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Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

“Oh, what a shame. What a shame!” lamented larrikin bush poet Steve Word Smith when he heard the news that the final curtain is about to be drawn on Tenterfield’s famous Oracles of the Bush boutique bush poetry festival after 27 years.

“It was something myself and Brian Meldon concocted before the Federation year anniversary to bring people together to listen to the stories of the bush.”

Meldon owned the Tenterfield Saddler, immortalised by Peter Allen’s tribute to his grandfather. Steve Word Smith created his own legend as the Tenterfield Cobbler and Sir Henry Parkes lookalike. Their shops only 100 yards apart, the two men enjoyed getting together for a yarn and that’s how Oracles of the Bush was born.

Steve Word Smith was the first poet to grace the stage of the inaugural festival with his yarn about an icon of the bush, the outdoor dunny with a poem called “Orifice of the Bush”.

“The poem wasn’t really considered acceptable back then.”

Seeing the potential in a bush poetry festival, Tenterfield Shire Council committed $10,000 as seed funding. A community committee formed and the event was named by Tenterfield journalist and Oracles Legend Ken Halliday. The event was launched in a star-studded event at the Tamworth Country Music Festival on Australia Day 1996.

Very quickly the festival took on a life of its own thanks to the hard work of the festival committee.

“We had some wonderful poets there who matured over the years,” Steve said.

“Jimmy Haynes who is one of Australia’s top poets, Jackie Drake…they are all wonderful poets who were there at that time and have now progressed onto being well accepted poets.”

Thanks for the memories

Last year the decision was made to bring the festival to a close when they struggled to find replacements for committee members who needed to stand down. They decided that, rather than let the quality of the event diminish, they would pull together and present one last cracker of a festival.

The theme for the final festival is Thanks for the Memories. President of the Tenterfield Oracles of the Bush, Carmel Rose, says the festival she will never forget was 2021.

“Our venue flooded a couple days before the festival – we always have a plan B, but it never included a flood.”

“In two days, with the help of the Rural Fire Brigade the venue was hosed out, a marquee was hired from Lismore and erected only hours before the start of the first event and the show went on,” she said.

“The large crowd who attended, despite extensive flooding, commented it was one of the best festivals ever and the mud just made it even more Aussie.

“As a committee we are still in awe of the fact that we pulled it off.”

Another legendary Aussie bush balladeer, Bill Kearns says he loved every one of them.

“I’ve got some wonderful memories of the festival. It was already big when I started with the festival over 20 years ago.”

“The memories won’t die but unfortunately these things run their time and full credit to the organisers who did it each year.”

“It’s a massive job and it’s been very well done,” he said.

Glimmer of hope for the future

As the finishing line draws near Carmel Rose is excited.

“So many friendships have been forged over the past 26 years – as 2024 is our last Oracles that catch up will be even more special.”

“This year we are looking forward to creating more memories and embracing the Aussie mateship that bush poetry creates and showcasing the unique hospitality Tenterfield has to offer.”

Some hold out hope the event will continue.

“There might be somebody out of the blue who will put their hand up and take it on or it may just fade into history,” Bill Kearns said.

Steve Word Smith hopes not.

“It would be good to see it come to Guyra, a place where the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame has been established.“

“Yes, it would need some things in place to make it happen and to make it work but I truly believe that because of the truth of larrikin story-telling and poets from the past, we need to carry on this tradition.”

When asked whether it’s something he’d be interested in taking on James Arthur Warren, the man behind the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame, agreed it is a natural fit but has not had any discussions with the festival committee at this stage.

“It’s certainly doable but I think it’s really hard to get volunteers in country towns,” James said.

The 27th Oracles of the Bush will be held at Tenterfield, NSW. 4 – 7 April 2024. Tickets can be purchased through Humanitix at www.events.humanitix.com/2024-tenterfield-oracles-of-the-bush


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