THE top end of Western Australia couldn’t be more beautiful, with pristine gorges and picturesque landscapes.
Although 18 years ago the Kimberley area was missing something to lure people to more than just the landscape.
And so begun the Argyle Diamonds Ord Valley Muster, held every year in May.
The 10-day event, which features more than 30 events from local art classes, exclusive food events, comedy nights, a street party, native and foraged long-table dining, authentic indigenous celebrations, a rodeo, film nights and much more, continues to receive international attention.
“Set against the magnificent back drop of the Ord Valley, Lake Kununurra, surrounding gorges, national parks and stunning reserves, the muster rewards visitors with its array of extraordinary and distinctive experiences,” said Ord Valley Events board chairwoman Narelle Brook.
In 2001 the event was created by the Kununurra Chamber of Commerce and Industry when it decided that the region should host a ‘Leeuwin of the North’, on the back of the successful Leeuwin Estate Concert Series near Margaret River.
Ms Brook said the main aim of the muster was to start the traditional tourist season, from June to August, earlier in May.
“The original program consisted of 10 events over five days with an auction/dinner finale,” Ms Brook said.
When she was the Chamber of Commerce executive officer Ms Brook was tasked with making the event happen.
From the spare room of her home, she worked with Caron Brown from the Kimberley Primary Industries Association to work on auction/dinner finale.
Eighteen years on and the events in the program now includes those that are managed by Ord Valley Events, such as the Aviair HeliSpirit Kimberley Moon Experience, Kimberley Fine Diamonds Dinner, Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Ord Valley Feastival and the Argyle Diamond Dig.
Local businesses and community groups have created their own events for inclusion in the program, such as the rodeo, Town versus Country Rugby match, Flickerfest at the local picture gardens and cultural experiences.
“For the people who live here, it creates a sense of community pride as we showcase our incredible region to visitors and we celebrate the people, the place and the party that is the East Kimberley,” Ms Brook said.
The festival culminates with a music event for 5000 people, which in the past has featured music legends such as Paul Kelly, John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes, The Living End, John Williamson and The Waif – and the Kimberley Fine Diamonds Dinner, a black-tie sit down dinner, catering for 600 people.
The Ord Valley Events Inc. Board’s strategic vision for the multi-award winning muster is to present unique cultural experiences to attract visitors and provide opportunities for the East Kimberley communities.
The objectives include; the sustained extension of the tourist season and numbers which creates economic benefits for the region; raising the profile of the East Kimberley region to a national audience in a showcase event; engage in community to build a sense of community with cultural price and regional belonging; an ensuring the ongoing financial sustainability and viability of the organisation,” she said.
Ms Brook said the 1500 visitors who attended the muster ticketed events, like the Kimberley Moon Experience and the Comedy festival, came from all walks of life, with 52 per cent over the 10 days being intrastate or interstate travellers.
She said for some it was part of an outback adventure or a chance to tick the East Kimberley off their bucket list – and for others it’s a great excuse to let their hair down and get caught up in the buzz, glamour and excitement of the festivities.
“What bonds every muster experience is the desire to connect with community and celebrate ‘Real Australia’,” Ms Brook said.
The event is special for the local community as it brings together people of all ages within the community to deliver one of the most diverse, original and spectacular events in the East Kimberley region.
The muster unifies the community and showcases the depth and breadth of local passion, expertise and character, Ms Brook said.
Adding to the community’s sense of pride for the event is that the muster is a multi-award winning event on a State and international level.
The Ord Valley Muster has been inducted into the WA Tourism Hall of Fame for the second time in 2017, with the first time being in 2011.
The Kimberley Moon Experience was also inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 and 2015, with the muster winning the Best Regional Event in Australia at the Australian Event Awards.
In total the event has won 18 different awards since 2003, including the Western Australian Tourism Award, Best Festival & Event three times and the winner of the WA Tourism Award for Significant Festival and Events six times.
“There is no better time to be in the East Kimberley than during this event,” Ms Brook said.
This year’s event will introduce a whole new array of talents, including two native food dinners by cooking sensations Fervor.
There will be a new Festival Hub which will host the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the inaugural Ord Valley Festival, the Aviair Helispirit Kimberley Moon Experience, and the Kimberley Fine Diamonds Dinner.
The real drama of the event is the rodeo which Ms Brook said was very popular, as well as the Waringarri Cooroboree Under the Stars.
Other events include the endurance horse race, art workshops, indigenous cultural tours by local operators, Town versus country Rugby match, Flickerfest, parks for people, Yoga Boats, markets and the Gibb River Challenge.
A highlight and a main attraction will be the performance of country music rock royalty Lee Kernaghan who will headline the event with The Cat Empire.
Ms Brook said some of the highlights from last year included a whole crowd standing on their feet and singing along to Horses as Daryl Braithwaite performed live on stage.
Also in 2017 they introduced a new event call Yoga Boats, which is practically what it says, allowing people to do yoga on a boat.
Last year celebrity chefs Colin Fassnidge and Jordan Bruno took to the stage in a demonstration of how to correctly carve a pig, much to the dismay of some.
Ms Brook said there was something special about the Ord Valley Muster that kept her involved every year in some way, shape or form.
“From the early days when I helped onsite, bashing in the star pickets and hanging hessian fences, to being a driver to the stars such as Peter Brock, John Farnham, Curtis Stone, Lindsay Price, Manu Feidel, to volunteering on the gate at the Kimberley Moon Experience or getting covered in sand as a participant in the Diamond Dig,” she said.
One of her proudest moments was last year when she was on stage at the Kimberley Moon Experience as the chairwoman of the Ord valley Events to thank everyone for attending and thanking the sponsors for being incredibly generous.
Ms Brook, who works for her own business, Brook Project Management & Marketing, said she focused on tourism and assisting local clients with the sales and marketing of their products.
She started her business in 2013, previously spending 15 years in the tourism industry – managing permanent and short stay apartments, working in the local aviation industry and with cruise companies.
Ms Brook is definitely the person who knows what the Ord Valley Muster needs to keep its amazing reputation that it has on a global scale.
“Working for myself has allowed some flexibility when it comes to my voluntary position on the board,” she said.
“It can be an intense and all-consuming role, particularly in the lead up to an event as the normal stresses set in.”
Ms Brook could not be happier with the event and she said it would continue to grow from strength to strength.
“The growth of the event over the years since it began in my spare room in 2001 has truly been something to see as is the sense of pride it creates in our community,” she said.
“It makes me incredibly proud to be involved.”
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