Australia's best country and outback festivals: The top 10

1 THE DENILIQUIN UTE MUSTER

Sydney may have Vivid, Melbourne may have the Melbourne Festival, but for truly Australian experiences, you have to leave the big cities. And there is nothing more country than the Deniliquin Ute Muster. Over the years, it has morphed from an attempt to break the world record for getting as many utes in one place into a celebration of country Australiana. That means big name country acts on stage, monster truck rides, bull-riding, whip-cracking, a blue singlet count and hay bale loading against the clock. It takes place on the last weekend in September. See deniutemuster.com.au

2 THE PARKES ELVIS FESTIVAL

The King isn't dead – at least not in the second week of January. Parkes, NSW, undergoes a retro makeover for the week, with thousands of people dressed either as Elvis or in 1950s gear. A tribute artist contest, rock 'n' roll dancing competitions and an Elvis-heavy street parade are among the main ingredients. And, yes, you may well get to hear someone in a jumpsuit singing Suspicious Minds on stage. See parkeselvisfestival.com.au

3 MARY POPPINS FESTIVAL

Dress-ups play a major part of the Mary Poppins festival in Maryborough, Queensland, too. The birthplace of PL Travers – Poppins' literary creator – is a handsome town of 19th century Queenslander buildings, and for two weeks in June and July, it gets besieged by prim nannies, chimney sweeps and cute little poppets in bonnets. Nanny races, circus shows, chalk drawings and street theatre are a part of it, but the emphasis is on the art of storytelling. See marypoppinsfestival.com.au

4 THE BIRDSVILLE RACES

It's fair to say that a day at the races in Birdsville involves a little less formality and peacocking than one at Flemington or Randwick. The outback Queensland settlement's racetrack is a claypan surrounded by sand dunes, and on the first Saturday in September thousands of people drive thousands of kilometres to watch dust get kicked up. Most camp out, and the races themselves are of secondary importance to beer drinking and camaraderie. See birdsvilleraces.com

5 THE BOULIA CAMEL RACES

What Birdsville is for horses, Boulia is for camels. The middle-of-nowhere Queensland town boasts the longest camel race in Australia – the prestige 1500m race is billed as "the Melbourne cup of camel racing". But it's not just about the races – there are fireworks, camel tagging contests, yabby races and a busy bar thrown into the mix. The carnival runs from July 14 to 16 in 2007. See bouliacamelraces.com.au 

6 THE HENLEY-ON-TODD REGATTA

Alice Springs lacks one key thing for boat races – water. The Todd River is almost always dry, and therefore the locals improvise, hollowing out the bottoms of their rowing boats. This leads to competitors essentially wearing the boats and running, Flintstones-style, across the dry river bed. The regatta takes place on August 19 this year. See henleyontodd.com.au 

7 TUNARAMA

Port Lincoln on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula makes its not insubstantial fortune from tuna, and thus Tunarama at the end of January is a giant celebration of the lucrative big fish. Boat-building and slippery pole competitions are fought fiercely, but the blue riband event is the Tuna Toss. The aim? To throw a tuna a far as you can. See tunarama.net

8 THE BALLINA PRAWN FESTIVAL

In Ballina on the NSW north coast, it's prawns rather than tuna that get the royalty treatment. And while there are musical acts, the big business is the prawn-shelling competition, where the winner gets to eat those they manage to unshell. Other events include a sailing race for those who've made their own DIY raft. It all kicks off in mid-November. See ballinaprawnfestival.com.au

9 MELONFEST

Just under 300 kilometres from Brisbane, Chinchilla proudly boasts of being the melon capital of Australia. And every second February, it celebrates this with Melonfest. Events include running with watermelons, "skiing" in boots carved from watermelons and no-hands watermelon eating contests. See melonfest.com.au

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10 THE AUSTRALIAN CELTIC FESTIVAL

Centred around the slightly less mysterious than Stonehenge standing stones of Glen Innes, NSW, the Australian Celtic Festival in May involves dog championships, clan gatherings and a street parade. But more than anything, it involves bagpipes. Lots, and lots, and lots, of bagpipes. And if that's your bag, then there are plenty of opportunities to listen to them and dance accordingly – although the lone piper at dawn is the one that provides the spine-tingling atmospherics. See australiancelticfestival.com

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