Street theatre, gold panning and local honey. The Go for Gold festival at Nundle, about 15 minutes from my folks’ house or half an hour from Tamworth, shot to pieces my expectations of a country shindig. I know these people like to party, but I did not expect the show-bag collection to outdo the Sydney Royal Easter Show.
I also didn’t expect to find a Chinese festival in the middle of the New England, especially five days before my flight to China. But, as sure as my brother can light a fire, the Chinese rolled into Nundle to celebrate the gold rush in years gone by.
Of course, there was dancing. The Chinese rocked out their dragon costumes to an adoring crowd.
I was delighted by the Chinese lanterns strung up across the town. The country pub, especially, was a paradox. It looked like a timeworn establishment being dragged, reluctantly into multicultural Australia.
But, if the difficulty getting a park is anything to go by, it was good for business.
For a town with an official population of less than 300 people, it was 289 at last census; it has its fair share of amenities. This included the aptly named Mount Misery Coffee Shop. These guys had a gold panning gig happening with sediment from the local Peel River. As if on cue, we passed a few local kids with pans on our way to the festival. This place is the Real Deal.
On the back of a helpful volunteer’s tales of finding 100 pieces of gold while panning yesterday, my brother has found a new career.
“It’s lucky you weren’t born in the 1860s,” my mum remarked, “because you would gone chasing gold as soon as you could walk.”
We left him at BCF looking for a pan.
I thought I’d be better suited to a career as a witch.
The local woollen factory, which looks like an antique museum from the outside, is a carefully-crafted, high-class shop on the inside.
Plus, the novelty value of the looms is irrefutable.
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese festival attracted a few foreigners. By a few, I mean a handful, but check out this beautiful Pakistani family who were ambling around.
The ten-gallon hats and country music was abundant. My dad, an avid connoisseur of country music, could not shift from the front bale.
And those bales do not make comfortable chairs, of that I am certain. Seriously, spiky hay, who thought to sit on that?
But, my dad’s shirt sums up why he can hack the hay bales and I cannot sit for more than a moment on them.
That’s not to say the music wasn’t rockin’.
The band had this lady’s foot tapping. She said the colourful vest came from a stall at the festival.
Further down the street I came across the obligatory honey stall. Dorothy and Max are manning this stall. These guys are a very cute, country couple.
I introduced myself as Penny, “like the coin,” I said, trotting out the usual cliché I employ for almost-deaf folk. I underestimated Max. Instantly he came back “you may be called Penny,” he said. “But you look a million dollars.”
It’s the hat. Some people in Tamworth will love you instantly if you’re wearing an Akubra.
Dorothy was not going to be outdone with the country hospitality. She wondered if I was related to Betty Langfield. “She lives just down at the end of the no through road. She used to be married to Fred, but he passed away a few years ago. I think her family is from Grenfell.” I am not certain of how my heritage could be linked to the lovely-sounding widow, but Dorothy’s bachelor son sounded slightly more interesting.
And the best, of course, was the street theatre we caught on our way out. Watching a man being chained up, stripped and given 14 lashes was highly entertaining. I was even enlisted to count the lashings.
The Cat of Nine Tails whistled through the air delivering a sharp blow that gave a macabre touch to the afternoon. “This flogging has been bought to you by the Nundle Festival,” the Sergeant at Arms yelled through the pedestrian-filled main street, lightening the mood.
“You were the best counter we’ve had all day,” the Sergeant told me. I skittered off, delighted at my booming voice.
This place, it is deeper than it looks at first glance across the lucerne paddocks. Its history, the charming folk and the ubiquitous flowering poplars are enchanting.
Country music aside, I am besotted, already, with Tamworth.