Top 10 Fun Events in Australia

By Madeleine Wilson

Now here are a few things to add to your travel bucket list! Check out one of the biggest LGBT events in the world at Sydney Mardi Gras, spend New Year’s Eve on the beach at Tasmania’s Falls Festival and burn rubber at the thrilling Australia Grand Prix in Melbourne.

I struggled to keep the list of events to ten (and cheated a bit with a ‘best of the rest section’). So, before you go busting my balls saying I have missed this and that, please feel free to add your own favourite events in Australia to the comments section below.

Tropfest | Big Day Out | AFL Grand Final | Moomba Festival | The Falls Festival | Melbourne Cup | Mardi Gras | Australia Day | Woodford Folk Festival | Melbourne Food & Wine Festival |  Best of the Rest

1. Tropfest

February / Sydney

Short and sweet, this is the largest short film festival in the world. Over 700 entries are usually received for Tropfest and the 16 finalists are screened live at the Domain in Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens (Sunday 19 February 2012). The free live screening attracts over 150,000 people who arrive on the night laden with deck chairs and picnic rugs to enjoy music, entertainments and food stalls. There are a number of red carpet-style arrivals as the awards ceremony takes place at the end of the evening. Celebrity judges on the panel have included Ewan McGregor, Baz Luhrmann and Nicole Kidman.

Next event: Sunday 19 February 2012

2. Big Day Out

January-February / Various

What a way to kick start the new year! This travelling festival visits all the top cities in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Gold Coast) in sunny January and February. There’s always a light sprinkling of big names at Big Day Out but the best thing is the chance to hear a few new kids on the block. In 2012 Kanye West, Kasabian, My Chemical Romance, Architecture in Helsinki and Röyksopp played. Tickets AU$165 plus $10 booking fee.

2013 dates TBA

3. AFL Grand Final

September / Melbourne

Football but not as you may know it. The rules of AFL were devised by the Melbourne Cricket Club – the game was created to keep cricketers fit in the winter months. This is no ordinary football game, this is AFL, so spend some time getting your head around the rules (eg. six points are awarded to a ‘goal’ which is scored by kicking the ball between tall central posts. One point is awarded for a ‘behind’ which is when the ball goes between a tall post and one of the shorter posts. Got it?

The AFL Grand Final is held in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a stadium which has hosted all sorts, from a Pope’s service, a Police concert and – still the venues highest attendance of 130,000 – a Billy Graham evangelical rally. Today, nearly 100,000 fans jam-pack themselves in to the arena for the grand final and a nation of millions sit clued to their telly sets in pubs, bars, restaurant kitchens and shops. The atmosphere is electric.

Next event: Saturday 29th September 2012

4. Moomba Festival

March / Melbourne

Melburnians unite! Held over a lovely long Labour Day weekend in March, Moomba Festival is a free community event. Highlights include a parade on the Monday, the hilarious Birdman Rally (participants strap homemade wing creations to their body and leap from a platform in an attempt to fly across the river) and a main stage with some of Australia’s most-loved performers. There is also a carnival with fairground rides, a fireshow with pyrotechnic wizardry.

Next event: 9-12 March 2012

5. The Falls Festival

New Year / Lorne

In the heart of the Otway rainforest (and a sister festival held in Marion Bay in Tasmania), we suggest you make The Falls Music & Arts Festival a stop off on your Great Ocean Road trip! The festival – which grew from a humble and round the campfire fantasy – calls itself an ‘arts smorgasbord’ with nice personal touches such as Boogie Nights – an opportunity for early birds to enjoy unashamed boogying the night before the rest of the festival gang arrives. And for your New Year’s Eve extravaganza, pop on the face paint and ruffle the feathers for the Falls Fiesta – you can bet your bottoms there will be a conga line. Head to The Village with yoga sessions for spiritual realignment, circus workshops, puppetry and lots of other lovely extras which show that this festival goes the extra mile to make this a heart-warming festival experience. And that’s why it’s on our top 10 list! Past line-ups have included Beirut, Arctic Monkeys, CSS, Fleet Foxes and Nouvelle Vague.

Next event: 28 December 2012-1 January 2013 (TBC)

6. Melbourne Cup

November / Melbourne

What is with sporting events in Melbourne grinding the nation to halt? Be one of the 100,000 feather capped lot at the sideline on the first Tuesday in November at 3pm for the 3200m race. It is the richest prize in Australian sport and the Melbourne Cup itself is valued at a whopping AU$175,000. A ludicrous hat and nonsensical fashion statement is essential. General admission tickets will set you back €74.

Next event: Tuesday 1 November 2012

7. Mardi Gras

March / Sydney

If you like festivals flamboyant, flashy and fun then you were born for Sydney Mardi Gras. Hundreds of thousands line Oxford Street, the main drag in the city, for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Mardi Gras Parade (Saturday 3 March 2012). It is a colourful sea of glittering floats followed by a raucous after party that usually sees in the dawn. Meanwhile, crowds flock to Bondi Beach where they hold the annual running of the GLBT Mardi Gras Drag Race (Friday 2 March 2012). These events are free and there are plenty of other cultural events held over the weeks. But the parade is the highlight. Participants call for equality in same-sex marriages and GLBT rights.

Next event: 12 February-4 March 2012

8. Australia Day

January / Nationwide

Hey, it’s a national holiday, so with a day off work, that means partying and doing something that little bit special. For the budget traveller it also means an easy day of free events planned in most cities and towns across Australia. It is held every year on 26th January to mark the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788 – which is perhaps why those of indigenous heritage in Australia feel the name Invasion Day or Survival Day is a more apt name for the occasion! Events range from Cockroach Racing in Brisbane, the Australia Day UTE Run in Darwin, the Australian of the Year Awards followed by a live concert in Canberra and most of the major cities hold a firework spectacular of sorts.

Next event: Saturday 26 January 2013

9. Woodford Folk Festival

New Year / Brisbane

Set within parkland dedicated to the arts and humanities of folklore, the Woodford Folk Festival is an initiative underpinned by environmentalism. Just one hour north of Brisbane, this six-day event hosts a national and international programme of performers and artists. 39 venues have been established onsite including an amphitheatre, a bazaar, circus tent, a seated concert hall and a lantern lit path leading to a hillside with stunning views to the Glasshouse Mountains. 2012 artists have yet to be announced.

Next event: 27 December 2012-1 January 2013 (TBC)

10. Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

March / Melbourne

300,000 have caught the scent of the boldest and tastiest food and wine event in Australia. Be prepared to add another notch to the belt with 20 days of gorging, swilling, chomping and savouring across 200 venues. The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival buzz ripples through the city as Melburnians grapple with a gastronomic playground that could bring you anything from sushi on secret roof terraces to cosy basement beverages. The ‘want to try this at home’ lot should sign up to one of the masterclasses and keep an eye on their website for the latest events. Nom nom nom.

Next event: 2-21 March 2012

Best of the Rest

Australian Grand Prix
Melbourne / March
En route to St Kilda, thousands march to the scenic Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix. The central lake is a great setting and even general admission tickets have access to fantastic viewing spots. (15-18 March 2012)

Peats Ridge
New Year / Near Sydney
Eco conscious festival-goers would do well to explore this sustainable arts and music event. A pleasant hour’s romp in the countryside outside Sydney with a fancy dress masquerade for a memorable New Year’s Eve. (29 December 2012-1 January 2013)

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race
Competitors cover 630 nautical miles in  one of the world’s most gruelling yacht races crossing the Tasman Sea. (26-31 December 2012)

Parkes Elvis Festival
January / Sydney
Wannabe kings of rock roll in to this event about an hour from Sydney. Expect tribute concerts, film screening and quiffs. You can even start the day with a Hunka Hunka Breakfast, just be sure to say ‘thank you very much’. (9-13 January 2013)

Sculpture by the Sea
October or November / Bondi, Sydney
The largest free outdoor exhibition in the world. The sand sculptures add a cultural twist to your walk along Bondi Beach. A small sister event is also held at Perth’s Cottesloe Beach in March.

Darwin Lions Beer Can Regatta
July / Darwin
If you find yourself in this part of the country in July, head to Mindil Beach for peculiar goings-on. Vessels made of beer cans are seaworthy tested and concerts and bizarre beach competitions keep the atmosphere entertaining. (15 July 2012)

Fed Square Live
December & January / Melbourne
Both emerging talent and top acts perform to crowds every Thursday. Pull up a deck chair at one of these free gigs (8 December 2011-27 January 2012, performance start times vary from 6pm, 6:30pm or 7pm)

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Thanks TropfestMichael_SpencerLookingGlassmiss.libertinesufwavlxyzpurpaboo & squawkingalah for the images off Flickr. Please note, all images were suitable for use at time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.

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