Three hours’ drive from Sydney, the Great Lakes stretch of the mid-north of NSW has long been a destination for family holidays and mini-breaks: all pristine beaches, national forest and, well, great lakes. But it has also fostered a thriving music scene, with musicians finding their inspiration in the natural beauty of the landscape and the close-knit community.

To show it off, Holly Rankin – aka Jack River – has teamed up with Mambo art director Lee McConnell to co-direct Grow Your Own; a one-day festival in Forster taking place just before Christmas. The lineup includes homegrown talents Jack River, The Ruiins, James Bennett, Jake Meadows, Galleri, Los Scallywaggs and Vanilla Gorilla; plus special out-of-town guest Dope Lemon (Angus Stone’s new solo project).

For Nat Tyrrell of Los Scallywaggs the best thing about his home turf is, “the younger generation of people coming together to play music and enjoy each other’s company. There aren't many live music venues within the Great Lakes so everyone has banded together to create our own music scene and venues – whether that be in the backyard of someone’s house or on the beach in the middle of nowhere.”

“It feels like a refuge for people running away from the rat race,” says John Moore of Galleri. “The community is varied and full of individuals, but it seems everyone is supportive of different ventures springing up whether it's grassroots businesses, surfing, farming or the arts. I think the area still feels real and it's not too pretentious. It's a mixed bunch with many different flavours.”

We asked the bands to recommend their favourite spots for eating, drinking, watching live music or getting out in nature.


One Mile Beach
I grew up next to this beauty, its waves are more-than-often friendly, its water is crystal clear, and there is a giant sand dune to run up if you’re training to get into the army. There’s a sick right-hander when the swell is giant, but my favourite is the tiny mal waves that grace the beach on the edge of spring and all through the summer.

Underwood Road, Forster

The Aztec
The Aztec is a Mexican restaurant in the heart of town, known for its incredible live music and healthy list of cocktails. I worked here throughout high school and played some of my first shows there too! It is the only venue in town that supports up-and-coming musicians. Out of town is the Rec Club, of course – where they have gnarly band nights.

The Reef Bar Grill
The Reef is probably the best restaurant in town. Its menu is classic, with pizzas and again, boasts a decent array of cocktails. What makes this place though is the staff. You won’t find a friendlier, radder crew of humans running a restaurant (potentially in the whole world).


Treachery Camp, Seal Rocks
It's like the last taste of what the great Aussie camping dream is all about. Australian bush with dingoes and goannas walking around like you don't exist, and you can still have a campfire. Walk over the dune and you feel like you're on the edge of the continent. A few years back we played New Year's Eve at Treach. The night was amazing. It was last minute but it had a great vibe.

Blueys Beach
It has a magic you can't put your finger on. Whether it's the salt mist hovering over the sand in winter, with the eerie light of the distant lighthouse shooting through, or the green waters of summer against the big grassy hill.

Boomerang Drive, Pacific Palms

Whoota Whoota Lookout
Beautiful spot to take in the crazy landscape. Lakes, hills and ocean all melting together.

Wallingat National Park, Forster


El Palmo Pacificano at the Pacific Palms Recreational Club
We organise a live music event in Pacific Palms called El Palmo Pacificano at a place called The Recky. This event is now getting to the point where the people are coming from all over NSW and packing out the venue to see the local bands play on the bill, which is really rad.

Kembali Cafe
After El Palmo, or Grow Your Own, or any big night, you gotta get to Kembali for their bacon and eggs. Nothing beats it.

Grow Your Own – A Summer Festival takes place at Club Forster, Forster on Friday December 23. Tickets have now sold out but Broadsheet is giving away a double pass to one winner. To enter, email with “Grown Your Own” in the subject line and answer, in 25 words or less, who you are most excited to see at Grow Your Own Festival. Winners will be notified on Wednesday December 21 at 4pm.