Cultural memory in Tamworth, Australia’s Country Music Capital
The latest issue of Popular Music features an article by Sarah Baker and Alison Huber about the regional city of Tamworth, New South Wales, the self-made ‘Country Music Capital’ of Australia. The article considers the ongoing memorialisation of country music in Tamworth. The authors argue that the various events, festivals and monuments dedicated to this memorialisation have helped to create, maintain and perpetuate an Australian country music ‘canon’.
Tamworth boasts a busy calendar of country music events, including an annual Country Music Festival and the mid-year ‘Hats Off to Country Music’ Festival. Tamworth’s key country music institutions, such as radio station 2TM and the Australian Country Music Foundation’s Hall of Fame, have also been instrumental in developing and propagating the town’s status as Australia’s ‘Country Music Capital’. Memorial markers of the city’s country music identity are dotted around the city, from the Walk a Country Mile Museum and the Big Golden Guitar, to the Roll of Renown monument (pictured below) and Winner’s Walkway – you can even pick up a country music tour leaflet from Tamworth’s visitor centre.
When the authors toured various sites around Tamworth, they were struck by how often particular songs and stars cropped up. Smoky Dawson, for example, has his palm imprinted at the Hands of Fame, appears with his horse Flash as a figure in the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum (pictured below) and has an exhibit in the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame. It became clear that Smoky Dawson, along with other influential performers and songs, have come to form something like a ‘canon’ of Australian country music.
The authors go on to consider why Tamworth has invested so heavily in the development of such a canon. They argue that ‘canons provide an appealing solution to the problems associated with an excess of information, choosing for us what is important to single out for listening or, more importantly for our purposes, what one should remember.
‘In Tamworth, there seems to be a cultural desire for a usable, ordered memory of the past… Without something like a canon, collective imaginings of the past can only be fragmented, but at the same time, the veneration of the canon, can be at risk of a ‘contraction’ of cultural memory.
‘Yet in spite of the tendency we observed toward paying homage to the past and the strong presence of the canon, the range in genre and style that make up ‘country music’ in Australia appears to us to be more varied and perhaps even more popular than ever.’
To read this article in full for a month, click here.
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Image 1 – Sign outside Tamworth Visitor Information Centre, which also houses the Walk a Country Mile Museum
Image 2 – Wax figure of Smoky Dawson and his horse Flash at the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum
Image 3 – One of the Roll of Renown granite boulders