On one hand, the Gore Country Music Club’s weekly get-together sums up the town’s character. It’s heart-warmingly friendly, good-natured, nurturing and inclusive.
But it’s not that simple. Not everyone in Gore embraces the ‘country music capital of New Zealand’ tag and even among those who do, opinions differ on definitions and consequences.
Walking around town, there’s some but not much evidence of country music being a big part of life here. There’s a guitar sculpture in Tamworth Garden behind the big trout. Below it, imprints of famous musical hands – Suzanne Prentice, Patsy Rigger, Ray Columbus – line-dance across a low concrete wall. Cars slowing for pedestrian crossings and roundabout are more likely to have Slim Dusty blaring from their stereos than in other towns. And, in the excellent museum behind the iSite, homage is paid to country crooner Tex Morton.
But other than that?
Gore is a busy hub of practical life, a rural service centre, a self-sufficient town with strong community and solid traditions. Visitors come for the trout fishing, for history – there are several very good museums – for local markets, for the beautiful gardens and for special events. The Hokonui Fashion Design Awards are legendary.
And yes, people come to Gore for the music.
Every winter, Gore hosts the Golden Guitar Awards, the biggest amateur talent quest in New Zealand. It’s a big deal. It’s been going for several decades and attracts hundreds of visitors to town for it.
Another big occasion for Gore is the Hokonui Moonshine Festival, which celebrates food and booze as well as country music. It’s a bit alternative and attracts a slightly different crowd to the Golden Guitars – but, like that event, it’s inclusive and welcoming and celebrates a particular culture.
Speaking of culture, Gore has an excellent art gallery. The Eastern Southland Gallery hosts shows by major contemporary artists and holds an impressive collection of works by Ralph Hotere, Rita Angus and Grahame Sydney amongst others.
Gore’s a bit of a surprise and deserves more than a flying visit. It’s a rich mix of history, culture, creativity and community that warms up with familiarity.