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8 Of The Best And Quirkiest Aussie Festivals

You haven't lived until you've gone to the five day Elvis celebration in Parkes, NSW.

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With our oversupply of sunny days and general readiness for a good time, Australia is built for festivals. Once summer hits, you can’t venture out on a weekend without tripping over some organised entertainment, whether it‘s toddler-friendly indie-folk at the park or 20,000 ravers swarming a sports ground.

But, of course, it’s not only music that gets Australians congregating in parks and paddocks. With a shared passion for unorthodox fun, our great nation throws festivals that celebrate everything from watermelons to sausages to a bone-dry riverbed in Alice Springs. Australian festival-makers know how to get weird.

In fact, it’s hard to narrow all the weird and wonderful happenings to a roundup of just eight. This list could have included a nude beach game tournament, a ute muster, a wheelie bin race and a beer can regatta, but somehow those are just the runners-up.

Read on for eight of the quirkiest festivals in a country full of contenders.

Chinchilla Melon Festival

Chinchilla, a rural Queensland town a few hours’ drive from Brisbane, is known as the melon capital of the world. It’s here you’ll find the Chinchilla Melon Festival, which celebrates the town’s star export in myriad creative ways.

We’re talking watermelon skiing, pip spitting, melon bungee, melon-themed floats, a big melon weigh-in and more games than you could shake a slice at. You might even get to sink your teeth into some — but be aware the next Chinchilla Melon Festival is not until 2021.

While you’re in town you can also make a pilgrimage to The Big Melon, which was gifted to the people of Chinchilla by travel company Wotif in 2018.

Where: Chinchilla, Queensland

When: 2021, dates TBC

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Parkes Elvis Festival

Do you worship Elvis Presley but can’t quite justify a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to visit Graceland? Well… have you considered a little town in New South Wales by the name of Parkes?

The Parkes Elvis Festival is held in the second week of January each year, coinciding with Elvis’ birthday. The town comes alive with dedications to the King, including rock ‘n’ roll dance lessons, an Elvis gospel service and a showcase of vintage cars. In 2020, the festival is themed around Elvis’ 1966 musical film, Frank and Johnny, so you can start thinking costumes.

There must be something about this corner of NSW, because the nearby Trundle ABBA Festival also reels in believers from far and wide. It’s back on Saturday May 2, 2020, so you can double down on the unconventional tributes.

Where: Parkes, NSW 

When: January 8-12, 2020 

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Broken Heel Festival

25 years ago, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert opened worldwide and swiftly became a hit. Several of the cult classic’s key scenes were shot in and around the former mining town of Broken Hill, and the Broken Heel Festival is making sure the legacy lives on.

The Priscilla-inspired fun is spread around the festival’s three stages, which feature drag queens, showgirls and more performing comedy, cabaret and live music. There’s also a Main Drag In Drag street parade, which transforms a usually sedate main drag into “our very own country Mardi Gras”.

You’d be wise (and very organised) to snag a room at the Palace Hotel, a mural-covered institution made famous by the movie.

Where: Broken Hill, NSW

When: September 10-14, 2020

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The Festival of Snags

Now, what can be more deserving of a festival coronation than the humble Aussie snag?

The inaugural Festival of Snags is coming to the charming town of Mudgee this month, bringing a host of sausage-inspired activities including eating competitions, giant inflatable snag races, cooking demonstrations, a Chipolatas Kids Zone, live music and family fireworks. (In between mouthfuls, you might be called on to do battle with an inflatable snag.) The event was made possible by Wotif, who ran nationwide search to find the festival the Australian public most wanted to see brought to life.

While nothing could pull focus from the headliner, The Festival of Snags will also showcase other delicacies and wine from the local area. We recommend a light breakfast.

Where: Mudgee Showground, NSW

When: Saturday November 30, 2019

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The Town

You better believe The Town, an immersive three-day festival in the Victorian township of Licola, dials up the quirk levels very high. The picturesque riverside site is set up as a mock village that parodies our city lives, which means you’ll stroll into a dispensary for natural remedies, an op-shop run by ‘Doof Nana’ and possibly a town election or ‘90s-themed prom.

All this oddity is orchestrated by Melbourne’s Culture Jam crew, who take a lot of pride in getting the small details right. The Town is also imbued with a strong environmental mission, so you can expect sustainability workshops and fresh vegan food among the scavenger hunts and interactive games.

Where: Licola Wilderness Village, Victoria 

When: May 1-4, 2020 

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Alice Springs Beanie Festival

While beanies aren’t the most obvious fashion item for a dedicated festival, this yearly event at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs proudly gives top billing to the knitted head warmers.

After the free opening night entertainment, the festival kicks off Beanie Central, featuring baskets, Indigenous spinning, crochet workshops and, yes, lots and lots of beanies. In addition to all the quirky touches, the festival’s main aim is to provide opportunities for the Indigenous women of remote Central Australia to get involved.

Also: if you plan to visit the area over its cooler winter, make sure to attend the famous Apex Camel Cup, an annual camel race around a dusty outback track. Depending on the day, you might need your beanie.

Where: Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs

When: June 26-29, 2020

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Rotary Henley On Todd Regatta

Events don’t come more quintessentially Australian than the Rotary Henley On Todd Regatta. Its lofty name is all part of the joke: this long-running ‘regatta’ takes place on the stubbornly dry riverbed of the Todd River in Alice Springs.

It’s said the event is inspired by a dig at the pomp and circumstance of Australia’s British settlers, whose idea of a boat race actually required water. The grand finale sees attendees compete in the Battle of the Boats, running for the finish line in bottomless kayaks, yachts and rowing eights. The madcap day also involves fancy dress, pirates shooting water pistols and – despite the arid conditions — a whole lot of blokes in budgie smugglers.

Where: Todd River, Alice Springs

When: Saturday August 15, 2020 

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Big Red Bash

Standing in front of the stage at the Big Red Bash, you can’t be anywhere else in the world but Australia. Billed as ‘the world’s most remote music festival’, it all goes down in Birdsville, a tiny outback town in far west Queensland.

The otherworldliness of the Big Red Bash starts with its sun-blasted location, set against a huge red sand dune that’s perfect for surfing down. (Things get really special as the sun starts to set.)

Activities include dunny door painting, an outback air guitar competition and camel rides, but there’s music too. In 2020, the talent includes Paul Kelly, Tim Finn, Ian Moss and Björn Again. A bit of bad news, though: it’s already sold out. You’ll either need to find a new friend or pencil Birdsville for 2021.

Where: Birdsville, Queensland

When: July 7-9, 2020 (sold out)

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Image: Tracy Sorensen / Flickr