Pull up a stump and be entertained at the Gympie Muster.
This visit was our first foray into the world of the Gympie Music Muster, which is held each year in Amamoor State Forest, so we really didn’t know what to expect. But for many years, it’s been one of Queensland’s major music events (it started in 1982) and, like Tamworth, an annual ‘must do’ for many country music fans.
The site is about a two-hour drive north of Brisbane and about 40km south-west of Gympie. The quickest way to get there is straight up the Bruce Highway, exiting to the Mary Valley Link road and on to the village of Amamoor. The road from there into the site is unsealed but suitable for all vehicles, though care needs to be taken in wet weather.
We thought we would simplify things and get ourselves a 4-night walk-in/walk-out rent-a-tent in Banjo’s, (a separate camping area with pre-erected touring tents) which included camp bed, mattress, pillows and an optional linen package. A table and chairs were supplied for sitting outdoors, perfect for that morning cuppa and a book in the warming morning sunshine, or ‘sundowners’ in the afternoon.
Hot showers and toilets for the exclusive use of Banjo’s patrons was a nice bonus, as was having security onsite. Banjo’s operated a marquee canteen, staffed by the wonderful volunteers from the Rotary Club, where you could get a cooked breakfast each day as part of the deal. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they also offered modest lunches and tasty dinners for a small fee if you were sticking around camp. DIY tea and coffee were available around the clock. There were several power boards for charging-up devices and it was quite amusing to see the jumble of leads and chargers each morning.
The main food vendors were not operating until the event’s official Thursday start, which meant that many of the early arrivals who didn’t self-cater, were hard pressed to find a meal on the Wednesday evening. Luckily, an enterprising pizza vendor set up shop early and he was popular. There was no entertainment scheduled for Wednesday evening, but we enjoyed watching talented musos Greta Ziller and Andrew Swift in a great ‘pop-up’ show near the main bar.
Our first night was a freezing -3°C and we were glad we had thrown in plenty of warm clothes, as well as our own sleeping bags that could be opened out as doonas. A few of our less-prepared neighbours scuttled off to Gympie in the morning to buy extra warm bedding.
Once proceedings were ‘officially’ underway on the Thursday, two free shuttle buses driven by the troupe of volunteers were on constant rotation to take Banjo’s guests to and from the venue entrance gates. This was welcomed after a long day or late at night. If you wanted to enjoy a walk, it was only a kilometre from Banjo’s to the gates. The ‘tent city’ in the general camping areas soon filled up and became a forest-within-the-forest. Some people went to a lot of trouble, with one even bringing their poddy calf.
Cashless armbands made life easier for patrons and the stall holders. You simply loaded funds onto the chip in the band with card or cash, and if you ran low there were adequate top-up stations throughout the venue. At the end of the event, anything left could be credited back to your card. EFTPOS was available at most stalls and bars. Internet and phone coverage were excellent, especially given that you were in the middle of a forest.
Before setting off each morning, we checked the program and the Muster app to plan our day. This event had something for everyone - country, bush ballads, blues, rockabilly, rock and roll, bush poetry recitals, and both rock and roll dancing and line dancing lessons (if you could be out of bed early enough). You could pick up a few pointers in the guitar masterclasses or try out the ukulele workshop (bring your own instruments).
There were five stages set amongst the gum trees and shows were on from 8.30am until the wee small hours. Each stage had its own dedicated bar area, which was convenient. We didn’t encounter any bad crowd behaviour, even though drinks were flowing freely.
There were the well-known artists that you’d expect to headline an event like this, such as Lee Kernaghan, John Williamson, Troy Cassar-Daley, Beccy Cole and Ian Moss to mention a few; all of whom were great and drew big crowds. But there were so many ‘lesser known’ acts who had come together to entertain us all in this great venue. We were struck by the amount of talent that is out there that you never hear of, and how polished and professional were all the entertainers. We discovered a local Brissie band, PC (Pete Cullen) and the Biffs, by chance. They were playing as we alighted from the shuttle bus one evening and we just had to follow the sound until we found them - what a fun show and a real crowd pleaser. Other excellent acts were blues men, Ian Collard and Buddy Knox.
There was never a problem finding a meal, the prices were quite reasonable, and the variety was amazing. During our time we dined from a great little Tibetan stall a couple of times, along with Thai, Mexican and Greek fare on other occasions. The days were warm, and it was great to see large water stations throughout the venue for free water bottle fills. There were plenty of stalls for shopaholics, with some big brand names selling clothing, hats and boots, along with a wide variety of other outlets.
Not surprisingly, jeans, Akubras, boots (RM Williams or the full-on cowboy jobs), and Driza-Bones are the fashion staples for attendees. Warm clothes are a must for the evenings too.
We were blessed with fine weather until the last day of the festival when the rain came down overnight turning the dusty venue to mud. We jumped the bus and went to see what was on, but the weather (and several late nights) had put a dampener on people’s enthusiasm, literally, and it was very quiet. Showers persisted and with only a few acts that interested us on the Sunday program, we decided to head off.
We had a very enjoyable time at the Muster listening to great music surrounded by the Aussie bush and would certainly recommend it.
This charity-supporting event is a tribute to the organisers and, most importantly, the 1700 hard-working community volunteers that contribute around 15,000 hours to make it work. And it offers much more than music for ‘Country & Western’ followers. This year. The Muster raised some $153,000 for the worthy causes of Prostate Cancer Research and drought aid for our struggling farmers.
By Trich Ewing