A mammoth pair of floating ‘Skywhales’ and a circus-themed fight night are just the start of the star-studded Cairns Festival program, which this year is celebrating its 60th lap around the sun.  

Over ten jam-packed days, the event will also bring Amy Shark and Alex the Astronaut, among other artists, for an array of live music shows.

There’ll also be interactive outdoor art displays next to the annual opening highlights: the Grand Parade and Fireworks Spectacular.

All in all, there’s more than 30 free and ticketed events in store – with more announcements to come.


Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said the festival’s huge schedule is befitting of a 60-year celebration.

“This is a big year for Cairns Festival,” Cr Manning said.


“Through the years there have been a few name changes, but what has remained steadfast is community’s support, which has grown the festival into a staple fixture on the regional Queensland events calendar, drawing thousands of people to our spectacular city.”

The festival’s inaugural year marked the grand opening of a new jetty on Green Island, while the street parade and the crowning of ‘Miss Cairns’ came soon after.

Long-time locals may also remember the live crocodile racing event, which saw reptiles of all sizes chased down a tennis court by participants hungry for the ‘Cairns Cup’.

To mark the 60th anniversary, a Court House Gallery exhibition will explore the event’s rich history from Friday 26 August.

Brisbane artist Hope D, who’s notched up a Queensland Music Award and performances at the country’s leading music festivals, will also perform in a free event on the Esplanade on the opening Friday.

Further kicking off the festival you’ll find Reef Light – a virtual ‘under-the-sea’ experience with reef-themed sensory lights and enchanting soundscapes along the Esplanade.

The Cairns City Library façade will become home to vivid art projections once again, while roving mechanical pelicans will come out to play most afternoons along the Esplanade.

Following the Grand Parade and Fireworks Spectacular on Saturday 27 August, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra takes over Munro Martin Parklands on Sunday 29 August for its Superfamous show.

Monday 29 August sees Amy Shark return to the city, this time playing in the atmospheric Tanks, while the venue will host another Aussie folk-pop favourite – Alex the Astronaut – on the Friday.  

In another major event on the festival program, Patricia Piccinini’s colossal Skywhale and Skywhalepapa hot air balloon sculptures will float over the city for one morning only.

Presented by the Cairns Art Gallery, Skywhales: Every heart sings is a National Gallery of Australia touring event that’s appeared all over the world, from Japan to Ireland.

You can see the extraordinary spectacle take off from the Cairns Showgrounds early on Saturday 3 September.


Dance, circus and an intriguing theatre experience-turned-social experiment make up Cairns Festival’s other sideline events, before the classic Carnival on Collins rounds up festivities on Sunday 4 September.  

More festival announcements are due in mid-July.

Tickets and more information can be found here.

live music

Main points

  • The annual Cairns Festival will return on 26 August and run until 4 September
  • This year marks the 60th festival, which has had four name changes over the years
  • The ten-day event brings together music, theatre art, film and comedy
Sixty years is an extraordinary achievement for an event that had humble beginnings as the Cairns Tourist Festival in 1962, before being rebranded the following year as Fun in the Sun.
Bob Manning
Cairns Mayor