In 1974, Queen travelled to Australia to perform at the Sunbury Pop Festival in Victoria. Conceived as Australia’s version of Woodstock, the event would signal the end of the hippie era in the country and the rise of pub rock. It was designed to showcase the best acts from Australia’s music scene and formed part of the patriotic celebrations for Australia Day. However, by 1974, Sunbury Festival founders John Fowler and Jim McKay were introducing international acts to the lineup, many of whom recieved a surprisingly chilly response from an audience used to baking in 40-degree heat.
By 1974, after years of relentless gigging, Queen were finally beginning to develop a substantial fanbase. After the success of their debut album, they started work on their follow-up, Queen II, in August of 1973. With hitherto unseen amounts of studio time now available to them, Queen set about crafting complex and multi-layered recordings such as ‘Procession’ and ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’. Emerging from the studio bleary-eyed, Mercury and company embarked on a tour of the UK with Mott The Hoople, a collaboration that saw Queen play some of their biggest shows to date.
Unfortunately, in Australia Queen were still a relatively unknown act. The first Sunbury Festival took place in 1972 and had developed a reputation for offering Australian music for Australian people. Indeed, that first year featured an all-Australian lineup. By 1974, the founders were keen to book international acts to pull in bigger crowds, settling on Queen despite their modest Australian following. Far from being wowed by the presence of the rising UK group, the audience was angry that the festival’s patriotic roots were being undermined.
Throughout their set, Queen were taunted by the embittered crowd. It didn’t help that they’d arrived late and kept their audience waiting. With screams of “go back to Pommyland, ya pooftahs” bouncing all around, Queen managed to finish their set without being bottled to death. On leaving the stage. Freddie Mercury apparently declared: “When we come back to Australia, Queen will be the biggest band in the world!” Queen returned to Australia in 1975, by which time they were indeed one of the biggest acts in the world.
Queen weren’t the only act to feel the rage of the Sunbury crowd. The following year, in 1975, the rain-soaked audience booed off Australia’s own Skyhooks. That same year British heavy metallers Deep Purple headlined. Their presence didn’t sit well with ACDC, whose roadies got into a fight with Deep Purple’s crew backstage. It was the beginning of the end. Unable to pay their acts, Sunbury fell apart, leaving Deep Purple – the only act to be paid – to place money into a fund so that unpaid artists recieved the correct rate.