Travel

Australia’s 7 most eyebrow-raising festivals

If there is something western civilisation does well, it’s festivals. While most have their own unique charm – whether it be culture, art, food or wine – there are some that are sure to raise a few eyebrows. And we’ve narrowed down a list for our readers to revel in. 

From racing events that use unusual animale to festivals celebrating horrific histories, this is a list of wacky proportions. We’ve even found ones that beckon you to don lavish costumes – or your birthday suit!

So let’s get started.

1. Mary Poppins Festival

Kids dressed up at the Mary Poppins Festival

Kids dressed up at the Mary Poppins Festival. Image: Supplied

Calling all nannies, childminders and musical experts! Here’s a festival calling your name, hoping you’ll be practically perfect in every way.

Over the course of ten days, the Mary Poppins Festival celebrates storytelling through music, art, film and performance. Best of all, you get to dress up as your favourite nanny! The festival takes place in Maryborough, Queensland – the hometown of Mary Poppins author P. L Travers. It includes various public art installations and exhibitions, a grand parade, kite making and flying, and the very-cherished Mary Poppins in the park event.

So whether you want to dwell on your childhood memories, or give your kids a great week of festivities, Mary Poppins is the way to go.

Where: Maryborough, Queensland
When: June-July school holidays, yearly
 More info here

2. Camel Cup

Jockeys race on camels at Camel Cup

Jockeys race on camels at Camel Cup. Image: Nikki Westover

On your marks… get set… GO! Us Aussies have a proud history of racing – from cars, trucks, horses, and sometimes even the good old egg and spoon. But in the heart of Australia, in the city of Alice Springs, is a festival that’ll raise your brows, and it’s called Camel Cup. Like the famous Melbourne Cup, this festival has one tiny difference – they race on camels.

It sounds hard when you consider that massive hump being in the way, but somehow they do it.

What’s interesting about the event is that it started from a bet between two blokes way back in 1970. Since then it has been the hallmark of tourism in Australia’s central town, even gaining international notoriety with a friendly rivalry between Virginia City, USA and Alice Springs, Australia.

So slap on a cowboy hat, splash on some sunscreen and spend the day betting on the best camel – or riding it.

Where: Blatherskite Park, Alice Springs, Northern Territory
When: July 14, 2018
More info here

3. UFO Festival

Digitally created image of UFOs flying around Area 51 sign

Digitally created image of UFOs flying around Area 51 sign. Image: Fer Gregory

You’re not gonna believe this, but Roswell, New Mexico isn’t the only place crazy about UFOs.

Way up in Northern Queensland, halfway between Cairns and Townsville, is Cardwell. It features waterfront views, a luxury golf course, and an annual UFO festival. This close encounter of a festival is the only one of its kind in Australia and features a whole day of activities for all ages and all sorts of species. You could spend the day riding rides and shopping for quirky gadgets at their carnival and markets, party at a spaced-out music festival and even attend the after party. There’s also a UFO forum to discuss all things alien.

What’s interesting about the region surrounding Cardwell is it’s a hotspot of unexplained phenomena. Tully, 37 kilometres north of Cardwell, was made famous for its crop circles in 1966. 

The UFO Festival was created in 2014 after reports of UFO sightings spiked throughout Queensland. In 2017, the famous festival is making its comeback. So throw on an aluminum foil cap, catch up on your conspiracy research and get abducted into the world of Cardwell.

Where: Cardwell, Queensland
When: October 21, 2017
More info here

4. Tunarama

Competitor tossing tuna at the Tunarama Festival

Competitor tossing tuna at the Tunarama Festival. Image: Supplied

It’s pronounced tune-arama, not tonne-arama (I made that mistake too), and this is quite a slippery one.

Held during the peak of summer at Port Lincoln, 250 kilometres west of Adelaide, this festival boasts one of the most eyebrow-raising events you could think of: Their world famous tuna toss. In all seriousness, it’s a world championship competition where anyone could have a go at breaking the title. And this one has quite a history.

Tuna tossing – as it’s aptly called – was a task originally conducted by fishermen who needed to unload an overflowing boat. They would fling the fish off the deck to the waiting trucks on the shore. The Festival Committee decided this unique job needed to be their annual sport.

The festival also showcases a kids tournament (salmon toss), boat building competition, keg roll race and a prawn peeling competition.

Don’t forget to slap on some sunscreen and a hat!

Where: Port Lincoln, South Australia
When: January 25-28, 2018
More info here

5. Dark Mofo

Lights streak the sky during the winter solstice at Dark Mofo

Lights streak the sky during the winter solstice at Dark Mofo. Image: Dark Mofo/Lusy Productions, 2017

Within in the depths of Australia’s island state, during the winter solstice when the days are cold and the nights are longest, is Dark Mofo.

It is an event curated on behalf of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) – a tourist highlight in Hobart. What makes this event so eyebrow-raising is its short history of crazy, weird and newsworthy exhibitions. For anyone who’s at least stepped foot inside the MONA, you’d know exactly how crazy.

This year’s event featured a bloody, sacrificial ritual which made headlines after animal rights groups condemned the act. Directed by artist Hermann Nitsch, it portrayed a previously (and humanely) slaughtered cow, which was then used as a substitute for paint.

There’s also the annual nudie swim, where visitors and locals strip down to nothing and take an early morning swim at Sandy Bay’s Long Beach. Did we mention it’s in the middle of winter?

So if you’re looking for something crazy to do next year during the colder months, take a brave step towards Hobart.

Where: Hobart, Tasmania
When: June-July
More info here

6. Nude Games

Competitors compete for the best bum competition

Competitors compete for the best bum competition. Image: David Pillar

Frisbee throwing sounds like a hoot and a half, but imagine doing it with no clothes on. Well, imagine no more, because South Australia has you covered – metaphorically.

Noted as Australia’s first official nude beach, Pilwarren’s Maslin Beach showcases an annual Nude Games day where everyday Aussies compete in various sports. There’s the notorious sack race, the three-legged race, water balloon throwing, fastest doughnut eater and best bum competitions for both sexes.

And if you can’t find anywhere to stash your cash, have no fear! For $5 you can get a custom-made pouch to hold your valuable goods. If you feel like soaking up some sun while getting involved in some serious sports, head on down to this nude beach during the peak of summer.

Wear something loose…

Where: Maslin Beach, Pilwarren, South Australia
When: January 14, 2018
More info here

7. Fisher’s Ghost Festival

Street fair along Campbelltown Queen St during the Fishers Ghost Festival

Street fair during the Fishers Ghost Festival. Image: Supplied

After all the previous eyebrow-raising festivals, you’re probably wondering how on earth we’re going to top this list. Well, this is it…

Over 40 kilometres southwest of Sydney, in the growing city of Campbelltown, is a festival which celebrates the unearthing of a dead body over a hundred years ago. Without further ado, here’s the legend of Fisher’s Ghost:

In 1825, local farmer Fred Fisher undertook a minor gaol sentence. Before getting locked up, he gave his neighbour, George Worrall, power of attorney over his estate. And just after his release in 1826, Fred Fisher disappeared.

George told locals he sailed for England – but something was off. Three weeks after his disappearance, he started selling Fred’s belongings, making the townspeople suspicious.

Then after four months missing, a strange occurrence happened. On that unforgettable night, respectable farmer John Farley stumbled into a local hotel covered in shock. He screamed he had seen Fred Fisher’s ghost sitting on a railing of a bridge overlooking the local creek. John Farley told the patrons the ghost wailed and then pointed down the creek before fading away.

A month later, two young boys spotted bloodstains on a fence post, with a lock of hair and a tooth found nearby. This led the local constabulary to conduct a search with the help of an Aboriginal tracker. Eventually, Fred Fisher’s decomposed corpse was found in a shallow grave by the creek. George confessed he thought Fred was a horse in a wheat crop, but the locals believed he killed him to gain ownership of his estate. And in February 1827, George Worrall was convicted of murder and sentenced to death three days later. Fred Fisher was thereafter buried in a grave with no headstone.

For over 60 years, the city of Campbelltown has celebrated this legend. The two-week festival includes a street parade, ghost tours, art exhibitions and a carnival filled with rides and attractions. All topped off with a Saturday night fireworks display.

Be part of the legend this November – if you dare.

Where: Campbelltown, NSW
When: November 3-12, 2017
More info here

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