Northern Tablelands 3: Industrial Factors [1970-1990]

The Australia pub rock era is generally regarded as occurring between the early 1970s and the mid-late 1980s. During that period a strong music scene emerged in the Northern Tablelands. This page provides an historical insight into the industrial, political, administrative, socio-cultural and musical influences that impacted on the region prior to and during that era.


1.   The Tertiary Education Factor
2.   University of New England Colleges (Overview)
3.   Hotels, Clubs and the Birth of the Pub Rock Era
4.   Cafes, Restaurants and Community Centres
5.   Bush, Folk and Traditional Music
6.   Further Reference


1. The Tertiary Education Factor

During the 1960s, the Menzies Liberal Government encouraged and funded the establishment of new universities to cater for increasing demand. These universities were built in outlying suburbs and offered special scholarships to encourage students to undertake postgraduate research studies. In 1967, the Government also created a category of non-university tertiary institution called College of Advanced Education. These CAEs were easier to access and cheaper to attend than the traditional university, while delivering many university-equivalent Bachelor degrees.

The 1970s saw a significant push to make tertiary education in Australia more accessible to working and middle class Australians. While the Whitlam Labor Government abolished university fees in 1974, this did not greatly change the socio-economic backgrounds of students attending capital city-based universities because 75-80% of students were on Commonwealth scholarships anyway, and most youths from low income families were still disadvantaged because they were not completing secondary education.

What the combined university and CAE presence in Armidale did was provide an option for a larger number of young people to stay on in the area after school. Most other regional towns to that time saw significant numbers of young locals leave either for tertiary education or wider employment opportunities. As the University expanded its courses and facilities throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, there was also a rise in the number of new families moving to the city. The result was that for the Armidale music scene the considerably high percentage of young people looking for entertainment (and primarily musical entertainment) was much greater than any other regional centre.


2. University of New England Colleges

[Colleges are given individual entries in the Industry section of this archive]

While by no means a regular source of employment within the Armidale and Northern Tablelands’ music industry during the 1970s and 1980s, most of the student colleges at the University of New England nevertheless offered some opportunities throughout the year for both local and non-local bands. Collectively Austin, Drummond, Duval, Earle Page, Mary White, Robb, St Alberts and Wright could account for at least a dozen or more balls or dances each year. Each event was also invariably well-paid gigs, and hence highly prized. Each of the colleges is still in operation except Wright.

Whether local bands were given an opportunity typically depended on the social committee management and the quality of the local bands at that particular time. While UNE bands (e.g. Bogislav, ca. 1970-1972) could always count on getting support from the college body, Armidale bands from the mid-late 1970s like Ukiah and Kelsey were also popular with students, having proved themselves through regular gigs at the Bistro or at one of the venues in town. Even Cold Chisel are believed to have played a college dance while residing in the area in 1975 (held at the Therley Research Station). One of the biggest events on the 1983 Armidale music calendar was held at Wright College, when Shoot the DJ headlined the 3 Bands 4 $3 concert (the other bands being The Zip and Dinosaurs from China).

Image: Neucleus 9 June (1976), p. 22.

3. Hotels, Clubs and the Birth of the Pub Rock Era

Prior to the mid-1950s most regional hotels (or pubs) had no real need or desire to offer live entertainment, and certainly not on a regular basis. While the abolition of six o’clock closing in NSW in 1955, and a rise in affluence throughout the general population should have allowed the industry to grow, the introduction of legal poker machines in clubs beginning in 1956 meant that pubs found it increasingly difficult to match the facilities offered to club members. Up until the late 1970s, too, pubs in NSW (unlike licensed clubs) could not trade on Sundays. The only way around this law was for people to travel more than 40 miles. For thirsty Armidalians the Bendemeer Hotel, 42 miles south along the New England Highway, was a favourite destination for a drive during those years. The increasing number of new clubs, along with a rapid spread of motels and takeaway liquor outlets, further eroded the pub’s domination of both liquor sales and accommodation.

The restrictive state liquor licensing laws (including closing times that ranged between 10pm and midnight) meant that only a small proportion of live pop-rock music in Australia was performed on licensed premises (mostly private clubs or discos). The majority of concerts were held in non-licensed venues like community, church or municipal halls. These concerts and dances were ‘all-ages’ events—often with adult supervision—and alcohol was not served. The problem of suitable venues was exacerbated because Australian clubs, while more suitable in terms of licensing laws, were mostly non-committal when it came to rock music, preferring to cater to the middle of the road tastes of its members.

The 'Newie' 1978
The New England Hotel, Armidale (1978)

The 1960s and 1970s therefore saw a shake-out in the hotel industry. While some hoteliers sought to compete with the clubs by offering classier and more family-orientated venues, others focused their attention towards the continually expanding youth market. In addition to this, pub opening hours were extended, discriminatory regulations (such as the long-standing ban on women entering or drinking in public bars) were removed, and in the 1970s the legal drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18.


Imperial Hotel, Armidale (1970s)

As publicans began to realise the profit potential, more and more pubs in capital cities and major towns began to offer regular live music, and a thriving circuit evolved. This enabled bands to tour up and down the eastern and southern coast of Australia from North Queensland to South Australia. As a result the pub rock era was born. Some of Australia and New Zealand’s most successful bands emerged during this time, including AC/DC, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Cold Chisel, Skyhooks, Sherbet, Dragon, Split Enz, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, The Angels, The Radiators, INXS, Icehouse, Rose Tattoo, Hush, Midnight Oil and so on.

The pub rock phenomenon eventually caused the clubs to feel the financial pinch as that industry failed to attract young people and hence numbers began to fall. However, when poker machines were eventually allowed in pubs, many hoteliers saw this as an easier option to live music. As the pub rock industry gradually contracted, and commercial pressures were applied to up and coming bands to play mostly cover songs, the end result was that more and more bands were competing for fewer venues. The electronic dance movement in Australia had also by the mid-1990s taken many patrons away from pubs and into either night clubs or raves, further eroding the industry, and thus signalling the end of the pub rock era.

One aspect of the rise of the Australian pub rock industry which is often overlooked is the issue of racism, in this respect the policy of some hotels (especially in regional centres) to deny Aboriginal people entry, or allow them entry only to certain areas. While racism, or at least ignorance of the Aboriginal population and basic human right, was certainly present in a city like Armidale, and even within the supposedly ‘educated’ university sector, a shift towards non-racist attitudes can be seen to have been gaining gradual momentum – noticeable in the pages of Neucleus. Pockets of resistance within the business community still continued to exert racist policies, however, right through the 1970s. This issue was brought to the attention of the Armidale public, however, through a student expose in late 1975. Two UNE students, Julian Type and Glen R. Druitt published an article in Neucleus after having observed two young Aboriginal had being asked to move to a back bar by Tattersall’s Hotel management. In their article, “Saga of a Pub Crawl,” Type and Druitt write of their subsequent experiment the following week whereby they observed the treatment of these two men in every Armidale hotel (see copy of the original article in the attached PDF file). While many of these establishments were implicated, Tattersall’s was singled out by UNE students and subsequently boycotted. Whether or not this incident played a part in the change of management a few months later is unclear.

Sources: “The Drinkingman’s Guide to Armidale” Neucleus 23 Sept. (1970), p. 10 • Julian Type and Glen R. Druitt. “Saga of a Pub Crawl.” Neucleus 7 Oct. (1975), p. 4. Images: Imperial Hotel photo by Roy Evans, courtesy of Journal and Proceedings (Armidale and District Historical Society) 11 (1968), p. 36. • New England Hotel photo from Neucleus 13 Sept. (1978), p. 23.



4. Cafes, Restaurants, Community Centres and Schools

While the hotel and club industry was the primary employer of local rock bands throughout the Northern Tablelands during the 1970s and 1980s, many other opportunities were available to musicians outside the pub environment. Cafes, restaurants and small community-based centres also became viable venues for solo performers and small ensembles (both acoustic and electric) from the early 1970s onwards. Although increasing competition in Armidale’s hospitality industry, for example, led many businesses to put on regular entertainment sessions as a means of attracting custom (especially in the lucrative youth and student demographic), there were also a number of community and service organisations which saw value in providing a performance space in order to encourage fellowship if not just a place for young people to hang out.


Cafes, Restaurants and Wine Bars: The range of alternative music venues in Armidale during the 1970s ranged from places like The Coffee House (which encouraged such free activities as jam sessions, songwriting competitions and bush music weekends) to wine bar/bistro-type establishments such as The Galloping Grape (which regularly employed musicians to entertain its customers – with the music ranging from lounge-style piano bar music to low volume bands playing traditional bush music and jazz). Other opportunities for musicians could be found in small cafe/ restaurants like the Peter Rabbit Teahouse (Centrepoint Arcade), while the 7 Brothers Greek restaurant, owned and operated by the Rologas family, employed its own house band to entertain patrons (up to five nights a week during the mid-late 1970s). In 1979 the 7 Brothers even began operating an occasional disco in its upstairs function room. Another local institution, the Umberumerka Art Gallery Restaurant, situated on Rockvale Road a few kilometres outside the city limits, also provided occasional employment opportunities.

In the 1980s, as Armidale grew exponentially as a result of increasing student numbers, the number of local businesses offering entertainment also increased. One of the key establishments operating between 1987 and 1988 was Clayz Kitchen, which attracted a largely student/youth patronage. In addition to cheap food and beverages (with a focus on international and vegetarian cuisines), the cafe/restaurant provided regular entertainment on weekends and throughout the week. In addition being a venue for musicians and small ensembles Clayz was regularly used by the University of New England’s Film Club (Duck Soup) and its drama society. The 1987 Australian Jazz Festival, which was held in Armidale between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, also turned Clayz into an almost 24 hour venue during that week.

Community Halls and Centres: Another type of venue that supported the music industry during the pub rock era was the community hall or community centre. A number of halls were built by small rural communities that had been established some distance from the major towns as a means of providing a place for social gatherings, weddings, wakes etc. Armidale’s nearby communities, for example, included Puddledock, Kelly’s Plains and Dangarsleigh. Demand for these halls increased during the late 1970s as bands, welfare groups and people from the closest major town began using the venues as an alternative to those available in town. One reason for their popularity, aside from the cheaper hire costs, was the noise issue (or lack of it). Where community halls within each town had been used in the past for social events the demand for amplified music in the 1970s meant that places such as the East Armidale Hall (Mann Street), for example, were no longer viable options. While the rural community hall was popular in the 1970s and early 1980s, the distance became an issue after the introduction of Random Breath testing. The problem of intoxicated patrons also led to some communities banning non-local events due to increasing prevalence of damage to the buildings.

In addition to community halls, many of the Northern Tablelands towns provided music performance spaces through local charity, churches or social welfare organisations. Armidale’s The Coffee House, for example, was established by the Uniting Church in the early 1970s. Events were also organised through organisations like the Police Boys Club, the Unemployed Workers Union (Armidale) and the Armidale Women’s Refuge.

Schools: One of the most lucrative, though less regular, means of employment for local bands during the 1970s and 1980s were the local high schools. While there was always some competition with disco operators, bands with connections to students in the senior years could invariably influence the decision-making. The events were either school dances (typically staged in either the school’s auditorium or gymnasium) or graduation dances (usually held at a local club or function centre). Three of the more popular venues in Armidale during this era, for example, were the Ex-Services Memorial Club, the Bowling Club and the 7 Brothers.

Duval High School, 1983

Sources: Clay Djubal (2010) • Neucleus (1970-1979). Image: Galloping Grape advertisement, Neucleus 27 Apr. (1976), p. 17 • Shoot the DJ invitation courtesy of Clay Djubal.


5. Bush, Folk and Traditional Music

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Barry McDonald (in collaboration with Catherine and Theresa Nano) undertook research into early bush music in New England and the Northern Tablelands – with their investigation encompassing the area bounded by Tenterfield in the north, Moobi in the south, and from the edge of the Eastern escarpment to western communities such as Inverell and Kingstown. Their findings suggest that the region’s style and sound evolved primary out of the English folk tradition, with a little bit of Scottish, Irish and German influences thrown into the mix. They have traced the origins of traditional bush song and dance performances to the mid-nineteenth century through to the impact of Tin Pan Alley and the popular songs of the 1930s and 1940s , which play a key role in the genre’s further development. McDonald further notes that bush music was class-based. Its popularity was not with the upper levels of society or even with the more affluent populations in the larger towns but rather with rural workers and their families (pp.23-24).

Armidale Bush Band (1976)

The 1970s saw a revival of bush music in Armidale, with this interest coming surprisingly from the university student and general youth culture. The back to roots ideology that saw the hippy sub-culture spread throughout regional Australia at that time was very much aligned with the folk movement of the previous decade (even though many within the hippie movement were also fans of the various rock music music genres then popular). The emergence of the modern bush band movement can be seen as having come about through the popularity of the politically-themed Dick Diamond musical play, Reedy River, first staged at the New Theatre (Melbourne) in 1953. Containing a trade union bite the play introduces audiences to a number of traditional folk songs (and some new ones in the folk tradition) reviving within its story line songs such as “Click Go The Shears,” “Flash Jack From Gundagai,” and “The Old Black Billy.” The production toured widely, with the music originally performed by The Bushwhackers (not to be confused with the 1970s/80s group).

Arguably the most influential bush band of the 1970s was The Bushwackers Band. Founded in 1971 by La Trobe University (Melb) students Dave Isom (guitar), Jan Wositzky (tea-chest bass) and Bert Kahanoff (lagerphone), the group was initially known as The Original Bushwackers and Bullockies Bush Band. Although the instruments and line-up continued to change over the years the band retained the bush music traditions as the core of its repertoire. Among the instruments used by the band have been fiddles, accordion, tin whistle, harmonica, concertina, 5-string banjo, bodhran, bones, acoustic guitar, spoons, drums and electric instruments (electric bass and guitar).

An important factor in the popularity of bush music in Armidale during the 1970s was the political influence of the Socialist Action Movement (S.A.M.). With a relatively large membership at the University of New England, S.A.M. and leading figures like Rod Noble, re-introduced the trade union song tradition into the performances and repertoire, thus helping to impart a overt political edge that found much support at the time. By 1978 the Wicklow and Railway hotels had begun presenting regular folk music sessions, with bush music being well represented. The following year the Armidale Folk Club was established, too, with regular fortnightly entertainments being held at the Wicklow. Other key venues included the Galloping Grape (Armidale), the UNE Bistro, and in Uralla, Thunderbolt’s Inn and the Coachwood and Cedar Hotel-Motel. The 70s also saw numerous bush-style bands coming to Armidale, as well as other Northern tablelands centres. Some bands known to have played in the region were Mulga Bill’s Bicycle Band (1973); The General Store (from Melbourne) aka The Snake Gully General Store, Post Office and Comfort Station Orchestra.

The interest in bush music in the Northern Tablelands does not appear to have abated even by the 1990s. In Glen Innes, for example, the town’s annual Beardies Festival began including a bush band championships from around 1985. This became a separate event in 1990 and was subsequently renamed The Australian Bush Music Festival. Although only running for five years, the Bush Music Festival nevertheless increased its attendance from 425 in the first year to over 15,000 in 1995.  The awards section alone was attracting more than 70 entries by 1992 (See “Glen Innes” q.v. for further details).


The Bushwackers Band (ca. 1977) †

As with many other music genres, bush music is also derived from different traditions and environments, thus creating several sub-genres. Ian Reeve records in this respect that there were several strands of traditional-style music being performed in the Northern Tablelands during the 1970s and 1980s, with some cross fertilisation between them.

According to Reeve, the first strand was the rock-bush music fusion made popular by The Bushwackers. Local bush bands like Paterson’s Curse played a full-on, strongly rhythmic music that was well-accepted by pub rock audiences. Indeed bands playing these two seemingly disparate genres were not uncommonly billed together at fund-raising events, pub gigs and even large-scale concerts like Rock-Fest ’78, which comprised Paterson’s Curse, hard rock band Constable Green and Moore, punk band The Inmates and headline act Stiletto (from Melbourne).

A second strand was the English/Scottish folk tradition. This was most popularly performed in pub lounges and wine bars/bistros etc, and often included individual performances by patrons as well as the musicians engaged. This form of music entertainment was derived substantially from the English/Irish pub singing tradition. One of the key local groups playing this genre was Banish Misfortune. A sub-strand was the small group interested in English Morris Dancing and its music, and they performed in the Armidale Mall a few times, as well as on the Spring Equinox in Central Park.

Another strand was the ‘heritage bush dance’ tradition. While still providing music that could be danced too, this style can be distinguished from the rock-type rhythmic bush music exemplified by The Bushwackers. Heritage bush dance music was all about performing with the three traditional instruments – the concertina, fiddle and accordions – along with other popular, though not as essential instruments like the mouth organ, zither, autoharp, harmonium and (if available at the hall), the piano. Interestingly the guitar was not common in the early bush dance line-up. It began to find favour with bush bands from around the 1970s onwards, and primarily as a means of bringing the music up-to-date. Heritage bush bands also tend to play the type of music that had been popularly performed in the region’s community halls during the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the musicians in the 1970s and 1980s had learned the music from their parents and grandparents. There was also a great deal of attention paid to reproducing the musical styles of the earlier musicians. In this respect the method of playing the fiddle, concertina or accordion was greatly influenced by the need for one musician to provide rhythm for the dancers on an instrument that is inherently melodic rather than rhythmic. The Horton River Band was arguably the best exponent of this strand of music (Reeve, Apr. 2010).

Among the numerous bush bands to form in the Northern Tablelands during the 1970s and 1980s were: The Armidale Bush Band, The Armidale People’s Bush Band, Banish Misfortune, The Boorolong Bush Band, Captain Pugwash, Dusty Dogwood, The Horton River Band, The MacSporran Brothers, Paterson’s Curse, The Ragweed Reelers.

Sources: Clay Djubal (2010) • Barry McDonald, “New England Folk Music” in Journal and Proceedings (Armidale and District Historical Society) 42 (1999), pp. 23-32 • Neucleus (1970-1980) • Ian Reeve (correspondence, Apr. 2010) • Malcolm J. Turnbull, “The History of the Australian Folk Revival” (see details in ‘Further Reference’).






  • Journal and Proceedings (Armidale and District Historical Society Journal (1964-1995)
  • Djubal, Clay. Harry Clay and Clay’s Vaudeville Company – 1865-1925: An Historical and Critical Survey.” MA Thesis, University of Qld, 1997.
  • Neucleus (1970-1994)
  • Turnbull, Malcolm J. “Malcom J. Turnbull Archive” (q.v.). In Warren Faye’s Australian Folklore Unit, 2006.


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Northern Tablelands Music Industry Archive

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