Deb Sweeney was among the crowds at the 1975 Sunbury Rock festival. Photo / Sunbury Life.

Dream comes true for rock festival fan

News that a pop festival is to be held to celebrate Sunbury’s iconic open air rock concerts of the 1970s was a dream come true for Deb Sweeney. She was at the 1975 concert and has spent the past 12 years lobbying Hume City Council to celebrate the shows that put Sunbury on the rock map.

However, when the council announced that Sunbury’s Festival ’24 would be held on Saturday 13 April, Mrs Sweeney couldn’t believe it. It is her husband Rick’s 60th birthday, and he had plans for a big party.

“He said he wasn’t going to miss his own birthday party,” says Mrs Sweeney. “He refused to budge on that. I pleaded with organisers to change the date – they couldn’t.”

Thankfully, after a few days Rick came around and changed the date of his party.

“Now we’re looking forward to the festival. I’m so happy,” she says.

Calls to recreate the iconic music festivals that rocked Sunbury from 1972 to 1975 have come from many quarters over the years, but one of the strongest voices calling to celebrate the halcyon days of Australian rock music festivals is that of Mrs Sweeney.

“A lot of people think of me as the catalyst for this festival, and I probably am,” she says.

“For the last ten to twelve years I’ve been emailing, ringing, attending consultation meetings with Hume Council, trying to get the Sunbury rock festivals recognised, and wanting a museum or something to remember them.

“Some of Sunbury’s councillors listened to me. They would say ‘yeah, I know what you mean’. But I never seemed to get any results. I’d give up for a bit, then get back on the bandwagon to push for it again.”

However, the tide turned when Mrs Sweeney, 65, of Elizabeth Dr, got a call from the council’s events team in 2021 saying they wanted to put on an exhibition of Sunbury rock festival memorabilia.

“I was beyond happy,” says Mrs Sweeney. “I was so excited. Council staff came to my house and I told them all about the festivals. I gave them my festival contacts, and showed them my memorabilia.”

Deb Sweeney, Sunbury rock festival memorabila collector. Photo / Sunbury Life.

The exhibition was held at Sunbury’s Global Learning Centre in March 2022, and featured a discussion night as well as a showing of the Sunbury ’72 movie (see bottom). The festivals’ stage manager, Adrian Anderson, then exhibited his collection of 1970s T-shirts.

Last year Mrs Sweeney got an another call from the council’s events team. This time they wanted to talk about a concert.

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Remembering Sunbury’s rock festivals with Deb Sweeney

“They told me they wanted to put on a festival, a celebration, to remember the fiftieth anniversary of the Sunbury festivals,” she says. “The fiftieth anniversary of the final festival in 1975 is next year, but I’m not complaining. I feel that one thing has led to another, and now we have a festival to enjoy.”

Mrs Sweeney was a teenager when she got a ticket to the 1975 festival.

“I was supposed to be staying at a girlfriend’s place,” she says. “I went with my boyfriend and there were six of us in a three-man tent and we forgot the fly.

“Rain poured down that year, we were just soaked. Every time someone moved in the tent the water came in. But it wasn’t raining the whole time luckily. I hardly had any sleep, I was so tired.

“I was really into Sherbet, and I really did try to stay awake as they were playing very late or very early in the morning. In the end I was standing there, right up against the fence at the front and felt like I would collapse through extreme tiredness, so went off to get some sleep and missed my favourite band.”

Mrs Sweeney remembers seeing Deep Purple playing Storm Bringer.

“And that’s how it went – heavy rain and storms,” she says. “I returned to the tent with my ears ringing. They were ringing for about three days, I think it gave me permanent damage in my left ear.”

Mrs Sweeney also says she was blown away by Thorpe.

“I felt so mesmerised with his performance, it was like being in another world,” she says. “He sang Ooh Poo Pah Doo. It just felt like you were at a massive party with all your friends.

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“We were all on the same wavelength, just enjoying this magnificent togetherness and joining in with the echoes of Thorpie. It was such an etherial experience and my very favourite memory of Sunbury.”

In 2008 Mrs Sweeney set up the Sunbury Festival Facebook group to share her memories on 1975, and to give other concert goers a place to share their experiences. Friend Mark Belcher helps as the site’s co-admin. The site has grown from a handful of die-hard festival fans to more than 6,500 members.

In 2015 Mrs Sweeney was involved in a re-union of the concerts’ organisers and put on a display for that year’s SunFest. She met lighting technician Peter Evans, one of the original organisers of the festivals, who went on to write Sunbury – Australia’s Greatest Rock Festival – which features an interview with Mrs Sweeney.

Turning to the Saturday 13 April festival at The Nook, Mrs Sweeney hopes those attending the ticketed event (now sold out) will enjoy the experience and get a real flavour of what it was like in the seventies.

Deb Sweeney with fellow Sunbury Festival fan Mark Belcher. Photo / Sunbury Life.

A Sunbury rock festival memorabilia display is to be held at the Sunbury Global Learning Centre (free entry) that will coincide with the Sunbury 24 event.

The 1972 Sunbury Rock festival movie…

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