Hundreds of families from around the state had Winton’s Outback Festival on their school holiday bucket list even before fire destroyed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in June but the event, plus the ongoing drought being experienced, was an added incentive to visit and have a holiday with a difference.
Organiser Robyn Stephens said there had been an incredible vibe of friendship and fun as 300 caravans and 60 tents set up for five days of activities alongside locals.
“Numbers were up in pretty well everything,” she said.
“There was interest in the cycle challenge from all up and down the coast and south east Queensland. There were 40 per cent more entries in that this year.
“We got the Djuki Mala dancers down from Elcho Island and there was standing room only at their concert, about 1100 people.
“Then we added a Winton Through the Lens tagalong photographic tour for the first time and that attracted a huge amount of interest from people able to experience our landscape fully for themselves.”
A grand parade saw 75 entries and an extra 300 people were there on the last day of the festival specially for the truckies reunion.
The festival incorporated a military theme in honour of the Anzac centenary and Winton’s deep association with defence forces, having the reputation of one of the highest per capita World War I enlistments in Australia.
According to Robyn, some 45 Australian Defence Force personnel representing various branches of the services stayed for the duration of the festival.
“The military theme worked a treat,” she said.
“People interacted really well with them and they loved being here.
“The 2nd cavalry regiment has just committed to returning in two years’ time, it worked so well.”
A dinner set atop the Australian Age of Dinosaurs jump-up, offering sunset views of the mesa landscape was entertained by Townsville’s 1RAR band, and featured charity auctions raising proceeds for the welfare sections of 7th brigade, Enoggera, 3rd brigade, Townsville and the Australian Special Air Service Queensland section.
After a message from VC winner Ben Roberts, the dinner heard from military speakers on the suffering that whole families go through when a soldier is wounded or suffers mentally.
One explained that all soldiers must come home eventually but some continue to suffer long after they’ve finished active service, which made the money raised essential.
Robyn said the whole week had been an eye-opener for many, especially as to the drought conditions being endured.