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Published: July 17th 2021
Big Red Bash – the most remote music festival on the planet taking place in the world’s largest sand dune desert.”
Big Red sand dune = Nappanerica (in the local indigenous language)
Simpson Desert =MungaThirriNational Park
The Simpson is the world’s largest desert of parallel sandhills with the dunes running north-south. Covering an area of 176,500km2 it is the fourth largest desert in Australia encompassing parts of Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia. Big Red sandhill stands at 40 metres (130ft) in height and is the largest of 1,140 dunes that make up the Simpson.
The campground at the eastern base of Big Red is actually a lake bed and affectionately called “Bashville” – it is a city in its own right with approaching 10,000 residents for the 3 days of entertainment.
Each individual campsite has a boundary area (providing a buffer to other campers) of 6.75m x 13.5 with useable space being 4.75m x 12.5 so they are extremely spacious.
We have a family with young children on one side, a group of 4 campers on the other so only their cars are next to us
and at the back a van with some folk musicians which is very pleasant indeed.
For those using buckets or other portable containers to collect their grey water there are holding tanks at each toilet block. We have an inbuilt system that holds 120lt grey water but even with this capacity we have opted to have a “Birdsville Bath” on alternate days – a bowl of hot water with some Wilderness Wash and face wipes does the trick nicely. A squirt of deodorant and a spritz of dry shampoo and we are ready to face each day.
Our trolley - loaded up with chairs, a small esky with water & soft drinks, sunscreen, money for snack style meals, coats, scarves and sunhats – handled well in the powdery sand as we made our way down to the concert area each day. Alcohol is allowed in the concert area (cans only, no glass) but we thought better of sitting in the sun from midday until 8pm drinking the hard stuff.
What a view from the top of Big Red! The climb up wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; we took our
time and did it comfortably. As we turned around the view over the campsite was definitely in the WOW! category. Bashville was already massive and still today (Tuesday) we could see people/vans – or rather, their dust – arriving in the distance. Adults and kids were speeding down the dune on boards or toboggans while others, like us, were just lapping up the experience. Behind Big Red lay the first flat plain of the Simpson and beyond that the next sandhill.
When we were in Charleville we picked up a copy of the book “Outback Cop” which is the story of the (now retired) Birdsville police officer – we didn’t know then that Neale McShane was going to be at the Bash. So after morning tea in the Plaza we ambled over to his little tent and he kindly signed the book for us. Neale retired in 2015 following a stroke. In reading his book it was interesting to discover that he lived in Romsey for a time, so we had a good natter about that and then he and John were able to share stories about the train service from Clarkefield into Melbourne.
Each day the concert started just after midday and ran until about 8pm every night – by which time it was far too cold to be sitting out in the open. As people made their dusty way back to their individual camps campfires burned bright, sending curls of smoke into the starry night.
Over the 3 days the entertainment was just wonderful. Given all the late changes to State border restrictions etc the organisers did a fantastic job in finding replacement artists when some of the original lineup were not able to come. The “house band”, made up of “whoever was available” apparently had just one week in the Birdsville Community Hall to rehearse and get to know each other and the many songs they would be performing – they were, quite simply, brilliant. The music varied from hard rock, pop, country, folk and “Australiana” (if that would be the correct genre of John Williamson) so there was definitely something for everyone. We exchanged looks when told by one of the artists (Brian Cadd) that he “wrote the next song 51 years ago” – gracious me, we knew every word!
The Crackup Sisters –
S.T. Ruth (known as Struth), “Rowdy” Rosie Ruth and “Iffy” Ian Francis Ruth (“dad wanted a boy by the time she arrived”) – had everyone laughing at their whip cracking acrobatic gymnastic antics throughout the day and in-between some of the concert sets.
The Big Red Drag Race (ala Priscilla, Queen of the Desert style), started at the top of Big Red down through to the Plaza area was run and won but unfortunately we missed it because we lost track of time – SO disappointing. We got a couple of photos at the very end but will try to get some more put into our Blog Book at a later date. (We have ordered a copy of the official photo journal for delivery in a few weeks.)
The Nutbush dance was amazing to watch with 2878 participants kicking up the dust for over 5 minutes and raising $70,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The dance broke the world record and as such will be going into the Guiness Book of World Records. Even though the Twist (done to the house bands rendition of Chubby Checker’s “Lets Twist Again” had fewer participants because
of the hot midday sun, it still managed to break an Australian record. Record officials walked through the lines of dancers making sure they were doing the right moves and keeping in time with each other to ensure that the record was indeed broken.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience – one that we will always remember! The only thing we didn’t enjoy was the dust. We couldn’t avoid it of course, as it was with us day and night – but it was part of being in the Outback and the car and caravan can always be cleaned.
Postscript: An update received from RFDS advised that the sum of monies raised at the Bash was in excess of $100,000 – an absolutely tremendous effort!
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