Tamworth: the ritual

Tamworth went like it always does.


Defa and I met at check-in, grinning like two school boys wagging class, as a new sun threw perfect white lines through the large windows and suntanned families rushed off to departure gates.


The big fella looked down at me with his bashful Warracknabeal smile. From the flat plains and water channels of the Wimmera, to St Pat’s Ballarat, and a share house in Grattan St Carlton with me in the early 90s, Defa is my go-to for pub meals, laughs and reassuring chats. His rational perspective is a perfect foil for my emotion driven instincts.


Defa left behind corporate boardrooms and chauffeur driven cars a few years back to go out on his own. He jokes about leaving the keys on the office desk and screeching tyres in the carpark, but he’s held his nerve, and so far the door is still open.


In the lounge, Defa grabbed the Fin Review and I buried my face in the free food like it was my last meal. We caught up on life and our extended families and phoned the kids. Defa had a laugh at my Rhinestone Cowboy look.


We changed at Sydney and headed north west, bumping and rolling above drought ravaged land. Empty rivers went nowhere and brown paddocks were pleading for relief.


At Tamworth, the mid-afternoon sun hit like a spotlight to the face as we walked across the sticky tarmac. Corrugated hangars shimmered in the heat.


The opening night crowd at Bicentenary Park was the biggest we have seen. Grey nomads pitched their seats while Queen of Country contestants collected coins in buckets and posed for photos. Cicadas had their own symphony and local kids rolled like shadows under the gum trees. Through the darkness, the black ancient land sighed and slept under a chandelier of stars.


At The Tudor, Eight Ball Aitken kicked off his residency. Heavy swamp Blues dripped down the walls and familiar looking punters with dry creek bed necks in RM Williams shirts raised their schooners.


We submerged ourselves in Peel St where a drummer under a layer of sweat banged away on an old suitcase. A young woman yodelled on a corner, an Indigenous band performed Elvis, and Monty Dwyer flogged his travel books.


Griggsy did his whip-cracking show three times a day while dropping his usual line about not needing to go to a gym to look this good in a blue singlet. He handed around his hat.


This year’s Tamworth Moment was delivered by a teenage Celtic fiddler who silenced a crowded, noisy shopping mall with a weeping rendition of Danny Boy. She received a standing ovation as an old fella in the front row wiped a tear.


On the outdoor deck at the Longyard, Defa and I sat in the shade as Whistle Dixie introduced Willie’s On the Road Again as the anthem of Country music.


And on the final morning, the sagging, old gospel tent offered quiet, a cup of tea and time to sort  new memories. Soft southern tunes floated and circled around me, the traffic in my head slowed and peace crept in and filled my veins. I was cleansed and replenished.


This is cliched, but to borrow Slim’s line, Tamworth is my light on the hill. The place I go to when stuck in Melbourne’s traffic or weighed down with life’s daily challenges. A Tamworth memory instantly transports me to a better place.


As I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate the importance of ritual, whether daily, weekly or annual. From brushing my teeth of a morning, work, exercise, reading before turning the lights out, the footy, or singing along with Eloise to Bruce in the car.


Ritual keeps me heading in the right direction, while providing escape, reliability and comfort.


Defa and I are already talking about next year.




  1. John Butler says

    Onya Starkers.

    I look forward to these Tamworth pieces every year. Long may the ritual continue.


  2. Andrew- I’m with you on ritual and it’s increasing importance. For me a weekly beach run with our boys, an annual trip to the Clare Valley with old friends and a lunchtime beer at the All Nations on our yearly Melbourne trip.

    Quick question: was Chad on deck this year?

    Thanks for this. Both the trip and the writing about it must do you a power of good!

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Love it Andrew. So keen to get to Tamworth.

  4. Peter Flynn says

    Bravo Old Mucker.

    Just one thing:

    Slim’s Lights on the Hill are about his demise.

    Aah aah no!

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