Family Festival Frivolity

Anji Bignell — 6 February 2020
These unique festivals across the country celebrate some unusual and thriving subcultures

Australia’s regional communities have many unusual and thriving subcultures that are celebrated through some unique festivals across the country, with something to entertain visitors of all ages/

CARDWELL UFO FESTIVAL

When pondering the subject of UFOs, “I want to believe”, the catchphrase from the 90s TV show X-Files, comes to mind. Places like Roswell and Area 51 in the US are the most notable and iconic places for UFO sightings. However, Australia has had its fair share of sightings (and sceptics), specifically in the far north region of Queensland, so much so, they decided to create a UFO festival in Cardwell, QLD, to share their stories and bring tourists to the region.



The Cardwell UFO Festival is the only UFO festival in Australia and has increasingly drawn national and international attention.

“We’ve been amazed at the number of people in Far North Queensland who have unexplained UFO experiences to share,” said organiser Thea Ormonde. 

“We keep hearing different and fascinating stories from people of all ages and with the recent spate of UFO activity in the region there should be plenty to talk about,” she said.

The free festival runs over two days, with live entertainment, activities for children, markets and an Alien Invasion party where the most outrageous ‘alien-inspired’ outfits take centre stage while dancing to live music. 

However, the highlight of the event is the C-Files, where people from all walks of life come together to talk about their UFO encounters and listen to speakers from around Australia — it’s got to be seen to be believed!

Ms Ormonde said the C-Files at the inaugural UFO festival attracted about 20 people, while last year more than 100 people attended.

“We were amazed that so many people came from all over the region to talk about their encounters and to hear about other people’s experiences,” she said. “Funnily enough, some people discovered they shared the same unexplained sightings and experiences.”

Cardwell and the region, including Tully which is famous for its ‘saucer nest’, is known as a hot spot for unusual activity, including countless reports of mystery lights, ‘hairy men’, large black cats and rainforest pygmies!

The UFO Festival is held over Saturday and Sunday on the 8th and 9th August 2020. For more information, or to report a UFO, visit: https://www.cardwellufofestival.com.au/.

WINTON OUTBACK FESTIVAL

The ‘dunny’ is as Aussie as the hills hoist, so why not celebrate it in a true-to-Aussie form with a dunny racing competition?

The Winton Outback Festival’s biggest (and quirkiest) drawcard, the Quilton Australian Dunny Derby, attracted international attention last year, with a team from Iceland travelling over 15,185km to join the action that saw local team ‘Texas Longdrops’ take out the title of ‘Kings of the Porcelain Throne’.

"We've noticed a distinct increase in the number of visiting families this year,” explained event coordinator, Robyn Stephens. "The grey nomads are still a very important market for the event, with growing visitation from Brisbane and south-east QLD and long-haul NSW and Vic."

Festival highlights include the Sunset Extravaganza Dinner with charity gala, nipper friendly activities from the Teddy Bear Picnic to Little Swaggies egg throwing and Outback Ironman Juniors, for the most competitive of the bunch. 

Colourful characters and flamboyant entertainers parade the main street throughout the festival and hundreds of people pack the local Winton Shire Hall to start their day at the Bush Poet’s Breakfast, which is followed by dance workshops, Outback Ironman, Ironwoman, a Century Cycle Challenge, Truckies Reunion and indigenous cultural displays, and music and artworks, among other festivities.

Outback Festival will be returning to Winton once again in 2021 from 28th September to 2nd October 2021. For more information, visit: https://outbackfestival.com.au/.

BOOROWA’S RUNNING OF THE SHEEP

Let’s face it, you’ve got more chances of being impaled and hurt by a bull than stampeded by a flock of sheep, and so, Boorowa’s Running of the Sheep might be the safer option to add to your Bucket List this year!

As Boorowa in NSW is known for its fine Merino wool, it makes sense that a festival named ‘The Irish Woolfest’ would be one of the biggest events of the year. In particular, the Running of Sheep takes centre stage, with a ‘stampede’ of Merino sheep racing down the main street of Boorowa with Farmer Ashley, from the Merryville Stud, on his motorbike in tow. It’s an up close and personal account of what it’s like to be a sheep musterer, as kelpies are brought in to leap on and off the sheep’s backs while they are racing, which can prove to be rather entertaining!

Another important event is the ‘Blessing of the fleece’, an old tradition, where the sheep is shorn and the fleece is thrown onto the stage to receive a spiritual thanksgiving for the fine wool of the district. This kicks off the many other events such as the street parade, live music, markets, the St John’s Art Show, some shearing and even drag racing for dogs (this is fun for people’s dogs as they run against each other in the race).

The 23rd Boorowa Irish Woolfest takes place on the 4th October 2020. For more information visit: http://irishwoolfest.com.au/.

MULLETFEST

The classic Australian bogan wouldn’t be true to its own caricature if it weren’t for the mullet, the ‘business up the front, party at the back’ hairstyle. So, why not hold a festival and competition that celebrates this hairstyle in its varying degrees of length and versatility? 

Mulletfest was a combined inspiration between friends Sara Bedford and Laura Hawkins (who owns the Chelmsford Hotel where the event is held) as a way of celebrating the mullet and to also help support and boost tourism in the local town of Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley. 

It has only been running since 2018, but it’s already gained international recognition in countries such as the UK, Russia and Croatia, with an international mullet category added to the lineup.

The event is not just restricted to adults though — in fact, children are encouraged to enter — with comps in the junior 0 to 7 years, 8 to 13 years and 14 to 17 years categories. There’s even a category for ‘Ranga’ and ‘Vintage over 60s’, so there’s no exclusion here!

Mulletfest will be returning in February 2021 at the Chelmsford Hotel, 126 Lang Street, Kurri Kurri. For more information contact the Chelmsford Hotel on 02 4937 1064 or visit and register your mullet at: https://www.mulletfest.com.au/.

ALICE SPRINGS BEANIE FESTIVAL

Why have a festival devoted to beanies and beanie making, you ask? Handmade beanies are valued in Central Australia for keeping the noggin’ warm during those crisp, desert winter nights. And so, craftspeople from remote regions and Alice Springs came together to promote beanie making as a distinctive regional art form and invite people from all over Australia and the world to crochet and create their own unique beanies, with colours and textures often merging traditional Indigenous patterns with contemporary creative designs.

The idea of having a beanie festival originally sprang to life through a group of friends — Pamela Bladon, Merran Hughes and Jo Nixon — who organised the festival to sell beanies crocheted by Aboriginal women in remote communities and promote handmade Aboriginal women’s textile art from Central Australia. 

The festival is in its 24th year in 2020, and the theme is ‘Stitching the Seasons’, which will see hundreds of beanies stitched in response to the changes in seasons from Australia and across the globe. 

“Beanies came from Canada, Japan and New Zealand as well as around Australia … with 7000 beanies for sale,” said Vice Chairperson, Deborah Everson White, of last year’s festival. 

Entry to Beanie Central is by gold coin donation, but you won’t want to miss out on the Beanie exhibition and competition, which is just $8 for visitors. There are many creative workshops, food and live music on offer as well.

‘Beanie Central’ will run from the 26th June to the 29th June, where you can try and buy a beanie. The exhibition will run from the 26th June to the 19th July 2020. For more information on how to become a beanie maker, volunteer or for workshop updates visit: https://beaniefest.org/.


Whatever your tastes and preferences, volunteering your time and attending regional festivals around Australia is not only a great way to get the family involved while you’re on the road, but it is one of the more important ways to promote tourism and bring dollars to these areas. Just know that your money goes a long way to reviving these communities while also immersing ourselves in the traditions of our country.

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