Almanac Music – Tamworth 2019: it’s all about the yarn

 

There’s something reassuring about our barefooted, cricket watching receptionist. Kristen looks up at us from behind the desk with dark, perfectly round eyes, as Country friendly and circle work in a red dust paddock as they come.

 

She’s a local. Never been anywhere else. Not a Country music fan these days, but loves the buzz on Peel St and seeing the town full of smiling visitors at festival time.

 

All business like and in control, Kristen gives us the rundown: dorm rooms are up the corridor to your right; showers up that way too. They’ve been flooding, so be careful. $4 for laundry, but you’re only here a few days, so probably won’t need to. Don’t use aerosol deodorants inside because they set off the smoke alarms and you’ll be paying the fine. Air con works better with the window open. Breakfast 7.30am sharp.

 

Enjoy your stay. I’m going back to the cricket.

 

A sigh of relief – unexpected, calming – breathes through me.

 

Shit, I think I’m in love.

 

Anyway….

 

Defa and I dump our gear and head off.

 

At the bus stop, under the shade of a jacaranda, an army of bullants charges from a crack in the earth, up my legs and down my shoes. Defa chats with Heather, a farmer from the Wimmera, his part of the world as well.

 

They join the dots: You’re the copper’s son, aren’t ya? she tells him.

 

Heather and an old school friend have been driving up for more years than they dare to count. She picks up her friend in Ballarat and they spend two days pushing up the guts through NSW.

 

Couldn’t imagine missing it, she says.

 

When in Tamworth, Heather usually rises each morning and runs to the top of Oxley Lookout which gives a panoramic view of town. But she’s walking to the summit this year because she has new bifocals which cost a bomb and not worth risking if she falls over.

 

Defa and I settle in at the Tudor. A fly drops into his first beer.

 

It gets hotter and drier up here every year. Anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change should visit North West NSW in January. And I’m fighting off a virus that has been chasing me for a few days, so the pace isn’t as hectic as usual.

 

At the town hall, John Williamson, with a rural backdrop, fake campfire in front, takes the audience on a journey through Outback Australia. He explains the context behind every song – where and when it was written; what it means to him; what it says about Australia.

 

For Waltzing Matilda, the final song, he orders the audience on their feet, men and women alternating singing the verses.

 

The Bushwackers, out at the Longyard, bash and sweat and fiddle through a steaming afternoon like they’ve been doing since 1971. They respect their audience, are honest and too old to give a shit. We are Australian brought tears to many eyes. It should be the national anthem.

 

But mostly, we just wander about town, trying to escape the heat, sitting under trees, lying on the grass in Bicentennial Park.

 

We chat about everything and nothing: life, work, family, kids, aging parents, Australia Day, the beauty of a summer dress, cricket, footy, tennis, and how shit NSW newspapers are.

 

When it’s all boiled down, that’s what we like most about Tamworth.

 

The festival serves as one of the few times Defa and I get together each year. And it’s the only occasion we aren’t looking at our watches, dashing off to pick up kids, get home, running to keep up with life’s treadmill.

 

Not that we’d change any of that, but it’s nice to jump off for a few days.

 

We’re typical men: seemingly unable to arrange a regular catch-up – as women are capable of doing without much effort – we have to plan an expensive annual interstate trip to get together.

 

We’re already planning next year.  We’re happy with our digs. We’ll book there again and hopefully have Kristen looking after us.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Loved your story Andrew! The feel and the tone of your story reminded me of my annual soujourn to the Port Fairy Folk Festival. The settling in for the week, the expectations of what was to the come, catching up with old friends now only seen at the “folkie”. The changes from last year, and of course the buzz all came flooding back to me as I read your story. Must get to Tamworth one of these days!

  2. Your Tamworth pieces are part of the Almanac year Andrew. Thanks for another terrific evocation of the experience.

    Love your choice of song. Dobe Newton is a great character. If you ever want to catch up with him for a chat pop into the Fitzroy Bowls Club. It’s his watering hole. And may still be president I think. He wrote that song too.

    He also has a beautiful speaking voice. I could imagine him reading poetry on the radio. Or narrating a kids’ book.

    Thanks for another terrific piece.

    JTH

  3. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great catching up today Starks and meeting your angel, Eloise. Hope ‘Browny’ kicks a ton for her this year.
    Enjoy the festivals while you still can young fella.

    Bushwackers came to Queenstown in 1978 and played the then Four Seasons Hotel to a packed house apparently. My brother and a few locals went along, but alas I was too young to be allowed entry.

  4. Lovely stuff, Starkers…

    There is something about catching up with a mate (or mates) on an annual basis.
    It keeps us tethered to reality, tethered to the past, tethered to the future, something to look forward to, something to look back on.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Also enjoy and look forward to your annual Tamworth tales Andrew. Another great piece.
    No arguments here about “I Am Australian” being our national anthem….

  6. Like many others Andrew I look forward to this annual report. “We chat about everything and nothing…” is a great line and so very true. It’s at the heart of these trips away and circle work is a most evocative concept for us originally from the country. Was Chad on deck this year?

    Thanks.

  7. This year’s TCMF seemed like a particularly leisurely ramble AS, apart from the damned heat. From Kristen (“as circle work in a red dust paddock as they come”) to the fly dropping into Defa’s first beer to the simple enjoyment of The Bushwackers. Love it. I saw The Flying Emus at Port Fairy a couple of years ago and they were as good as anything I’ve seen.

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