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WORDS Tania and Mia KetteringhamIMAGES Dale Ketteringham and Barry Alsop

We find Aussie bush pride at its quirkiest

Coined as quirky and strange, Winton’s Outback Festival is quintessential Australian fun in the heart of the Queensland outback. The biannual festival has been attracting visitors to the small town of Winton since its beginning in 1972 and it continues to provide an authentic experience by boldly celebrating all things Australian.

Being the original home of Qantas and the birthplace of Waltzing Matilda, Winton is on most outback travellers’ bucket lists, while dinosaur enthusiasts flock to the area to visit some of the most significant prehistoric finds in the world. Every couple of years over the five days of the Outback Festival the town is bursting at the seams with excited visitors. This year the population swelled from 900 to over 8000 and we were a few of those visitors looking forward to experiencing true outback entertainment.

The festival originally started in an effort to stimulate the local economy after years of drought. Robyn Stephens volunteered as festival secretary over 30 years ago and, as she continues as Festival Director, her enthusiasm and passion for her hometown is obvious. During difficult times outback communities really come together and, as Robyn said, “Come, come, we’re still here, the outback, the blazing sunsets, the amazing landscapes are all still here.”

To cater for the wave of visitors, a special festival camping ground is set up in the showgrounds. We booked a couple of months ahead and got ourselves a spot for a nominal cost. The facilities are good and staying in this location with over 700 other visitors was a great way to enjoy the down-to-earth spirit of the outback.

A festival highlight for us was the chance to watch history come alive when more than 120 horses and riders from Australia and New Zealand re-enacted the 1917 Light Horse Charge of Beersheba. It was an unforgettable site to see the galloping horses and fully uniformed horsemen brandishing bayonets – a remarkable way to honour the many Anzacs who lost their lives during the battle.

The festival offers a swag of events including an Outback Ironman or Ironwoman for the sporting enthusiasts. Taking place over five days, the event tests the strength, agility and speed of participants in true outback style. The temperature soared over 40 degrees as competitors took part in the gruelling challenges including truck tyre pulling and 4WD vehicle pushing. For bicycling fanatics, the 100km Outback Century Cycle Challenge is billed as the toughest flattest cycle race event in the outback; with little more than wide open spaces and emus it’s a hard ride to complete, so training may need to commence soon if you intend on competing in this event at some point.  

The strange sight of Smurfs tossing cow pats was not something we expected and for us it’s one of the many reasons the Outback Festival lived up to its quirky and strange reputation. There were also entertainers in oversized cowboy hats, adults rolling bales of wool down the main street, kids running full billy’s down the road and tossing perfectly good eggs at each other. As the crowds cheered on their picks in the World Crayfish Derby Race Meeting, we had a good laugh as the little critters initially refused to start moving across the race table.

The Outback Festival is probably most famous for the hilarious signature event, the Quilton Australian Dunny Derby which involves teams racing a decorated outhouse through a 200-metre course. With team names including ‘For Poops Sake, ‘Stain Butt’ and ‘Flying Pharts’, we knew we were in for some fun. It was one of the most comical and ridiculous races we have had the chance to witness, both weird and wonderful at the same time. What better way to celebrate the uniqueness of outback Australia than to stick wheels on the outback thunderbox and race them.

The entertainment on offer was diverse; world class bush poets passionately delivered their unique yarns with rhyme and humour at the bush poets breakfasts, didgeridoo master William Barton displayed his talents and the nightly program included top music bands. When we decided to head to Winton for the Outback Festival we were thrilled to find Mental As Anything as the headline entertainment act. Our kids were about to experience one of Australia’s most iconic bands so in the lead-up we subjected them to all the classics, and when Martin Plaza came out singing ‘Let’s Cook’ while actually making two-minute noodles on stage our kids thought it was hilarious.

The Grand Parade Spectacular is the culmination of the festival and brings everyone together to celebrate the good times that were had. We got our dancing shoes on for the You Should Be Dancing Winton street dance party on closing night as fireworks lit up the vast outback sky.

It’s one of the quirkiest ways to celebrate all that this unique country has on offer; in fact, it was named one of the top 100 things to do in Australia before you die, so get your outback spirit flowing and start planning your memory-making trip to the 2019 Winton Outback Festival.

Next Winton Outback Festival:

In 2019, Winton Outback Festival will be celebrating its 25th biannual festival – a perfect way for anyone, especially families, to celebrate the great Aussie outback. Mark these dates in your diary 24th – 28th September 2019 and don’t miss one of the outback’s most memorable, quirky and fun experiences.

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