Deni = Deniliquin; ute = utility (like an SUV); muster = 20,000 people descending on a tiny town to celebrate Outback culture.
When the region struggled through a crippling drought, 20 years ago, locals came up with the idea of a festival to generate an alternative source of income to farming, and the Ute Muster was born. A full program includes chainsaw carving, wood chopping, Australian wildlife shows, and, of course, car exhibitions and racing. The free camping is a bonus after the eight-hour drive from Sydney, but don’t expect much sleep.
Camels have been raced in the Outback since the 19th century, when, what is now the largest herd of camels in the world, was transported from Asia to be used for labor. The Uluru Camel Cup is a festival of fun each May, while the Queensland season begins in July, with weekly carnivals in Bedourie, Boulia, and Winton. On top of the races, there’s lots of food, drink, music, and plenty of fun and games. Camping is free on site for ticket holders.
Darwin’s Beer Can Regatta started in 1974 when 22,000 people turned out at Mindil Beach to watch boats, made of beer cans, race and often fall apart. Today, it’s even more popular and has expanded to include a thong-throwing competition (flip-flops), live music, and plenty of drinking.
Further south, in Alice Springs, the annual Henley-on-Todd Regatta has been held in the dry creek bed of the Todd River since 1964. What started as a joke to outsiders, who didn’t understand that the Todd is usually a waterless riverway, has turned into the only dry boat race in the world. Competitors race their vehicles on foot, like the cars in The Flintstones.
New Years Eve’s annual Falls Festival has expanded from the Victorian town of Lorne to beachside towns in three other states: Marion Bay (TAS), Byron Bay (NSW), and Fremantle (Perth). The three-day festivals have a Glastonbury vibe, with camping, great headliners, and a convivial vibe.
The Tamworth Country Music Festival has celebrated the sound and spirit of the bush each January since 1972. In addition to big international and local names, the NSW town gives itself entirely over to the festival, with multiple buskers and extra events.
WOMADelaide is a contemporary music festival of global sounds and conscious living for all ages, held in Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens each year in March.
In April and May, Groovin in the Moo is a music festival held over three weekends in the picturesque regional centers of the Hunter Valley, Townsville, and Bendigo.
Also in April, the Byron Bay Bluesfest is a relaxed, family-friendly festival and arts celebration. The hippie haven is also home to Splendour in the Grass, held each July with a Coachella-like line-up of musical talent.
The Winter solstice, in one of the coldest parts of Australia, has been transformed by Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) into the 10-day Dark Mofo festival. Ticketed art events and free talks are held around the city (check the website for details and tickets). Festival highlights include the Winter Feast, a three-night nod to pagan tradition, and the Nude Solstice Swim in the Derwent River. Brrr.
Every January, the NSW country town of Parkes comes alive with the music of The King at the five-day Parkes Elvis festival. The festival celebrates the music and legend of Elvis Presley with markets, car shows, rock’n’roll dancing, and the opportunity for couples to renew their vows.
Disco divas head to this desert festival in the NSW Outback town of Broken Hill, to celebrate the cult film Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. For a weekend each September, the festival offers comedy, cabaret and live music. Get in early for tickets on the Stiletto train from Sydney, or look for buses from Adelaide and other major cities.
Every week, in Port Douglas and Tambourine in Queensland, cane toads are raced at local pubs. In Berry Springs in the Northern Territory, people bet on crocodiles racing to the edge of a ring, while at Brisbane’s famous Story Bridge Hotel, cockroaches are raced. Or, if you prefer something bigger, the Melbourne Cup horse race, aka ‘the race that stops the nation’, is held on the first Tuesday of November each year.
Head to Ross River Resort in the East MacDonnell Ranges, 52mi (85km) east of Alice Springs, each May to experience Wide Open Space, one of Australia’s most unique festivals. Since 2009, this three-day festival has celebrated the unique desert culture of central Australia through music, art
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