Living Your Best Van Life

Cathy Anderson and Andrea Beattie — 3 September 2020
The inaugural Way Down South music festival has been created especially for RV travellers, and promises a laid back vibe.

The old adage about where there’s a will, there’s a way, has perhaps never been truer with respect to Victorian Peter Carr. 

A fifth-generation resident of the gloriously picturesque but often overshadowed Victorian coastal enclave of Portland, Carr woke up one morning and decided he was going to create the town’s first music festival dedicated to lovers of the RV lifestyle. 

A successful builder, helicopter pilot and lifelong traveller, Carr not only wanted to showcase the beauty of his hometown, but also create a laid back, casual event in an isolated setting where campers, caravanners and motorhomers of all ages could free camp wherever they felt like it, relax after a scenic road trip and enjoy quality Australian music acts. 



And so, Way Down South was born. The festival will take place from 19–21 February 2021, offering two days and two nights of great Aussie music and camping for up to three nights.

“It was probably about 2:30am in the morning and I woke my wife Nicole up and said, ‘I am going to put a music festival on!’,” he says. “She asked me if I was serious and told me to go back to sleep. 

“I was just lying there and it was like the lights came on, an epiphany. At 6am I woke her up again and said I was going to do it.”

Carr had never organised a major event for hundreds of people before, and he’s had a few hurdles — his first venue fell through and COVID-19 has thrown artist schedules into chaos but his abundance of passion and dogged determination has made up for it.

LIKE BIRDSVILLE, BUT BETTER

In truth, Carr had a bit of inspiration. He and Nicole had taken their Paradise Platinum Oasis motorhome to the Big Red Bash at Birdsville, the iconic annual campout in the depths of the Queensland outback near the intersection of the Northern Territory and South Australian borders. The pair loved the event — great music and collegiate atmosphere among fellow vanners. 

“The music started and we just had a ball walking everywhere and up the Big Red sand dune every day,” he said. “We’d go back and listen to music and go back to the motorhome and catch up with friends, have the fire and a barbecue.”

For Carr, Portland has just as much allure for vanners as Birdsville, with its glorious beaches, winter whale watching and World-Heritage listed Indigenous site Budj Bim (see breakout). Top spots in surrounding regions make the trip an ideal getaway or long weekend stopover on an extended RV journey. So why not create a similar event in his own backyard?

LOVING THE VANLIFE

The couple have been caravanners for many years, travelling with a Jayco Swan prior to their Paradise motorhome, and Carr says they love the lifestyle.

“We can have a different address every day if you want,” he says. “It’s just that freedom you have.”

Carr wanted to recreate that sense of freedom with Way Down South. At the Big Red Bash, once you enter you can’t leave the site for the duration of the event. Carr and his team have adopted a much more stripped-back festival style. 

“As long as they have their vehicle pass and their wristband they can leave the site and go back into Portland, or drive to Timbuktu and back — it doesn’t worry me,” he says.

“I love the free camping aspect of the RV life and I find that people are so much more friendly with free camping, there is a real closeness there. It will be so laid back that people will love it.”

 A LAKESIDE VENUE

The festival site will be on 300 acres of private organic farmland adjacent to Swan Lake and the stunning Discovery Bay Coastal Park about 35km outside of Portland. It’s a natural amphitheatre where visitors can set up campers, motorhomes, caravans or tents on the upper area, and then gather either on the flat sections downhill where the stage will be located, or the gently sloping embankments in between. 

The site has some added appeal for film lovers too — the location was featured in Spike Jonze’s 2009 live action and animatronic film, Where the Wild Things Are, based on the book by Maurice Sendak. 

It’s no surprise the production scouts chose the location for filming, as Carr says the site is nothing short of stunning.

“When you get out there you’ll be like, ‘where am I?’” he says. “It’s isolated, it’s wild and so exciting. It’s like a real adventure.”

Festival attendees are welcome to paddle out on to the lake (apparently there is a secluded waterfall at the end) and explore the mountainous sand dunes of the Coastal Park either by foot, after a 20-minute walk from camp, or by 4WD with the help of the Portland Dune Buggy Cub. Membership to the club allows access to the dunes and a tall safety flag for your 4WD’s bumper is compulsory.

Facilities provided include portable toilets and grey water dumping tanks (no black water) as well as food trucks all weekend. The event is BYO for alcohol, and barbecues and open fires will be allowed. 

There will be two ticket levels. An all-weekend pass allows entry for two days and nights of music as well as camping for up to three nights from Thursday 18 February to Monday 22 February. Early bird weekend tickets are $190pp plus booking fee with second and final release tickets $242pp plus booking fee. Day passes are $144pp plus booking fee and are available for Friday and Saturday with gates open at 10am for a midday start to the program, and bands finishing at 10:30pm (camping is not included in this pass). Children under 12 are free.

THE MUSIC

Carr says the idea of the festival is to keep it as broad as possible to make it accessible to RV travellers of all types. So, the acts will be a deliciously eclectic mix of iconic Aussie pub rock acts, country bands, folks and jazz singers as well as impressive emerging talent. International travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19 mean it will be an all-Aussie affair. 

Carr has hired Brian Cavagnino, production manager with the renowned Port Fairy Folk Festival for the past 13 years, to curate the line-up. Official announcements are due in the next few weeks (watch the festival’s website and sign up to the enews for updates) but Carr says attendees will be thrilled with the acts the team is currently negotiating with.

He’s also flagged that it will be a super-relaxed vibe where the focus is on the music. 

“Brian said to me, between the acts what are we going to do — have music going or someone doing some juggling or hoola hoops or telling some jokes? I said absolutely not,” he says.

“I want to give people some time between acts to grab a beer, have a granny nap or a quick sausage on the barbie and when the music starts they can wander back to their chairs or come up to the mosh pit. 

“It is a bare roots, back-to-basics festival with an amazing all-Australian line-up.”

CORONAVIRUS CONSIDERATIONS

As we go to press, the coronavirus situation is evolving, but Carr is confident the event will go ahead. He has even hired an event consultant with a military background to calculate the social distancing requirements of the various areas — stage, embankment and camping space — to comply with current 4sqm of space per person. 

Carr says he and his small management team are excited to be welcoming fellow vanners to the area.

“I really think it is all meant to be because it’s a vision that popped into my head in the middle of the night and it is all just working out,” he says. 

“The property at Swan Lake is just absolutely amazing and it will blow everyone away, no matter where you come from.” 


PLAN YOUR JOURNEY TO PORTLAND

Located about halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, the road trip to Portland from any direction is every bit as amazing as the region itself. Various routes take you through pristine, untouched wilderness, lush wine country or gorgeous rugged coastline. Three popular touring routes include:

The SA connection

This route from Adelaide is heaven for red wine lovers and foodies, taking in the picturesque Coonawarra wine region and Mayura Station with its world-famous wagyu beef. From there, it’s a stunning 450km road trip through the Limestone Coast, stopping at the breathtaking Blue Lake in Mt Gambier, the incredible Kilsby and Umpherston Sinkholes and Piccaninnie Ponds before passing the Glenelg River mouth on the border in Nelson, and on to Portland through the Discovery Bay Coastal Park.

Inland beauty

If you're travelling via inland Victoria from the north-east, you can choose your own adventure — either take in all the splendour of the Grampians National Park before heading south to find one of Australia’s best beaches at Cape Bridgewater, just 19km from Portland. Or head south-west through Casterton, the birthplace of the Kelpie, and learn all about this incredible working breed at the Kelpie Centre.

Ocean views

The Great Ocean Road is a much-loved and iconic route to Portland, starting at the seaside hub of Torquay, and then passing through the hamlets of Aireys Inlet and Anglesea. From Lorne, you can head to Apollo Bay, and stop in at the Cape Otway Lighthouse before cruising along past the 12 Apostles to Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge. From there, it’s a gorgeous trip through the seaside village of Port Fairy, and on to Portland.

World heritage site, Budj Bim

The Gunditjmara people are the traditional owners of the land encompassing the areas of Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Woolsthorpe and Portland. Located 15km from the festival, you’ll discover Budj Bim, a site that holds special significance for the Gunditjmara people. 

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2019, features the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world, with a history of kooyang (eel) farming dating back more than 6500 years. The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape includes Lake Condah, Muldoon's Trap Complex and the Tyrendarra Indigenous Protected Area. 

The Gunditjmara believe the landscape's features mark out the traces of a creator, Budj Bim who emerged in the form of the volcano now called Mt Eccles. The national park visitor area is home to a tranquil crater lake, lava canals and caves, and you can learn about the history of the Gunditjmara people through the eyes of an expert Indigenous guide by organising a tour with local company, Budj Bim Tours.


THINGS TO DO IN PORTLAND

Located in the heart of the Discovery Coast, Portland is a true coastal gem. From stunning beaches, natural wonders and some of the best surfing and fishing spots in the country, to historical buildings, biking trails and boutique shopping, Portland is a thriving regional destination. You can jump aboard the novelty Portland Cable Tram to see the sights, or cruise around town at your leisure, taking in the Botanic Gardens, Whalers Bluff Lighthouse and the Memorial Lookout Tower at Anderson Point. True to its name, Portland is the site of a bustling and vibrant, deep-water port that is home to a 60 

vessel-strong professional fishing fleet. You can sit back and watch massive cargo ships which transport 45 per cent of Victoria’s dry bulk cargo enter and leave the port, or get up close to all the action by watching the fishing fleet unload and weigh their hauls of massive Bluefin tuna. Budding anglers can try their luck on a local fishing charter or experience the exceptional land-based fishing off the Lee Breakwater, and for history buffs, don’t miss the opportunity to delve into the nautical history of the region at the Maritime Discovery Centre. 

Explore: 

Discovery Bay Coastal Park — This breathtaking remote coastal park protects 55km of ocean beach, and just a short walk from the festival campsite, you’ll see spectacular rolling sand dunes, a haven of excitement for offroad enthusiasts. 

Cape Bridgewater — Located 19km from Portland, the Cape has some of Victoria’s best beaches and highest coastal cliffs overlooking the beautiful blue waters of Bridgewater. It’s a hiker’s paradise with several lookouts perched above the ocean overlooking the bay, and plenty of spots for seal spotting.

Cape Nelson — A 210ha state park bordering rugged cliffs with the Cape Nelson Lighthouse located on the coast's southern tip.

Glenelg River — This beauty stretches 400km from western Victoria towards the Lower Glenelg National Park at Nelson and out to sea, offering abundant walking tracks along its banks.

Point Danger — Just 6km from Portland, Point Danger is a twitcher’s paradise. More than 6000 pairs of gannets nest on Lawrence Rocks, about 2km south of the mainland, and another 300 pairs nest on the mainland, the only mainland colony in Australia. There’s a viewing platform on the Coastal Reserve – a stopping point on The Great South West Walk.

The Great South West Walk — this stunning bushwalking trail is suitable for most ages and abilities and features short two-hour loop walks which can easily fit into a morning, full day walks, or for the most adventurous, the full 250km loop that starts and ends at the Maritime Discovery Centre


MORE INFO

Where: Private camp about 35km from Portland, Victoria

When: 19–21 February 2021 (camping available from 18 February)

Tickets: Weekend tickets $190pp plus booking fee (early bird) or $242pp plus booking fee (final release). Day passes are $144pp plus booking fee. Children under 12 are free.

Website: waydownsouth.com.au

Tourism info: visitportland.com.au

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