Almanac Music: Tamworth – Light on the Hill

Since turning forty, life has had a half-time in the sheds, game in the balance, feel to it. I think a lot about life, death and the pinball randomness of it all.

Eloise was born, relatives and mates have passed away, yet I’m still here. What does it all mean? What am I supposed to do?

Sometimes I feel everything is happening too quickly. As Paul Kelly says, I’d wasted time and it now it’s wasting me.

This has affected me. Always a person who liked routine, my life has become even more structured. Controlled.

I used to fancy myself as a bit of a dusty, red-booted traveller. Now I tether myself to home. I developed a fear of flying – your classic white knuckled, sign-of-the-cross on take-off and landing, sweaty mess.

At St Bernard’s weekday services, I’ve stared over Fr Leo’s shoulder at the wooden crucifix on the wall, searching for answers.


Yet, I’m as simple and complex as the next man. Running utterly counter to this, out of some desire to break the ball and chain of adult responsibility and Monday to Friday grind, and maybe my own need for control, a longing grew to find something annual – an event, trip, anything, to claim as my own, to look forward to. To break the mundanity.


One Saturday afternoon on the edge of another summer, I read or heard or saw something about Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Tamworth had always been on the list. Something clicked in my head. This is me. I’m going.

First afternoon of the first trip, I sat on Peel St, the main drag, watching a young farmer, in town for the show, wearing his finest RMs, belting out Cash in front of his keyboard and rows of CDs he had produced and paid for himself. Later, a teenage girl stood on a corner, took on the cicadas and yodelled her heart out to an appreciative crowd.

I thought of myself at the same age and wondered if I could have put myself up for such potential public ridicule. Not a chance. In conservative, judgmental 80s Warrnambool there was nothing I wanted less than to stand out in a crowd.

A cynic in a cynical world, the honesty, courage and sincerity of these two performers (and every performer at Tamworth since) impressed me more than I can tell you.

Tamworth had me for life.

What I see, hear and feel at the festival each January fills me to bursting. It inspires me to write, like football sometimes, Eloise always, and more recently, Billy’s recovery.

Tamworth cleans me out and fills me up again for another year.

Everyone needs a Tamworth to reconnect them to themselves and their faith in humanity.

Defa and I looked forward to this year’s trip more than usual. The past twelve months have been challenging for both of us, for different reasons.

Defa is one of the world’s good guys. A big, bashful, gentle, smiling bear of a man, out of Warracknabeal via a St Pat’s Ballarat scholarship. We used to live together in a university share house in Carlton back in the day. Defa’s seen me at my worst and even worse than that, and still reckons if he had a son he’d want him to be like me.

A corporate high-flyer – chauffeur, boardrooms, airport lounges – he walked away a few years ago when the tank was bone dry, and he was about to keel over. Defa took time off, slept, walked the dog, took his girls to school.

He now has his own property business. He’s almost closed the door a few times, causing sleepless nights, but finally, he’s breaking even.

And me, well…. it’s been a year of change, loss and gain.

To borrow from Joy and Slim, Tamworth has been our light on the hill.

Opening day, front bar at the Tudor, Casey, the pretty, smiling barmaid was back from Sydney again, while Eight Ball Aitken warmed into his heavy-footed, swampy blues set. A grinning crowd of punters settled in for the journey.

We got the first round in, and made a toast to us and Tamworth. The bricks in my head settled into place and relief oozed through me.

Everything was in its place.

Outside, the rain that had earlier rolled in from the desert swallowing up Tamworth, had moved on and Peel St was basking in sunshine.

(We’re already planning next year’s trip. I’m overcoming my fear of flying – much to Defa’s amusement – but we’re thinking road trip.)





  1. John Butler says

    So this is what barracking for the Roos does to a man.

  2. I really enjoyed this piece, Starkie! But is this really what life has in store for a younger North Melbourne fan?

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