Big Skies Festival

Gwen Luscombe — 29 March 2019
Under the big skies

The Western Downs Region of Queensland has plenty of outdoor options from hiking and birdwatching in the nearby National Parks to the thrill of water skiing, hot air ballooning and more (including the towns of Chinchilla, Dalby, Miles, Tara and Wandoan). Here you’ll find not just the largest state forest in the southern hemisphere, the Barakula State Forest, but also tours, trails camping, fishing, arts and culture in abundance. 

The community spirit here is well and truly alive and noticeable as you visit the local towns and villages with their historic buildings, restaurants, shops and attractions. History buffs shouldn’t pass up the Meandarra ANZAC Memorial Museum for insight into the life of our diggers. There’s also a memorial wall for locals who left their signal before leaving for service in WWII. You can also read a letter from Ned Kelly at the Dalby Pioneer Park Museum.

Car lovers and vintage enthusiasts should make a point to visit Montys Garage Vintage Car Museum in Glenmorgan to see the showcase of classic 1940s automobiles. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy the numerous walking tracks and wildflower trails perfect for either a stroll or enjoyed via bicycle. 

In both Dalby and Miles golf lovers can enjoy some time on the green with 18 holes. Alternatively, Chinchilla, Jandowae, Bell, Tara, Meandarra and Inglestone all offer nine holes on well-maintained greens. Clubhouses have cold beer and an open door for visitors.  

Visitors can also join in each year for the world’s biggest watermelon festival or kick back for an evening of culture on the grounds of the elegant Jimbour House for an opera performance. Alternatively, enjoy the true ‘big sky country’ experience and get lost in hours of stargazing.  

“The Western Downs is blessed with perfect locations to enjoy nature at its best,” says Western Downs Mayor, Paul McVeigh, adding that the region is "...loaded with unspoilt bush and pristine freshwater lagoons, lakes and weirs which provide idyllic campsites, and friendly caravan parks are dotted throughout our region.”

It’s also a region that’s recognised the power of its festivals as visitors come to watch the racing at Tara’s Festival of Culture and Camel Races or enjoy the country-style fun at the Back to the Bush Festival in Miles.

Take me to Funky Town

In particular, each year from late April to early May, thousands of festivalgoers and caravanners make their way to the region for a nine-day annual event celebrating not just the Jimbour Plains region, but all the sights, tastes and experiences the region has to offer. Throw in a large outdoor concert under the evening stars with some of Australia’s most popular rock legends and you’ve got the Big Skies Festival. 

This RV-friendly festival is a popular destination for campers and festivalgoers alike says McVeigh. 

“Kicking off with the iconic Dalby Picnic Races, a Western Downs tradition since 1902, the Big Skies Festival boasts a fantastic calendar of events,” he says. 

The event, taking place from 27 April – 5 May, has always been popular with campers and caravanners. Its close proximity to Brisbane also makes for an easy weekend escape to enjoy the music and activities including camp oven dinners, outdoor cinemas etc. However, McVeigh says it’s the big event, the Day on the Plain, this year held on Saturday, 4 May, that’s certain to impress with performances by Jon Stevens, John Paul Young, Ross Wilson, Pseudo Echo, Deni Hines and more. 

The festival also includes a huge line-up of activities including markets stalls showcasing locally-made wares and produce, or if you’re keen, you can plan a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get a bird's eye view of the festivities with a balloon ride over countryside.

If music be the food of love …

For the best of Aussie rock west of the Great Divide, McVeigh says visitors should look no further than Day on the Plain. The event draws in thousands of music lovers under the shade of the historic Jimbour House, one of Australia's grandest colonial mansions for a full day of music and festivities. 

“The party then continues back at the campsite with the Day on the Plain Late Show, an event headlined by our own talented local musicians.” 

McVeigh says it’s the ideal way to experience the region’s famous country hospitality and secret recipes, too. 

“Spend an afternoon under a canopy of trees and enjoy a five-course gourmet luncheon at The Chef's Table,” he suggests, adding that the menu, designed by celebrity chef Ben O'Donoghue and wine connoisseur Des Houghton, celebrates the fresh produce of the Western Downs at an elegant dining experience like no other.  

“On Sunday morning, treat yourself to a hearty Camp Breakfast and explore the regional hub of the Western Downs with festivities in the main street of Dalby,” he suggests. 

The festival, promising friendly faces, beautiful country views and an unforgettable experience also includes options to tour the historic Jimbour House. As the sun sets over the Jimbour Plains, the excitement continues with a crackling Camp Bonfire, a popular event with campers. 

Jimbour house

While there’s no clear answer where the name comes from, Jimbour Station served as the first fully stocked cattle station on the Queensland Darling Downs region in the early 1840s. Irishman Henry Dennis settled in the area running the homestead on behalf of the owner, Richard Scougall, with a flock of 11,000 sheep and 700 head of mixed cattle. Ownership changed hands in 1844 when it was purchased by Thomas Bell and records indicate the station was registered under the name ‘Jimba.’ The name is likely to have evolved from there. 

The house also briefly lodged Australian explorer and German immigrant Ludwig Leichhardt, credited for the journey from southeast Queensland to the then settlement of Port Essington, northeast of Darwin, standing as one of the greatest tales of endurance and persistence in Australia’s early history.

In the mid-1920s the home was acquired by Queensland pastoralist Wilfred Adams Russell and underwent a major restoration and refurbishment. In 1925 Jimbour House was formally re-opened with a fundraising fete for Dalby Hospital. The property continued to develop over the years and remains in the Russell family. 

Stone fruit orchards and vineyards have been established over the years and in 1992 the home was heritage listed. Today, the 11,200-acre property are used for farming and cattle and the homestead combines tours and educational programs as part of its ‘Living History’ program. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the architecture, gardens and the home now serves as a much-loved special event venue, particularly popular are weddings, often catered for on the manicured grounds. 

Under the outdoor big screen

Attendees can relax under the stars at the outdoor cinema, experience the sale day action at the Dalby Saleyards Tour, indulge at the Garden & Gallery Champagne Picnic and experience what makes the Western Downs so special on a self-driven or chartered Regional Tour.

“Campers and caravanners are welcome travellers to our region,” McVeigh says, adding that Western Downs offers a plethora of caravan parks, free camps, campgrounds and showgrounds, many with RV friendly parking facilities. 

“Or take advantage of our peaceful alternative stay locations, and settle in alongside our many creeks and rivers to reconnect with nature. We are lucky to have a number of major highways and inland drive routes through the Western Downs, making for easy access and comfort when travelling long distances.” 

Throughout the year, the region also hosts a wide variety of events so there’s never a shortage of something to see or do. It’s worth noting that although the towns of Miles, Chinchilla, Dalby and Tara do have a variety of caravan, showgrounds and camping parks, the influx of visitors can make these spots incredibly popular so plan and book ahead to avoid disappointment.  

As the Melon Capitol of Australia, those looking for something sweeter are welcome to join the Chinchilla Melon Festival, now celebrating its 25th biennial event. Chinchilla is the home of ‘The Big Melon,’ so it’s a must see-attraction in between parties, parades and pip-spitting competitions. The fan favourite watermelon events draw crowds that triple the town's population every two years. While the 2019 festival has just taken place in February, it’s the best time to mark 2021 in your calendar. 

Camping at Big Skies Festival

Complete your ultimate Big Skies adventure by camping out at the grounds of Jimbour House and take the time to explore the region. Campsites are set at 10mx8m and can contain a vehicle and single caravan, campervan, motorhome or trailer with an awning; or two tents, a gazebo and a vehicle. Sites are unpowered, with toilet and shower facilities available. 

 Camping is available from one night to a full 10-day package, with the campsite opening from Friday 26 April.