OUTBACK people have a way of volunteering for community projects and turning them into lifelong jobs. Robyn Stephens, organiser of the Outback Festival, Winton, is one of them.
Thirty years ago, Robyn put her hand up to be the festival secretary and she’s still going, juggling her duties with those of a shire councillor, a wife and a mother and preparing for the 23rd biennial festival that happened in September. It’s a big deal for Winton, this festival: the shire has about 1300 residents and the five-day festival, with add-on events at each end, attracts about 4000 people. Robyn, 67, is clearly up to the task.
“The festival started in 1972/73 after years of drought when local community groups decided to stimulate the economy,” she says. “We thought we’d have a ‘Back to Winton’ event and it came to be called the Outback Festival. It went for 10 days.”
Robyn was born in Winton. Her father’s father worked on stations for Cobb & Co. and her father was a master baker. She worked at the local National Bank and at the bakery, and after marrying her husband Peter, she was a clerk for a pastoral company for 23 years. She has a son who lives in Townsville and a daughter in Brisbane. She was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2002 for community service.
If you visit the festival office in Oondooroo Street – you won’t miss it – you will find a woman who is passionate about her hometown and what she does. She says her enthusiasm is shared by others on the festival committee and the many other volunteers who make the event happen.
This year’s festival was followed by a truckies’ reunion and included the signature ‘Australian Dunny Derby‘ race, a cycle challenge, iron man and iron woman events, cultural performances, workshops, bush poets’ breakfasts and music concerts. A military theme and a charity dinner honoured the ANZACs, and the whole community plus many more from far and wide came together to celebrate the great outback spirit. It is a big deal for Winton and the Outback at a time when it is suffering.
“It tends to be either feast or famine here…this time it’s the drought,” Robyn says. “Well, we might be droughted, but business is still open and we still need you to come here to help our economy. So I say come, come, we’re still here. The Outback, the blazing sunsets, the amazing landscapes are all still here.”
Article by John Wright.