The Big Red Bash packed with 9000 people in the Simpson Desert is so much a part of the Outback Queensland festival season it's hard to imagine a time when it didn't happen.
The festival at the Big Red sand dune 40km west of Birdsville is now so famous that Midnight Oil agreed to play their only gig in Australia there this year.
Yet as Festival organiser Greg Donovan said at the Destination Q events conference in Cloncurry last week, the most remote music festival in the world only started by accident in 2013 and it wasn't until 2017 that it finally turned a profit.
"I never set out to put on a music festival in the middle of the desert, you'd have to have rocks in your head to even consider it," Mr Donovan said. "You'd have to bring everything in and there's no-one local within 1000km, this is stupid."
Yet Mr Donovan was familiar with deserts, having run marathons four of them across the world to raise money for charity and he wanted to do something similar in Australia.
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"I visited Birdsville and I saw the Simpson Desert and thought this is the place where I'm going to do it," he said. And so in 2013 the Big Red Run was born, a 250km run over six days to raise funds for type 1 diabetes, which he suffered.
"John Williamson had just released an album called Big Red and I knew someone who knew him, so I asked him to come out and support us and get this thing going," he said.
Williamson agreed to play an impromptu concert on top of the dune to support the volunteers - but word got out.
"The bush telegraph kicked on and people said they wanted to come along," Mr Donovan.
"I thought, bugger it, if people want to come along, I'll charge them $100 a ticket to cover some of our costs."
They sold 500 tickets. "People loved the concert on the dune, it was fantastic in the middle of the desert to have this great music happening," Mr Donovan said.
At the bottom the dune was Lake Nappanerica, which fills up every 50 years and was wet in 2013. It had dried up by 2014, and Mr Donovan decided to take advantage of it. "I decided to have another crack at it, get a stage happening and call it the Big Red Bash," he said.
"But the forecast was high winds so we decided to move it to the bottom of the dune."
Though 1100 people attended, it ran at a big loss. "I knew nothing about the music festival and I went home with my tail between my legs," Mr Donovan said.
But a turning point afterwards was when Mr Donovan was made redundant from his insurance job in Sydney and he got a big pay out. "People said put it in a boring balanced fund, and I though, nah stuff it, I'm going to put it into Jimmy Barnes," he said.
"So in 2015 Jimmy Barnes came out to the desert and 3000 people turned up."
It still ran at a loss, but not as much. "We were on our way," he said. Word got out and in 2016 Barnesy was back accompanied by Paul Kelly for a sellout 7100 crowd.
But unseasonal rain forced a last minute decision to move the festival to the Oval in Birdsville with the help of Diamantina Shire Council. "We had no weather insurance because it never rains in Birdsville. Dur!"
In 2017 they returned to the Dune and brought more country music in instead of rock and the crowd dropped a bit.
"But we learned a lot of lessons and we made a bit of money," Mr Donovan said.
"In 2018 we went back to good old Aussie Rock, got John Farnham out, and bang, sold 9000 tickets." The Bash scored its biggest coup in 2019 to get Midnight Oil. "Again we were sold out, 9200 tickets, we probably could have gone higher but we wanted to keep things steady," he said.
"As for 2020, watch this space, we've got big plans."
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