This weekend saw Deniliquin, situated in the Southern Riverina region of NSW, host the annual “Play on the Plains Festival & World Record Ute Muster”.
What is perhaps the most unique and quintessentially Australian event on the CarAdvice calendar, we couldn’t turn up in anything less than one of Australia’s finest.
-by Matt Brogan
Now given this was a Holden sponsored event, we thought we’d throw a cat among the pigeons and arrive front and centre compliments of FPV’s stonking new F6 Ute, which turned quite a few heads in CarAdvice livery (we thought it looked pretty specky too).
The Muster celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, so the expectation was that this was to be a big one. Just a few short clicks from Melbourne that sentiment was confirmed with the road to ‘Deni’ paved nose to tail with utes big and small – and of course the obligatory Mr Plods.
Driving in convoy is great fun. Nods and waves from window to window, chats at the road house sharing the love and adoration these guys and gals have for their utes, and of course the request for a look under the bonnet. It’s an admirable and instant comradeship, the kind you only seem to get in the bush.
The convoy also attracts its own records with one group leaving from just outside Melbourne doubling the previous US held title with 600 registered utes.
When we arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at the main gate for the 5am unveiling, the scale of the Muster really grabbed our attention, it is quite a staggering site. In fact it’s so big, you have to see it from the air to truly appreciate just what 7242 utes (and any number of other vehicles) in the one spot looks like.
The queues extended for kilometres in each direction leading to the main gates and given the dawn opening, an early start is required to secure a spot close to the action. Good spirits, prominently ‘Bundy’ flavoured, were enjoyed to pass the time with entry a surprisingly smooth flowing affair given the populous number of utes on hand.
The event brings not only utes to Deniliquin, but much needed revenue in this time of drought. Last year’s turnover exceeded $10 million and with the tenth year celebrations seeing the 50 hectare site overflow into neighbouring paddocks, that amount is sure to set a record of its own this year.
With the utes parked, camp sites pegged and the gates to the Festival Arena thrown open, the crowd was treated to a fly over from the RAAF’s Roulettes signalling Deni 2008 was open for business.
The CarAdvice team even managed a quick chat with Roulette #7, Flight Lieutenant Ben Miedecke. Trained at #2 Training School (Advanced Training School), and as the only full-time Roulette (the others are weekenders and are mainly flight instructors), Ben commentates for the Roulettes at events such as the Deni Ute Muster.
He was kind enough to run us through the Roulettes normal performance and told us that during maneuvers the team can pull up to 7g which means Ben weighs roughly 700kg during this time.
His Australian built Pilatus PC-9 is good for 950 shaft-horsepower (de-rated from 1200) and weighs in at just 1800kg. To prepare, a few loops and barrel rolls are done to increase blood pressure and prepare blood vessels for high G. The team will typically fly three 90 minute sorties a day.
Back on the ground though, the fun had begun in earnest with Lawn Mower racing kicking off proceedings in the main arena. These things are manic and require not only forged steel wedding tackle to race, but a sixth sense to know where you’re going with the drought making the powdery Deni dust diabolical.
In keeping with tradition, and the organiser’s belief that “behind every good looking ute is a good looking Aussie wearing a blue singlet”, the Bluies are also tallied each year with 2702 Bluies counted in the one place at the one time, just over one-tenth of the overall population at the Muster.
But it’s not all Bundy, Blueys and Blunnys, the Muster also has a carnival atmosphere with competitions, concerts and a huge array of stalls and supplies catering to any discerning ute driver.
A lot of the non-wheeled events are family orientated too with farming families coming from as far as Western Australia and New Zealand to enjoy and compete in the festivities and competitions.
Go-to-whoa and the ever popular circle work championships were of course an event highlight with entrants presenting utes of all ages for a crack at the title.
The often elaborately dressed utes really don’t hold back out here with some of the prizes up for grabs almost worth risking an engine for, and before you ask, no the F6 didn’t make an appearance in the ring.
If the four wheeled entertainment wasn’t to your liking there was also shearing demonstrations, bush poetry, whip cracking, wood chopping and country music featuring artists including The Living End, Kasey Chambers, James Reyne, Mark Seymour, Paul Greene, Lee Kernaghan, The Songbirds, Steve Forde, The Sunny Cowgirls, Morgan Evans and Deniliquin locals The Lincons, just to name a few.
The always popular Holden “Grunt Off” saw some very hung-over competitors race to tow a Holden ute on Saturday morning, which given the 7mm of rain Friday night made for a challenge across a course now ankle deep in wood chips.
Saturday arvo saw the Yamaha boys put on freestyle motorcross demonstrations in the main arena and in keeping with the theme of the show, they jumped two massive tractors.
“It’ll be very unique to jump over New Holland tractors, and a great spectacle for the crowd”, lead rider Matty McFerran said.
The circle work finals and bull riding led the evening into a close before the final concert and fireworks wrapped up the night.
So if Deni sounds like something you wouldn’t mind checking out next year then be sure to circle October 2 and 3 on the 2009 calendar, polish up the ute and shake the red backs from the swag – it’s sure to be a big one.