A festival in a tiny outback NSW town, where population is measured in dozens, is now drawing crowds from every corner of Australia.
It's tricky picking out the main drag of an almost-ghost town. In Silverton, in the far west of NSW, that honour might belong to Layard Street - the stretch of pot-holed, buck-jumping, axle-busting red dirt that runs between the Silverton Hotel and the Mad Max 2 Museum up on the hill.
Not much changes in Silverton - its starkness and stuck-in-time desert beauty is precisely what attracts visitors - but blow me down if something fresh hasn't blown into town. I could catch several flies in the time it takes to recover from spying a new cafe near the post-apocalyptic movie museum. The Shearer's Cook Tavern opened in March and, as the name suggests, it specialises in serving the kind of hearty fare that refuels weary-limbed shearers at the end of a hard day in the sheds. Think beef stew, curry chicken, sweet and sour pork, snags with tomato and onion gravy, and scones with jam and cream.
Adam Watson and Marie Lawson - or Ad n Ree, if you're the casual type - know all about those meals because the couple once travelled around shearing sheds, working as a shearer and cook respectively. Now they've put down roots in Silverton where they're raising two kids, boosting a town population that's measured in dozens rather than hundreds. "We're both rural people and we like the quiet atmosphere - it's a nice little bush town," says Adam.
I'm stopping in at Silverton on my way to the Mundi Mundi Bash on nearby Belmont Station, a 40,000-hectare sheep and goat property just beyond the Mundi Mundi Lookout. The lookout, with its jaw-dropping views, featured in Mad Max 2. When the latest Mad Max film, Furiosa, is released in May, festival-goers might recognise Belmont as a location.
Remote Belmont is perfect for movie-shooting and merry-making. Many of the 12,000 festival attendees last year set up camp in a perfect half-arch layout at the property to create what's known as Mundiville - an ephemeral town with a population about 240 times the size of Silverton's. Day-trippers also bounced back and forth between Belmont and Broken Hill, getting to know the road's rollercoaster 39 dips well and popping into Silverton along the way.
While some of Silverton's usual attractions - such as miner-turned-artist John "Emu Man" Dynon and the camels that give gentle rides along the town's thoroughfares - relocated to the bash to do business there, other drawcards remained. After greeting the four resident free-roaming, mischief-making donkeys, I head into Silverton Gaol and Historical Museum.
With limited time to poke around the rooms, cells and yard (hey, I have a music festival to get to), I ask Broken Hill Historical Society vice-president and museum volunteer, Chris Ekert, to point out the unmissable items. One is a model of the BHP Block 10 mine, which excavated some of the Line of Lode's richest, silver-dense leases amid a bitter industrial dispute. The intricate silver sculpture incorporates above-ground and underground scenes.
I gallery-hop, too, popping into Beyond 39 Dips and neighbouring Justin Cowz Gallery (its atmospheric interior includes tiny paintings attached to the ceiling). Then I'm in front of the Mundi Mundi stage, soaking up feel-good, sing-along tunes. Last year's event was packed with nostalgia acts - think Icehouse, Hoodoo Gurus and The Chantoozies - along with several surprises.
These sort of events bring together the music, the camping, the outback lifestyle and the camaraderie.
One of those was the first night's headliner. Furnace and the Fundamentals blast a high-energy mash-up of cover songs paired with smoke guns, blow-up dolls and an inflatable flamingo that carries the energetic Furnace - surely Australia's fittest frontman - out over the bouncing crowd. Quieter moments - such as Goanna's Shane Howard singing Solid Rock backed by the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation's local Subtext children's choir - also stick with me.
The Mundi Mundi Bash started in 2021 as a sister festival to Queensland's Birdsville Big Red Bash, which launched in 2013. The "Mayor of Mundiville", and founder of both festivals, Greg Donovan, says: "These sort of events bring together the music, the camping, the outback lifestyle and the camaraderie - and they draw people from every corner of Australia."
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Juicy Projects' Caro Ryan, who runs onsite radio station Bash FM, wisecracks that the bash "is Burning Man for grey nomads who want to keep their clothes on". The station keeps campers company during the course of the festival and as they roll out of the site on the Sunday. Besides true-blue Aussie music and bush tucker such as kangaroo curry, there are fun communal events such as trying to break the Nutbush dance world record (it did, with 6594 high-kicking participants). As the bash is family-friendly, patrons are also urged not to reveal too much flesh during the Mundi Undi Run - a fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The bash is dog-friendly, too, with the smartest hounds sporting booties to keep prickles out of their paws.
The festival thrills music-lovers way beyond Mundiville's stage. On the flight from Sydney to Broken Hill, I sit next to Jak Housden - a member of The Whitlams - who's part of the bash's "house band" that includes his wife, former Girlfriend lead vocalist Robyn Loau, on backing vocals.
After the final night's music, instead of hitting the sack I venture into Broken Hill's Palace Hotel (which famously starred in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). I've guessed - correctly - that some musos will be winding down here and shoot the breeze with Chocolate Starfish's Zakk Zedras. After a Sunday brunch on Argent Street, where I spot Kate Ceberano, I head to Broken Hill airport. The members of Human Nature - the festival's first boy band - are also there, waiting to fly home. Ah Mundi Mundi, you're the great leveller.
Getting there: Fly to Broken Hill from Sydney, Adelaide or Dubbo with Qantas or Rex, or pack up the car and caravan for an epic road trip.
How to Mundi: The 2024 Mundi Mundi Bash, from August 15-17, features James Reyne, Daryl Braithwaite, Vanessa Amorosi and more. Buy tickets early (the 2023 festival sold out six months before the event). Camp at Mundiville or stay in Broken Hill (the recently renovated Charles Rasp Motor Inn is a good choice here).
The writer was a guest of the Mundi Mundi Bash.
Pictures: Matt Williams; Destination NSW