The real deal…in Aussie lingo if you hear someone described this way, it is a high compliment indeed. Genuine, what you see is what you get, knowledgeable, not arrogant, a willingness to give of themselves generously, true-blue, and an ability to get on with anyone; are some of the attributes that come to mind. This year I had the pleasure of meeting two such individuals.
One a highly credentialed senior journalist and the other a skilled horseman and country musician. I’m not sure that they have ever met but they do have in common a love of Australia and sharing stories of people and places.
Heather Ewart, esteemed and seasoned television journalist with the ABC for many years, is the real deal. From hard-nosed reporting on the 7.30 Report to fronting the series Back Roads she is travelling across Australia with her producer and camera crew to capture the essence of places and people that are off the beaten track. Usually, smaller communities with characters and stories aplenty to share feature.
Our paths crossed recently during the annual Tolmie Sports Day held each February for 133 years in a bush setting in the hills about halfway between Mansfield and Whitfield in Victoria’s north-east. The day showcases traditions such as the wood chop, woodwork and blacksmithing and newer ones to include a chain saw competition. Equestrian events offer various novelties and jumping competitions for younger and older riders. The foot races judging by their names cater for all abilities and ages; ranging from the single ladies race to the Cooked Chooks through to the bloke’s Old Buffer’s Race and the Prime Bucks. The dog jump is always a crowd pleaser and so was the special display by the “Flipping Disc Dogz” which promotes a positive message of encouraging young children that they are capable of doing great things. It has a feel of an English fete with an a bush flavour. There are historical displays and of course the ever-popular Devonshire teas.
The day starts in brilliant sunshine but after lunch, the clouds rolled in and the rain poured down. But the local CFA (Country Fire Authority) volunteers agreed with me the much needed rain was preferably to dealing with bush fires. Despite the down pour and the risk of frizzy hair, Heather and her camera crew continued filming and interviewing some of the local identities and personalities. There were still smiles all round and good-natured banter. Heather posed for photographs with many of the local volunteers and assisted with the raffle draw taking it all in her stride.
Having followed Heather’s career and her more recent foray into presenter of the popular Back Roads series, one can see her ability to tell a story and to engage with individuals on all levels. Heather grew up as a country girl in the Victorian town of Murchison on the Goulburn River. There is a relaxed, laid back manner about her and a genuine interest in people’s stories. She manages to dig up some real gems like old-timer Tarpot in a recent episode featuring Windorah in outback Queensland. Sadly, Tarpot died recently but he is immortalised on screen. If I told Heather I thought she was “the real deal” she would probably brush it off and tell me she had encountered much more worthy contenders for the title.
The new Back Roads series including the Tolmie episode is due to return to our ABC television screens from June 17. While on the subject of ABC television, it is worth noting journalist icon, Barrie Cassidy, as well as being husband of Heather Ewart, retired in June after 18 years presenting Insiders, a successful current affairs show with shrewd insights into Australian politics . Described by many as tough but always fair, the accolades and response from the public and politicians alike, puts Barrie into the category of the real deal as we hear “back to you Barrie” for the last time. One hopes that Barrie and Heather get to spend more time together on a back road somewhere!
My other contender is Tom Curtain, respected horseman, dog handler and a golden Guitar winner at the Tamworth Country Music festival held every year in NSW. I met Tom in his home town of Katherine in the Northern Territory playing at the tourist motel where I was staying with my husband and friends in 2012. My Mum, a country journalist interviewed him when he was performing at the “Man From Snowy River Festival” in Corryong some time before. Growing up on a large cattle station one of five boys his life revolved around horses, dogs, music and all things country.
His lyrics echo the stories of so many who call Australia home – that great dividing line where the city ends and bush begins. As a young man while out in the mustering camps, Tom would try to hone up his playing skills. Obviously, a combination of perseverance and talent, came together in the 2004 release of his first album Smack Bang providing insights into life in the territory. He has gone on to win, the prestigious “Australian Independent Artist of the Year” at the 2018 Southern Stars Australian Independent Country Music Awards in Tamworth, NSW.
Tom also knows about resilience and having to reinvent one’s self when one door closes and take on a new venture which was to be the Katherine Outback Experience after his livelihood disappeared due to a downturn in the pastoral industry because of the Australian Government’s ban on live export of cattle in 2011.
Tom and his partner Annabel embarked on a whirlwind tour across Australia performing at small towns including Mansfield in Victoria(slide show above) and big cities such as Melbourne, earlier this year as part of his “Speak Up” tour. This tour was a result of the “Speak Up” single duet with Sara Storer that Tom penned in memory of Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett who at 14 took her own life after being bullied. This had a huge impact on Tom, a parent himself, who knew Dolly as a part of his local community. The song and the video clip was possible thanks to the generous support of several musicians who kindly donated their time and studios with 100 per cent of all proceeds and royalties from the song going to ‘Dolly’s Dream’. The Dolly’s Dream Foundation has been established by family and friends to help raise awareness about bullying and get more educational programs into schools. As part of this awareness program, Tom, arranged school visits and media interviews to spread the word about Dolly’s Dream while on the road with his “Speak Up” Tour.
Tom is the real deal when it comes to his work ethic and ability to connect to so many people through his horsemanship skills, working dogs’ display and undisputed musical talent. Watching him in action, it is wonderful to see how he can get the young kids up and dancing. His passion for sharing Dolly’s story is evident and a positive part of her legacy. Check out the two websites below to find out more about Tom Curtain’s music, his Katherine Outback Experience show and supporting Dolly’s Dream.