?” Intrepid reporters, who demonstrated a flair for both the language and the art of interviewing, asked the handsome man of rock, James Reyne of Australian Crawl.

“Do you always drink before you go on stage?” Things were obviously getting out of hand.

“What strings do you prefer on your guitar?” Julie Meldrum (no relation to Molly) explored with the Dynamic Hepnotics’ saxophonist. Obviously things got completely out of control.

“The vibe is strong,” Bruce replied to nothing in particular. “We had to cut our way through the gates. There’s a really good vibe in the third portable toilet.” Indeed, the Dynamic Hepnotics went down along with the questions they were being asked.

What do rock stars eat? Mental as Anything’s Greedy Smith chose three meats with three salads ($7.50).

Out of sight and far from the stalls selling bongs and hot dogs was the alternative lifestyle space. Few people came to try the Mantra Meditation Center, Marijuana Law Reform Society, Greenpeace, Center for One World, Homebirth Information, or the Intuitive Massage booth.

On Sunday afternoon, some from that section packed up and accused the organizers of neglect and a lack of publicity. They were sure that people would have visited them if only they had been made known.

But in 1983, few of the new youth want to know about the troubles of the 1960s. The Hare Krishnas stood in the streets waving their magazine Wonderful World of Hare Krishna in Australia and their pamphlet Search for Liberation, a Conversation between AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and John Lennon.

To be honest, dear ones, this is all a bit too boring, anti-consumer and not fun. The Coca-Cola stands and the Rock with Tooth beer stand were busier than the meditation center. Healthy foods are out, hedonism is in.

Forget cosmic vibrations and live long and healthy, man. The bomb is allowed to explode and we want to have fun. Robert, a young courier driver who dreams of driving big Macks down highways and who compensates by blasting bikes through the bush, wore a dirty Rose Tattoo T-shirt throughout the three-day rock festival.

“Nothing like rolling around in the dirt for a few days, right?” He grinned. “And get drunk. That’s what I call fun.” He had come to Narara specifically to see the Tatts. But when they took the stage on Sunday night, Robert was unconscious.

Two festival-goers walk through the camp at Narara, February 1, 1983.

Two festival-goers walk through the camp at Narara, February 1, 1983.Credit:Peter Solness

Rock till you drop. Drink ’til we break down Do you have a job and live with your parents? Drive your Campavan to Narara and spend your money. Don’t have a job and don’t know exactly where you live? Still, drive someone else’s Mazda to Narara.

Concerned about the nuclear arms race? Then get stoned. Afraid of unemployment? Then drink. I mean, who remembers Joan Baez and who cares about rebelling? Let’s cook, let’s eat, let’s sleep, let’s work sings Mental As Anything.

In Narara, everyone behaved obediently. They hardly needed the guards with their batons and the occasional gun. Even at the mud hole there were people in bathing suits.

This isn’t Woodstock. The year is 1983. “Young people are fine here,” stated Minister for Sports, Recreation and Tourism, Michael Geary, from the fenced VIP area. Narara, as some participants explained at the beginning of the festival, is Aborigines for Woodstock. By the end of the festival, the meaning was clearer and more timely: Narara, it was said, was Aboriginal for money.

Money. Michael Cleary and Secretary of State for Youth and Community Services, Frank Walker, made a cursory visit, ostensibly to point out the fine caliber of youth who, due to unemployment or pessimism or a general disinterest in ideals, drank and smoked and broke down to have fun, in contrast to the 1960s generation who had enough hope to rebel and pose a threat to the state.

Music fan Richard Orr has a drink at the festival.

Music fan Richard Orr has a drink at the festival.Credit:Peter Solness

‘There’s nothing wrong with the youth here’ Old Sydney Town was a financial flop for the NSW Government and Westpac, who own it. Michael Cleary was quick to estimate that Old Sydney Town would make $70,000 from cutting the food and drink stalls.

He had come to Narara with Kevin Jacobsen, entrepreneur, brother of Col Joye and board member of Old Sydney Town. He didn’t stay long. He flew back to go to the Miracle Mile drawing at Harold Park Paceway.

“I have Col Joye on my side now, I have to keep Edgley on my side tonight,” he said. When asked what plainclothes police would do to trace the sources of the marijuana smoke plumes, Mr. Cleary urged the media to report anyone they suspected of using the drug. For perhaps obscure reasons, the media were unable to do so. The media had their fun too.

The alternative lifestyle area didn’t need any visitors. His work was done years ago, leaving a tattered facade of his goals — sarongs, bongs, smoking marijuana, and free love, as it used to be called — in the adolescence of 1983.

The Radiators sang I wish I was seventeen again. As the Goanna Band appeared on stage, a Goanna (“Very cosmic,” said a TV reporter) rippled over the leaves in the gutter near the stage. Stands selling bongs sold well. “It Can! Hash, Stash, Cash presents Australia’s widest range of security cans” – cans that look like beer or soda cans but unscrew to reveal a handy compartment for storage.

The alternatives left no passion for vegetarianism in the new youth. Roadies in karate school t-shirts and bulging muscles the size of watermelons attacked their $7.50 steaks around the VIP compound as far as their heads – which were throbbing on stocky, neckless bodies – would physically allow. The thought of vegetarianism troubled young Robert. “God,” he said of vegetarians. “You would do anything not to have fun, right?”

The security guard who had been to Tanelorn and didn’t like it grinned happily: ‘All I wanted was a meat pie and tomato sauce.’ Aah, that all Aussie feeling this Australia Day weekend of craving some meat. With tomato sauce.

In Tanelorn, in 1981, experiencing the death throes of the previous decade of love, peace and happiness, bean sprouts had been dominant. Narara had modern satay with noodles, falafel buns, meat pies, Coca-Cola, hamburgers, fries, hot dogs – everything any Aussie could want.

The security guard noticed his meter-long baton. “It gets pretty lonely up here at night when you’re on your own and 30 bikers want to know what’s going on,” he says.

It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘nnn’ ro-olll. For the first time, a major rock festival didn’t need overseas acts to draw crowds.

Wrapped in Australian flags, the kids, mostly aged 18-24, were enthralled by Cold Chisel, the Angels, Australian Crawl and Rose Tattoo. International stars Men At Work put on a boring performance that impressed few.

Aided by excellent lighting and megawatts of sound from Jands Concert Productions (the owner, Eric Robinson, was an investor in Narara; he is also the husband of Narara publicist Patti Mostyn), nearly all acts were a highlight, indicative of the predominance of the Australian rock music.

It is a long way
If you want
Rock ‘nnn’ ro-olll.

While Jon English was performing, it was rumored around the VIP grounds that he and his record label, Polygram, may have split. Polygram has signed TV soapie actor Mark Holden.

Sean Conway of the Gold Coast sells souvenir T-shirts at the festival on January 30, 1983.

Sean Conway of the Gold Coast sells souvenir T-shirts at the festival on January 30, 1983.Credit:Nigel McNeil

It’s a long way to the top. . . Jon English’s manager is Peter Rix, one of the nine investors in the $950,000 Narara ’83. Most of the bands booked for Narara are promoters and investors in the festival with the Harbor Agency, owned by Michael Chugg. While Men at Work earned an estimated $30,000 for their performance, others such as the Hoodoo Gurus and the Hitmen were paid $200 and $250, respectively. It’s a long way to the top.

The groupies, wives and girlfriends who specialize in good looks and the sounds of silence sat passively around their bands. Rock is a man’s world. Where are you, Carmel Niland?

A camera crew and reporter from TCN 9 were abused by certain heavyweights and there was a moment when it seemed their filming of the event would end with a camera smash. The abuse was sparked when the reporter asked for a backstage pass to film Men at Work. He had also stupidly complained about the lack of information for the media.

A 2MMM-FM employee performed a beautiful imitation of a gorilla when The Herald, after receiving permission, used the Narara phone in the radio station’s trailer. Where are you Malcolm McLaren? Rock macho naivety and megalomania were in full swing.

It’s a long way to the top. Elton John got his record label Polygram to pay $600 for a luxury caravan, invited 15 people to fly up in TCN 9 helicopters and promptly decided he would prefer Sydney Harbor to see Mental As Anything. His good friend, Ian (Molly) Meldrum, showed up and found the trailer quite comfortable.

“There’s no bad vibes here at all,” said Michael Chugg. “For me, it’s a reward for being in the business for so long. The general atmosphere in the audience is good. Everyone is so impressed with the way everything is organized.”

On the VIP grounds, the VIPs sat under Tooth Sydney Draft (“We’re here for our beer”) umbrellas that shaded the white faux-plastic cast-iron patio furniture and drank $10 bottles of Rosemont Chardonnay and $35 bottles Moet et Chandon. “It’s a good proletarian holiday,” quipped a record company employee. Another stated he would be putting on his next beer.


Out in the real world, with 300 portable toilets and crowds of between 40,000 and 60,000, the end of the night often meant an unconscious spreading eagle on the cold ground, strapped feet exposed to the night and surrounded by trash.

It was the audience that forgets toothbrushes but remembered to pack the meds have fun. Being unconscious was a tribute to the excellence that, in Australian macho rock terms, is done every day in Narara. The morning after in Narara

Callan Tansill

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