WHEN Bob Hawke came to Tamworth in 1989 for Australia Day, in the middle of the Country Music Festival, it had been 66 years since the city had seen a Prime Minister.
So it was with all the vigour of a Test cricket crowd about to watch the home team go in to bat, that some 7000 people came out to see Mr Hawke at Bicentennial Park.
Leader journalist Chris Bath was one of the thousands to who turned out, and recalls shaking hands with the former Prime Minister as an eight-year-old boy.
Mr Hawke welcomed new Australians at a citizenship ceremony, met Tamworth ALP branch officials and Becky Coss, an 11-year-old from Bingara, who suffered from a rare genetic disorder.
"The way you look, the way you dress, the faith you observe, the place you were born they are all important things but they are irrelevant to the question of whether you are a fair-dinkum Australian," Mr Hawke said, in his citizenship ceremony address.
"Citizenship is the best expression of that commitment and Tamworth is a great place to celebrate it.
"Tamworth is a living proof that Australia is, at heart, a nation of immigrants."
Mr Hawke also revealed his passion for country music, and said there was "a very relevant lesson to be learned from country music in Australia".
"Country music has its origins in other parts of the world," he told the crowd.
"But Australian country music artists have moulded and adapted it, imbued it with their own spirit and their own experience. They have given it a distinctively and genuinely Australian character.
"Slim Dusty is going to play for us shortly and I am sure that even in the tough competition of the 17th Country Music Festival he will as usual be a hit.
"And may I say how delighted I am to have had the chance to hear Eric Bogle, Ted Egan, Norma Murphy, and John Williamson at this ceremony."
New England MP Barnaby Joyce said he'd talked to Mr Hawke on a number of occasions, and while he "wouldn't say he was a friend", was none the less full of praise.
"Most of us politicians will be relegated to the dust of forgotten corners, only to be brought out as hard questions on quiz nights," he said.
"But there is a small group of people who made a difference to Australia. It's safe to say Bob was in that group."
In paying tribute, former PM Tony Abbott said Mr Hawke had "Labor heart, but a Liberal head", however Mr Joyce disagreed with the notion.
"I don't think he had a Liberal view or a Labor view, he had a commonsense view," Mr Joyce said.
"That does not mean he was politically without fault, but no politician is. His greatest attribute was his genuine empathy for the people."