|Dates 12 to 23 May 1973|
Years active 1971, 1973
|Location(s) Canberra, Nimbin|
|Founded by Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan|
The Aquarius Festival was a counter-cultural arts and music festival organised by the Australian Union of Students. It was the fourth in a biannual series of festivals, first organised by the National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS). The First Australian Universities Arts Festival was held in Sydney in 1967, and the Second Australian Universities Arts Festival was held in Melbourne in 1969. The third added "Aquarius" to its name and was held in Canberra in 1971. The fourth and last was held in Nimbin, New South Wales in 1973.
The Aquarius Festival aimed to celebrate alternative thinking and sustainable lifestyles. The ten-day event was held from 12 to 23 May 1973 and co-directed by Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan. Vernon Treweeke also played a part in organising the event. It is often described as Australia's equivalent to the Woodstock Festival and the birthplace for Australia's hippie movement. Estimated turn-up at Nimbin was from 5,000 to 10,000 people.
Performers at the festival included the White Company - an experimental Theatre Troupe featuring a number of alternative culture artists including Peter Carolan - singer Paul Joseph, Donny McCormack (ex-Nutwood Rug Band), The Larrikins and Ian Farr. Also appearing were the South African pianist Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim), and tightrope walker and unicyclist Philippe Petit, who gained worldwide fame the following year by walking between the rooftops of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.
The festival had a permanent effect on the economy of Nimbin, as many Festival participants decided to remain in the district The area was previously a dairying and banana growing region in severe decline. Some of those that stayed might be defined as hippies, but in fact the larger percentage came from all sorts of backgrounds and life experience, ranging from 18 to 80.
One group pooled resources after the Nimbin Aquarius Festival and bought a then 500-hectare (1,200-acre) property at Tuntable Falls in the next valley east, below Mount Nardi, and formed a community called the "Co-Ordination Co-Operative". Other groups followed suit and formed communes that continue today. Examples include Paradise Valley Pastoral Company and Nmbngee.
While "Multiple Occupancy" was basically a cheap housing alternative, there were some self-described spiritual communities that shared particular values, like Bodhi Farm and Darmananda, but they tended to be closer to the neighbouring The Channon and Terania Creek than Nimbin.
Mullumbimby and Byron Bay attracted more of the moneyed "New Age" people, while Nimbin attracted impecunious wanderers and back-packers. Within a decade the "Aquarians" were outnumbered by the continuing flow of disaffected urbanites and tree-changers coming into the area.
At the 10th anniversary of the Aquarius Festival, the Australian Association of Sustainable Communities (AASC) was formed.