Calling all movie buffs – there’s no need to spend over 20 hours in the air to attend Cannes or Sundance Film Festival. All you need is three hours to swap Brisbane for the bush to attend the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival.
Until recently, this town of 1,000 people was best known as the birthplace of Qantas and where the Waltzing Matilda was first performed live.
That is, until movie directors caught wind of its 50,000-plus square kilometres of vast plains, red dirt and sandstone ranges and turned it into ‘Hollywood of the Outback’.
In recent years, Winton’s played backdrop to several major film productions, including Nick Cave’s ‘The Proposition’, and welcomed the likes of Hollywood stars Guy Pearce and Emily Watson.
You don’t need to be a movie star to experience Winton under the spotlight. Each winter, the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival takes over town for nine days of short-film action.
Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
How to get there
With nine days of festival action ahead of you, there’s no need to spend days travelling the 1,359 kilometres from Brisbane on the road. Instead, arrive by air.
Operating daily flights from Brisbane Airport to Longreach, Qantas will get you within 180 kilometres (two-hour drive) of the Winton-action.
What to eat and drink
You might be in the outback, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start your day with a barista-made coffee.
Grab a table at the Musical Fence Café for eggs benny, pancakes or a big breakfast, or pick up a toasty or pastry to-go from Balamara Bakery (which incidentally accepts Bitcoin for payment too).
For true outback fare – think crumbed steak or chicken schnitzel – pull up a chair at the North Gregory Hotel, Tattersalls Hotel or Australian Hotel for lunch or dinner.
Don’t think it’s all pub-grub in Winton, either. Grab a table at the Daphne Mayo Dining Room at the North Gregory Hotel, for an a la carte experience focused on fresh and local ingredients, including seafood which makes the short hop, skip and a jump down the Matilda Highway from Karumba regularly.
Where to stay
The good thing about Winton is everything is within walk’s reach.
If you want to stay in the thick of the action, check into the North Gregory Hotel. Your accommodation comes with a slice of history - not only is this Winton institution nearly 140 years old, but it’s rumoured to be where Banjo Patterson first performed Waltzing Matilda.
Prefer to retire early? Boulder Opal Motel Inn is located at the edge of town – close enough to the action, but far enough to separate yourself from the late-night revellers.
With the town swelling from less than a thousand to over three thousand, make sure you secure your accommodation early.
What to do at the festival
There’s more to this film festival than turning up, grabbing a bucket of popcorn and settling into a recliner chair in the 100-year-old Royal Theatre – the oldest operating open-air cinema in Australia.
Like all good film festivals, you won’t want to miss the opening night. Catch one of Australia’s best new films before heading to the North Gregory Hotel to brush shoulders with the who’s who of film stars and creators.
Bringing the kids? The festival offers a special movie-themed Kids Club to keep them entertained, from games to arts and craft and teaching them about the outback film industry.
Make sure you stay for the Vision Splendid Short Film Competition on the final evening. Catch a selection of short films from emerging filmmakers and cast your vote for your favourite by throwing paper planes in the air.
What to do when you're not at the festival
Films might bring most of the visitors to Winton over festival weekend, but it’s the promise of dinosaurs, opals and Waltzing Matilda that lures the other 100,000 visitors each year.
When you’re not catching a film in the program, head to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs or Lark Quarry for a dinosaur encounter – meet “Banjo” Australia’s largest and most complete carnivorous dinosaur or check out the 3,300 stone footprints dating back 95 million years, from the world’s only recorded dinosaur stampede.
Allow time to visit the Waltzing Matilda Centre – the first museum in the world dedicated to a song or try your hand at fossicking for local opals at Winton Opal Gems.
Don’t leave town without channeling your inner Slim Dusty at The Musical Fence. Located behind the Diamantina Heritage Truck and Machinery Museum, this permanent musical fence is a world first, and appeared on Gotye’s 2013 Grammy Award winning album “Making Mirrors”.