Tamworth 2

by Andrew Starkie


Our hostess has her head on the counter and appears to have nodded off.  Suddenly alert, she grimaces, runs her hand through her bed hair and focuses bloodshot eyes.

Sorry darls… I’m a bit hungover…where was I? That’s right, here’s your key.  Towels are in your room. 

She nods at Linda’s bump. 

Darl, if you’re thinking about complaining about the noise, don’t.  People are here for a party.  Breakfast is served 7 to 8.30.

We have a quick look in the restaurant.  Plastic covers on the tables.  Might give it a miss.

A phalanx of middle-aged bikies – beards, guts, tattoos and blue singlets – rumbles in.  They’re no Hunter S. Tompson’s Hell’s Angels.

The clunking air con brings relief and nullifies the din from next door.  The shower recess floods.

The New England Highway thumps while storm clouds pass over the flood plains and runaway behind surrounding hills.

Lest We Forget in ANZAC Park.  Wide, sagging streets.  Deep gutters.  Driveway cricket.  A cicada symphony.

Peel Street is a river of sound.  Currents of Cash, Williams, Loretta, Slim, Tammy, Dixie Chicks.  An Indigenous band doing Elvis.  All flowing, merging.

A husband and wife from Tassie sing their own material from behind a card table.

Been driving up for years.  Wouldn’t miss it, they tell me.

An eight year old sings Fulson Prison Blues.  His grandfather tells me all proceeds go to his crook dad, so I buy his latest CD.  Adam Harvey poses for photos.  Kasey Chambers does a radio interview.  Bluegrass on the outdoor stage.  Coins in the guitar case.

Yodelling.  Spoons. Whip crackers.  Queen of Country entrants.  Monte Dwyer, former weatherman, gave it all away, now following the sun, flogging his books.

R.M. Williams, Wrangler, daisy dukes, hats, boots, buckles.

Country pride.  Honest, sincere.  Every drought, flood, broken heart, lost dog.  No pretence, no bullshit.

From Bicentennial Park, the carnival shrieks, spins, rolls, flashes.

Sweat drips from the walls in the front bar.  The atmosphere is light and everyone’s smiling.  A Hen’s party from Armidale bustles in.

Can’t explain this to those who haven’t been here, a friendly faced Gippsland farmer says.  I agree.  He and his mate reckon it’s too far to come for a few nights so they’re in for the long haul.  They’re not sure what day it is and even less certain where the night will take them.

Local kids hang on the fringes, smoking, dreaming, bored. Outside Macca’s, a ute is loaded up with trail bikes and supplies.  Aerials like ship masts.  Back window covered in stickers from country pubs.  Australian flag on bonnet.  Escaping town for the weekend.

In the marque, back of the pub, Lonesome Train is reaching a climax.  Straw dance floor, hay bales piled high.  Revellers bounce and pump the air with their fists.  Lead singer has them in a spell, could take his pick.  The double bass player has recorded with Johnny O’Keefe and the Everly Brothers.  Bar staff collect empties while bouncers yawn.

A welcoming light shines from a beer garden.  Keith covers float into the night and down the hill to the river.

Bo Jenkins beats out American Swamp and Blues from the back of a truck pulled up alongside the back decking.  He dedicates a song to his ex-wife.  Just leave and leave me alone.  There’s a hosed down, morning after the night before feel.

Damian Howard has driven up from Melbourne, one hand on the wheel, the other controlling the kids in the back.  He lost his will to live somewhere near Parkes.  In the courtyard, a big beer umbrella is blown over and falls on his head.  The bass guitarist wears the same shirt he did for all of last year’s festival.  A pair of brothers arrives.  One is blind and his elder sibling leads him to a table and gets the beers in.

The Grey Nomads line up like worker ants for bush poets and balladeers at the bowls club. Ceiling fans, honour boards, concertina doors, bingo numbers, raffle for the cricket club.  A young monarch, red robed in a loyal, far off dot of the empire.  Save us a seat, luv.  Seats are currency for creaking nomads.

Poems about billycarts, broken wives, country barbers.  An old bloke under a sweat stained hat plays the gum leaves.  Adam James croons a ballad about his deceased grandmother.  OOH, isn’t he lovely.  This is the Australia of Lawson, Paterson, primary school History classes, and international perception.  It still exists, even though we’re the most urbanised country.

Show over, the nomads queue again for $8.50 Chinese lunch at the bistro.

Banjos and mandolins under a white light.  A procession of freakishly talented young artists.  Cool nerds who spend their lives holed up in bedrooms or in jam sessions that last the weekend, perfecting their art.  Breathtaking.  Transporting.  The sort of feeling you want to bottle, take home, and open the lid when needed.



  1. John Butler says

    AS, love it.

    After this and your report from last year – http://footyalmanac.com.au/?p=18797 – you’ve convinced me I need to go.

  2. John Butler says

    AS, there’s a country noir feel to this piece.

    Ever read any of Kinky Friedman’s stuff? (admittedly, the Kinkster plays more obviously for laughs)

    Also, a cafe we went on the weekend has live music on Sundays.

    The owner described the next day’s act as”‘a mix of Johnny Cash and Nick Cave”. No pressure there!

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