Only 25 hours from Melbourne but a whole different world
Shepparton has been in the news of late, but for all the wrong reasons. With SPC, the region's largest employer, unsure about its future until the Victorian state government announced a $22 million assistance package in February this year. Local fruit growers, the life-blood of the area, are still hesitant about whether this will be enough to save the one of Australia's last processing manufacturers.
Despite this, the region continues to flourish. Shepparton is possibly more famous for its MoovingArt Cows, a series of over 100 statues of cows that have been painted by local and touring artists. They are a sight to behold!
One community that does not immediately spring to mind when you think of Shepparton are the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (GLBTI) community. You may be getting images of Bob Katter tipping his hat and publicly declaring that 'there are no gays in north Queensland'. Well like Katter, you would be wrong if you assumed this about sleepy Shepparton and OUTintheOPEN is here to prove it.
The Festival, running from 14 – 16 November 2014, is open to all and was developed to address some of the inequalities faced by the local GLBTI community, as well as to build a more inclusive Shepparton. Keen queer festival go-ers would have ben to Melbourne's Midsumma, Sydney's Mardi Gras, maybe Daylesford's ChillOut and can now add Shepparton's OUTintheOPEN to the list.
Shepparton, located an easy 2.5-hour drive from Melbourne and 6-hour drive from Canberra, is opening its gates to the GLBTI and allied community and it would be rude for us to not accept the invitation.
The Festival commences on Friday with some afternoon local community events then at 9.30pm, giving you time to drive in after work from the big smoke, kicks up a gear with an LGBTI stand up comedy show and drinks with the locals. Be sure to get your beauty sleep however, as you'll want to look your best for Saturday.
Rise as the rooster crows and head into town for a big gay brunch at Friars Café from 9am with your fellow-festival go-ers. You will feel the buzz of excitement in the air as last minute preparations and finishing touches are being put onto the iconic Carnival Day, running from 10.30am to 4pm on Saturday 15 November. The Carnival Day sees a large cross-section of the Shepparton and surrounding townships come together to celebrate and welcome the GLBTI community. With stallholders, stages and children's entertainment, Victoria's regional north puts on quite a show.
While Carnival Day concludes at 4pm, don't get any illusions about being forced into an early night in this regional-hub. Entertainment kicks on with events such as a glamour soiree/drag show and women's only mind-boggling trivia event.
While Saturday may have been a big day, Sunday has a decidedly more relaxed feel. Events include the all-important Sunday brunch at Lemon Tree Café, followed by mid-spring vows at noon, and for those who slept through brunch, an Australian marriage equality BBQ at 1pm.
Accommodation can be found through the usual channels, Airbnb, Stayz and your preferred hotel booker. It's Shepparton guys, not the Simpson Desert, no special accommodation is required, you do not need to bring your own water and utility pants are not encouraged.
If you're after something extra special, check out the Ride to Pride train, which not only takes you to and from the festival (departing Southern Cross Station, Melbourne) but also allows you blissful slumber in it's historic single or twin cabin sleeping carriages. See my piece about JOY94.9's Ride to Pride to learn more about this fabulous, and rather flamboyant option (click on my name above to see my other articles).
I'm a sucker for a community festival, especially one that has as much heart and local backing as OUTintheOPEN. Expect to see all your favorite city performers alongside local stars, meet a range of new people and enjoy knowing that someone is bound to be putting on a sausage sizzle for lunch, and you wont have to pretend purchase something from Bunnings to partake.
OUTintheOPEN runs from 14 – 16 November 2104. The festival is in its third year