Volunteering At The Big Red Bash – Being A Part Of The Most Remote Music Festival In The World

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Imagine deciding to hold a music festival 1,400km from the nearest capital city… in the desert… in Australia. Crazy right? Welcome to the Big Red Bash!

A wide view of Bashville, Big Red Bash.
The Big Red Bash!

From humble beginnings in 2013, the Big Red Bash (BRB) has grown into an annual pilgrimage for ten thousand people. They come from all parts of Australia, and even from around the world.

For three days, they camp together at a pop-up town (called Bashville), on a dry lake between two enormous red sand dunes… right on the edge of the Simpson Desert in Queensland. The nearest town is Birdsville, 35km to the east.

Big Red is the name given to the largest sand dune, on the eastern edge of the Simpson. It provides the backdrop to the main stage. And the crowd loves it!

A three-day line up of classic Australian bands, performing outdoors in the Australian desert… a unique experience.

So what draws the crowds?

It’s the adventure, the one of a kind experience. Just getting there is an adventure. Dirt roads, dust and for many, their first introduction to the Aussie outback.

Clearly, the general public bring the BRB to life. Without a crowd, there’d be just an empty paddock. Equally though, without the organisational skills of Event Safety Management there’d be chaos.

And there’s a way you can get involved, really involved as a part of the “machine” that makes the Big Red Bash happen.

How? By volunteering.

But first, what makes the Big Red Bash so good? Why does everyone come away from a Bash feeling so good?

Another World

I think it’s the whole experience, from when you leave home to when you get back again.

Most Australians have never been outback. We spend our lives pushing through the daily grind, always busy, always rushing. Many of us dream of exploring this mythical thing called the Outback, but life gets in the way.

Then we hear about the Big Red Bash. It’s the ideal holiday destination… a stack of iconic Aussie bands way out in the middle of nowhere. A perfect excuse to “go outback”.

We’re off to the outback at last!

Once we’re on the road heading for Birdsville, something changes. We see country we’ve never seen before and people living in tiny towns, eking out a living. We never imagined people live this way.

We begin to understand how much these people love their part of the world. The red dirt flows through their veins. And their honest natures rub off on you.

Say your vehicle needs repairs en route to the Bash. You drop into the next mechanic along the way, at a tiny town. There’s just a few houses and general store there, nothing more. The mechanic goes way above and beyond to help you, to get you rolling again.

It starts to sink in… people are different out here. They’ll give you the shirt off your back when you need it.

Landscapes like these make you realise how trivial our day to day problems are.
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So you start to relax. By the time you drive into Bashville, a dusting of outback hospitality has settled on you. The stresses of daily life suddenly seem so far away.

Looking down on Bashville from the top of Big Red, you can almost see the collective sigh of contentment rise up from the campground… 10,000 people look around and think, “Wow, this is pretty cool”.

No one cares if you haven’t had a shower, your clothes are dirty and your hair’s a mess. Everyone’s here to have a good time. And the good vibes permeate Bashville like the perpetual dust cloud that hangs over the campground.

A strong southerly meant lots of dust at the Big Red Bash.
The ever-present dust is all part of the BRB experience.

And when you’re a volunteer, you get this vibe over and over again.

So many people thank you for what you’re doing, and everyone’s up for a yarn! For whatever reason, the Bashville crowd seem to understand that no one is judging them, unlike back home. They can let their hair down and have a good time.

Why You Should Volunteer

How would you like a free ticket to the Big Red Bash, a free merchandise pack and your own designated volunteer camping area?

This is what you’ll get as a volunteer. But forget about the freebies for a moment. The best rewards are

  • The fantastic people you’ll meet,
  • The common bond between volunteers,
  • A chance to be part of something special, and
  • The satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped create a unique music festival.
Volunteers Dave and Maxine drove all the way from Perth, WA to volunteer at the Big Red Bash.

A Review From Volunteers Maxine and David (Perth, WA)

Volunteer role:

  • Campground educators.

Overall experience:

  • Brilliant experience, highly recommend.
  • – Great camaraderie amongst vols and general public.
  • – Very well organised.
  • – All vols chipped in and did what they could, good to see!

Experience as campground educators:

  • Great to get around and talk to people.
  • Everyone enjoying themselves and wanting to share their experience.

Would you come back?

  • Definitely. Not every year though. Too far too come.

Artists and entertainment:

  • An array of artists and entertainment on all the time, excellent.
  • Activities to get involved in if you want to, e.g. volleyball, Nutbush, Drag Race, etc.
  • Something for everyone.
  • Good hours for entertainment.
  • Great facilities.
  • Range of vendors good and good prices.

If someone asked you about volunteering?

  • Definitely do it! A great experience. One off the bucket list.

Peta and I decided to volunteer, because we’d heard so many good comments about the Bash. Oh, and the chance to see some amazing acts doing their thing in front of Big Red.

Now we normally run the other direction from even the smallest of crowds. So we were pretty apprehensive about the BRB.

But this was different.

The atmosphere was relaxed, happy and family-friendly. Of course there was a party atmosphere. But overwhelmingly, everyone was considerate of each other and respected their space.

Now we’re Big Red Bash volunteer “veterans”, what did we think?

Our Experience As Volunteers

Peta was a road marshal. This involves managing the traffic as the crowds roll in. They’re small teams who do four separate 4-hour shifts. Yes, it’s dusty and frantic at times. But road marshals have fun.

Peta volunteering as a road marshal at the Big Red Bash.
Peta in road marshal mode…

They get to talk to hundreds of happy people as they roll in, often with a carload of excited kids.

I (Andrew) volunteered for pack up. It was two 8-hour days packing everything away in readiness for next year’s Big Red Bash. Yes it’s hard work, but my fellow volunteers were really interesting people. So the hours flew by, yarning away while we worked side by side.

One of the pack-down volunteer crews enjoying pork ribs, kindly donated by one of the catering businesses at the Big Red Bash.
One of the catering crews kindly donated delicious pork ribs to the volunteer crews. Here, our team leader Paul is carefully dissecting the ribs into equal portions.

Paddling Like Ducks

The BRB team look after their volunteers. After all, the event wouldn’t be viable without the 500 or so who volunteer their time, in exchange for a free ticket. We get into the site a day before the early arrivals start rolling in and we have our own camping area.

And if there’s one absolute standout word to describe the Bash, it would have to be “organised”. The team from Event Safety Services certainly know how to organise and run an event.

The official tent and volunteer tent at the Big Red Bash.
The officials tent on the left is ground zero for the BRB.

The team of organisers reminded me of the old saying about ducks… they’re calm on the surface but paddling Iike crazy underneath. Talk about knowing how to work under pressure. These people are good!

Getting Ready

Our time started on the Friday before the Bash. We rolled into Birdsville (after a loop via the Sandover Highway, Lajamanu Road, Judbarra / Gregory National Park and the Savannah Way!) and stayed at the caravan park for a night.

Birdsville was packed. Travellers, concert goers and volunteers milled around the town. The service stations were doing a roaring trade, with long queues to the bowsers… and even longer queues into the workshop!

Late morning, we registered at Birdsville Hall. And this is where the BRB team set the tone for the week. They were casual and easy-going, yet everything ran like clockwork.

That afternoon, we had a volunteers’ briefing at the Birdsville Hall. 10,000 concert-goers, staff, stall owners, sponsors, musicians and volunteers have to be managed during the event.

It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, where one missing piece can affect the entire event.

Setting Up

We rolled out of Birdsville on Saturday morning, making for Big Red. After just a few kilometres, we caught up to the long procession of volunteers and catering trucks snaking towards Bashville.

A well organised team of fellow volunteers calmly directed us into the volunteer campsite. After setting up on our huge patch of Bashville real estate, we took stock of our surroundings.

A cold wind was blowing from the south and dust was sweeping across the still-empty general campground. Fortunately the volunteers’ campground was at the southern end, so we were spared most of the dust.

Then we wandered up onto Big Red and watched several 4WDs attempt to conquer Big Red from the west. Some were more successful than others!

By the way, Big Red is closed to traffic during the Big Red Bash. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a Simpson Desert adventure. You can still use the Little Red diversion road to the south, but not Big Red itself.

We spent the day taking it easy and getting to know other volunteers. The atmosphere is great. Everyone here is friendly and keen to do their bit to make sure the event runs smoothly.

Rolling In

Sunday dawned cold and bright, with the sun finally appearing over the dunes well after 7am. By 8am the first of the punters rolled in.

The crowds rolling into Bashville, Big Red Bash.
Here they come!

You can purchase early entry tickets, with the option of arriving either one or two days early. The earlier you’re on site, the more likely it is you’ll be closer to the concert area and food court. Be aware though, being early isn’t a guarantee of a prime spot. With so many campers arriving together, the organisers have to fill several sections of the campsite at once.

The biggest benefit though, is missing the mad rush on Tuesday morning.

Caravans, buses, cars with box trailers, camper trailers, expedition trucks, camper vans, even a couple of semi trailers set up as campers… you name it, they were there!

An unusual set-up. A prime mover with a fifth wheeler, rolling out of the Big Red Bash.
Now that’s different! I finally managed to snap this setup as they were rolling out.

The line of vehicles disappeared up the road and around the corner. But it was all orderly, efficient… and fun! Everyone was excited to finally roll into Bashville. By 11am the rush was over and people were settling into what was their new home for the next 5 nights.

The crowds rolling into Bashville, Big Red Bash QLD.
The line-up is huge, but it all flows smoothly. A credit to the BRB organising team… and the volunteer road marshals of course!

Peta had her first shift as a road marshal. This entails guiding campers to their spots, and copping plenty of dust! Still, that’s all part of the experience.

By the end of our second day on site, we’d met many fellow volunteers and a bond was forming between us all. With Dave, Maxine, Peta and I sharing Brett and Kelly’s fire, we all told a few lies and had a lot of laughs!

Our fellow volunteers shamelessly promoting our business. Big Red Bash.
From left: Kelly, Brett, Andrew, Peta, Maxine and Dave all doing some shameless promotion!

And little did we realise, we were in the hallowed presence of a future world record holder. For Kelly found fame (but not fortune!) as an esteemed world record holder in the Nutbush, later in the week. More on this later…

Big Red sand dune was dotted with more and more people as the crowd slowly built. There’s something irresistible about sand dunes… you have to climb them to see what’s on the other side!

Both kids and kids at heart were sand-boarding or tobogganing down the slopes of Big Red, having a ball. And the occasional person would wander along the top of the dune to a quiet spot, sit down and just take in their surroundings.

A wildflower growing on Big Red sand dune.
Wildflowers on Big Red.

A Growing Crowd

By Monday, the crowds were growing. All the food stalls were doing a roaring trade… as were the camels rides, helicopter flights and plane flights out of Birdsville.

Peta had another shift road marshalling and was back well after dark, after a large group of campers were held up in Birdsville.

Big Red became our measure of crowd size. As the crowd grew, the silhouettes on top of the dune increased steadily.

Volunteers all around us were coming and going, scooting off to their shifts in all different directions.

The atmosphere is great in Bashville. Everyone’s here for a good time, so they’re all friendly. Even the ever-present dust sweeping through the site didn’t bother them too much.

Bursting At The Seams

Tuesday, Day 1 of the music festival!

General entry to the campsite started early. A continuous stream of vehicles rolled in all day. Just when you thought Bashville couldn’t possibly hold one more person, another wave would surge in.

The amazing organisers shuffled, juggled and made room.

Once again, Peta was out there directing people to their camping spots and playing her part in making it all run smoothly.

Midday came and a world record was smashed. 2,330 people lined up to do a mass Nutbush dance in the dust, with the $10 entry fee going to the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service).

Fellow volunteer Kelly was a world record holder! And I must say, she was pretty chuffed…

Bashville grows to an enormous campground for 10,000 people.
The Nutbush crowd gathering on the edge of the main arena, ready to smash the world record… and raise a whole lot of money for the RFDS.

The BRB is a major fundraiser for the RFDS. It’s great to see such a critical outback service being supported.

By late afternoon a tsunami of concert-goers were heading towards the concert area. The concert kicked off with a fantastic Welcome To Country presentation and video from the Wangkangurru-Yarluyandi People.

Then the music started. The house band supported nearly every act from start to finish… a marathon set of over 120 songs for them. And they were excellent.

With a line up of singers and one late withdrawal, the set list was shuffled around and culminated in a fantastic tribute to the Easybeats.

After the concert finished, the concert area cleared quickly under a dust cloud kicked up by 20,000 weary feet.

Dragging Their Heels

Concert Day 2 dawned with a tinge of excitement… and not a small dose of trepidation. For today was the Drag Race and Fashions In The Desert. Once again, this is a fund-raiser for the RFDS.

Now if you have a desire to see grown men dressed in skirts, wedding dresses and some rather skimpy outfits, then this is the place for you!

Peta with one of the gorgeous drag queens at the Drag Races, Big Red Bash.
Peta admiring this Drag Queen’s minimalist approach…

They look hilarious. After prancing around the concert plaza and generally drawing plenty of “admiring” comments from the crowd, they mince up the sand dune in a procession of sparkles, sequins, wedding dresses and parasols.

The Drag Race drops these lovely people down off the dune, around the back of the caterers to the Finish line. And it’s not over yet. They then line up for a stunning spectacle of Fashions In The Desert. It’s plenty of fun and a lot of laughs.

Peta with a sparkling contestant in the Drag Race, Big Red Bash.
Peta with a likely candidate for Fashions In The Desert!

With a later volunteer shift, Peta spent much of the concert making sure people didn’t drive around the campsite. Once you’re in, you can only move your vehicle to Day Parking between 4 and 6pm every day (except for Concert Day 3, when you can bring your vehicle back in to the campground).

This helps to minimise the dust being kicked up on the BRB site.

With a road marshal shift from 1:30pm to 6:30pm, Peta decided to be the Dancing Road Marshal! The camping area was quiet, with most people in the concert and plaza areas. She spent most of her time yarning to passers-by.

The concert area gates opened again after lunch and a whole line up of performers kept the crowd on their feet. The Living End were headlining and blew the crowd away.

One more sleep until Midnight Oil!

The Big Night

Thursday, Concert Day 3. No more sleeps until Midnight Oil!

The day started with the annual air guitar championships, another fundraiser for the RFDS. Contestants queued for their 30 seconds of fame.

One tip: If you have a decent head of hair and can throw it around, then you’ll definitely have a big advantage over your rivals. After all, what’s a lead guitarist without a long flowing mane?

Peta and I both had the day off, so we watched a few of the early performers. Neil Murray and Busby Marou were on our list of must-see acts and didn’t disappoint.

With our bodies screaming for mercy after a long week, we hobbled back to our campsite for a rest before the final two acts.

Later in the afternoon, Kasey Chambers did a set. Whether you love her music or not, there’s no doubt she’s an entertainer. Kasey always fills the crowd with positive vibes and hilarious stories. She had the crowd pumped and ready for the headline act.

Midnight Oil appeared as the full moon rose over the desert. As always, they gave 110% and were sensational. Their energy and power is still there, even after so many years.

My Turn!

We had by now established a ritual with our neighbours Brett, Kelly, Dave and Maxine. Every night we all gathered around the campfire sharing stories of our day and having a yarn. These two couples were excellent company and all had their important roles to play as volunteers.

I was copping plenty of ribbing, as the concert was over… yet I hadn’t even started my volunteer shifts!

Friday dawned and finally my turn came. Up before sunrise and ready for my first shift packing down.

Our job was to clear all the ropes and posts that marked the roads and pedestrian walkways, ably led by our team leader Paul. We wound many kilometres of ropes and pulled out thousands of star pickets and wooden posts. A tiring day, but a lot of fun.

Volunteers Brett and Kelly from Central Coast NSW, outside their van at the Big Red Bash.

A Review From Volunteers Kelly and Brett (Central Coast, NSW)

Volunteer role:

  • Kelly, Merchandise tent.
  • Brett, Electrician.

Overall experience:

  • Excellent. Fabulous experience. Enjoyable, different.
  • Didn’t realise how friendly everyone would be.
  • Came here with no expectations, was brilliant.

Experience, Merchandise Tent (Kelly):

  • Busy. Fun. Right bunch of vols, so we had some fun.
  • All felt it was well organised and smooth in merchandise and display tents.
  • No one was lazy. Everyone helped everyone.
  • Customers in good mood. Happy, friendly.

Experience, Electrician (Brett):

  • Different, in a good way!
  • Had it easier than other volunteers. Was on call and nothing went wrong. The bulk of the work had already been done.
  • Kept eyes out for anyone who needed help.

Would you come back?

  • Hell yeah!

Artists and entertainment:

  • Bjorn Again were surprising.
  • Oils exceptional and not a fan.
  • Brett liked Living End, Richard Clapton great.
  • Casey Chambers better than expected, she was the whole package.
  • Chocolate Starfish were excellent.

If someone asked you about volunteering?

  • Yep, do it!

And all around us, tired campers we’re rolling out in an orderly fashion. Dozens of them thanked us for volunteering, which was kind.

One standout was the tiny amount of rubbish left behind. It was so refreshing to see.

The crowds rolling out of the Big Red Bash.
The crowds rolling out as we packed down all the ropes and posts.

I had a second day volunteering on the following Tuesday. So we packed up on Saturday and spent a few days recovering at Birdsville caravan park. Fortunately we snagged a spot right on the edge of Diamantina Lagoon, enjoying the antics of the pelicans fishing on the Lagoon.

Sunrise over Birdsville Lagoon, Diamantina River Birdsville QLD.
Early morning view from our camper, at Birdsville Caravan Park.

Over the next few days, Birdsville’s population rapidly declined as travellers headed out of town. Birdsville was taking a quick breather before the onslaught of revellers for the annual Birdsville races in early September.

Sunset on Birdsville Lagoon, Diamantina River Birdsville QLD.
Sunset over Birdsville Lagoon. This was the view from our camper… how good is that!

Parting Thoughts

The Big Red Bash is truly one of a kind. As a concert-goer, you’re part of something special.

However, as a volunteer you get so much more from the event.

You meet some fantastic people… just like this rough-looking crowd!

Big Red Bash volunteers Maxine, Dave, Kelly, Brett, Peta and Andrew.
Maxine, Dave, Kelly, Brett, Peta and Andrew. A great bunch of fellow volunteers.

And not only do you experience some of Australia’s iconic bands in an incredibly beautiful setting, you also have the satisfaction of contributing to the running of the Big Red Bash.

And that’s something you can be proud of.

The Big Red Bash is on Wangkangurru-Yarluyandi Country.

Answering Your Questions About The Big Red Bash

1. Do I Need To Be Fit To Volunteer?

Well, yes and no. It depends somewhat on what you volunteer for. Jobs like set up, pack down, road marshalling, merchandise crew and campground educators require either long stretches of hard physical work, walking long distances, being on your feet for several hours… or a combination of all three.

However, jobs like ticketing are a little easier physically. Just consider whether you’re more suited to hard labour or something less intensive and go from there.

And be aware your preferred volunteer position may not be available. It’s first in, first served so you have to be quick.

Pack-down volunteers helped to pack away and store a mountain of equipment, in readiness for next year.

2. How Do I Volunteer?

Simply register on the Big Red Bash website. They’ll ask a few questions, then be in touch regularly. Volunteers are needed before, during and after the Big Red Bash.

Qualified tradespeople, cooks, campground educators, set up crews, pack down crews, road marshals, merchandise crews, “dunny angels”… you name it, there’s a job to suit you.

And once you’ve volunteered, you’re given preference and have a wider choice of jobs to choose from next time. The BRB team will contact you well before the next festival, asking if you’re interested and what job you prefer.

3. Do I Need My Own Vehicle To Volunteer?

Not really. The organisers ask if you have a vehicle available, depending on the volunteer position you’ve applied for. If you don’t, they usually car pool you with another volunteer. I told you they were well organised!

4. Big Red Bash Camping – The Details

The Big Red Bash is held on an organic cattle station, Adria Downs. Organic certification means they must comply with a set of strict conditions. So you must:

✔︎ Collect all grey water (washing up water, shower water, hand washing and so on). It cannot go on the ground. The Big Red Bash organisers provide plenty of places where you can dispose of grey water into large containers. So bring something to collect your grey water in.

✔︎ Collect all black water (water from toilets and grey water that has been stored for several days in a container) and dispose of it at one of the designated dump points on your way back through Birdsville.

✔︎ Store and take all your rubbish with you. You can dispose of it at the Birdsville tip on your way back through town.

Other conditions apply to keep Bashville hygienic and safe:

✔︎ No glass is allowed outside your immediate campsite kitchen.

✔︎ All toilets are composting and there’s plenty around Bashville. The volunteer “dunny angels” keep them clean and the toilets are surprisingly kind to your nose!

A few other things to keep in mind:

✔︎ You need to be self-sufficient in food and water. You can buy food from the food court. The prices are reasonable and the food is really tasty. And you can buy bottled water from the food vendors, but it’s an expensive way to get water. Birdsville have drinking water available from various designated taps on the eastern (at the Common) and western (at the cattle yards) sides of town.

✔︎ The campsites are large and there’s room for the biggest rigs you can imagine.

✔︎ Be prepared for hot days and cold nights. And be aware there’s usually a wind blowing during the day in the desert.

✔︎ Bring your own firewood. You definitely aren’t allowed to collect it at Bashville.

✔︎ Be considerate of your neighbours. Everyone’s there to have a good time, but just be mindful that not everyone appreciates your taste in music late at night.

5. Where can I Buy Camping Gear For The Big Red Bash?

Any camping store should be able to help you. For example, Outback Equipment stocks a wide range of camping gear and accessories.

6. What Is Big Red?

Big Red or Nappanerica is a 40 metre high sand dune on the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert. It’s approximately 35km west of Birdsville in Queensland. It was formed from sediments washed down through Central Australia and is part of the longest parallel dune system in the world.

7. Do I Need A 4WD To Get To The Big Red Bash?

No. While most vehicles are 4WDs, you can drive just about anything to Bashville… if you are sensible and take care. We saw everything from Mazda sedans to camper vans, even a semi trailer set up for camping!

8. How Do I Get Early Entry?

You can buy an early entry pass (if they’re still available) when you purchase your tickets. You can arrive one day or two days early, depending on which pass you buy.

9. Can I Get My Vehicle Out Once I’m Set Up In The Campground?

Yes you can, however on at certain times of the day. Once you’re in, you can only move your vehicle to Day Parking between 4 and 6pm every day (except for Concert Day 3, when you can bring your vehicle back in to the campground between 12:30 and 1:30pm). This is to minimise traffic and dust in the campground.

10. Do I Have To Camp At Bashville?

No. You can stay at Birdsville, drive out to Bashville and park in a day parking area. Or you can catch a daily shuttle bus between Birdsville and Bashville.

11. What Else Can I Do At Bashville?

There’s always something happening at Bashville. You can take a helicopter flight, ride a camel, enter the Drag Race, play air guitar, bring your boogie board and sand-surf, play beach volleyball on top of Big Red, climb Big Red and take in the view… or just wander round and take in the great atmosphere.

12. Can I Bring My Dog To The Big Red Bash?

Yes, there’s a designated camping section for people with dogs. Dogs are welcome.

13. How Do I Purchase Big Red Bash Tickets?

Go to the Big Red Bash website for more details.

14. Where Can I Buy Big Red Bash Merchandise?

There’s a merchandise shop on site where you can buy a wide range of BRB merch. Be quick though, it’s popular!

15. What Are The Big Red Bash Dates For Next Year?

Go to the Big Red Bash website for more details.

16. Where Can I Find Out More About The Big Red Bash?

Quite a few places!

✔︎ The official Birdsville Big Red Bash website. This has links to ticket sales, applying to become a volunteer and so on.

✔︎ The official “Birdsville Big Red Bash” Facebook page. This gives you regular updates on all things BRB.

✔︎ Go here to the “Travelling To The Big Red Bash” Facebook page. This page is great for finding out travel routes, road conditions, what to take (and what not to take” and so on.

✔︎ And when you become a volunteer, you be invited to join a closed Facebook volunteers’ group.

Looking for more Queensland Destinations? Then go here.

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Any errors or omissions are mine alone.


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