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The history of the Golden Guitar Awards

05 January 2022

Barry Harley has a long history with the Tamworth Country Music Festival. He has been involved in many different facets of the event since 1974 and today is the Festival Manager at Tamworth Regional Council.

The Golden Guitar Awards has been a pinnacle event for the fifty-year history of the Tamworth Country Music Festival, but they haven’t always looked the way they do today.

Starting in 1973, the first awards were held in the Tamworth Town Hall, while an amazing venue and many great awards were hosted there, it was decided to move the event to a bigger location after 1979 due to needing more space.

“This is well before TRECC [Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre] and other large venues in town,” says Mr Harley. “So in 1980 the organisers of the day decided to hire the largest circus tent in the Southern Hemisphere to host the awards in.”

A special crew from Western Australia accompanied the tent to assist with pitching it. It was located roughly where the Waler Memorial is now in Bicentennial Park.

The 'Big Top' located in Bicentennial Park

“Funnily enough, we didn’t ask for a DA, we didn’t even ask for building permission, we just went ahead and pitched it” says Mr Harley.

For three years the Golden Guitar Awards were held in the ‘Big Top’ which seated about 4500 people jammed in.

“This was before Work Health and Safety and Occupational Health and Safety and things like that, the audience could have been smoking cigars and sitting on petrol drums for anyone cared in those times but we squeezed them for the awards show” says Mr Harley.

In 1982, on the night of the awards in the ‘Big Top’ a massive storm blew in halfway through the show.

Mr Harley says “The wind was so violent that these large titanium poles which were holding the tent up, which were about 300mm across were literally jumping out of the ground and moving sort of half a metre or one metre one way or the other while this tent rocked and rolled.

The inside of the 'Big Top' where you can see the large titanium poles.

He remembers a amusing story from the night, “We were trying to clear everyone out and there was this woman sort of half hunched over looking at one of the poles dancing around and I went over and said ‘Excuse me madam, you really need to be getting out’ and she said ‘I’m not leaving  until that pole gives me my bag back’,” says Mr Harley “And sure enough the pole had jumped out and landed on the handle of her handbag and she wasn’t going to leave until the wind came up, moved the pole again and she could recover her bag and run out the front door.”

This are just one of many stories that was encountered after many years of running the awards in a variety of venues and the tent being number two.

The awards then went on to be hosted at a range of different venues over the year including:

•    Jakab Ambulance Factory in Taminda (1983-1984)
•    Tamworth Workmen’s Club Auditorium (1985)
•    Tamworth High School Auditorium (1986-1987)
•    Calrossy Auditorium (1988-1991)
•    Various Venues in Tamworth (1992)
•    Don Willis Arena, Showground (1993-1998)
•    Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre aka TRECC (1999-present)

The 50th Golden Guitar Awards will be held on Saturday 22 January 2022 at the Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre (TRECC) – tickets are available by visiting

Tamworth Regional Council acknowledges the Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi people, who are the Traditional Custodians of this land. We would like to pay respect to Elders past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in and visiting our region.