A Brief History of Australian Rock Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Whether you’re a fan of Australian rock music or not, there’s no denying that it’s had a major impact on the music scene both domestically and internationally. In this blog post, we take a look at the history of Australian rock music, from its early beginnings to its current state.

Pre-history: Australian rock music before the 1950s

Rock music in Australia has its origins in the United States and United Kingdom. The first Australian rock and rollers were offences against decency, playing cover versions of American and British songs with an emphasis on wildness and rowdiness, rather than musicality. These local covers were often poorly received by music purists, who were more interested in jazz.

Australian rock and roll began to come into its own in the late 1950s, with the advent of local talent such as Johnny O’Keefe, Colin Cook, Lonnie Lee and Vince Jones. Johnny O’Keefe is often credited as being the first true Australian rock star, and his records were hugely popular with teenage audiences. By the early 1960s, however, British Invasion bands such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones had begun to eclipse Australian acts on the charts.

The 1950s: The birth of Australian rock music

In the 1950s, Australia saw the birth of rock music. The first Australian rock and roll song was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, which was released in 1955. The first Australian band to have a hit with an original song was The Caribees with “Down the Line”, which reached the top 10 in 1957. Early Australian rock and roll bands such as Col Joye & The Joy Boys, The Delltones, Dig Richards & The R’Jays, and Johnny O’Keefe & The Dee-Jays were heavily influenced by American artists such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry.

The 1960s: Australian rock goes global
The 1960s were a golden age for Australian rock music. Bands such as The Easybeats, Bee Gees, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Johnny Cash, and Lobby Loyde & Wild thing became international stars. In 1964, The Easybeats had a global hit with their song “Friday on My Mind”, which was written by George Young (who would go on to be a member of AC/DC). Other Australian bands that found success internationally in the 1960s included Cream (with singer-songwriter Geoff Mudie), Led Zeppelin (with singer-songwriter Jimmy Page), and Black Sabbath (with singer-songwriter Ozzy Osbourne).

The 1970s: Glam rock and pub rock
In the early 1970s, glam rock bands such as Sherbet and Skyhooks dominated the Australian charts with their catchy pop songs and flamboyant stage costumes. Glam rock was followed by pub rock, a rawer form of rock music that was played in pubs and clubs rather than stadiums or arenas. Bands such as Daddy Cool, Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, Radio Birdman, Rose Tattoo and AC/DC (with singer Bon Scott) epitomised this new style of music.

The 1980s: Indie rock and electronic music
In the 1980s, there was a shift away from stadium-filling bands towards more independent or “indie” acts. Groups such as Hunters & Collectors, Midnight Oil, INXS (with singer Michael Hutchence) and Crowded House achieved both commercial success and critical acclaim with their unique blend of rock music and social commentary. Electronic dance music also began to make its mark on Australia in the 1980s with bands such as Yothu Yindi (with Aboriginal rapper Mandawuy Yunupingu) fusing traditional sounds with modern beats.

The 1990s onwards: Grunge and beyond
Australian music in the 1990s was dominated by grunge bands such as Nirvana (with Kurt Cobain), Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. At the same time, electronic dance music continued to evolve with artists such as Fatboy Slim finding worldwide popularity. In more recent years, indie bands such as Tame Impala and alt-J have brought new sounds to Australia’s musical landscape while artists like Sia (from Adelaide) have found success internationally

The 1960s: The golden age of Australian rock music

The 1960s were the golden age of Australian rock music. Bands such as The Easybeats, The Seekers, and The Bee Gees found huge success both domestically and internationally. This was a time of great creativity and experimentation, with new musical styles and genres being developed all the time.

The 1970s saw the rise of pub rock, a raw and energetic style of music that was perfect for live performances. Bands such as Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel gained a large following both in Australia and abroad. This was also the decade that saw the birth of Australian punk rock, with groups like The Saints and Radio Birdman leading the way.

The 1980s were a more commercialised time for Australian rock music, with pop-rock bands like INXS and Men at Work finding massive success both at home and overseas. However, there was still plenty of room for more experimental styles of music, with artists like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds achieving cult status with their dark and atmospheric sound.

The 1990s saw a return to more traditional songwriting in Australian rock music, with bands like You Am I and Silverchair finding huge success both domestically and internationally. This decade also saw the rise of electronic music in Australia, with acts like The Avalanches and Fatboy Slim becoming globalstars.

The 1970s: Australian rock music goes global

The 1970s was a golden era for Australian rock music. Australia’s pub rock scene was thriving, and many local bands were achieving success both domestically and internationally. Some of the most popular Australian rock bands of the 1970s included AC/DC, Cold Chisel, The Angels, Skyhooks and Midnight Oil.

During this decade, Australian rock music really came into its own and started to develop its own unique sound and identity. Australian bands often had a rawer, more aggressive sound than their British or American counterparts, and this helped them to stand out in the global rock music scene.

AC/DC were one of the first Australian bands to find international success in the 1970s. Their debut album ‘High Voltage’ was released in 1975 and was an instant success. It reached #1 on the Australian charts and #5 on the UK charts, cementing AC/DC’s status as a top-tier rock band. They would go on to have even more success in the 1980s with albums like ‘Back in Black’ and ‘For Those About to Rock We Salute You’, becoming one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

Other Australian bands that found international success in the 1970s include Cold Chisel, whose album ‘East’ was a huge hit both in Australia and overseas, and The Angels, whose song ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?’ became an instant classic.

The 1970s saw Australian rock music start to make its mark on the global stage. This was a decade of great innovation and creativity for Australian musicians, which laid the foundations for continued success in the decades that followed.

The 1980s: Australian rock music in the 1980s

In the 1980s, Australian rock music saw the rise of a number of successful bands and artists. Groups such as Men at Work, Midnight Oil, and INXS achieved international success, while other Australian acts such as Australian Crawl and Hunters & Collectors also found audiences both at home and abroad. The 1980s was also a period of great experimentation in Australian rock, with a number of artists blending different genres to create unique sounds.

The 1990s: Australian rock music in the 1990s

The 1990s saw a significant change in the sound of Australian rock music, with the rise of grunge and alternative rock. Bands such as Silverchair, You Am I and Powderfinger emerged in this period, achieving mainstream success both in Australia and internationally. The 1990s also saw the formation of some of Australia’s most successful independent record labels, such as Ivy League Records and Elefant Traks.

The 2000s: Australian rock music in the 2000s

In the early 2000s, Australian rock music was still largely influenced by British and American trends. However, there was a growing domestic scene, with bands such as Silverchair, Powderfinger and You Am I achieving mainstream success. The popularity of these bands helped to pave the way for a new wave of Australian talent in the latter part of the decade.

The early 2000s also saw the rise of a number of indie and alternative bands, such as The Vines, Jet and The Sleepy Jackson. These bands found success both in Australia and abroad, with The Vines’ debut album ‘Highly Evolved’ going to number one in the UK.

The late 2000s saw a resurgence in popularity for hard rock and metal music in Australia. Bands such as Airbourne and Parkway Drive found success with audiences both at home and overseas. This new wave of hard rock bands has continued to be successful in the 2010s, with both Airbourne and Parkway Drive releasing chart-topping albums.

The 2010s: Australian rock music in the 2010s

In the 2010s, Australian rock music continued to enjoy popularity both at home and abroad. Bands such as Tame Impala, Violent Soho, and Royal Blood found success with their mix of psychedelic rock, garage rock, and alternative rock. At the same time, newer artists like Gang of Youths and harasser began to experiment with different sounds, incorporating elements of punk, electro-pop, and indie-rock into their music. While some traditionalist fans criticized this evolution of the genre, it ultimately helped to keep Australian rock music fresh and relevant in the minds of listeners both old and young.

The future of Australian rock music

The future of Australian rock music is unclear. The genre has been in decline since the mid-1990s, and many believe that it will continue to decline in popularity. There are several reasons for this belief, including the fact that many of the most popular Australian rock bands of the past few decades, such as INXS and Midnight Oil, have disbanded or retired. Additionally, younger generations of Australians are more likely to listen to other genres of music, such as pop and hip-hop.

That said, there are still a number of Australian rock bands that are popular both in Australia and internationally. These include AC/DC, Silverchair, and Jet. Additionally, newer bands such as The foo Fighters and Tame Impala have found success both in Australia and overseas. It is possible that these bands will help to revitalize the genre and ensure its continued popularity into the future. Only time will tell.


And so, we come to the end of our brief history of Australian rock music. We’ve looked at the origins of the genre, its golden years in the 1960s and 1970s, and its decline in the 1980s. But despite falling out of fashion in recent decades, Australian rock music is still alive and well, with a new generation of bands keeping the flame burning. So next time you’re in need of a dose of Aussie rock, don’t forget to give it a listen.

Similar Posts