This train is bound for Glory


The lone guitarist looks tiny against the cavernous, black stage in Bicentennial Park, Tamworth. He rolls through Keith Urban covers and a few originals before a small, scattered audience, lazing in the shade. He hitch-hiked from Sydney for the festival, is sleeping on a mate’s couch, uses bread fasteners as guitar picks and is pushing his gear around in a supermarket trolley. Last year, he scraped some money together to produce an EP; it’s going cheap backstage if you’re interested.

‘Anyone heading back to Sydney when it’s all over?’ he laughs. ‘I need a lift.’

At $10 a pop, the camel train loaded with tourists meanders past, while in the St John First Aid tent, volunteers guzzle water and fan themselves.

On Peel Street, music flows and merges from every pub, gutter, shop front and corner.

Southern Kin, a six piece teenage gospel outfit have been out front the chemist all day. Banjo, washboard, mandolin, double bass, guitar and vocals. Flushed cheeks, sweat pouring off them, the guitar case is slowly filling with shrapnel.

An Indigenous group does Elvis. The lead singer, an older, handsome, distinguished looking man in white, press stud shirt, poses shyly for photos.

Banjo Girl yodels for the horse shoe crowd, and Monty Dwyer, former Channel 9 weatherman, is still chasing grey nomads, flogging his books and ballads.

A pretty girl wearing Daisy Duke cut-offs hands out flyers to her gig tonight; and leathery old timers in RM Williams and sweat ringed hats sing the old stuff outside the travelling Tex Morton Museum.

Dozzi, three sisters from Brisbane, just back from Nashville, do Dixie Chicks on the fanzone stage, where later, Damian Howard’s drummer keeps beat on an empty beer box.

Queen of Country contestants walk up and down, saying ‘G’day’ and collecting gold coins for charity.

Peel Sreet wilts by late arvo.

The pubs are packed. Across from the train station, in The Imperial beer garden, The Viper Band bang out Country Rock into the night air. A thin curtain of water is sprayed above punters to keep things cool.

At the Tudor, Rod Dorsett tells his audience he knew his second marriage was doomed on the honeymoon when she didn’t like the music he played in the car. Six hours of silence on the road to Broome. Marriage number three was even shorter.

They’re crammed up the corridors, sweat is dripping from the walls and the bar chick hopes the change comes tomorrow, but she’s not holding her breath. There’s been no decent rain since the three inches they received before Christmas. She’s here to make some cash before heading for the big smoke. Isn’t everyone?

Eloise and I sneak in the wheel chair entrance of the War Memorial Town Hall. Built between the First and Second World Wars, walls adorned with flags and names of theatres of battle, we take a front row seat for The Bushwackers‘ free bush dance. We’re first up for the polka, Eloise laughing and squealing her head off as we goof around. The dance floor quickly fills and we’re swept up by a whirlpool of grinning, delirious faces. It’s beautiful, bloody beautiful. Another Tamworth moment to bottle and take home.

Out front, we bump into a young woman lugging her guitar and amp. A Star Maker finalist last year, she’s uncertain what this festival will bring, but is keen to give it a go. She heads towards Peel with a line of sweat running down her face.

Dreams live at Tamworth.


  1., for Rod Dorsett.

    Thanks AS, you tell it so well. I have to get myself up there. One day.


  2. Mickey Randall says

    Andrew- I’ve driven through Tamworth, but have not been to the festival. From a writing viewpoint, it must be a rich and exciting event. You provide lots of vivid snapshots, and it makes me determined to get there. I have seen a great documentary on Chad Morgan called something like “I’m not Dead Yet” which captured the witty, the tragic, the very human side of him. Did you see him?

  3. Great stuff Andrew. Over the decades my musical tastes have journeyed a lot toward country singer/songwriters and alt-ish country. Roseanne, Gillian and Emmylou etc. I avoid the big hat stuff, but country is where I now find the best voices, story telling and melodies.
    And no one knows how to dance. Which means everyone knows how to dance, and that suits me fine. Enjoy.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Tamworth forever, men. Already planning next year. I saw Chad in 2011 perform in a supermarket foodcourt. A bit tragic but he could still pack em in.

  5. John Butler says

    Starkers, your missives from Tamworth are always highlights.

    Their tourist bureau should give you a gig.


  6. Pamela Sherpa says

    Sounds wonderful Andrew.

  7. Terry Barnstable says

    Andrew, I will try and get you a cd of Josh’s great uncle Jim Harding, started out about the time of the bee gee’s in Brisbane and has lived the life of a country singer ,for all the wrong reasons until he cleaned up his act and started to perform again. Has recorded 2 cd’s in the last 4 years, some covers and some original recordings. Is slowly recovering from a bout of cancer at the moment.
    Josh’s dad.

  8. Beautiful story, AS.
    Great images.
    Especially loved the tale of your doomed man driving to Broome.

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