How Wollongong Built One Of Australia's Best Music Festivals From Scratch
Five years ago, Yours And Owls was a tiny cafe in Wollongong. Last weekend, 10,000 people gathered in a huge park with some of Australia's biggest bands for one of the country's most popular new festivals.
It has been an astronomical growth for the Illawarra-based collective that started out with a coffee shop in what was then a dilapidated end of Wollongong's CBD.
In a region where music venues -- or any entertainment outside DJs in crowded nightclubs -- were hard to come by, the Yours and Owls brand was an instant hit with the young population of the growing university town.
The fifth installment of the group's outdoor festival, held on the September long weekend, hosted some of Australia's biggest acts, with headliners including Peking Duk, Angus and Julia Stone, and Alison Wonderland.
The event, which started as a tiny (and, to be blunt, slightly shambolic) one-stage party and has bloomed into a two-day multi-stage extravaganza, was a showcase and celebration of everything creative happening in the region, from music to art, food and fashion.
It was also a sign of just how much this festival, and the people behind it, mean to the music scene of the Illawarra.
"It's one of the highlights of Wollongong for the year, to see everyone come together," said Jonathan Tooke, a prolific Wollongong guitarist who played in a staggering four bands across the weekend -- Cry Club, Enter The Jaguar, Basil's Kite and the Jack R Reilly band.
"The idea there is a festival like this, supporting local bands like they do, is absolutely wild. You could not have predicted 10 years ago that we would be here."
Around 70 acts were booked for the festival. Alongside Angus and Julia, Methyl Ethel, The Jungle Giants and local heroes Hockey Dad, another 25 Illawarra bands were scattered around the various stages -- including the Rad Bar stage, a dedicated small stage named for a local venue that hosts bands almost every night of the week (and took over the space vacated by the former Yours and Owls cafe).
"I think it's very empowering for local acts," said Jack R Reilly, a former Wollongong resident who still plays locally often.
"We're sharing bills with bands that are really well-established and quite popular."
Hockey Dad, the monumentally popular two-piece surf rock band who had their first ever gig at Yours and Owls but just recently entirely sold out a national tour playing some of the country's biggest venues, have a long history with the festival.
They played the very first one in 2014, which helped catapult them to their current fame.
They still live "just down the road" in the southern suburb of Windang -- when they're not touring America or Europe, that is -- and said they had been itching to get home and play the festival.
Both members said the team behind the festival had been key in kickstarting a quiet music scene and turning it into a real powerhouse of the Australian cultural calendar.
"It went from literally a backyard tent to this. It's incredible, it's such an insane scene to be part of," drummer Billy Fleming said.
"The Gong has been put on the map more for touring bands... it's the tenacity of local shitkickers," laughed guitarist Zach Stephenson.
"It has exploded now."