The Deni Ute Muster just keeps getting bigger and better. With the classic celebration of rural Aussie culture turning 21 years young this year the party was sure to be a sell-out, so we sent Pat out to Deniliquin to check out what happens at the most true blue, dinky-di event in Australia.
Making my way up to Deni on Thursday morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Deni Ute Muster is most known for the antics of the Ute Paddock, where shoeys, whip-cracking and key banging (a form of engine revving that still has my ears ringing a week later) don’t stop ‘til dawn. But recently, the family camping area has been taking off. Apparently 65% of the tickets this year are going to families, thanks to a growing international music lineup and activities that cater to all ages. (Everyone loves a good lawnmower race right?!)
As a self-admitted CityBoi, I had no idea that the country scene was this big. The 20k strong crowd is comparable in size to Splendour, Falls or any other big Aussie shebangs. Tim McGraw, the international headliner for this year, has well over 100mil streams on some of his songs on Spotify. He’s their Flume.
Rough As Guts
But the heart and soul of the muster is, the Ute Paddock. Venturing in only a few hours into the festival on Thursday afternoon, I’d conservatively estimate that the Ute Paddock had cracked the annual alcohol consumption of a small country.
Whatever your expectations for the Ute Paddock are, it will exceed them. Wandering through is an assault on the senses. Every campsite has its own brunt of flags paying homage to our biggest rural icons, particularly RM Williams, Jack Daniels and Bundy Rum. There was also possibly the highest concentration of Aussie flags I’ve ever seen in one place, and a pleasing number of Indigenous flags to boot.
My ears were filled with the sounds of cars backfiring, skiddies and whips cracking; my nostrils burnt with the smell of rubber and exhaust fumes. Every way I looked there was some kind of spectacle, whether it was the stripper pole that’d been erected in one campsite or the blokes wearing Hawaiian shirts from Lowes that they’d ripped into singlets. Maybe all of this is just a normal afternoon in the country, but I felt like I was going into culture shock.
As the afternoon wore on, patrons lazily erected their campsites, but setting up swags and rooftop tents was clearly an afterthought. More urgent matters such as impressing girls with whip-cracking and beer drinking abilities took priority.
No Sign Of Slowing Down
After the previous day’s antics, I expected a slow morning while people nursed sunburns, hangovers or both. However, by 10.00am on Friday, the festival grounds were already filling up and there were more shenanigans than you could shake a tinnie at.
The Show N Shine Competition, where competitors showed off their best custom utes, wouldn’t look out of place in Fast and Furious: Australia Drift. A standout was a Star Wars themed ute. The interior was all black with neon lighting, all the buttons in the console had been replaced with a futuristic touchscreen display and the tray had been modified to house a gigantic TV that folded out and played Star Wars movies. Another was a completely custom jobbo that the bloke had done in his backyard. It was red with flames down the side, and the tray opened up to reveal eight speakers, which had been shaped to look like bubbling lava. He claimed it was inspired by his ex-wife. The number plate was ‘DEMONIC’.
Competitive whip-cracking was equally as impressive as it was terrifying – given that I knew those same whips would be going full tilt in the campgrounds well-past 2 in the morning. By far the highlight of the afternoon though was the Circle Work Competition, which turns out is just a fancy name for doughies and skiddies. Yeww! I still have no idea how they judged the winners, but it all looked pretty sick to me.
Moving towards the main stage as the sun set, the 20k strong crowd wasn’t showing any sign of easing up. Wood chopping and camp cooking workshops were replaced by Aussie legends such as John Williamson and Lee Kernaghan who took us well into Friday night.
‘Absolutely. Bloody. Legendary.’
– Lee Kernaghan hit the nail on the head when asked to sum up the Deni Ute Muster in three words.
Excursions to the Ute Paddock were always eventful and a highlight of the three days, but when the music ended for the night, I was more than thankful to be heading back to the rent-a-tent section (Deni’s version of VIP camping or glamping) each night, where the engine revving and whip-cracking sounded more distant.
I’ve already copped enough shit from our chief, Tim Ashelford, about going glamping, but who am I to say no to a pre-setup canvas tent with chairs, a camp stretcher and lantern. And while all of that is nice, not having to pack a single thing up come Sunday is even better.
Culture Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
Anyone who says Australia lacks culture only has to spend one day at Australia’s biggest country festival to change their mind. It might not be as refined as the French, or as old as the Greek, but with bull riding, lawnmower races and a Blue Singlet Count on Saturday, I’d say rural Aussie culture is alive and strong.
The Blue Singlet Count was a big event for 2019, with a goal to break the festival’s previous world record of 3,959. It’s events like this that are the heart and soul of the weekend. Families with 6-month-old babies, blokes who’d been to all 21 festivals, and groups of rowdy youngins, all came together and managed to scrape through a new world record: 3,972 blue singlets.
Friday’s circle work arena was transformed into a makeshift racetrack come Saturday. I can’t say I ever thought I’d be surprised by the speed and agility of a lawnmower, but I also didn’t envision that I’d see grown men hitting well over 60km/h on the straights and getting them up on two wheels on the bends. At times like this I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘only in Deni…’
‘You just have to get on and give it a go. The more you do it, the better you get at falling.’
– Cowboy just before jumping on a riled-up bull.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more ridiculous, it was time for the Bull Ride finals. It’s a testament to the ridiculousness of the sport that surviving a total time of 8 seconds is considered a win. I’m all for learning from failure and trying new things, but standing at the edge of the bullpens as young cowboys prepared to ride a few tonnes of angry bull, I was happy to stay a spectator.
The Internationals Hit The Stage
Riding the high from the day’s events (and copious amounts of beer), everyone was more than ready to see in the final night as Aussie artists shared the spotlight with huge international acts like Tim McGraw. I’m partial to a bit of Dixie Chicks or Kasey Chambers, but I wouldn’t have called myself a country fan. Despite this, after three days of being inundated by the best Australian country on offer, I couldn’t help but start stomping my feet and shaking those hips a little.
Waking on Sunday morning, sleep-deprived, sunburnt and covered in layers of dust, beer, and sweat, I partook in a common ritual for festival-goers and promised myself that this was my last year of festivals. I’ll never do that to my body again. But we all know that in only a few weeks I’ll be planning the next one.
So come October 2020, grab your Akubra, dust off your RMs, and head out to the Deni Ute Muster to experience the truest, bluest festival Australia has to offer. I’ll see you there.
While You’re Out West