Faces of Tamworth: City, country guiding light June Smyth

VALE JUNE MARY: June Smyth at a wedding she officiated last year for a Tamworth couple.

VALE JUNE MARY: June Smyth at a wedding she officiated last year for a Tamworth couple.

​The late June Smyth was “a female pioneer in country music development”, according to the person who nominated her as one of our Faces of Tamworth. The first female publican of the Longyard Hotel, she always had her eye out for new country music talents and used her networks to get them gigs. She was a board member of Tourism Tamworth and later went on to be the inaugural Country Music Festival co-ordinator for Tamworth Regional Council. Here, we take a look back to former NDL journalist Ann Newling’s tribute to Mrs Smyth in November 2015.

 ONE of the sunniest feminine guiding lights of the country music industry in Tamworth has died unexpectedly in Sydney.

June Smyth, first a publican who helped drive the Tamworth festival into a higher gear in the mid-1980s, and then a foot soldier in organising events each January for the city, died suddenly on Saturday while visiting a long-time friend.

Mrs Smyth who, with husband Don Smyth, came to Tamworth in 1985 to run the new Longyard Hotel, had suffered recently with cancer but her death over the weekend was a shock to family and friends. 

Former Longyard owner and developer John Smyth, who was Don’s cousin, brought the two to Tamworth and credits June with actually coming up with the name for the hotel.

Don and June had been running the Croydon Park pub in Sydney’s inner west – with a bent on folksy, Australian musicians – and they dragged the likes of Eric Bogle, Ted Egan, Allan Caswell, John Williamson and Greg Champion with them from those days when the Longyard opened around St Patrick’s Day in March of that year.

Allan Caswell remembers those days well – he also played at the opening gig that Sunday along with Ted Egan, Rum Rebellion, and locals The Craz and Lindsay Butler.

“We had some memorable nights there; I particularly remember the beer garden – and, you know, some of the music played on that night was better than our gigs,” Caswell said yesterday.

“There were a lot of friendships made there because we would go there after our concerts, and yes, after the awards in those years.”

The Smyths would play host to informal get-togethers and Caswell says they all loved June for it, because she would be the main ringleader.

“The people who played at the Longyard back then were her favourites, you know, she liked folk that much but it was good Australian music that was intelligent and had a story to tell.”

She is credited with also starting bush poetry at the pub and with sitting on a number of festival and community committees in those years.

When she and Don left the pub, they didn’t leave Tamworth. June went on to work for years with the festival co-ordination team and the backstage body for some of the major civic events that are on the January calendar. 

Former Tamworth council general manager Glenn Inglis got to know her well in that capacity.

“June was a special person,” Mr Inglis said yesterday.

“She was the Tamworth Country Music Festival co-ordinator for many years and was extremely well-respected in the world of Australian country music.

“She was passionate about her work, passionate about the growth and prosperity of the country music industry, and was equally passionate about the economic and social benefits that country music delivered to the Tamworth region. 

“June’s enthusiastic contribution and diligent efforts in assisting to bring the country music festival to where it is today will long be remembered.”

Yesterday her sons Angus and Liam detailed June’s last days and said she didn’t want to burden her friends with talk of much of the insidious disease she’d been fighting. 

It was cancer that had taken their dad Donnie in 2008, too.

June took another career turn about eight years ago, moving to be near Angus and his family at Coffs, and making a name for herself as a civil celebrant who brought incredible strength and compassion to funerals, as well as sheer fun to weddings and working with the Westpac rescue chopper service.

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