"189 people dead at least that's what the newsman said/ out near Whittlesea, how it got to me/ makes you realise how precious this life is/ treasure every little moment within/ it was the last days of summer watching dreams burn in the fire/ people running for their lives/ watching little children cry." - Last Days Of Summer - Cameron Cusack.

Teenage Tura Beach troubadour Cameron Cusack has several salient reasons to believe in karma.

The Sapphire Coast singer-songwriter wrote and recorded a tribute to the 2009 Victorian bushfire survivors and volunteers for his indie debut disc Wasting Time.

"On Black Saturday my dad, little brother and myself were fishing on the Yowaka River just in between Pambula and Eden on the south coast of NSW," Cusack told Nu Country TV.

"That night we came home, had dinner and turned the TV on when we saw the news.

It was very upsetting and a worrying time as we have a lot of relatives and friends down that way, all we could do is pray that they were OK. I wrote the song the following night as it all was still happening and was all over the news."

Cusack may have been fishing north of the Victorian border that fateful February day but the stench of smoke and death and graphic TV imagery burned deep in his inner psyche.

Now, less than a year after release of his evocative bushfire song Last Days Of Summer he is in the finals of the 32nd Toyota Starmaker Quest.

And the day before Cusack joins 19 other finalists at Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre for the quest he makes his debut as host of Nu Country TV.

Cusack's episode, filmed at Tura Beach, appears on C 31 in Victoria on Saturday January 15 at 9.30 pm.

It will be repeated on Tuesday January 18 at 4.30 pm and also appears on C 31 in South Australia and Briz 31 TV in Queensland.


"Make the most of every moment/ try to catch every star/ don't forget to remember be true to who you are/you can do anything/dreams are not that far." - Dreams Are Not That Far - Cameron Cusack-Aleyce Simmonds

Nu Country TV editor Peter Staubli, former Northcote High School media studies director, filmed Cusack's hosting role at Dolphin Cove at Tura Beach.

Staubli, co-producer of Nu Country TV, also directed and filmed a video in June last year for Cusack's debut single Dreams Are Not That Far at Dolphin Cove and Twyford Hall in Merimbula.

"It was pretty scary as it was my first time," Cusack recalled, "but I sort of went with the flow after a while."

Pejay films operator Staubli is now in pre-production for Cusack's second video.

Staubli's teenage student daughter Anneliese interviewed Cusack and has also hosted four Nu Country TV episodes on the Sapphire Coast.

Cusack wrote the song with Aleyce Simmonds, now 24, whom he met in Tamworth.

"Dreams Are Not That Far was inspired by words my Mum said when I was at the junior school of country music Camerata," says Cusack. "Mum said you only have one shot to show people who you are and what you can do, and if you keep trying and believing then your dreams aren't that far, everything from that song is true. I wrote the song with Aleyce whilst in Tamworth at the Camerata school."

The singer's parents took no chances when they notified him he was in the Starmaker finals.

"I found out 3 weeks before Christmas whilst I was on the ladder putting Christmas lights up," Cusack revealed.

"They told me I should get off the ladder before they told me."


"Woke up this morning, thoughts running around my head/ thinking about the future and the words you said/ worry about forever and where I want to go." - Dreams Are Not That Far - Cameron Cusack-Aleyce Simmonds.

Cusack's live preparation for the Starmaker finals included busking outside the local bakery and more traditional tools of the trade.

And he has narrowed down his repertoire to two songs for the first round final with a bonus track if he makes the grand final.

"I have chosen Dreams Are Not That Far, Don Henley song Boys of Summer and another new original called My Home."

Cusack also benefited from practical study in local country music HQ Tamworth.

"I'm a 2009 Tamworth Camerata Junior school of Country Music graduate and I'm also a 2010 Senior Academy of Country Music Graduate.

So how did this prepare Cusack for the Starmaker quest?

"Well I learnt all the ins and outs of country music and the country music industry and how to run a music business properly and what the industry is looking for," the singer explained.

It's a far cry from Cusack's initiation into the most enduring musical genre of our times.

'Well the first song I can remember was when I was dancing in front of my papa's speakers in Cranbourne to Achy Breaky Heart when it just came out," Cameron quipped.

"Yes that was my first favourite song."

Kentucky born Billy Ray Cyrus's version of Vietnam veteran Don Van Tress's dance ditty was a moment frozen in time.

But coastal colt Cusack was driven more by another Kentuckian singing actor Dwight Yoakam and local peers.


Cusack found fertile fruit hanging from his own family tree - way beyond the Sapphire Coast cove he has long called home.

"My great grandfather on my mum's side played double bass in a well known Hawaiian band in India," Cusack revealed.

"All my mum's side are musical, my uncles are all in bands and my grandfather plays the guitar.

So it was no surprise that Cusack was raised on country - not rap, disco, heavy metal, pop, rock or other transient fads of the day.

"Well, my grandparents listened to a lot of Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson and my parents listened to Troy Cassar-Daley and Keith Urban," says Cusack.

Cameron's dad Scott is finance manager of Bega Valley Motors and mother Shelley is a learning support assistant at the primary school he attended.

"So I have grown up with only country music my whole life."

Shelley also sang harmony on his album also influenced by recent tourists Tim McGraw, Brooks & Dunn and Dwight Yoakam, March visitor Alan Jackson and hotshot guitarist Brad Paisley.

The singer's parents also drove him to talent quests from when he was 14 and won his first prize.

"I was first given a guitar for my birthday when I was about four, then I started properly learning it when I was eight," says the singer who also plays harmonica, mandolin, banjo and a little bit off bass."


Cusack, like mentors Troy Cassar-Daley and Keith Urban, busked for his supper while still at school.

"I went to Lumen Christi Catholic College in Pambula and the only subject that mattered to me in school was Music," Cusack said with a touch of pride.

"And I took every chance to play music and if I wasn't playing it, I had it playing through my Ipod.

So what was it like being a music buff in a coastal college where the surf pounded within earshot of the classroom?

"At my school I was never encouraged as much as I should've and I suppose that led me to go on and show them that I could really be a country star if I really wanted and nobody can stop me," Cusack said with youthful exuberance.
< Billy Joe Shaver - photo by Carol Taylor

"A lot of teachers put me down and told me it wouldn't take me anywhere and I should focus on school work and going to University. I was never an academic kid. My talent was all in my music. But I suppose it's the same with all schools, the teachers push you so hard to do well in your HSC that they discourage you from your real dream in life that much that they put you down for it. But I never listened to them and look where I'm at today."

Was there a parallel with the iconic four times wed Texan outlaw singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, recently acquitted of shooting a barfly who stirred Shaver's drink with a rusty knife in a Waco honky tonk?

Shaver credited his literacy to his 7th grade English teacher Mabel Legg who nurtured his poetry, lived to at least 103 and turned 101 during his 2002 Australian tour with singing crime novelist Kinky Friedman.

"There was only one teacher that cared about my music and his name was Mr. Fairlie," Cameron recalled.

"And In my school out of 1000 people I was the only one who played or even listened to country music, so you can imagine what it was like for me, and how excited I was to finish school."


"Siting under the coolest palms in the hot Queensland sun/ no shoes, no worries and I ain't in a hurry/ cruising by the sugar canes/ I'll get on Papa's John Deere and running clear." - Wasting Time - Cameron Cusack

Cusack is indebted to many peers who also became mentors for him in his journey.

Grafton raised singer-songwriter and prolific Golden Guitarist and ARIA award winner Troy Cassar-Daley is top of the tree.

"I've been going to his shows ever since I was 12 and his always been a huge influence to me," Cusack said.

"But in 2009 I got to sing to him at a KIX FM listener party as I was the entertainment to him and many other artists. From then we kept in contact and the following year I was asked by him to sing at his sell out show in Tamworth at the TRECC. He gave me my first big break by singing with him at the TRECC."

Cusack is also indebted to another young gun who grew up south of the NSW border at Moe in Gippsland.

"Victoria Baillie is another artist who has helped me in letting me support her at Rooty Hill RSL and trying to help me get my foot in the door at some different venues," says the singer who has become a prolific writer.

''I wrote my first crappy song which I laugh at today, but I've always loved being creative and writing. I usually write with guitar, but I've been trying with my banjo as well lately."

But it's not the beach that is Cusack's favourite writing locale.

"I usually write in my bedroom, or if I'm away somewhere I'd always go to the bedroom with the door shut to write," says the singer.


"My country girl rocks my world/ she's the one that keeps me holding on/ I think of you everything I do." - Think Of You - Cameron Cusack.

Cusack is indebted to his family and fiancé for three originals on his album.

"I Hate Goodbyes was inspired by my grandparents," says Cusack.

"They live an hour past Bundaberg in a place called Agnus Water which is a 23 hour drive so we don't see them often. But when I do it's always hard saying goodbye."

Closer geographically is the source of two other originals.

"Think Of You and Kiss You were both inspired by Sophie," says the singer.

"And yes our relationship is going strong - we have actually been engaged since October last year."

Like Merle Haggard whom Cusack honoured with classics Swinging Doors and Mama Tried on his album the singer is indebted to his mother.

"Mum actually loves singing with me, we always jam together as a family, and for the past few years mum has been doing my backing singing at some of my shows," Cusack said proudly.

"So she said yes pretty quickly, although she does get nervous in the studio."

That studio is not far from the family home - in an idyllic locale.

"Pirate Studios is located on the far South Coast of NSW, just North of Eden and south of Tathra in a place called Bournda in a National Park,' says Cusack.

Cusack produced the album with multi-instrumentalist Dave Sparks.

"I was put onto Dave when I was 16 when I wanted to do my first demo CD which I'd never pull out now," Cusack joked.

"So I've known him for a while. Dave doesn't play in my band but he did a few guitar parts on my album. He plays in a few rock n roll bands in Sydney."

Another guest on the album is fiddler Gus Olding.

"I met Gus in a backing band at a talent quest when I was a lot younger," Cusack recalled.

"So I thought I'd ask him if he was interested in laying down some tracks on my record, and he was happy to do that. He also plays fiddle with his wife as a duo."


Cusack plans a musical reunion with Dreams Are Not That Far co-writer Simmonds at her launch of her Pieces Of Me in the Outback Bar at West Tamworth Leagues Club on January 21.

Veteran musician and session ace Rod McCormack produced the Port Macquarie born 2005 Telstra Road To Tamworth winner's album and latest single The Keeper.

And he plans to visit the regenerated Victorian bush fire zone in autumn."

"I have my first Victorian show down in Gippsland at the Power Ranch in Trafalgar on May 21st 2011 with popular country duo McAllister Kemp," says Cusack.

So how do you buy Cameron's CD if you are not in Tamworth or Tura Beach?

"I'm getting a website built at the moment www.cameroncusack.com so in the next month listeners can log onto that and order it that way or find me on Facebook or Myspace and message me. You can also purchase it at my shows."

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