The Gympie Music Muster has hosted an amazing and iconic array of country music talent (and some a little bit non-country – opening its arms blues, roots and pop rock and comedic acts over the years). To celebrate 40 years since the inception of the Gympie Country Music Muster in 1982, let’s take a look back on a highlight reel of some memorable Muster moments from the earlier years….
Looking back on the Muster…..
The first Country Music Muster was held in 1982. The idea was to hold a Centenary celebration at the Webb family property celebrating their 100 years on Thornside at Widgee, from when grandfather George Slater Webb first selected the property in 1882, as well as 25 years in the entertainment industry by the Webb Brothers.
The Webb boys grew up in a musical family with their father, Bill who played the mouth organ and mother, Hilda was an accomplished musician and singer, even prior to meeting their father Bill. The Webb Brothers being Fabian, Marius and Berard Webb originally performed as a quintet with older brothers Bill Junior and Claver. In 1955, Fabian, Marius and Berard performed an audition for Australia’s Amateur Hour and won their heat and were broadcast over Brisbane radio. This resulted in a recording contract. I could talk for an hour just on the Webb Brothers musical successes and hits, and their family history, but you can proudly find a lendable copy of their book at Gympie Regional Libraries to read the rich and interesting history of the Webb family and the Webb Bros musical journey. This very book was originally launched at the first 1982 Muster “The Webb Families 100 Years on Thornside / The Webb Brothers, 25 Years of Country Music, was written by then Gunalda School principal and local historical enthusiast, John Dale.
The first Muster…..
The Gympie Apex Club were originally approached to assist the running of the bar and food at the event. Apex Club members who had earlier thought of a similar idea of running a music event in the Gympie region, thought of the big picture and sought to secure the support of media of the big city. Brisbane radio 4KQ came on board to market the event, which they originally rejected by, but became sponsors and comperes for the “4KQ-Webb Brothers Country Muster” at Widgee. Not only that, but SEQ Television, with show “A Big Country” filmed and produced a special program that was televised. The Webb Brothers also used this occasion to launch their newest record, the “Silver Jubilee Album”, featuring smash hit “Who put the Roo in the Stew” as well as their earlier mentioned book. The Muster success would not be without the Widgee community members and members of the Gympie Apex Club who literally built the foundations for a successful event.
The original one-day concert idea became a three day event for the 24th-26th September. The first Main Stage was built from bush timber and borrowed Queensland Rail tarpaulins and an old Ashton circus tent was used to hold a ball on the Saturday evening, named Thornside Ball. The event commenced with a campfire concert on the Friday night. A season pass to the Thornside event set you back $20. Caravans and tent campers descended upon the grounds, a stream on the property divided the camping from the stage grounds. The organising committee also made sure there was fun for families with a bit of a sideshow of dodgem cards, jumping castle, giant slide, merry go round, shooting gallery, clowns and other games. There were also sulky and wagon rides and Bill Hollis from Pomona gave rides on his bullock wagon. The Hanlon Bros. flew out of the Widgee Mountains on their hang gliders and the Wales Air Sea Rescue helicopter operated joy flights on the Sunday as well as a flea market with stalls. During some band changes, the Mothar Mountain Moon Shiners entertained crowds with square dancing with one of Australia’s top dance callers, Graham Brandon.
That first Muster was attended by about 6000 people. The lineup also included: Smokey Dawson, Bullamakanka, The Atherton Brothers, Billy Masters, Carmel Hogan, the Country Boys, Geoff Wilkes Country Music Band, Grand Junction, Digby Richards and Cash Bachman. Significantly, around $15,000 was raised for charities with recipients including the Apex Children’s Camp, St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, the local Nashville Scouts, the Kilkivan Swimming Pool committee, the local Gympie and Widgee community and local service clubs.
A steel Time Capsule was buried on the Thornside property at Widgee during that first muster. The capsule was buried by the then Deputy Premier, Dr Llew Edwards, and Mr Clarry Miller, the then Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Its contents included the printed family history book of the Webb family, a cassette tape of Webb Brothers singing “Roo on the Stew” and “Call of the Bellbird”, letters to future family members, family photographs and a souvenir teaspoon from the Gympie CWA. At the time, Fabian Webb laughed “In 50 years time, I suppose most youngsters won’t know what country music was”. It was envisaged to be opened in half a century in 2032.
Muster had a good time!
Such was the success of the Muster that the Webb Brothers and coordinating body, the Gympie Apex Club, sought to establish this music festival as an annual event. The Muster event conceptualised as a celebration of Australian Country music and community fundraiser (with profits going to charity) began with its very inception 40 years ago, and continues to give, with more than $20 million raised to charities and community groups.
The second “Muster” in 1983 saw an estimated 10,000 fans flock to Thornside property at Widgee. Already the festival was garnering fans from all over Australia. Bookings were up 60% and the Muster ball was a sellout. The program was a similar format as the year before, commencing with the Friday night Campfire Concert. The Talent Quest was dropped for favour of a “Battle of the Bands”. Though, not for long as it came back to become one of the popular aspects of the Muster program.
The date was changed from September to August to avoid Spring storms because on the last day of the first muster – rain had bucketed down! August chosen because it was traditionally a dry period. Long term Muster-ites would know that is not always the case!! And, it proved itself, in 1983, the second muster where rain also bucketed down on the August dates as well. The new solar showers didn’t work because of the lack of sun and there were a lot of bogged cars. The major beneficiary of funds raised from the 1983 Muster was the SEQ Driver Education Centre (now Roadcraft, still based in Gympie). Lineup of artists included of course the Webb Brothers but also Bullamakanka, John Williamson, Suzanne Prentice, Digger Revell, Black Velvet Bush Band, Cash Bachman and Rex Dallas.
In 1984, the third “Muster” attracted over 20,000 people, with more than $50,000 raised for various charities and local groups. The Country Music Muster was well established.
It was during the organising of the 1984 Muster that many requests were fielded for the “Sheik from Scrubby Creek”, Chad Morgan to perform at the Muster. Chad Morgan performed on the Saturday night that year and also again at the Thornside Ball. It was also around this time of amazing crowds that the Apex Club decided to consider a new muster site with better public access and expansion options.
SIR Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a guest of honour at the Muster’s campfire concert on the Saturday night. It was the Premier’s first visit to Muster. 700 campsites were booked out and due to this, the Gympie Apex Club replaced toilet facilities with permanent concrete block structures. A heating system was installed for hot showers 24-7.
Lineup of artists included: Webb Bros, John Williamson, Bullamakanka, the Gattoni sisters, Ann Kirkpatrick, Jade Hurley, Venessa Venning, Chad Morgan, Johnny Chester, Wickety Wak and the McCormack Brothers and of course many more.
A large crew from the ABC filmed a live television special with The Webb Brothers closing the TV special with Click Go The Shears and Waltzing Matilda.
Due to the growing enormity of the event, after three absolutely successful Musters at Widgee – in which 1985 attracted about 24,000 people, the Muster was relocated to a larger site just south-west of Gympie, in Amamoor. A major deciding force too was the fact that public money was being raised and for improvements but could not be spent on private land. With the cooperation of the Department of Forestry, the idyllic spot in the state forest south west of Gympie was approved in May 1985 – the first joint venture state forest park for use by Apex Club for the Muster.
Gympie Apexian since 1982, Craig Mathisen recounts after an Apex meeting that President Brian Sansom sidled up and asked what he was doing that weekend exclaiming “I think I’ve found the new Muster site”.
Craig was new to town in 1982 but three months later, he was at that very first Muster at Thornside on Widgee helping other Apexians prepare one thousand dinners for people attending the Muster Ball – in the circus tent (as in the photos).
Craig has written a wonderful piece contributed to our Gympie Regional Memories blog and importantly gives credit to former Apex President Brian Sansom’s extraordinary drive in the further success of the Muster for the future:
“As history should record it, Brian (Sansom) was the driving force behind Gympie Apex Club’s involvement in staging that first Muster and without Brian’s vision, persistence and perseverance there would be no Muster. Brian never envisaged the Muster as a ‘one off’ fund-raising venture for Gympie Apex (40 years later, the event has raised over $15 Million for charities and community groups!). In typical Apex fashion, no-one did anything about finding a new site after this decision – except Brian! He approached the local Forestry Department Manager about possible sites in a state forest and got a lukewarm response suggesting the pine plantations near Toolara. This was not the quintessential Australian bush setting that Brian was looking for and so once again he pored over maps, looking for State Forest sites that met the criteria of having both creek and road boundaries.”
Read the rest of Craig’s story and adventure to inspect the Amamoor site with Brian back in 1985 on our Gympie Regional Memories blog. It truly does set the scene of the original vision of the Amamoor site. www.gympieregionalmemories.com
Gympie Apexians spent many hours developing it for the Muster with facilities remaining available for visitors to the area at other times of the year. Gympie Apex Club’s budget that year was $270,000 for the Muster, a considerable increase from the first Muster’s budget of just $26,000. A federal grant was allocated of $122,000 to develop the Amamoor site, providing funds for the building of the main stage. Over the years developments and improvements continued, even to this day, with working bees by Apexians and muster volunteers – with the construction of the new museum area we are in today.
1985 lineup included: the reformation of The Bushwackers who disbanded the year earlier – the lure of the muster saw them reform and perform at the Friday Campfire concert. Syd Heylen (Cookie from A Country Practice) was a stage act. Kim Durant, John McSweeney, Denis Walter, Wickety Wak, Jade Hurley, Lucky Starr.
Today, 40 years after the original event at Thornside, the Muster is still a dynamic coordinated event with several iconic venues and attractions.
Venues/Attractions at the Muster: The Crowbar, Muster Tavern, Music Room, Main Stage, Muster Club, Talent Search, Blues Bar, Theatre, Lagoon Wine Bar and Restaurant, Breakfast Club, Bush Poet’s Breakfast and more.