Tamworth is known as the country music capital of Australia. Stories of hardship and heartbreak while living on the land have turned into bloodlines of the countless ballads sung by esteemed country music artists over the decades. Many musicians have travelled the hard, dusty road to Tamworth to perform at the the town's annual Tamworth Country Music Festival; the second-biggest in the world. Outside festival time, by late-Autumn, Tamworth is a little sleepy. While many townsfolk have temporarily headed to the big smoke of Sydney and beyond, travellers like me have made their way to Tamworth to seek adventure.
Aside that Tamworth finds itself mid-way between Brisbane and Sydney, there’s a sense of honest, country grit that holds this town of over 30,000 people together. While it may have turned a few heads when vegan requests were made at some of the town's restaurants and cafés (even the occasional stand-offish demeanour; this is "cattle country, though) it was Tamworth's streets that called me in. Walking the footpaths of Tamworth’s retail precinct flanked by towering, sturdy locals smartly dressed in shirts, jeans and orbiting cowboy hats to shield them from the dry, mid-afternoon heat. Eventually, I stumble over Kable Avenue and through the gates of Bicentennial Park.
Hugging Tamworth's Peel River, Bicentennial Park provides a green refuge to wanderers seeking serenity only nature can muster. A trip to Oxley Lookout the afternoon before confirmed that Peel River was discovered by Surveyor General of New South Wales, Lieutenant John Oxley RN in 1818. He also proclaimed the lookout a "million dollar view" where travellers can now understand the expanse of Tamworth's residential sprawl, and Peel River winding through the heart of it.
Tamworth's Bicentennial Park, built in 1988, is where wandering travellers can discover the natural beauty of this part of regional New South Wales. Yet, there’s a subtle irony that harnesses the town's country music charm in this park. The bloodlines of those who have lived and died by the law of this rugged land are chorused by country music stars past and present. Then, there’s the parallel to ever-present native fauna and fauna that finds a stubborn way to survive and thrive despite the constant cycle of Australia’s droughts and floods.
While meandering, there’s time to listen to the light breeze rustling the bending branches of gums above. Rainbow lorikeets balance among the gum leaves, playing peek-a-boo with those quiet enough to wander by. Heading closer to ponds dotted around Bicentennial Park and wild ducks paddle in the early-morning sunlight, shaking their tail feathers before motoring along.
Further meandering finds a rusty, old windmill nestled high among the gum leaves, weathered by bouts of drought over the decades. Today, the windmill stands at idle, waiting for the weather to turn as busts of country music royalty stand poised along Memorial Walk, ready to pluck a ballad from a guitar or sing the sorrows of a farmer's wife doing it tough.
The pinnacle to this country music theme at Bicentennial Park is the Country Music Hands of Fame installation. Country music greats have travelled thousands of kilometres to grace the stage at the Tamworth Country Music Festival annually. And, many of these stars leave a timeless reminder of their travels through this town – in the form of handprints in cement.
Walk to Bicentennial Park and take a hire car to Oxley Lookout. Entry is free. Explore more of Tamworth's country music history with a photo-stop at The Big Golden Guitar and adjoining tourist centre that’s filled with memorabilia. Entry is free here, too.
Travel to Tamworth by booking a connecting regional flight running daily from Sydney to Tamworth. Or, you can book a train through NSW Trainlink in one or both directions. Just be sure to pack your vegan meals and snacks for the train journey.
Stay at CH on Peel Boutique Hotel, a historic art deco hotel that's located in the centre of Tamworth’s central business district and close to restaurants, supermarkets; a short walk from Bicentennial Park. The vegan breakfast options at Inland Cafe, 407 Peel Street, are only a short stroll away.