Storyfest has deep roots and a rich history on the Gold Coast. Bringing a love of storytelling first to the students of Somerset College, and then to the wider community, has always been at the heart of what the Storyfest Writers Festival is about. Two years ago, the festival ventured further than it’d ever been – and we haven’t looked back since!

Richard Kinnon grew up over 1,200 kilometres from the Gold Coast, in the town of Longreach. As a regional settlement, Longreach wasn’t exactly a literary hub. As a kid, Richard did School of the Air Distance Education, which meant that he only had access to the two to three books they’d get by mail a few times a year, and not much more. Once a year, a mobile classroom would arrive at a station in their region. It would be a big truck with two teachers, full of books and a mobile library, and in the ten days that they’d stay, all the local kids would hang around and get their hands on as much new reading material as possible. Even then, Richard loved stories.

“We loved the bush stories – stories of the pioneers, bush rangers, cattle duffers, explorers and outback heroes. They were the stories we heard around the cattle-yards and stables but it was great to read them in books too. We also loved old-fashioned comics with heroes like Archie and Popeye. We didn’t have TV then so stories came to life in books and with our imagination.”

Once grown up and married, Richard took over the management of his family’s sheep and cattle stations. However, with drought an ever-present challenge in that wide, brown land, the Kinnons founded their tourism enterprise in 2006 to supplement their grazing income.

Since then, Outback Pioneers has grown from a station into a Longreach-wide operation. From accommodation, bespoke experiences, to complete multiple-day holidays, Richard and his family provide the perfect weekend away in this regional town. Visitors can step into pioneer shoes and experience the awe-inspiring Queensland outback with Outback Pioneers.

“Our vision as a company is to inspire and educate current and future generations to value and preserve the real Australian outback,” Richard says.

Partnership with Storyfest Out West

It wasn’t until 2022, following a chance encounter with Storyfest Festival Director and CEO Andrea Lewis, that Richard saw an opportunity to bring his love of books and storytelling back to Longreach himself.

“I was interested in what she was doing and, as storytelling is very much part of my life, it wasn’t long before we were dreaming up ways we could work together!”

Outback Pioneers has been sponsoring Storyfest since 2022, both the Gold Coast and the Out West festival. When the authors come out west they are treated to the signature Outback Pioneer experience: they have a place to stay and hospitality like nowhere else.

As Richard says: “We do whatever we can to make it a great festival experience for everyone here in the outback.”

Richard Kinnon

The importance of bringing literary programmes to regional Australia

The past few decades have seen numerous research done on and around the levels of education and, within that, literary comprehension in rural versus metro Australia. While these findings are showing slight improvements over the years, there is still a great divide between the reading and writing skills of those children studying in regional and urban areas.

Storyfest’s mission to inspire young people and families through all forms of storytelling holds true in Longreach even more so – and locals are reaping the benefits. Richard sees this as a great opportunity for an exchange of experiences.

“It’s so important for the bush kids to have the same opportunities as the city kids. With the two-way exchange, the city kids love to hear the stories of outback life, animals and Aussie legends; and the bush kids get to meet authors and be inspired by books. The outback kids are hungry for experiences like this and it really builds a bridge of understanding between the city and the regions.”

Many of the bush kids are travelling vast distances across the outback to be here for Storyfest Out West and it’s becoming an important event where schools, distance education, parents and kids all meet up and enjoy a special time together.

Where to next in the west

Over the past two years, Richard has seen firsthand the effect of the festival on Longreach locals – children and adults alike.

“It’s been fantastic for everyone. The town is full while the Storyfest is on. The annual show used to be the big event in town but it has a rival now. Storyfest gives everyone something to look forward to. The parents, especially the mums, are really involved and meet other remote-living parents. The students have an inspiring break from the classroom or from their distance learning. It’s become even more important than regional sports events – which is saying a lot!”

Inspired by the incredible stories that have come from Storyfest Out West, we are venturing even further this year: to Emerald and to St George. But taking the festival to these new locations – and hundreds of new students and parents – would not be possible without people like Richard and wonderful partners like Outback Pioneers. We can’t thank them enough!

So next time you’re in Longreach, you know where to stay and what to do! You might find Richard having a yarn with his guests in the Cobb & Co stagecoach yard or supervising a delivery of a thousand lambs.

Find out more about Storyfest Out West here!