Pumpkins, beanies, ‘goanna pulls’ and cow racing. You name it and inventive Aussie country folk have probably created a festival to celebrate it. Outback toilet races, skiing on watermelons and tossing a tuna are among the events this land can lay claim to. Many of our most eccentric festivals reside in Queensland, a testament to the creative spirit – and perhaps the blazing rays – of the Sunshine State. Here they are, and the other states’ offerings. Fly your freak flag, Australia! By Mal Chenu.
Goomeri Pumpkin Festival, Queensland
(28 May, 2017)
Move over Thanksgiving, the true celebration of the pumpkin takes place in Goomeri in the Gympie Region, 265 kilometres northwest of Brisbane. Headlined by the Great Australian Pumpkin Roll™ in which participants roll pumpkins down a hill, across a road and up a gully, the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival also features the Pumpkin Power Shot Put and Pumpkin Pull in which a team hauls a sled of pumpkins, plus creative cooking demonstrations and the Orange is the New Black dinner and dance.
Compass Cup, Mount Compass, South Australia
(21 January, 2017)
Billed as “Australia’s Only Cow Race”, this 44-year-old cavalcade of cows and calcium is held at Mount Compass in the Mount Lofty Ranges between Adelaide and Victor Harbor. Other events at the Compass Cup include the Tour Down Udder bike race, Rubber Boot Throw, Milk Skull [sic] Off in which the first to down a litre of milk wins, and Dog Jump Spectacular. You can even register to ride in the big race or bring your pride and joy to the Ute Show.
Chinchilla Melon Festival, Queensland
(16 – 19 February, 2017)
Pip pip! This is one for true melonheads. Held in February every second year (it’s on in 2017) at Chinchilla in the Darling Downs, 300 kilometres west of Brisbane, the Chinchilla Melon Festival showcases the fruits of the region with melon skiing – skating in a pair of watermelon-rind “skis”, pip-spitting, a slippery watermelon-littered obstacle course and a chariot race using vehicles made from melon packing cartons.
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Cardwell UFO Festival, Queensland
(3 June, 2017)
The truth is out there and Cardwell in far north Queensland pays homage to the unexplained at its UFO Festival. Enjoy a close encounter at the Alien Invasion costume party, peer through high-powered telescopes, join the discussion at the C-Files UFO Forum, send the kids off on the Space Race treasure hunt or grab a drink at the Mos Eisley Cantina (that’s a Star Wars reference, FYI).
Tunarama, Port Lincoln, South Australia
(25 – 28 January, 2017)
Celebrate Australia Day by tossing a tuna and tucking into the superb food, wine and other fresh produce of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula at Tunarama. This family-friendly festival boasts a sideshow alley and children’s entertainment area plus cooking and fishing demonstrations, arts and crafts, markets, live music and sporting events. The Tuna Toss was won last year with a throw of 18.33 metres (the fish used aren’t real – they’re made of rubber). Can you beat it?
The Australian National Goanna Pulling Championships, Wooli, New South Wales
(1 October, 2017)
No reptiles were harmed in the making of this festival. Goanna Pulling is an Aussie “sport” that dates back to the 19th century and engages muscly humans (there are men’s and women’s tournaments in different weight categories) in a tug of war using a belt around the back of the neck while crouched on all fours (flat-out like a goanna). The northern New South Wales festival also features a reptile show, dog trials, wood-chopping and brick-carrying races.
Australian Dunny Derby, Winton, Queensland
(22 September, 2017)
Could anything be more typically Aussie? The hilarious 200-metre Dunny Derby is the most famous event at the five-day Outback Festival in Winton in Central West Queensland. Teams of five – two pushers, two pullers and a jockey – negotiate their toilet through a tricky obstacle course to claim the, er, throne. There are also prizes for Best Presented Team and Outhouse.
Running of the Sheep, Boorowa, New South Wales
(1 October, 2017)
Driven by energetic kelpies, the Running of the Sheep is the signature event at the annual Irish Woolfest in Boorowa, 340 kilometres west of Sydney. It’s a little like Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, only woollier, cuter and without the potential for being speared with a horn. Home to some of the world’s finest wool, Boorowa’s festival includes a street parade, Irish-themed music and dance and boutique markets showcasing the region’s fine food, wine and crafts.
Alice Springs Beanie Festival, Northern Territory
(23 – 26 June, 2017)
This 20-year-old celebration of the textile skills of Aboriginal women from Central Australia aims to develop artistic and entrepreneurial skills and promote reconciliation. Distinctive weaving and decorations are the hallmarks of creative beanies and there are plenty of prizes and workshops to learn the craft. The theme of this year’s Alice Springs Beanie Festival is Weaving the Magic.
Top image: Chinchilla Melon Festival