Story By Emma Mulholland

The gravelly sounds of Cold Chisel’s working class anthems charge through the flat plains of Deniliquin, NSW, finding an echo in a crowd of more than 25,000 ute-lovers, many of them making a comeback of their own. It’s obvious that drought in the Riverina and surrounding regions has eased – not just in the brilliant yellow canola crops that fill the horizon as you head into town, but in the 10-kilometre line of utes that camped out on Conargo Road with Aussie flags flying high as they waited, some of them for days, for the Deniliquin Ute Muster to begin.
“It’s a laugh, just a bunch of good young blokes out having fun,” says George Heppell, whose 32-year-old son Garry has been telling him to get to Deni for years. As a transport driver from Corowa, NSW, George sees the highs and lows of life on the land, and he’s as keen as anyone else to celebrate the recent rain. “The farmers’ sons are allowed the weekend off – and the girls – next weekend they’ve got harvesting to do,” he says with a smile.
Despite the crowd, Deni is hardly your average country show. With a $3 million budget and Cold Chisel topping the bill – performing their only major gig for 2010 – there’s no doubt that the community-run muster has become one slick act. Boasting two days of bull riding, barrel races, stunt bikes, dust-churning circle work and live music from the likes of Lee Kernaghan, Steve Forde and Kasey Chambers – not to mention the most coveted Show and Shine title a ute-owner can win – it’s easy to forget that just over a decade ago this town was known for little more than having the flattest open plains on earth.
Struggling with drought, Deniliquin locals figured a bloody big ute show would boost spirits and bring tourist dollars to the town. So began the original muster, held in 1999, which brought 2839 utes to the streets of Deniliquin, a record that pales in comparison to the 10,152 utes counted in 2010. Organisers reckon there was probably even more than that, but their volunteers got sick of counting.

This story excerpt is from Issue #74

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2011