Cobargo Folk Festival return was a moving experience
by Richard Narbutas
Published in T&N149 July 2022
Well I came upon a child of God, walking along the road.
And everywhere was a song and a celebration.
And not before time.
Cobargo is an old dairy farming village with a population of about 800 people in the Bega valley in NSW.
As you may remember, Cobargo was one of the villages ravaged by the bushfires of 2020.
Just hours before dawn on New Year’s Eve 2019, people woke up to find fire raging through the town’s main street.
Hundreds of properties across the district were damaged or destroyed and four people were dead.
The community was left reeling.
So in 2022, after one postponement and two cancellations, the Cobargo Folk Festival miraculously sprang to life on May 6th at the beautiful Cobargo Showgrounds.
Originally imagined as a vague one day event, the enthusiasm for something good to happen morphed into a three day festival.
The spruiking on the web page ended with “And we’re still keeping an eye out for any changes to Covid restrictions, more rain and the possibility of a locust plague or invasion by aliens.”
Well, there was an invasion of sorts.
People came from far and wide to enjoy the festivities and the perfect weather and the chance to show their support for the community.
Superficially, life is pretty much back to normal, but, with respect, the mending of less obvious wounds may take time.
Some 25 acts turned up to perform on three stages from Friday evening through to Sunday and oddly, Dave O’Neil seemed to be playing in half of them!
There was music, food, the Poet’s Breakfast and market stalls, a variety of workshops, sessions playing in the bar area most of the time and the weather was glorious blue skies, if a little cool overnight.
The views of valley and pasture were soothing, but the distant tree line of deadwood on the ridge tops served as a reminder of the past summer.
And what a relaxed festival it was.
No rushing around to get from one venue to the other and the times for performances were well spaced.
The programme is still available on the Cobargo Folk Festival page.
Some discussion occurred in regard to the genre of some of the bands playing, whether they “fit” into the folk music scene or not.
One point of view may be to preserve the oral histories of the settlers against the likes of Bob Dylan on electric guitar.
Others welcome a passing of the baton to a new generation of folk performers although the jury’s still out on the likes of 19-TWENTY and the mosh pit!
One thing’s for certain, the times they are a-changing.
With a minimum of fanfare, the Governor General, David Hurley, arrived on Sunday afternoon as guest of honour for the featured “Cobargo Concert”, which served as a public de-briefing of the events that befell the district in 2020.
The Vice-regal couple came to watch the Cobargo Concert and show their continued support in the Cobargo and Quaama communities.
Local performers, Felicity Dowd, Matt Preo and two pupils from Cobargo Public School performed songs they’d written following the Black Summer bushfires.
Other songwriters and bands from further afield included Craigie Marsh, Shortis and Simpson and Jess Joy,
June Tarlinton shared memories of her father, Ross Rixon, who lost his life during the fires.
The Craigie Marsh band performed Bushman of Cobargo in dedication to Ross.
Carly and Stella McMahon of Cobargo Public School shared how the school children coped with their experiences of Black Summer.
The school produced a 14-track album and 40-page book titled, The Day She Stole The Sun.
Also, Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund (CCBRF) vice-president, Deb Summer, announced the CCBRF had raised a staggering $800,000 to fund numerous recovery projects.
When John Walters from Cobargo Rural Fire Service stepped on stage in his uniform, he was met with enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
Mr Walters said that the local RFS were the ones the community relied on to help save Cobargo and surrounding districts during the Black Summer Fires.
The last performance, “Garden of Eden”, was written by Kim Yang, who had been stranded in Eden during the Black Summer fires.
Then, Governor General Hurley thanked Zena Armstrong, Chris Walters, Coral Vorbach from the Yuin Folk Club and Daniele Murphy from the Cobargo Bushfire Relief Centre for their combined leadership in bringing the festival together.
The Governor General recognised the importance of the festival to a community who, throughout the pandemic, couldn’t even shake hands or give hugs of support to each other.
And then a most remarkable thing happened.
At the end of the Cobargo Concert, Her Excellency, Linda Hurley, welcomed the artists back on stage and asked all present to sing “You Are My Sunshine”.
But there was a twist, in singing the second chorus, you were asked to look someone in the eyes and sing it to them.
Your correspondent found this a quite uplifting moment.
Smiles aplenty as many bashful attendees were confronted with looking their fellow audience members in the eyes as they sang.
A wonderful assist in the healing.
Well done Ma’am!
When all’s said and done, it was a grass roots event, the community showing such spirit and determination to rise from the virtual ashes of a disaster.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
It worked for me.