“It’s a long way to go – you’re about 1600 kilometres west of Brisbane,” says Greg Donovan, founder of the most remote music festival in the world, the Birdsville Big Red Bash. “It’s set in a really unique location, right on the edge of the Simpson Desert. It’s a true outback setting.”
The yearly gathering is held on Wangkangurru-Yarluyandi land, 30 kilometres from Birdsville. The festival is named for the iconic local Big Red Sand Dune, approximately 40 metres tall. What started in 2013 as a running event in the desert with a bit of music, quickly morphed into a fully-fledged music festival that welcomes around 10,000 attendees each year.
This year the line-up is headlined by Missy Higgins, Kate Ceberano, Jon Stevens and Kasey Chambers. Donovan, though, is most excited to welcome back Jimmy Barnes.
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“Last time he played Big Red Bash was 2016,” says the festival founder. “That year it was a bit wet and we had to move the whole festival back into Birdsville – we had it on the oval. So Jimmy wouldn’t have seen the festival at this size out at Big Red.”
Unless you’re one of the 115 residents of Birdsville, getting to the Big Red Bash is definitely a trek. “It’s like a pilgrimage, people come from all around Australia into the middle,” says Donovan. “It’s a big thing to get to Birdsville. So when people arrive, they’re pretty happy they’ve made it.”
For those pilgrims hitting the dusty trails this year, there’s more than just music to keep you entertained. Here are some of Donovan’s festival highlights.
Sunrise yoga on the dune
Designed to get your day started on the right foot, you can wake up each morning to some outdoor yoga while the sun rises over the desert. “Sunrise yoga is a great way to start the day,” says Donovan. “On top of the Big Red Dune we’ve got a yoga instructor and a little PA system and you take part in a yoga class. We [often] have 200-300 people all together doing sunrise yoga.”
The synchronised dance to Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits is etched in every Australian's brain thanks to hearing it at every wedding and school formal. At Birdsville Big Red Bash they do it in world-record numbers. “The record that we broke last year stands at about 2870 people, all doing the Nutbush together. After five minutes of people stomping around and doing the Nutbush dance it does raise a lot of dust.” Joining in costs a small fee which is donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Last year, the festival raised $46,000, from the Nutbush alone.
A helicopter ride is the only way to truly grasp the scale of the festival’s desert setting. “One of the great things to do is get up in the helicopter and ride right around the festival and along the dune,” says Donovan. “It really gives you a fantastic perspective of the festival site and the vast, open desert. You really get to look right out into the Simpson Desert.”
Bashville drag race
Picture 500 people, dressed in drag, running down the dune – that’s the Bashville drag race. “From the top of the red dune they run down and around through the plaza area and finish up in the middle where we’ve got a little second stage,” says Donovan. “Then we pick the best costumes and have a bit of a fashion parade.”
Big screen movies
“The festival goes for three days, but a lot of people roll into camp early,” Donovan says. “On those evenings we’ll put a classic Australian movie up on the big screen.” The trip to the edge of the desert can be a long one, so it’s worth maximising your stay if possible. If you’re planning on rolling in early, there are worse ways to spend an evening than watching a movie outside with a view of the sun setting over the desert.
The Birdsville Big Red Bash runs July 5–7, 2022. See more details and book tickets.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism and Events Queensland.