A two-hour drive from the nearest airport in Longreach along a red, open road – the sleepy riverside town of Winton in Outback Queensland is home to the world’s largest film festival dedicated to Australian cinema.
The 102-year-old Royal Open Air Theatre in Winton makes for an unforgettable experience for travellers seeking an adventure in their own backyard. Look up from your seat and you’ll see the spirals of the Milky Way and Orion Arm overhead. In front, local and international films play on the big screen.
The town of Winton is one of the best stargazing spots in the country, having received Australia’s first international certification for a Dark Sky Sanctuary. The theatre is a natural drawcard for stargazers, but there’s another reason people flock from all over to visit this unique roofless cinema. It’s home to the world’s largest film festival dedicated to Australian cinema.
A 102-year-old history
Established in 1918, the Royal Theatre is one of two remaining open-air cinemas in Australia. The theatre offers moviegoers a rare opportunity to catch a flick the old-fashioned way; laid back in a canvas seat under the stars of Outback Queensland. A family-run affair for most of its 100-year plus life, the theatre has hosted shearer meetings, boxing bouts and a rolling skating rink.
But just like a Hollywood blockbuster, the old picture theatre has a story of its own. It was burnt to the ground and rebuilt after a fire tore through Winton’s town centre in 1938.
Nowadays, the Royal Open Air Theatre plays homage to Hollywood in a more traditional way. From Nostalgia Nights on Wednesday evenings to local shows and larger multi-feature events.
Roll out the red carpet
Wondering how Winton earned the title of Outback Hollywood? Winton’s rocky hills, mountainous ranges, and sweeping deserts have made it the perfect backdrop for renowned movies like Goldstone, The Proposition, Mystery Road and Total Control. You only have to look around to imagine Hollywood villains hiding among the rocky outcrops.
The town centre is also home to Winton’s Walk of Fame. Here, you’ll find renowned actors Steve Le Marquand and Roy Billing; director Ivan Sen; film critic Margaret Pomeranz; and former Winton Mayor Butch Lenton. Just like Hollywood, posing with a sidewalk star is practically a right of passage.
Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival
Spread across a 9-day program, Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival is the world’s largest film festival dedicated to Australia cinema. The festival hosts some of Australia’s brightest film stars and productions. This year, the festival will take place at the spectacular Royal Open Air Theatre from 18-26 September
Previous film premieres include In Like Flynn. Even renowned stars such as Thomas Cocquerel and Steve Le Marquand have caught a flick here. This year’s theme (2020) is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which promises to bring big name guests to the historic venue.
More to explore in Winton
While you’re in town, take a trip to the Waltzing Matilda Centre and hear the stories of the Outback region. Visit the dinosaur trackways at Dinosaur Stampede National Monument where a herd of at least 150 small two-legged dinosaurs came to eat and drink from a vastly-different landscape.
With one of the darkest skies in the world, Winton really turns on the charm at night. Bring along a telescope, binoculars and sense of adventure.
For more things to do in Winton, have a read of this.
Be part of the festival
Want to see this 102 year old film festival for yourself? Rex Airlines offers flights to Winton from Townsville. Click here to find out more.