Freaky Festivals

What: Henley-on-Todd Regatta.

Where: Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

How: In the dried-up River Todd, in the month of August, groups of eight people run up and down inside a variety of bottomless vessels such as bathtubs, yachts and rowing boats. They race without the water and they do it because they think it’s fun.

What: Tunarama.

Where: Port Lincoln, South Australia.

How: Every January, the Tunarama Festival features the tossing of frozen tuna fish, amongst other competitions such as the slippery pole contest and a beach girl competition (we dare not ask…).

What: The Chinchilla Watermelon Festival.

Where: Chinchilla, Queensland.

How: This festival includes activities such as watermelon-skiing, a head-bashing watermelon competition, pip-spitting, and melon tossing. It’s on every two years, normally in February.

What: World Championship Cockroach Racing.

Where: Brisbane, Queensland.

How: Australia Day – the 26th of January – is often celebrated by some good old cockroach-racing. You can either bring your own roach or purchase one for $5, all proceeds go to charity.

What: Thong tossing competition.

Where: Whyalla, South Australia.

How: Take your thongs off on Australia Day and throw them far away. Why? Because you might win the thong tossing competition.

What: The Camel, Donkey and Yabbie Race Festival.

Where: Charleville, Queensland.

How: This two-day long festival (August) involves camels, donkeys and yabbies (like a crayfish) – racing. This is in combination with some serious beer-drinking, barbequeing, singing and dancing.

What: Beer Can Regatta.

Where: Darwin, Northern Territory.

How: In the month of July, collect all the beer cans you can find, build a boat out of them and let it sail away. The Beer Can Regatta (pictured) certainly gives Australians yet another reason to slam down that tinnie.

What: Santa Claus pup crawl.

Where: Canberra, Australian
Capital Territory.

How: The Santa Claus Pub Crawl takes place on the last working Friday before Christmas in numerous pubs in Canberra. The requirement: each crawler must be dressed from head to toe in a full Santa suit. The aim: to simply get bladdered in a Santa suit.

What: Parkes Elvis Festival.

Where: Parkes, New South Wales.

How: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s birthday is celebrated every January (7th-11th) at various spots around Parkes, in western NSW. Thousands of Elvis impersonators arrive to sing, dance, eat, drink, swing their hips and curl their lips.

One of the best things about travelling is the number of strange characters you meet along the way.

It can also be the worst part – the little address book crammed with names and addresses of people you’ve met who all eventually move on to their respective corners of the globe, maybe never to be heard from again.

But lately I’ve started to reserve a section of my diary for the more unusual characters I’ve had the pleasure of encountering. I’m talking about those people you would never have imagined existed before you left the sanctity of your Star Wars duvet in your bedroom at home.

We’re talking weirdos, nutters and mentalists, or to use a more PC definition, ‘socially maladjusted individuals’ (SMI) who have as much right to roam this planet as we do.

I’ll expand on just some of the SMI’s I’ve managed to experience during my travels on Australia’s East Coast.

The most recent was a couple, who, apparently bored with dining at the hostel restaurant, decided to get some attention by smashing a few plates and launching into a chant which accused travellers of raping the planet.

They continued in the pool room and after causing several minutes of havoc while trying to hurl themselves through a plate glass window, were carted off by the police. I last saw them howling up at the moon, which, by the way, was not full that night.

And then there was the young man who decided it would be preferable to walk backwards for a week – although he always turned to face the person he was talking to, or when he visited reception.

And I can’t forget the traveller who, after a seemingly ‘normal’ start to his stay, chose to walk about naked, sing to the birds and spend hours staring up at trees.

But the most interesting for me personally was ‘The Visitor’. This strange skinny guy loudly announced to the hostel that he was three-quarters android. He said he’d been sent on a special mission by his leaders to protect us from an imminent invasion by hostile aliens. A few days later he left to continue his mission in the direction of Cairns.

I’m still waiting for the invasion – perhaps it will begin right here in Australia?

We’ll have to wait and see, but needless to say I still have a few pages of my diary left blank for those future encounters.

Freaky Cults

The Family International (or ‘The sex cult’)
This group’s liberal attitude towards sex has earned them notoriety as ‘the sex cult’. Other nicknames include ‘The Children of God’, ‘The Family of Love’, and ‘The Family International’, or simply ‘The Family’. The group is spread over 100 countries, including Oz. They live in communal homes where everything is shared, including those sticky bodily fluids. TNT is currently trying to join.

The Jesus Christians (or ‘the kidney cult’)
Originating in New South Wales, this group made headlines in 1983 when members offered to do a day’s free work for anyone who wanted it. In 1984 six of their kids walked 1,600km across the Nullarbor Desert, without any provisions. But they’re most famous for donating kidneys, to strangers. Over half of the members have donated a kidney, often to strangers.

The Magnificent Meal Movement
Before its termination, Debra Geileskey told her 400 followers she was receiving messages from the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, in Toowoomba, Queensland. But her husband Gordon denounced his wife as a fake and left the group. Many families gave large donations and signed over part-ownership of their houses. Geileskey preached about a ‘dark global conspiracy’, which included Jews and Freemasons and claimed Jesus Christ would come to Toowoomba once they built a $45million house. He hasn’t.

Kenja Communication
Founded by Ken Dyers, the ‘healing cult’ were keen on ‘energy conservation’ – a form of meditation. Claiming to be non-religious, they had all sorts of spiritual stuff to say. However, Dyers committed suicide last year, waiting to stand trial on 22 charges of sexual assault on 12-year-old girls. Other former members have developed mental illnesses.

The Cooneyites
This is one of the largest cults in Australia with 70,000 members, although they are hard to find – no one will admit that they are a Cooneyite. Their meetings are secret and they do not have a church. The bible, they say, is ‘a dead book’.

They believe that the blood of a dead man can’t save anyone and salvation comes through following the ‘Jesus way’ after baptism. Good on ‘em.