MEG LAW and her family head to the edge of the Simpson Desert in Queensland for an Outback experience like no other.
There are many travelling routes that lead to Birdsville for the world’s most remote music festival, and the ridgy-didge road trip is all part of the adventure. For our family, it involved buckling the kids in for more than 3,000 kilometres of at times hardcore 4WDing from Victoria to Outback Queensland. We were welcomed by bright red dust as far as the eye can see, sandy tracks, potholes and corrugated roads that make your head throb from wobbling up and down, with wild emus and cows darting across the tracks and tumbleweed randomly whirling across the road, reminiscent of a Looney Tunes Road Runner cartoon.
Every year, iconic Aussie musicians like Jimmy Barnes, Kasey Chambers and Jon Stevens make the trek to ‘Big Red’ – the highest sand dune in the Simpson Desert – for the concert event known as the Big Red Bash. They spend three nights under a vast, star-speckled canopy entertaining more than 11,000 revellers from all around Australia and beyond.
Bucket list experience
Since its launch in 2013, this family-friendly combo of desert camping and live music has grown in popularity to become a ‘must-do’ bucket-list experience. But it is not one for the faint hearted. There’s no WiFi, no phone reception, no showers or mod cons to be seen. Instead, it’s communal compost long drop toilets, a sea of tents, green swags, utes, caravans, fly nets, Akubra’s, Blundstones and good, old Aussie camaraderie.
The desert is transformed into a temporary mini town with its own network of roads and pathways for the event. The camping area sits on the dried-out bed of an ancient lake, with the giant rusty dune as a backdrop. It forms a natural amphitheatre, making it the perfect setting for an Outback concert. The landscape is coated in red dust that comes from the small pieces of gibber rock present throughout the region. Each year the weather and natural erosion add a little more.
Sandboarding fun at the Big Red Bash
Unzipping the canvas tent each morning, you are greeted by neighbouring campers slowly emerging from their swags and makeshift beds, sipping on coffee and tilting their hats your way with a “Mornin’! Another beaut day for it!”
The serenity ends here as the high-pitched squeals of kids begin to echo across the desert, with thousands of youngsters flying down the 40-metre-high dunes on toboggans, covered head to toe in red dust, to shouts of encouragement from the parents and campers cheering them on.
You don’t need a watch to know when the performance is due to begin as you can simply observe the almighty dust storm which emerges daily from the concert area as thousands of people line up with their chairs and esky’s ready to rock their hearts out to an incredible roll call of Australian music legends.
More than music – other things to do at the Big Red Bash
But the Big Red Bash is so much more than just music. There’s also everything from sunrise yoga sessions to camel rides, scenic helicopter rides, dune surfing, comedy performances, air guitar championships and charity initiatives such as the ‘Bashville Drags’, which raises funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. In 2022, a new Nutbush City Limits World Record was set with 4,084 people boot scooting on the sprawling red desert and kicking up dust to Tina Turner’s 1973 classic.
By 8pm each evening, the music has stopped, campfires are lit, artificial stage lights are turned off and we are offered the chance to see why stargazing in the outback is one of the most enchanting experiences you will ever share with your kids. An uninterrupted twinkling galaxy of wonder, magic and awe.
It’s this winning combination of nature, the rugged beauty of the Outback, the vibrant oranges and reds and ‘clean’ sunsets that give way to pale yellows and pinks when dust and haze fill the air; the extraordinary music line-up, and the sense of Aussie camaraderie that prevails when a crowd this large comes together off the grid. It truly is a fair dinkum event, and one you’ll be writing home about, that’s for sure.
As published in Out & About with Kids, August 2022