Page 60

In and around Tamworth

Werris Creek

Werris Creek used to be the centre of the known universe as far as railways went in this area of New South Wales. It had locomotive maintenance sheds, shunting yards, a signal box and was also the railway control centre. On one occasion a train was assembled in a siding but had to wait eight hours for a suitable gap in the main line traffic so that it could leave. A town of several thousand grew up around the station to accommodate all the railway employees.

Well, that was then and this is now. The maintenance workshops, shunting yards, signal box and control centre have all gone. All signals and points are controlled from Newcastle, 200 kilometres away. As railway activity dwindled, so too did the town's population. A drive up the main street gave the impression that many local businesses had closed down.

There is now little passenger train activity occurring at Werris Creek. Each morning a train arrives from Armidale, 140 kilometres to the north east, and waits at the platform. A second train arrives on a different track from Moree, 240 kilometres north. It is switched onto the main line, then backs slowly and is coupled onto the the front of the Armidale train. The two then leave as one train to travel to Sydney, 330 kilometres to the south. Each afternoon a train returns from Sydney to be divided, one part continuing to Armidale, the other switching tracks for Moree.

Train at Werris Creek

The CountryLink train arrived from Moree on the branch line (left) and is reversing on to the waiting train from Armidale, the station sign reflected in the carriage window. Then, as one long train, it departed for Sydney.

Apart from that, only the occasional coal or wheat train passes through.

Coal Train at Werris Creek

Two diesel locos hauling fifty coal trucks, each weighing one hundred tonnes.

Werris Creek Station, however, has a very interesting and well set out museum. It doesn't so much commemorate the history of railways in general, as tell the story of Werris Creek. It's well worth visiting in the unlikely event that you happen to be passing through.
A Fun Pre-Festival Evening In Tamworth

As I mentioned previously, in the Paradise Tourist Park we found ourselves in the midst of a mob of fellow Western Australians - we're known as 'Sandgropers' due to the nature of the soil on which Perth is built. Many of these people already knew each other and had established their own cabaret act to entertain other campers. This they decided to perform one evening while we waited for the Festival to start. The setting was adjacent to the park's swimming pool.

Pool at Paradise Park

The pool at the Paradise Tourist Park

Please understand that this show was never intended to compete with Australian Idol, it was purely for fun. The organisers decided to combine it with a raffle to raise money for a new Ronald McDonald House in Tamworth. It's a good cause which enables parents from outlying areas to accompany their sick children when they come into town for treatment. We were all asked to contribute something to the raffle.

Barry And The Paradise Chicks

As daylight faded, "Barry And The Paradise Chicks" kicked off the evening. Barry was an excellent guitarist and his group played such original percussion instruments such as the 'fly swat on wine cask' and 'sandal on plastic stool'.

Newspaper Item One part of the show consisted of Barry, a very good guitarist, and a group of ladies who played improvised 'instruments'. I should explain that the audience was divided into two areas in the shape of an 'L' with the entertainers performing between the two - in the angle of the 'L', if you like. It wasn't ideal. Without a sound system if someone addressed one part of the audience, the other side couldn't hear. Thus all the ticket numbers had to be repeated twice during the raffle. It didn't seem to matter much on the night and each draw was delayed because a lady called Debbie had bought so many tickets that she needed help to check them all. She was rewarded by winning three prizes.

We actually made the local paper!

There were so many prizes to be raffled that the draws were interspersed between the acts. At one point an Ansett Airlines umbrella, donated by the park management, was auctioned. As the bidding passed the $100 mark the evening was spiced up when Debbie realised she was unwittingly bidding against her own husband who was sitting in the other part of the audience. The umbrella was finally sold to her husband for $200.

A second item was then auctioned, this time a Perth baseball cap. The two halves of the audience started competing against one another. The cap was just about to be knocked down for $30 to someone in the other section when Pam leapt to her feet and yelled, "Thirty five". I admit I had suggested we bid but I was joking Pam, joking!! Fortunately the bidder on the other side raised it to $40 as I sat on Pam and held her jaw firmly closed.

It was such a fun evening - a million laughs - and almost $1,000 was raised for charity.


Left: Mel as the bee (with strips of electrical tape across his shirt)
and Meg as the honeysuckle, miming to a Julie Andrews track.
Right: Mel and Meg miming to the Renee and Ronato song, Save Your Love.
Some of Mel's hip gyrations were more than a little suggestive.

Nundle and Hanging Rock

One day Pam and I took a drive out to a picturesque village called Nundle where Pam wanted to visit a woollen mill. I have to say that the New South Wales countryside looked stunningly beautiful with the rolling hills so fresh and green after recent rain and the higher mountains of the Great Dividing Range in the distance.

Hanging Rock

The Peel Valley looking west from the Hanging Rock Lookout

Nundle was only a tiny place and half a minute's drive in any direction took us back into open country. The Nundle Woollen Mill was open though not working so we had a good look at a lot of machinery, samples of Marino wool and expensive garments which were for sale. Pam bought a book of knitting patterns, paid with a $20 note and received change for $50. Anyone who knows this girl will know what she did next - she'll never be rich.

We were fascinated by a road sign pointing to Hanging Rock and had to investigate. I don't know what we expected.  Remember the film, Picnic at Hanging Rock? Some schoolgirls mysteriously disappeared at a place called Hanging Rock, never to be seen again. Was there some connection? At the very least I expected to find a dangling noose with an associated hair-raising story, whether fact or fiction. As it was, we found a small hamlet called Hanging Rock which consisted of a scattering of dwellings along the road from Nundle to Ellerston. There was an adjacent state forest of the same name and a dirt road led us up to the Hanging Rock Lookout. If there was a particular rock with that name, the people around there didn't want us to find it . . . and we didn't. The lookout was well worth a visit, however. We found a young couple of hippie appearance up there in an old VW campervan. He was very friendly, she didn't speak to us. They were fossicking for quartz, though when I asked what a piece of quartz looked like, he didn't know.

On the way back we bypassed Nundle and took a winding country road which followed the Peel River along the floor of its valley. We found ourselves passing through Bowling Alley Point, another scattering of dwellings without a pub or a shop, and no indication as to where its interesting name originated. We rejoined the 'main' road close to where the Peel River flows into the waters held back by the Chaffey Dam.

Chaffey Dam

Chaffey Reservoir on the Peel River supplies Tamworth. It was well below capacity as the next picture shows.

Dam Wall

The Chaffey Dam and the 'Morning Glory' Spillway.

The dam has recently had a concrete wall added to raise its level by a few feet. The water authority seems to be expecting rain - lots of rain. The circular concrete structure is called a 'Morning Glory Spillway Tower'. Morning glory? Hmm. This tower performs two functions; it serves as the water supply outlet and a spillway overflow in case the water level rises too high up the dam wall. The sign at the dam lookout states that the spillway has the capacity to drain 77,800 megalitres per day from the reservoir, more than the dam's total capacity of 62,000 megalitres. I just hope we're not downstream in Tamworth if anybody ever pulls out the plug.
The Week Before The Festival

As the start of the Festival approached, so the frequency of country music events increased. One Sunday afternoon most of the Yappy Hour brigade attended an afternoon concert at the nearby Oasis Hotel. The quality of the acts varied greatly, as did the loud, distracting chatter from a certain person at the back of the audience. He was dressed in black with 'Ulysses' printed on his T-shirt and the sort of greasy black cap you might expect to see worn on the footplate of a steam loco in an old American film. At the end of one particularly good act, through which he had talked continuously, he had the nerve to bellow for more!

The next act could only be described as excruciating. Had it been presented as a comedy it would have gone down well, for the woman hardly hit a single correct note. The audience members looked at each other aghast. Not content with one song, the woman followed up with three more. By the end I was wishing she would turn down her volume as the monologue from the man behind us was infinitely more entertaining.

Soapbox time. The concert was a charity bash in aid of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Westpac, for anybody overseas who might not know, is one of Australia's big four banks. It makes obscenely large profits every year. Westpac also benefits from the advertising it receives every time the helicopter is seen on the news. Why, then, are rank and file Australians being asked to finance it? In fact, why is an essential rescue service funded from charity when the Australian Federal Government posted a surplus of many billions of dollars last year? The Brits might ask the same question regarding the funding of their Lifeboats. Okay, soapbox away.
The Festival Opening

The official opening of the Festival took place in Tamworth's Bicentennial Park on a Friday evening. We had attended this ceremony during the two previous years and weren't too fussed about going again. Once you've twice heard the Town Crier and the Mayor say their thing and an Aborigine elder welcome you to their land, well there's little point in hearing it all again. We did look in but didn't stay long because Michelle Little was appearing in Fitzroy's Tavern at eight o'clock and Michelle we really did want to see. We arrived early and bagged a good spot. We decided we might as well buy a bottle of red wine instead of walking back to the bar all the time for glass refills. The barmaid brought the bottle but said she'd have to charge me an additional $3 'corkage' to open it. This I protested about most vehemently, but to no avail. To compound matters she then tried to screw in the corkscrew in an anti-clockwise direction. I told her several times she was turning it the wrong way but she wouldn't listen. In the end she called another barmaid who also failed miserably to screw the thing in. They then went to ask the licensee if there was another corkscrew, leaving the bottle and corkscrew on the bar. I had the cork out in a jiffy but still had to pay $3 corkage!

Michelle arrived and remembered us from last year. Moreover, she has the same photograph of her and me on her website as we have on Page 37. Once again her performance was excellent and we enjoyed it immensely. This year she has several 'gigs' so we'll doubtless be seeing her again.
Festival Week Culminating on Australia Day

As this is the third time we've covered the Country Music Festival I won't swamp you with a lot more pictures - you could just as well look back to the 2006 and 2007 entries. It was a wonderful week and, as in previous years, the dense crowds were good natured and happy. We were hard pressed to find any litter in the centre of the town for which the council and its employees, who provided and constantly emptied the many bins, must be congratulated. Also we, the people, for using them, of course. To me, the week was as much a celebration of good humour, fun and friendliness as of country music. The festival climaxed on the second Saturday, Australia Day, which kicked off with a Grand Parade through the town. The Australia Day celebrations were enhanced by the news that Lee Kernaghan, one of the top country singers, had been nominated "Australian Of The Year". This great honour was not directly connected to his music, it was awarded for all the voluntary work he does to help farming families suffering through the drought. Naturally Lee was given pride of place in the parade.

Australia Day Crowd

Peel Street, Tamworth, on Australia Day 2008. Can you spot Pam? Don't worry if you get it wrong first time, Pam did!
(Answer: Just to the right of the wheelchair and partly screened by the chap with the knapsack.)

Again we found that there was no need to pay a cent to see and hear top class entertainment. The artistes performing at the ticketed concerts were no better than many to be seen in free concerts held in the parks, hotels, shopping centres and street busking. A lot of performers come to the Festival just because they love playing to audiences who appreciate their genre of music; they have no serious ambitions to become celebrities. Others, of course, take their singing very seriously and want to make a career out of it. Well, as it says in some book or other, "Many are called but few are chosen".

And so we'll leave Tamworth for another year and move on to Page 61.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 60 was completed on 10th June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.