Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

100 years of summer festivals

When those summer rays hit the Apple Isle, we know it’s that time of year again – festival time. Chris Crerar looks at the history of these crowd-pleasing events in our state.

Summer in Tasmania is always full. Our calendars quickly fill with festivals and parties, weekend escapes and even more festivals. Last summer, as COVID restrictions eased, there seemed to be more festivals than ever – more than any of us could possibly attend during those three jam-packed months.

Regatta island

The festival calendar wasn’t always this jampacked. Head back to the 1920s, when RACT was established, and our summer was punctuated by foundational events established in the 19th century. Eager to shake off the war years, Tasmanians celebrated at boating regattas, horse races, and running and cycling carnivals.

First held in 1838, the Royal Hobart Regatta was the island’s biggest calendar event for 100 years, and 2024’s event will mark its 186th anniversary. Across its storied history, the aquatic-focused festival boasts 10 royal visits and attendance numbers of 80,000 on one day in 1955 – close to the entire population of Hobart.

The on-water festivities weren’t restricted to Hobart. Keen sailors and rowers could make a summer of it with regattas from Strahan to Dover and all along the Tamar, each with its own local flavour.

Giddy up

Racing on turf and track is as much part of a Tassie summer as racing on water. The Summer Racing Carnival culminates in February with the Launceston and Hobart cups having given Tasmanians a chance to frock up and strut among the thoroughbreds since 1865 and 1875 respectively. Ask almost any Tasmanian about our favourite day at the races, however, and chances are we’ll say the Longford Cup. Held on New Year’s Day since 1845, the picnic races are a much-loved way to shake off the night before and kick off the new year.

Picnics and racing have had a long partnership in Tassie. Growing prosperity and population along the north-west coast in the 19th century saw an explosion of running, cycling and woodchopping carnivals, with many having a family-picnic focus. Throughout the 20th century, the suite of summer carnivals grew in stature, with the Burnie Gift and Wheel drawing national focus. When four-time world champion cyclist Danny Clark came from 200m behind on the last lap to win the 1977 Burnie Wheel, there was utter disbelief in the stands.

2022 Tattersall Cup winner, Celestial

Credit: ©Rolex/Andrea Francolini

Moneypenny in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

Credit: Carlo Borlenghi

The Summer Racing Carnival hits Tassie every February

Credit: Maree Woolley

Yacht rock

Since 1945, Sydney has hosted the quintessential Boxing Day spectacle of the fleet leaving the harbour and heading south, but Hobart has always had the afterparty. Often arriving amid waterfront New Year’s Eve celebrations, Sydney to Hobart sailors have always received a big welcome.

Throughout the blue-water classic’s history, Hobart’s waterfront has turned into something of an unofficial festival as we’ve clambered over each other to see the finishers – big and small – and the on-board revelries. Back when Tasmania was more isolated, the arrival of the Sydney to Hobart boats made us feel more connected to the rest of Australia and the wider world. It has always been Hobart’s moment in the sun. Or wind and rain.

The heady days of the ‘Quiet Little Drink’ may be gone but with the Melbourne, and Launceston, to Hobart races growing in popularity and filling the waterfront with colour again, sailing is definitely in Tasmania’s DNA.


Hobart may have become globally known for the finish of the race, but Launceston became famous across the country for its legendary Basin Concert.

Like something of a forerunner to the Big Day Out concerts, but free and in a beautiful setting, the Basin Concert in its original form ran from 1969 until 1996, attracting crowds of 10,000 plus.

Concertgoers would listen while lounging in the pools, the basin and surrounding rocky outcrops. Urban myth maybe, but there’s even a story that for many years there was only one female and one male toilet at the concert.

Hippy folk circus

With artistic creativity, alternative lifestyles and environmentalism seemingly more visible in Tasmania than other states, it was only natural that festivals would emerge in celebration.

At a time of high tension in Tasmania amid the Franklin Dam campaign, the Cygnet Folk Festival first kicked its heels together in 1982, closely followed by the pilgrimage to the big trees for the Jackeys Marsh Forest Festival in 1983. The forest festival is no longer with us, but the Cygnet Folk Festival celebrated 40 years in 2022 and is still going strong.

The Wolfe Brothers at the Royal Hobart Regatta
Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse at the Cygnet Folk Festival
Kutcha Edwards at Mona Foma 2023

Deep time

Palawa and Pakana people have been gathering and celebrating on Lutruwita/Trowunna for at least 35,000 years. Passed down through the generations, their cultures live on strongly and are shared with our wider community at festivals across the island.

Lunawani/Bruny Island’s Nayri Niara Good Spirit Festival brings First Nations cultural knowledge keepers from around the world to share their traditions. Since 2017, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people have gathered for three days on the island, hosted by Tasmanian Aboriginal families in a celebratory and enriching exchange.

Taste and Festivale

If there were a genre of festival that has arguably shaped modern Tasmania’s vision of itself more than any other, it has to be our much-loved food and wine festivals.

Through Launceston’s Festivale and Hobart’s Taste of Tasmania (now known as Taste of Summer), established in 1988 and 1989 respectively, we’ve got to know and embrace the island’s incredible produce and build a collective pride in our global reputation as a foodie’s paradise.

And it’s at these festivals that we’ve gathered with friends and family from near and far to eat, drink and celebrate, year after year. And who could blame us, with what Tassie has to offer and show off? Despite a bumpy past few years, “see you at the Taste” thankfully remains part of the vernacular.

Falls, Foma and full-on

In 2003, the world shifted. Or, more specifically, some of the world’s top rock bands shifted to our island temporarily for Tassie’s first Falls Festival.

Over the next 16 years, music lovers descended on beautiful Marion Bay to bring in the new year wowed by line-ups featuring legendary local performers and some of the world’s biggest acts, the likes of which we’d never seen on the island before. Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand, American indie faves the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover), among many others, all came to play in Tasmania. And then it ended.

But the genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle. Experiences and expectations had changed, and there was a thirst for more.

Mona’s David Walsh and Violent Femme bassist Brian Ritchie brought us the wild, weird and wonderful Mona Foma. From its beginnings on the Hobart waterfront in 2009, ‘Foma’ then took over the CBD and Mona itself before expanding to Launceston.

“Since Mona Foma entered Tasmanian culture we’ve been thrilled to present artists and projects from every continent, even Antarctica. All in a nonlinear and non-hierarchical format that places ideas in juxtaposition, not competition,” says Ritchie. “People said Tasmania was not ready for it, but it was. So was the rest of Australia because Mona Foma has been influential on many other festivals in that time.”

The kids kicked up the dirt at Party in the Paddock, while everyone tried to keep quiet about A Festival Called Panama – arguably our best-kept music festival secret.

Now, we’re just so spoilt for choice we can’t possibly attend them all. Take your pick.