In the central west of Queensland, Australia lies the town of Winton. It’s a two-hour drive north-west of Longreach and 1,358 kilometres (or a 14-hour drive) from the state’s capital, Brisbane. Winton boasts a rugged, scenic landscape and wears its Queensland Outback tag with pride. Yet, it’s not just the spectacular scenery that lures visitors to Winton… The Way Out West Festival held here annually swells the ranks of this outback town from its usual 900 population to something around 7,000.
The festival ran from April 25-28 and is the newest festival to hit the outback, held for the first time in 2018 in conjunction with the opening of the new Waltzing Matilda Centre it is now an annual event. It’s packed with a line-up of incredible pop, rock and blues music artists who are more than ready to entertain eager festivalgoers over four days. It’s hectic and crazy and I loved being a part of it!
“Winton Shire Council are pleased to present the second Winton’s Way Out West Fest,” Winton Mayor Gavin Baskett said. “The Festival is a great reason to come visit western Queensland, enjoy Winton’s hospitality and enjoy the very best Australian and international artists. Our town comes alive with music everywhere. It is much more than a music festival. It is a celebration of small-town Australia and your chance to experience outback life and support outback communities.”
I joined the thousands who had rolled into town to check out the music. With the town all but booked out, where there was no room at the inn the festival centred around a ‘tent city’, a fair dinkum municipality of tents, one of which had my name on it. There were caravans and camper trailers and vehicles of every size and shape imanginable; the Grey Nomad community was well represented. As I mixed with people of all ages and partied perhaps somewhat more than I should have, I realised age is no barrier.
The local pubs were heaving with visitors as local and national music talent took to the stage. I was certainly spoilt for choice.
Things kicked into gear on Thursday after the Anzac Day service, with 86-year-old country music stalwart Chad Morgan dazzling a crowd at the Winton Town Hall. The Friday night line-up included the Road Hammers, Jon Pardi and Brett Eldridge, followed by San Cisco, Amy Shark and crowd favourites Missy Higgins and John Williamson on Saturday.
The absolute highlight for me came on Saturday when I visited the Waltzing Matilda Centre, where AB ‘Banjo’ Patersons’s original (1895) musical score ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is glass-cased for close scrutiny. I was thrilled to see this and many other historical Australian treasures in what is the first museum dedicated to a song. The centre re-opened in 2018 after being destroyed by fire in 2015 and recently took out the award for Public Design at the Australian Interior Design Awards. The new-look building is a bit rustic, perhaps a reflection of the town in which it is built. Open from 9am to 5pm, allow yourself plenty of time to explore.
This place is hard to leave but I hurried back to Tent City (a short 5-minute drive) as John Williamson takes the stage. Entering the arena his gloriously melodic Aussie voice felt like he was singing directly to me. Yep, you guessed it, he was singing ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Even writing about this moment makes me emtional, gives me goosebumps.
Winton’s Way Out West Festival doesn’t just offer a true-blue outback experience, it’s a chance for everyone to support our farmers and outback communities.
It was a massive undertaking, but the Winton community opened doors and hearts to welcome its visitors and delivered some great music, good old-fashioned country hospitality and some of the best, icy cold beer I’ve ever tasted. It was sad to have our party end, but there’s always next year; bring the grandkids. Word to the wise, get yourself a hat ‘fly net’; all the best people wore them. If you haven’t experienced Winton’s Way Out West Festival, put it on your bucket list!