Page 92: It's 2009 and we're back in Tamworth
  A very Happy New Year to everybody. It might not be new year when you read this, but as I write it, it is New Year's Day.  
     
  Back in tamworth  
  Let me start by reiterating a story I told on a previous visit to Tamworth. I was sitting on a bench in the centre of town, waiting for my dear wife who had disappeared into a shop as she is apt to do. Suddenly, from a nearby sports shop, came the deafening wail of a burglar alarm. This had the immediate effect of being ignored by everyone. After a while it began to irritate me but soon a police four wheel drive vehicle roared up and stopped directly outside the shop. Two cops, dressed commando style with boots, chequered baseball caps and belts weighed down with guns, radios and everything else they carry these days, disembarked from the vehicle. Following a quick consultation they strode across the street to a café opposite. After an interval they returned to their vehicle laden with take-away coffees and sandwiches. Without so much as a glance at the sports shop they drove away leaving the alarm still screaming. That, folks, is Tamworth for fifty weeks of the year.  
     
   
 

The Post Office in Tamworth the Saturday before the festival started. The clock was hours wrong and stayed thus
all through the festival. Its chime was out of synch with both the real time and the displayed time.

 
     
 

During the Country Music Festival everything changes. The town centre is closed to traffic, marquees pop up all over the place, street traders abound, buskers line both sides of many streets, those with amplified instruments sometimes drown out those without. People pour in from all over Australia and the atmosphere is vibrant. Contrary to popular belief it is not only country music that is played, though that certainly predominates. The quality of the artistes ranges from woeful to wonderful. Frequently performers with household names give free concerts in the park. Total unkowns, struggling to get a foothold in the industry, are often some of the best performers and when we find one we particularly like, such as Michelle Little, we become ardent fans. She calls us her Official Stalkers.

And then it's all over for another year, the crowds evaporate, the streets re-open and Tamworth settles back into the routine life of a country town.

 
     
   
  Peel Street, Tamworth's main shopping precinct, has shady trees down both sides of the street and down the centre too.
A normal peaceful Saturday . . . but not for long!
 
     
  Employment? Not yet.  
  As I told you at the top of the previous page, due to the economic downturn - thank you, Americans - we are now faced with returning to the workforce. To this end we spent much of our first weeks in Tamworth registering with employment agencies and hawking ourselves around the streets trying to convince business owners that they desperately need us.

Pam already had a résumé which she polished up, but I had to start from scratch and am still fine tuning mine. When I can read it and not recognise myself, then I'll be happy. These days you apply for many jobs on the internet. There are sometimes up to ten pages of questions to which you must respond before emailing the application to the prospective employer from whom you will hear nothing. Ho-hum. Saves on shoe leather, I suppose.

We do pound the pavement too, diving into any premises that look promising. If we could eat sympathy we'd never starve.

I have one certainty on which I might have to fall back. You might think it would suit me, working with a bunch of pretty young chicks all day. The job entails sliding my hand under their warm little bottoms and collecting their eggs. Well, that's one part of the job. It's hot, it's smelly, it's dusty and it's physically very demanding, but if nothing else comes up . . .
 
     
  Pre-Festival Tamworth  
  The Festival doesn't actually start on a specific day, it ramps up over the preceding week with more and more entertainment becoming available as the crowds pour in. Our caravan park has put on live entertainment almost every evening. The standard varies from night to night, but just sitting outside in the balmy air under the stars, sipping a never-empty glass of red wine and chatting to friends while being entertained is incredibly relaxing and enjoyable. So far the cost has been a 'gold coin donation' each evening.

There have been free concerts in the social clubs, too. We purchased joint Festival Membership of the two big clubs for a mere $6 and that entitles us to free entry and discounted meals and drinks.

From Pam's journal you probably know that hardly a day goes by when we don't visit Gloria Jeans coffee shop . . .
 
     
   
  Some of the friendly, cheerful Gloria Jeans' staff. Pam just goes for the coffee.  
     
  They really are a nice bunch in the Gloria Jeans café. I wouldn't mind betting that we have patronised more of their outlets in Australia than any other customer.  
     
  Festival Tamworth  
  We also patronise Telstra with our PC modem and cell phones. Telstra had some lovely, friendly staff at the Country Music Festival, which they sponsor.  
     
   
  Emily and Sophie, two of the tall Telstra Girls. I stood on tiptoe and they had to bend their knees. "Waiting for the perfect woman" my T-shirt says. If there is such a thing, Tamworth is the first place to look. If only I was five years younger!  
     
  On the subject of pretty girls, on entering the Target store we found ourselves at the back of a crowd listening to our erstwhile favourite, Kirsty Lee Akers, singing songs from her new album.  
     
   
  Having changed my lens I managed to get a long shot of Kirsty between heads in the crowd. She now has black hair and has the features of a woman rather than a girl. She appears to be looking straight at the camera with those huge brown eyes.  
     
  But the festival wasn't all pretty girls, there were the usual odd-bods to be found.  
     
   
     
  And from the rear . . .  
     
   
  It takes all sorts.  
     
  Our favourite singer is Michelle Little about whom I have no doubt raved on previous pages of this never-ending tome. Michelle has been gifted with a wonderful voice and a talent for writing songs. She also teaches music in school.

Country music is usually a story put to music, sometimes very sad, sometimes about famous characters and often love stories. If you can't hear the words then the whole thing becomes a bit pointless. What is happening in Tamworth is that singers like Michelle hire musicians to back them on stage. The musicians, and especially the drummers, seem to think it's all about them. They play very loudly forcing the vocalist to sing louder and before you know it, you're being deafened and the lyrics are drowned out. It's become rock music. There are many rock festivals around the country every year; Tamworth is supposed to be about 'country'. The best song we heard Michelle sing was one she did before the musicians returned after a break. She accompanied herself on her guitar and all the magic of her voice came through. We could hear every word. If only the musicians could appreciate that the crowd had come expressly to listen to Michelle.

And here she is, folks, Michelle Little.
 
     
   
  Michelle photographed on stage at the Fitzroy in Tamworth.  
     
  Those who are interested in photography will realise how difficult it was to get a half-decent picture during a performance. Without using a harsh flash, the low light level means both the camera and subject must be kept very still. Naturally Michelle didn't keep still for long - she was singing to an audience not posing for the camera. When she did keep still she invariably had the microphone in front of her mouth. I took about fifty exposures, forty of which were blurred by movement or otherwise spoilt. I finally got this image using a 200 mm telephoto lens from way back in the audience.

While watching the concert I became aware of a woman taking a photograph of the man sitting next to Pam. A lot of people were giggling and I looked to see what was funny. Despite the deafening noise from the stage, the man was asleep in his chair, a bottle clutched in his hand.
 
     
   
  How could anybody sleep through that racket? The security man finally gave him several prods to wake him.  
     
  I think I might continue on the next page. Why? Well, if I put too many pictures on one page and you have a slow data transfer rate on your PC, then you will have to wait for the picture frames to slowly fill. If you have broadband, of course, you'll have no such problem.