Birdsville Big Red Bash

July 2019


I read about this outback music fest in a 4x4 magazine browsed at a doctors waiting room earlier in the year and it sounded  like a bit of a hoot and a good excuse to clear the cobwebs from our camping rig which,  since our trip up to Burketown in 2016, had been pretty much consigned to a series of  half hearted sale advertisements on Gumtree.....the line up of artists looked pretty interesting with a range of different genres included - but the big draw card was, of course, an opportunity to see and hear Midnight Oil  who we last saw at the Darwin Amphitheatre alongside Yothu Yindi back in the 1990s.

Preparations for the trip began in May with the campervan being serviced  to ensure its wheel bearings and springs were up to the trip of 3500kms including the 600kms of rough gravel roads and similar distance of  Beef /Development roads with their jagged bitumen  edges.  Next we encountered problems with our portable 2 way Waeco fridge/freezer which had to be sent away to be fixed.

We  also decided to pay for a two day early entry pass so as to give ourselves plenty of time to set up our week long camp at the foot of the Big Red sand dune.  Given the distance we reckoned we would have to spend two nights on the road and decided on the way out to stop at Charleville and Windorah and Quilpie and Miles on the return trip - it involved a number of 600+km daily drives but as we would share the driving it was all doable.

The camping parameters laid down by the Bash organisers included:

  • bring your own drinking water
  • power supply (generators permitted daily between 0800 - 2000hrs)
  • fires permitted at campsites
  •  composting toilets supplied
  • no glass permitted outside of personal camp area
  • alcohol permitted but not for sale at festival
  • limited (fast) food outlets available
  • daily concert program to run between 1300 and 2000hrs - gates opening an hour before when you could place your chairs and eskies within the concert venue
  • dog owners and disabled were allotted separate camping and concert areas

For the most part the organisers did a marvelous job in accommodating roughly 10 000 people in such a remote location.  This was only the sixth such festival with the original back in 2013 attracting only a couple of hundred adventurers and featured John Williamson.

The Trip Out:

We left early on a Friday at 0530hrs in order to minimise our exposure to peak hour traffic out to Toowoomba.  Once through Toowoomba the Warrego Highway just stretched out in front of us across the Darling Downs and eventually into the Channel Country of the Diamantina and Georgina Rivers.

We pulled up in Charleville on our first night some 740kms from home and found a site in a local caravan park.  Due to the lateness of our arrival we decided on a pub meal but chose the (nearest) Cattle Camp Hotel  for dinner - not a good choice as we learned later that the town was celebrating a 'Shindig half way to Birdsville' street party that night which would have been preferable.  During the days drive we had begun to notice an increased number of 4x4 rigs with Big Red Bash insignia  on them and this only increased the further west we went.


The next day we had intended to stop at Quilpie but instead pushed through to Windorah some 400kms away where we found the whole town partying around the only pub and police breathalising all vehicles arriving and leaving the town.  We noticed during the days drive that the WAECO fridge had ceased to work but that our decision to fill the freezer compartment with frozen cryovak meals and block ice would hopefully keep us in chilled food for the following week.....if not we would have to seriously consider the nutritional options of the plentiful 'road kill' evident.


The route between Quilpie and Windorah is a Development or Beef road which means it is constructed of a single lane of bitumen and very wide gravel shoulders to be used when one confronts an oncoming vehicle or road train or, heaven forbid, to overtake a vehicle in front of you.  Occasionally, widened overtaking sections are provided but we experienced many impatient drivers who dangerously decided to pass us on gravel sections spraying us with stones and temporarily blinding us with bull dust.  Many of these inconsiderate and inexperienced bush drivers had NSW and Victorian number plates and drove without their lights on - a pox on them all!! ....I now have a cracked windscreen thanks to their enthusiasm.

We encountered the first of many fuel queues in Windorah and just hoped the thirsty hordes would leave enough for our return trip.  We also managed to secure one of the few remaining powered sites in the Council run caravan park ($10/night cf $35 at Charleville).  Once set up we joined the Bash revelers down at the pub but this time retired home for home made cottage pie for dinner vide the van's microwave. 


Fuel Queue and Windorah Pub Beer Garden Entertainment for Bashers

Got away early next morning only to be again breathalised on the town outskirts.  The outskirts were littered with hundreds of campers who had not been able to secure a site in the caravan park or its official overflow paddock.  With Maria driving, we tackled the initial 115kms of Development road and then the much anticipated 280kms of corrugated dirt to Birdsville.  Cattle Grids again proved challenging never knowing, until the last minute, the degree of scouring around them.

To break the dusty journey we took a 5km detour into the hitherto ghost town of Beetoota.  However, on this occasion we found that the old derelict pub had been recently purchased by a Brisbane family who were busily renovating the old stone structure while serving ice cold beers to a number of adventurous Bash attendees.  It was while stopped here that a fellow traveler pointed out that our electric brake cable on the van was trailing behind us.  Having examined the problem I quickly decided that its repair would have to wait our return  home.

After Beetoota we started to view the green lush herbage of the Channel Country which had benefited from the soaking nay flooding rains further north earlier in the year.  Cattle feeding off this native pasture can be sold as organic as the pastoralists need  no further feed supplements to fatten and market their stock. 

Road into Birdsville - Sand hills and the Channel Country

Birdsville and Bashville

Arriving in Birdsville at about 1400hours we joined hundreds of other Bash attendees to formally register our attendance and get our wrist ID Bands - then join another queue for fuel  at a very reasonable $1.73/lt.  The journey out had consumed just over 200lts of Diesel   averaging 12.5lts/100kms.


Washing down the dust at the Birdsville Hotel

Once again the town was littered with ad hoc camp sites all waiting to gain entry to the Bash site (35kms away at the base of Big Red).  After all formalities had been completed we joined the throng surrounding the iconic Birdsville Hotel - they were spilling over the footpaths and roadways.  After purchasing a couple of bottles of red wine from the pub he joined a convoy of 4x4 rigs into the Bash fan-shaped camping area.  Despite the Bash not officially opening for a further two days, we found ourselves allocated to a site already about the middle centre of the camping area.

Next morning in freezing temperature of 03C I rose to take some pictures of the sunrise and then spent the morning finishing off the camp set up with annexe, fire pit and kicking the generator into action - it was more important than ever now in order to keep the camper van's fridge cold on 240 volts.  Fortunately, we could also buy ice to supplement our refrigeration needs in the Waeco and small esky.  We could not rely on the 12volt deep cycle battery in  the vehicle as there was no practical means of re-charging it while we were locked in the camp site.

Our Camp and Big Red at Sunrise


Our Camp and Remains of Camper van's Electric Brake wiring

From sunrise to sunset, Bash members could be seen like stick figures atop  Big Red -which stands 40m tall and is the first of over 1100 parallel dunes running roughly north - south in the Simpson Desert.  Bash attendees brought all manner of equipment to help them slide down the Dune including snow skis and boards, boogie boards and just pieces of cardboard - we borrowed a boogie board but backed out of using it after noticing how many  came to grief in their attempts.  Regrettably, I did notice quite a number of 'outback adventurers' climbing Big Red only to gain reception for their wretched mobile phones and then proceed to engage in mundane exchanges to family and friends back home....obviously; some can't live without em!

We were particularly impressed with the banks of composting toilets provided all over Bashville as well as accompanying urinals for the blokes.  During the Bash they held a competition to paint some of the "Dunny Doors"

A subsequent inspection of the food offerings down at the Bash Plaza proved most disappointing with an array of local 'fast food' options of burghers, hot dogs, steak sandwiches, pizzas, stuffed jacketed potatoes, schnitzels, fish & chips and pies - no bush food from camp ovens or spit-roasted meats.  Along with food stalls there were a number of 4x4 outlets like ARB with displays of various gear.

Atop Big Red looking down on concert stage and camping area


Dune sports and Distance marker

We both climbed Big Red on more than one occasion finding the sand a little coarser than that experienced in the Sahara Desert in Algeria.  The sunset experience was memorable albeit a little chilly........the temperature plummeted as soon as the sun sank behind the sand dune behind Big Red


We did not avail ourselves with a scenic helicopter ride or help paint one of the Dunny doors, a morning Yoga session atop Big Red, or the church service on offer - let alone join in the world record number of  'boot scooters or nutbush'ers  (2300 odd participants) - we did however take some great pictures of the sunset from Big Red and after two days familiarisation were ready for the concert proper.

Concert Bash - Day 1:  1300- 2000 hrs - a bloody hot arvo

We had to carry our camp chairs and an esky down to the concert area a distance of 500 m and we soon realised that we should have had the wit to bring either, a Garden Trolly from Bunnings, Golf Buggy or best of all a wheel barrow to cart our stuff - it was tough work and not repeated on the following two days

Opened by the the Hon Kate Jones MLA Qld Minister for Tourism who congratulated the organisers for attracting such a large crowd which was helped promote 2019 as the Year of the Outback.  There was also a 'Welcome to Country' by the local indigenous elders and the environmental precautions laid down by the current lessees of of Adria Downs (the Brookes family)  ......then followed the music

First day's artists with sets from:

Mark Gable (ex  Choirboys) was also the master of ceremonies for the Bash

Dale Ryder and Mark Williams - did not impress us as they presented essentially some pretty tame pop music

Steve Balbi (Noiseworks) - had an uncanny resemblance to Frank Zappa  and was just a little interesting

Wendy Mathews - did not turn up on account of illness

Richard Clapton - another Sydney based pub rocker who wrote 'Girls on the Avenue' - was OK

There was also a rather good Bash Backing Band who were not bad at all (Jak Housden (the Whitlams) - Lead Guitar, Daria Bortolin (Baby Animals)  - Base Guitar, James Crostkowsky - Rhythm Guitar, Gordon Rytmeister - Drums)


Concert Bashers

Concert Bash - Day 2: 1300 - 2000 hours

The day began with an early morning visit to the ablution block when I happened to glance up and notice an unusual partial eclipse of the moon.  This would have been missed by most Bashers who would have sensibly still been snug in their swags.  


The event was no doubt a portent of  the risqué antics later associated with an RFDS charity foot race down Big Red with some 400 participants dressed up in  drag.  Many had spent quite a deal of time and money  on their was hilarious to see how the costumes managed to disintegrate during the event - I did however again climb Big Red for the start of the race and was able to photograph many in their original state.

                  The RFDS Drag Race


Following the Drag Race we headed for the concert area but this time we left the esky at camp preferring instead to take a Coles cooler bag with a few libations, Tangelos and a bit of ice.

The music offerings today were much more to our liking

The Chantoozies - 1980s pop cover band sang some oldies and it was good to see them still around

Eurogliders - were excellent

Bjorn Again - just another 1980s ABBA tribute band

Chocolate Starfish - a heavy rock group who I found hard to comprehend


1927 (Eric Wiederman) - excellent guitar improvisations and sang 'I do it for you'

The Living End - finished what had been a very long day and night


After another awful lunch experience from the Bash food vendors it was a real pleasure to tuck into some Spaghetti Bolognaise back at camp and then warm ourselves by our raging fire got cold there as soon as the sun set over Big Red and so it was imperative to lug our warmest coats down to the concert venue each day.

Concert Bash - Day 3:  1300 - 2100

 We spent the morning pulling down and stowing much of our camp in readiness of an early start the next morning.  There had been warnings of 2-3 hour waits in a queue to clear Bashville of its 1000s of camping rigs all eager to leave the venue as early as possible.  To avoid accidents by any night driving the exit gate would not open until 0700 hours.   After packing as much as possible I lugged our  gear down to the concert entry gate which did not open until 1230 hours and found yet another patient queue to join.  We eventually got settled and once Maria arrived down was able to leave our chosen spot for a browse of the lunch offerings - this time finding the Diamantina Shire Auxiliary stall offering not bad Steak and Onion Rolls and without the inconvenience of any messy salad or slaw!

Neil Murray - a folk singer who had played with the NT 's Warumpi Band was excellent. He sang Seaman Dan's well known song 'My Island Home' but was denied the opportunity of an encore by the MC on account of the tight program schedule - which proved not strictly true.

Busby Marou - a blues group from Rockhampton was also much appreciated and they revealed that they had been appointed official Tourism ambassadors for the Year of the Outback


Steve Kilby - so so

Kasey Chambers - a very popular country and western singer who was raucously appreciated by the older Bashers - good to see her old Dad still playing alongside her.

Midnight Oil - this was the Band  the vast majority of Bashers had come to see and hear -  many were sporting shirts commemorating previous Oils concerts they had attended all over the country. Peter Garret had not aged and was still able to gyrate his gangly frame  all over the stage for nearly two hours.  His song sets were frequently interspersed with political statements many of which would not have gone down well with some of the audience - I ventured down into the 'Mosh Pit' on a number of occasions trying to get better pictures of this iconic band - it was a seething crush of  humanity down there but great fun nevertheless.


Midnight Oil played from late afternoon till the evening

From the 'Mosh Pit'

Finally, we were entertained by the very popular 'new selfie band' which appear with regular monotony at most music venues and most other public gatherings - The Mobiles

Departure Day:  Bashville to Quilpie

All good things must come to an end and so we had to leave what had been a genuine fun experience which had given us the opportunity to experience an Australian music concert in perhaps one of the most iconic bush settings. The organisers had successfully run a smooth operation and which had left the site  clean by the collection and recycling of over 100 000 aluminum cans, 180 000litres of grey(?) water  and nearly 400 wheelie bins of  toilet compost!!

Started at 0600 hours with visit to the toilets and a final pack then fired the engine and joined the departure queue at 0645hrs - however, so had many before us and still took nearly an hour to clear Bashville and join the dusty convoy of vehicles for 35kms back into Birdsville where a number of them had to peel off to join  another queue for fuel. 

Our sector's queue  leaving Bashville

The queue behind us leaving Bashville

We had fuelled up on the way in and so we kept going joining an even longer convoy of vehicles for the 300km stretch of dun coloured bull dust  enroute to Windorah. 

The 300km convoy en route to Windorah

Most of the convoy were well-behaved and kept to an average speed of 60-70kph but a couple of idiots tried to break out of the convoy and try and overtake the vehicles in it - showering all and sundry with more dust and stones.  I later learnt that the CB radios were running hot with the vehicle registrations of the offenders.

A large number of vehicles succumbed to tyre blowouts and it would have been no fun trying to change one of those big fat tyres in the continuous haze of dust.  We eventually limped in to Windorah through another Police breathalyzer station at about 1300hrs - this time we also had to join the ubiquitous fuel queue having already emptied two gerry cans of diesel into the vehicle once we had first encountered the bitumen. It took over an hour to secure fuel at a very modest $1.80/lt  but we had decided to drive the extra 240kms to Quilpie to spend the night and so on and on we drove - thankfully missing most of the setting sun.  We got to Quilpie and then spent an hour re-fuelling at an unmanned depot whose credit card activation system severely challenged my 'dusty brain'. We eventually secured a spot in the caravan park and heated up our final pre-prepared meal (Pea and Ham Soup) and had an early night.  A big day but we had broken the back of the return journey.

Quilpie to Miles

An improved and widened Warrego Highway made this an easy drive of  530kms including a fuel stop at Charleville and look over the historic Corones Hotel with its beautiful wood paneled foyer and many stained glass windows - unfortunately the pub was not serving until 1200 that day so we still have not had a drink there.  That night we availed ourselves of the Miles Windsor Hotel's courtesy car to drive us to and from that establishment where we had a fine dinner.  However, before setting off to dinner we were able to notice our caravan park full of large pristine off road caravans with not a speck of dust on them all owned by aged cardigan-wearing old folk who had clustered around a fire pit for their daily  Five O'clock Happy Hour!!

Miles to Brisbane:

Less than 400kms had to be driven this day with the only obstacle  encountered being some Sunday drivers through Toowoomba and negotiating the steep drive down the range with no brakes on the campervan - we made it and soon joined the city traffic on the Ipswich motorway just about all the way home.  We eventually got home at lunchtime to find John Sandman there to welcome us back after another exciting experience out West.


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