From Conception to RE:Conception
From Conception to RE:Conception


From Conception to RE:Conception

The widely acknowledged father of Conception Day was pioneer alumnus Phil Gibbs (Bachelor of Arts, 1977).

“We had a bit of an inferiority complex back in 1969 because of our moonscape campus and the lack of a student muck-up day to rival UNSW’s Commemoration Day or Sydney’s Foundation Day,” says Gibbs.

According to Gibbs, they looked at different dates to hold a celebratory event, but every official date was at the wrong time – in the holidays, for example.

“We couldn’t use Lachlan Macquarie’s birthday because it fell during exams, but at a drunken party we joked that we could have it nine months earlier and call it Conception Day. Unfortunately, someone got the date wrong and it ended up in September.”


The first Conception Day was a half-day event involving rain, flour fights and a student band on the roof of the union building that upset the academics. Although they weren’t quite as upset as the hardworking students who wanted to spend the day studying – and had the fire hoses turned on them for their lack of festival spirit.

The following year, organisers decided they needed to lift the bar, and the great gnome hunt was initiated on the eve of Conception Day. (See the 2015 edition of Sirius for Dr Brian Spencer’s account of the evening.)

“The gnome hunters exceeded their brief and stole everything not nailed down,” Gibbs reminisces. “In the end, it was a mass heist of garden kitsch. Initially we tried to hide them in the forest, but only their heads stuck out, so we decided they would line the path between the library and the union building. They provided a 1000-strong guard of honour that greeted students for the main event.”

Gibbs says the gnomes were transported to Eastwood and Epping police stations where they were categorised according to type – frogs, storks, statues and hundreds of pouting gnomes. There were so many they had to move the police bikes out, and little old ladies argued vigorously over which concrete frog belonged to them.

“I was made to go to the police station and apologise formally on behalf of the gnome-nappers to the very stern sergeant on duty,” says Gibbs.

Things did not end there though.


In the interest of creating a memorable festival, the organising committee had decided to hold an old-fashioned colonial garden party to formally mark Conception Day. It was felt that a camel would lend the right tone to the event, so one was hired from a local farm.

“The deal was that we had to look after Egypt the camel for two days, and we planned to keep her at the rugby house behind the university,” Gibbs says.

“Unfortunately, boys being boys, the rugby team decided to give the camel some celebratory drinks and cheese, so in the middle of Conception Night we had to rescue Egypt and take her to a safe house further along Epping Road.

“There’s no easy way to make a drunken camel go where you need it to. In the end, I decided to ride her along Epping Road and past El Rancho, now known as The Ranch, where earlier that day students were offering moonshine brewed in a toilet they called the ‘seat of learning’ to truck drivers who stopped at their roadside stall.”

As Gibbs inconspicuously plodded along on the inside lane, he was spotted by a police car that ordered them to pull over.

“When I eventually managed to stop the camel, who should emerge from the car but the same police sergeant that I’d had to apologise to about the gnome hunt. He was not amused.”


The night of mayhem marked the beginning of a much-loved tradition. “In the years that followed, there were religious statue hunts, conducted with all the irreverence you would expect from a bunch of larrikin students, and gala balls with very non-PC prizes awarded to

Mis Conception, Mis Hap and Mis Behaviour,” Gibbs says, adding that to celebrate Conception Day’s 40th anniversary in 2009, he was invited to give a talk about the festival’s history.

“I thought I would be speaking to a genteel audience, but it was more like Woodstock – 10,000 students were in a range of levels of sobriety, impatiently waiting for the next act, Wolf mother, to hit the stage.”

Conception Day ran until 2014. It became Australia’s longest-running music festival, with a record of producing great line-ups and attracting huge crowds to the three stages around the lake. Over the years there were mass streakings, while in 2003 more than 1000 festival goers broke the world record for the most tequila shots in a row.

Unfortunately, owing to concerns about increasing drug and alcohol abuse, Conception Day had to be stopped in 2015. It has since been replaced with RE:Conception Day, an event that still features a great musical line-up, just without some of the other excesses.

“I’m just so grateful to the University for keeping my baby alive all these years,” Gibbs says. “Even now, students and alumni approach me and tell me how great it is.”

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Comments (4)

  1. Anthony W. Lanati

    Awesome work Phil.

    It is a shame that the university was unwilling to put in measures that would have kept conception day alive and well. RE:Conception just feels really muted and nothing like a real conception day – although, as a PhD student, I am obviously glad that some student culture still exists.

  2. Dr. Douglas Holleley

    It is wonderful to hear from and about you Phil. We all had a wonderful time at Macquarie in those days. Starting the newspaper, objecting to the Vietnam war, and occasionally even going to lectures and studying!. Your entrepreneurship helped improve the quality of campus life Immeasurably. I do hope you are well and occasionally getting into trouble (in a caring and sharing way of course) wherever you are these days.

  3. James

    Back in the late 1980’s we had the best time with bands and hundreds of students set up on the median strip in the middle of Epping Road for breakfast. I always wondered what the drivers thought as streams of students flooded out on to the road every time the lights went red. I can now see why they stopped it

  4. Sandra Nichols

    As a fairly meek and mild student at Mac Uni from 1971 to 1974, I really didn’t like any of the Conception Day activities. My memories of the ‘festival’ were of being holed up in the library, too scared to leave as I would’ve got drenched by the rugby boys who were having fun with the hoses. I also remember the outcry when the religious statues were taken. I guess, looking back, it was all a bit of fun but I didn’t think so at the time!


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