Page 21

More Tamworth then on to Sydney

More on the Tamworth Country Music Festival

One of the highlights of the week was the free Australia Day Concert with fireworks to follow. We were lucky to bag a front row position. The concert kicked off with a song from each of the eight Telstra Road To Fame award winners. These awards are designed to give young talent a leg up. The first winner to sing was cute little Kirsty Lee Akers. Pam and I wanted to adopt her and take her home. The award winners were followed by a host of other acts including several songs from Jimmy Little and Keith Potger (pictured below).

Kirsty Lee

The Australia Day Concert included Jimmy Little, Kirsty Lee Akers and Keith Potger of Seekers fame . . .


. . . and ended with a firework display.

On this occasion a bit of camera shake enhanced the images. Incandescent jellyfish, perhaps?

On the second Friday we attended another free open air concert starring Kasey Chambers. Kasey is very popular and 15,000 people packed into Bicentennial Park to listen to her. We didn't count them ourselves, we got the figure from the TV so it must be right. Let me just tell you this - if we hadn't been totally blocked

Troy and Kasey

in by the crowd there would only have been 14,998 after Kasey's first number. The rest of her audience were wildly enthusiastic so the fault must have been ours, but to us she has the most boring, unmelodious voice imaginable. The volume was deafening and she seemed to shout rather than sing.

Another big name, Troy Cassar-Daly, made a guest appearance. Having listened to several 'stars' of country music and - at the other end of the scale - dozens of very talented buskers, I can only conclude that ability has little to do with who succeeds in country music.

Kasey Chambers singing a duet with her father, Bill Chambers. Not too bad a picture from 100 metres back in the dark.

On the second Saturday we drove into town for the Big Parade. That morning there was also an attempt to break the record for the world's longest line dance which we thankfully managed to miss. In fact, we managed to miss the best part of the parade too as the police had blocked off the road into Tamworth and we were forced to walk the last bit.

After the parade the crowd in the town centre was denser than ever and the temperature around 37° C. We decided that we were all 'festivaled out' and went home early.

Before leaving we watched Walk The Line, a special showing of the new movie on the life of Johnny Cash. It's been made as a love story and depicts JC as a weak, pathetic, sad figure. The drug and alcohol dependency in his life were emphasised - probably over emphasised. Hey, this man was my hero, leave him alone. Pam, on the other hand, enjoyed the film very much. So there you have it.

River Peel

Emerging from the cool of the cinema we walked into a wall of heat. However, . . .

. . . the Peel River provided some with a way to keep cool.

Sunday, the last day of the festival, dawned fine and sunny once again. It was cool in the morning but promised to be another stinker. We decided that, the best of the festival being over, we'd give Sunday a miss, enough being enough.

So the Tamworth Country Music Festival came to an end for another year. Would we go again? Without a doubt! Even if we weren't keen on country music it's worth going for the fun and atmosphere.

Shall I tell you what was really heartening about the Country Music Festival? It was the behaviour of the people. Despite daily temperatures in the mid to high thirties, consumption of large quantities of alcohol, and the extraordinary volume of people, in a week we never saw any rowdy behaviour, violence or drunkenness. In fact, we never even heard any offensive language. True, hearing anything was difficult. Never-the-less good humour abounded and litter on the streets was practically nonexistent. All credit to the Tamworth Council for providing adequate numbers of wheely bins, both for general garbage and recycling, as well as to the country music fans for using them.

The police, too, were evident in numbers on foot, on bicycles and on horses. They were good natured and friendly and their very presence, perhaps, ensured they had little to do.

I hope you're not too sick of all this country music stuff, valued Reader. For a change of subject I'll tell you about a visit to the Tamworth Powerstation Museum where they had three wood fired steam engines running for the occasion. (I can hear my brother Andrew groaning already. He hates country music and mechanical stuff so the pictures below are dedicated just to him.) The power station enabled Tamworth to boast the first municipal electric street lighting in Australia. The lights were switched on with great ceremony way back in 1888. On Friday, 9th November, if you want to be precise - not sure what time. The existing gas street lights had been converted to electricity. This was fast progress as only twelve years earlier the town had but one street lamp and that was an oil lamp outside the Post Office.

Steam Engines

Left: Crankshaft a blur, this beautifully restored Fowler compound, double acting steam engine was a wonderful site.
Right: The spinning flywheel of a second steam engine, its belt driving a generator.

The power station went from strength to strength until it was providing electricity to much of north-west New South Wales and some of Queensland. In fact, it was not until 1958 that Tamworth was connected to the main power grid. Prior to that, the guide said, they had to 'engineer' power cuts as the local supply was much more reliable than the main system and it wasn't acceptable for Sydney to have blackouts while country towns didn't. I don't know how 'tongue in cheek' that remark was - many of the staff at the museum were previous employees of the power station and very proud of the fact.

Apart from the engines and generators there were many, many other exhibits in the museum which ranks amongst the best I have seen of its type. (I use the first person singular as my darling spouse left me to it and went in search of a coffee shop.) One item immediately struck a chord with me. It was an old Hotpoint washing machine almost identical to the one my mother passed on to me way back when. I knew more about it than the guide did, having battled to keep one working for years past its use-by date. It's a worry, finding things you used to use in a museum.
Tamworth After The Festival

We moved the caravan into town the morning after the festival ended. It was hard to believe Tamworth was the same town. The streets were open again and the crowds, the buskers and the stalls had all gone. And so had the noise. We liked the 'real' Tamworth as much as we'd liked the festival Tamworth. It is a very laid-back little town where the traffic stops as soon as you even look like approaching a pedestrian crossing.

Tamworth from Lookout

Tamworth in the Peel Valley

I'd like to share with you an incident I witnessed as I sat under a shady tree on Peel Street, the main shopping street, one morning. As I watched the world go by, a burglar alarm went off in a nearby sports shop. It made the most deafening wail and, as usual, nobody took the slightest notice.

The siren had been screaming for several minutes when a large police four wheel drive pulled up outside the shop. I watched with interest as two burly officers eased themselves out of the vehicle looking very commando-like with their pants tucked into their boots and wearing baseball caps. Their heavy leather belts were festooned with guns, radios, handcuffs and heaven knows what else in pouches all around their waists. They hoisted up their belts and, without so much as a glance towards the screaming siren, strolled across the street and entered a Gloria Jeans coffee shop. They emerged a few minutes later carrying packages and take-away cups, got into their car and drove away. That's Tamworth.

We remained for two or three weeks after the festival had finished but gradually the itchy feet syndrome returned and we planned a move to Port Macquarie on the coast. From there we intended to go south to Newcastle and then Narrabeen. A few days before leaving we scrubbed the Port Macquarie visit, then decided not to go to Newcastle either - yet.

The day before we left for Narrabeen we received an email from an old work associate - sorry Bob, a former work associate - suggesting we visit the Warrumbungle National Park. It wasn't too far out of our way and was worth seeing. So the Wednesday morning found us packing up and preparing to drive to the Warrumbungles as thunder grumbled in the distance. The morning was quite cool but very humid and soon I was sweating like a pig - do pigs sweat? - whereas Pam was 'glistening attractively'. We heard a warning on the radio that a band of heavy rain was approaching from the west with thunder storms and the danger of flash flooding. Oh goodie, we thought, We're heading straight into it. That'll make life more interesting.

As we left Tamworth, lightning flashes ahead contrasted vividly with the dark, threatening sky. In the event, however, there was just an hour of heavy rain to contend with and then we were out on the other side of it. The sky brightened and the sun shone warmly. Alice had been instructed to guide us to Warrumbungle National Park and when we reached the nearest town, a place called Coonabarabran, she diverted us off the main road and through a series of twists and turns on side streets. To say we had complete faith in her would be a 'porky' but, sure enough, as we emerged from the town we passed a sign telling us the park was straight ahead. Good old Alice.
Warrumbungle National Park

The scenery, as we drove into the park, was quite striking. Towering rocks and almost sheer mountains rose skywards. The Siding Springs Observatory is situated on top of a mountain and, from the caravan park, its dome could be seen on the skyline. It is Australia's largest optical telescope and there are several smaller observatories dotted around, their white domes looking out of place in the beautiful landscape. Surprisingly the observatory is closed to the public at night but we visited it during the day. There was no tour available at the time we went so we wandered around on our own.

Warrumbungle NP

Towering rocks rose skywards.

The caravan parking area, when we finally found it, was not at all as the guide book had indicated. What had happened to the advertised showers and water supply? There was electricity, however, which kept going off and on. But that may have been part of widespread power problems caused by the storms. I kept smelling that 'dark brown' smell that emanates from something electrical which is hotter than wot it orta be, however everything kept working okay.

We'd joined a couple of other campers who ignored us, otherwise the place was deserted except for a tame kangaroo which came to the caravan door and sniffed at my hands to see if they contained anything edible. Finding to the contrary he lost interest and went and lay down, just far enough away to show his disdain, but close enough should there be food on offer.


No handouts so Mr Roo had a sulk.

At dusk the wind picked up alarmingly, whipping up clouds of dust. We quickly closed the caravan windows and vents and secured everything outside. Then the rain came lashing down, accompanied by flashes of lightning and crashing thunder. The storm passed but the rain continued, off and on, for most of the night. In the morning we found that the shady tree under which we had parked the caravan, its foliage now heavy with rain, was resting its lower branches on our roof. That wasn't all we found in the morning - we found the shower block. It had been there all along.

Looking around we discovered that we were alone - the other campers had gone. This made us uneasy about leaving the caravan unattended while we explored the park. We did have a drive around in the afternoon and walked up to a lookout.

Next morning we left for Narrabeen, stopping for a night in a free rest area in a pretty park in a town called Broke. Again we relied on Alice who was in a playful mood taking us up hill and down dale along narrow, twisting roads, and even down six kilometres of unsealed road. However she did take us the most direct route and when we entered the Sydney metropolitan area she was invaluable. It was like having a passenger who had lived in the area all her life and who was able to direct us unerringly through a maze of busy streets without a single problem, delivering us to the entrance of the caravan park.
Narrabeen, Sydney

What a culture shock! After living in so many small country towns, suddenly there we were in the great Sydney metropolis.

Two Faces of Sydney

Right: Sydney's harbour and skyline - a beautiful, thriving city. The Opera House
just made it into the picture on the far right.

Below right: Another side to the city.

The caravan park was very large and well organised with a concrete road network, green grass and shrubs. On one side of the park was the beach and on another a lake.

During the week the park was quiet and peaceful but on Friday afternoon an invasion of young parents and their kids began. All Saturday and much of Sunday the place swarmed with children under ten, screaming and shouting and speeding around on their bikes.

Children are okay, I suppose, but they have two major design flaws - they have neither a volume control nor an on/off switch. Come on, now, admit it; wouldn't it be marvellous to point a remote control at them and, at the press of a button, turn the noise down to a subdued murmur? And instead of the usual drama at bedtime, just point the remote and press the 'off' button then pick them up, drop them into their beds and leave them there until it suited you to wake them.

It was only when we ventured out of the caravan park that the fast traffic and congested roads reminded us of where we were. Most campers used the very convenient public transport. A bus from right outside the park connected with the ferry from Manly to the city. Because I am a 'senior' I could purchase a day ticket valid for all the buses, trains and ferries for just $2.50. Pam had to pay $15 for the same ticket. So what price youth?

Our first journey into Sydney was to visit the famous Powerhouse Museum. We decided, on that occasion, to drive and try Alice out in that very busy environment to see how she faired. She took us over the Harbour Bridge and straight to the museum without a problem. It was going home that she struggled because the tall buildings all around her in the city kept screening the satellites. When that happened she politely informed us that she had lost satellite coverage then went quiet while she tried to regain contact. Her map was useless during those short periods, it kept rotating and showing us in the middle of buildings. If we took a wrong turn before she got her act together it didn't really matter much, Alice brought us back on course once she'd found enough satellites.

Alice, our GPS

Meet Alice.

The only other snag was when there were two course changes close together, then the delay in giving us the second change might mean we'd already passed the turning. To avoid that we once kept driving round and round a roundabout, receiving some strange stares from Sydney motorists. As Pam said, once they'd spotted our Western Australian number plates they'd shake their heads sadly and drive on. Just another redneck from a backward state.

Enough of Alice. The Powerhouse Museum didn't disappoint; we could have spent all day there. Pam wanted to stay longer but we had things to do that evening. I had very much wanted to 'catch up' with Greg and Bob, two friends from a previous life that I hadn't seen for many years. A reunion had been arranged and there was an added bonus. Don from Adelaide, another friend of long standing, was in Sydney on business and was able to attend. The four of us used to work for Tektronix many years ago. Don brought his wife and daughter, Greg brought his partner and I took the Leader of The Opposition. It was a fabulous evening at a Thai restaurant where the food was almost as good as the company. The smiling faces in the picture below might give that away a little.


From left to right: Bob, Don, Lois, Kim, Bev, Pam, Greg and me.

The next day Pam and I went sight-seeing around Sydney and forgot the camera. We therefore had to retrace our steps the following day when we took the picture of Sydney (above) from outside the Taronga Zoo. The lower picture was taken near the Powerhouse Museum.

While at The Rocks near the Sydney Harbour Bridge one afternoon we made the mistake of popping into a bar for a drink - a glass of wine for Pam and a beer for me. The bartender relieved me of $26.50! We'd been paying $5 for the same drinks in Tamworth. So much for the saving my Seniors Card won me on the State Transit system. Then the bartender asked if we'd like another. As if!

The same evening we heard of a piece of land near Bondi Beach being sold at auction. The area of the land was 125 square metres. That's approximately twelve paces by twelve paces and it sold for $3.5 million. The buyer could have bought a half decent caravan for that.

Prices aside, I think Sydney must be the most beautiful city in the world. I don't think I'd like to live there - too busy, too fast, too crowded - but it's just an incredible city to visit.

Diamond Princess

Left: The Diamond Princess cruise ship.

At the time, the largest cruise ship to ever visit Australia, the Diamond Princess was tied up at Circular Quay. Too high to fit under the Harbour Bridge, this 116,000 ton megaliner is just four metres lower than the Sydney Opera House (seen under the bow). She is 2.5 times bigger than the Titanic and carries 2,700 passengers and a crew of 1,100. She was cruising between Sydney and Auckland. The twelve day cruise (including return air fare) cost from $2,769 per person for a twin share cabin.

The next time we visited Circular Quay the Diamond Princess had gone. In her place was another cruise ship, the Oriana. Had we not recently seen the Diamond Princess we would have marvelled at the size and grandeur of Oriana (pictured below). She was certainly a beauty but not quite in the same league as the Princess.

Taking advantage of our 'all day' tickets we took a high speed JetCat ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay. I felt quite sorry for the skipper as he tried to avoid all the yachts, large and small, that seemed to have a death wish. Their crews appeared to believe that the old maxim, Steam gives way to sail, would save their lives as they continued on a collision course with the fast ferry.

Three Yachts

The yachts pictured had nothing to do with the incident described below, they just looked spectacular as they raced, three abreast.

On one occasion the skipper had to cut the engines and swing sharply away from an approaching yacht which passed a few feet ahead of us, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Had our skipper not acted as he did, a collision would have been inevitable. He vented his spleen with a long blast on the ferry's siren - but only after the yacht had safely passed. Habour rage. The yacht crew ignored us.

A couple of times we visited the peninsula south-east of Manly - a part of Sydney Harbour National Park. The park is fragmented, being made up of several foreshore reserves and at least one island. A lookout at the tip of the peninsula gave us a great view of all the ocean-going ships entering and leaving the harbour as well as many pleasure craft. It also seemed to be on the flight path of several DeHavilland Beaver floatplanes which operate joyflights from the harbour.

We were surprised to find a plaque attached to the ground at the side of a park bench and almost obscured by grass. We were a little intrigued by it and decided to show it to you so I have included a picture (below right). Who were Ralph and Adele? Presumably Ralph wanted Adele to marry him though perhaps he just wanted her to be his 'partner'. Did she accept? He'd certainly gone to a lot of trouble so I hope she was impressed. And if she did marry him, how do they feel about one another now, almost five years down the track? It would be fun to trace them and find out. Perhaps someone who reads these pages will know - stranger things have happened.


DH Beaver

Left: One of several Beaver floatplanes operating joyflights off Sydney Harbour.

Right: Ralph's plaque beseeching Adele to make him the happiest and luckiest man in the world.

I expect the plaque would have been highly polished when Adele first saw it.

I must just mention this while I think of it. Pam noticed that there are not nearly as many obese people in Sydney as we've seen in other places we have visited on our travels. Once she'd mentioned it I took notice too. She was right, Sydney people are not nearly as overweight, on average, as people in other towns. Why that should be we have no idea unless Sydney-siders burn more calories in their hectic, high speed lives. Alternatively, perhaps holding a mobile phone to one's ear has some as yet undiscovered effect on body weight. At any one time, whether in the street, on a bus, a ferry or a train, about 10% of the population has a phone held against one ear. Another 10% sits on public transport tapping a mobile phone keypad, presumably 'texting'. Almost everyone else (under thirty) has iPod earphones plugged into their heads with wires disappearing into a convenient pocket.

Bridge and Opera House

The Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House Circular Quay (which isn't circular) is simultaneously a very busy transport interchange and a beauty spot. The ferry terminus has a railway station built vertically above it, and higher still, above the railway, runs a motorway, the Cahill Expressway. The sky overhead never seems to be clear of helicopters. On the land side of the terminus is the Sydney central business district with buses and taxis discharging and collecting passengers against a backdrop of towering glass office blocks. On the water side you have Sydney's two most famous icons, the Harbour Bridge to your left, and the Opera House to your right. On the water between them, ferries and harbour tour boats are constantly arriving and leaving. And next to the ferry terminal, resting in splendid majesty, was the gleaming white 'Oriana', dwarfing all other vessels.


The 'Oriana' with her yellow funnel and colourful bunting fluttering in the breeze.

On the day that we saw the Oriana we had decided to take another ferry up the Parramatta River to Parramatta. Pam was very keen to look at historical buildings there.

The town was disappointingly strewn with litter, especially in and around the school grounds, and graffiti was much in evidence. We decided it would be a great idea if the schools organised a clean up of their grounds by the students. But then the little darlings' parents would be up in arms about it.

Being on foot and not knowing the area, we didn't find any significant old buildings to look at though Pam discovered - on the train back to Sydney - that we'd almost walked past the door of the oldest building in Australia!

Changing the subject entirely, I recently read in Reader's Digest that as long as the first and last letter of a word are correct, the order of the other letters is less important, the text is still intelligible to a reader. Try reading this:

I rlealy eyneojd our vsiit to Sdeyny but otefn the waheetr was jsut too hiumd.

Could you read it? Most words are easy. In fact, you may not realise that they were misspelled until you look a second time.

Hours later. God, I'm tired. Don't know why, I've done sod-all all day except play with this computer. Some guy called Bill Gates thought it desirable that I download all sorts of update files which took three times longer than he said it would. Then some guy called Norton thought I should scan the C:\Drive for 'threats' and after 173,000 files he's found nothing but is still looking. I hate technology. The sooner we get back to coal and steam the better.

Outside, the traffic noise has stopped and I can hear the breakers on the beach. What a lovely sound to go to sleep by. Pam's asleep but here I am waiting for bloody Norton. He's up to . . . wait while I check . . . 178,000 files and he's finished. Found nothing, of course. What a waste of time. At least I can go to bed now. Oh-oh, there's a car passing on the road with its stereo full up and bass at maximum. Moron. He's gone now and I can hear the breakers again. Goodnight.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

For years we'd heard about this parade in Sydney and seen it on television. This year we happened to be in Sydney when it was held so we went to have a look. Naturally everyone will have their own views on this sort of event and we can only tell you our opinions and show you some pictures. The parade was held on a Saturday evening in Sydney's Oxford Street which, from our caravan, was a bus and ferry ride then a (much needed) three kilometre walk.

Mardi Gras

There were many strange characters wandering about ...

Hey, Miss Blue, you missed a bit. And as for you, Red Devil, bet your parents are really proud of you.

We arrived early, having been briefed thoroughly by the lovely couple in the next caravan.

Take a folding chair, go early and find a spot with a toilet nearby. If you leave it too late you'll see nothing.

It was sound advice and we followed it, getting a front row spot but at the cost of having to wait several hours for the parade to start. However, the wait was quite amusing as there were many strange characters in the most outlandish outfits - or lack thereof - wandering about.

As the start time for the parade approached, the crowd increased until we were hemmed in on all sides. The apartment balconies of the nearby tower blocks were crammed with people hanging over the walls and the roof parapet of one building was lined with heads. The roads had been closed and police and paramedics patrolled up and down. There were many parade marshals, mostly girls, who assumed the role of crowd warmers and later, cheer leaders. Their T-shirts bore the motto: I believe all love is equal.

I found the behaviour of the three hundred thousand strong crowd very strange. They were overly good humoured, almost like excited children. I swear if someone on the street had blown his nose they'd have erupted into cheers, screams, whistles and applause. We had a long wait for the parade to start but the crowd was perfectly happy to do Mexican waves (badly) at the instigation of the marshals, and to throw giant beach balls back and forth.

Looking at the people lining the barriers on the other side of the street two things struck me. The first was that I couldn't see a single person even remotely as old as I am. This was depressing. The second was that I could hardly see a face that looked Anglo-Saxon, they nearly all appeared to be of Asian extraction. I turned and pointed this out to Pam who hushed me immediately.

Keep your voice down!
What's the matter? I asked.
Look behind you. she hissed.

I glanced behind then all around. It was the same on our side of the street - Asian features everywhere. I don't have a problem with that, it just seemed . . . disproportionate.

The parade started with a ride-past of large motorcycles ridden by lesbians. Dikes on Bikes. I don't suppose watching a succession of half naked women with bare breasts would do anything for you, would it dear Reader? Well, that's where you and I differ. The 'ladies' were followed by their male counterparts, many very skimpily dressed in black leather. Still, the bikes were worth looking at.


Asian features. Everywhere.

There followed a long procession of floats, marchers, banners, bands and dancers. Not too many were very clever or talented though a lot of work had gone into some of the costumes. All were noisy, most were attired in the most bizarre outfits, some really spectacular, many miniscule.

Telling male from female was often well nigh impossible. Many floats had a message to impart; some were political but most appealed for understanding and tolerance for their sexuality and lifestyle.

From a purely personal perspective, if they abide - within reason - by society's codes of dress and behaviour they can do what they like behind closed doors, just like heterosexuals. But if they want to be 'in your face', and dress and behave like freaks, then that's how they can expect to be treated. This Mardi Gras, in my not-very-humble opinion, does no good whatsoever for their cause. So much of it was blatant and frequently distasteful exhibitionism, the worst being a pair of males enthusiastically simulating anal sex on one of their floats. Another pair did the same in the centre of the street.

The event was, however, very good natured. The police were very much in evidence at all times, even to having a march-past of uniformed gay Federal Police and another of gay State Police. And that's something else I'm not too sure about. Obviously there will be homosexuals in the police just like any other occupation, and they should be free to join in the Mardi Gras if they so wish. But as private individuals, not as uniformed officers. What's your opinion, dear Reader? I see no problem with homosexuality being legal and same-sex couples having equal rights. Just don't make it compulsory, okay?

Gays and Gun

Left: Nice boys.

Centre: Up close and personal with a police officer's side-arm.

Right: Male or female? Who knows.

Once the parade was over and the crowd began to disperse it became apparent what an appalling mess Oxford Street was left in. Litter, cans and bottles covered the footpath. We contrasted that with the Country Music Festival in Tamworth where, with an equally dense crowd - albeit covering a smaller area - litter was conspicuous by its absence.

We were given to understand by one of the marshals that the Mardi Gras is in financial difficulty. This bears out the opinion of many who, having seen the parade previously, said that it has deteriorated in both quality and quantity. The one we watched may be the last, we were told. Would it be possible, I wonder, for the event to continue as the Sydney Mardi Gras, removing the overall Gay and Lesbian influence? It has become a traditional annual event and it would be a pity to lose it altogether. The gay and lesbian community could still contribute with a float.

To see twenty more images of Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, click: Mardi Gras Pictures.

Note on terminology: The term 'Mardi Gras' has become associated with homosexuality in Australia. There is no such link. The Macquarie Dictionary defines the term Mardi Gras thus: Shrove Tuesday; the last day before Lent which is celebrated with special carnival festivities. The Oxford Dictionary concurs.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 21 was completed on 23 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.

Page Top

Next Page

Previous Page

Index Page