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Where's Wallaby? (Much Further North Than You Think!)

by Alex Garrick-Wright -

Australia might be 10,000 miles away from Shetland, but you can get there in about half an hour thanks to one enterprising expat and his Outpost. In just a short journey, you can find wallabies, home-made cider, pigs and goats, and even a music festival - Pigstock - with a distinctly Aussie flavour.

East Burra is already a brilliant place to visit, with unparalleled scenery, friendly locals, and a number of stops on the venerable Shetland Craft Trail. However, its best-kept secret is the Outpost, a tiny slice of down under courtesy of Tasmanian expat Dave Kok.

The Aussie flag fluttering in the brisk Burra breeze lets the weary visitor know that the Outpost is open. The building itself is like something from another world; a wooden portakabin transformed into an incredible little bar, chock-full of mementos and souvenirs of Australia, books about antipodean wildlife and nature, art and postcards all over the walls. Everything feels (and is) hand-made, salvaged and cobbled together. Behind the tiny bar is the man himself, Dave Kok, with a smile and a demijohn of his delicious homebrew cider.

The Outpost exists because of Dave’s passion and hospitality; it’s not a licensed premises, and it doesn’t actually sell anything. Dave hands over a cider or coffee without thought of payment, because as far as he’s concerned, if you’re in the Outpost you’re a guest in his home. Given that the Outpost is literally a stone’s throw from his front door, you technically are. There’s a donation box for any contributions towards the running of the place, but the Outpost isn’t a business, or a charity. It’s a labour of love.

Some of the Outpost’s most famous residents are outside, however. Two huge, friendly kunekune pigs, a sturdy New Zealand breed, are always pleased to see folk, and to receive a handful of feed (which is available from a convenient box). There’s also Toffee the dog, a trio of goats, and the most recent additions: a pair of wallabies.

Ned and Kelly (named for the famous Aussie outlaw/folk hero), are the UK’s northernmost marsupials. A particular Tasmanian breed that thrives in that UK’s changeable climate, the pair have fast become a popular addition to the Outpost, peacefully sharing an enclosure with the goats. Dave's plans for the future include expanding the menagerie to include emus and sugar-gliders — an incredibly cute species of gliding possum.

Pigstock 2018

While the Outpost’s business-as-usual already marks it out as one of Shetland’s most unique attractions, this summer’s Pigstock festival surely stands out. A day-long festival of music, entertainment, games and prizes for the whole family — for free.

Dave Kok has considerable experience of organising large events and festivals, both in his native Tasmania and in Shetland, where he ran the popular Vunkfest music festival for a number of years. He and his crew of friends and family worked tirelessly to build the stage and set up gazebos in an adjacent field; organise a dozen artists and their equipment arrange for transport and shuttle buses; and, importantly, stock up on the homebrew cider.

“It was always a thing I wanted to do,” he said. “I liked the look of that hill up there and I thought ‘Wow, would be cool to do an open-air thing!’ Used to do it back home a lot, don’t really do it much in Shetland.

“So I thought ‘Yep, cool; bring it on’.”

The festivities kicked off at 12pm, slightly hampered by the miserable weather which had already caused the bouncy castle to be dismantled. Still, there was plenty to keep the kids occupied, with face-painting, soft play, ride-on toys, tombolas and a miniature treasure hunt; when you could get them away from the animals. The parents contented themselves with drinks in the Outpost, and Dave’s wild yarns.

As the day progressed, the weather cleared up and more and more visitors began to arrive. Music was laid on all day, with a variety of acts covering pop, folk and heavy metal to make sure all tastes were catered for. Shuttle buses ferried visitors from the car park at the nearby Bridge End Hall and Lerwick to and from the festival, and a constant rotation of volunteers in their official Pigstock shirts kept the bar running like a well-oiled machine all day and night.

“Yeah, it was fine,” Dave said with an air of classic Tasmanian nonchalance. “I don’t feel it was a big deal; just make a few phone calls, slap it together, build a stage.”

Everything about the festival was big and unique; especially the entertainments. The hotdog eating contest drew a large crowd, many of whom were eager to witness their first experience of competitive eating. This was followed by a delightfully messy find-the-gummy-bears-in-a-plate-of-cream game, and a raffle of prizes generously donated by local businesses, with all proceeds going to the SMA Trust, for spinal muscular atrophy.

Into the evening, this little part of Burra had turned into a full-blown music festival, with a huge crowd of fans rocking into the night, throwing themselves into the mosh, or just hanging out at the Outpost, which was going through more cider than anyone could have believed. Ever the conscientious neighbour, Dave made sure that the music wrapped up at 10:30pm, and buses made sure that everyone made it up the road in safety, with information for onward travel freely available. Many, however, chose to stay, and the revelry continued through the night.

Dave was pleased with how the events had gone, and was already looking forward to the inevitable Pigstock 2:

“I feel it’s gone pretty good, yeah,” he said. “I think everyone who’s here has enjoyed it… It’s just the prep. I mean, we wanted to try and do the bouncy castle for the kids, and we had to cancel that.

“So yeah; bigger and better next year, if we’re looking at doing next year, or every second year. But there’s definitely gonna be another one. The only way is up, baby.”

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