Celebrating the Ute – Australia’s modern day workhorse
By Jason Reed
SYDNEY (Reuters) - In the small rural town of Deniliquin, on the edge of Australia's vast outback, around 20,000 "ute" lovers gathered in the mud to champion a national treasure deemed surplus to requirements by the big car manufacturers.
Part car, part pickup truck, the Australian-made utility vehicle has become synonymous with farmers Down Under and is the centerpiece of the annual Deni Ute Muster festival, a two-day alcohol-fuelled celebration of all things rural Australia.
Now in its 18th year, the festival has grown to include country music performances from Grammy award-winning artist Keith Urban, a rodeo, whip-cracking championship and gallery of artwork created with chainsaws.
But it's the "utes" that keep the revelers coming back, even though a deluge of rain turned the usually dusty New South Wales state venue, some 300 km (186 miles) north of Melbourne, into a mud pit.
Sky Fulcher drove her black and pink Ford Falcon XR8 named "Rumble Princess" around 3,300km (2050 miles) from Perth for three days across the Nullabor Plain to attend the festivities, played out at a difficult time for the vehicle in Australia.
Ford rolled their last Australian-made Falcon "ute" off the production line in July and Holden said they will cease making similar vehicles in 2017 as buyers look to more fuel-efficient, smaller cars.
Both brands trail Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai, according to September sales data for the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
"It is extremely sad that they (Ford) are closing down production in Australia, but we don't believe that this will affect our festival," Anika Ahmad Bull, part of the organizing team, told Reuters. Continued...