Slim Dusty

Slim Dusty, AO MBE (born David Gordon Kirkpatrick; 13 June 1927 – 19 September 2003) was an Australian country music singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer. He was an Australian cultural icon and one of the country's most awarded stars, with a career spanning nearly seven decades and producing numerous recordings. He was known to record songs in the legacy of Australia, particularly of bush life and renowned Australian bush poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson that represented the lifestyle. The music genre was coined the "bush ballad", a style first made popular by Buddy Williams, the first artist to perform the genre in Australia, and also for his many trucking songs.

Slim Dusty
At the Golden Guitar awards in Tamworth
Background information
Birth nameDavid Gordon Kirkpatrick
Born(1927-06-13)13 June 1927
Nulla Nulla Creek, New South Wales, Australia
Died19 September 2003(2003-09-19) (aged 76)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • guitarist
  • music producer
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years active1945–2003
LabelsRegal Zonophone, EMI
Associated actsJoy McKean
Anne Kirkpatrick
Smoky Dawson
Buddy Williams
The Wiggles
South Kempsey Boys
Shorty Ranger

Dusty was the first Australian to have a No. 1 international hit song, with a version of Gordon Parsons' "A Pub with No Beer".[1] He received an unequalled 37 Golden Guitar and two Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame and Australian Roll of Renown. At the time of his death, at the age of 76, Dusty had been working on his 106th album for EMI Records. In 2007, his domestic record sales in Australia surpassed seven million. During his lifetime, Dusty was considered an Australian National Treasure. He performed "Waltzing Matilda", a very famous song in Australia, at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Early life and career

David Gordon Kirkpatrick was born on 13 June 1927 in Nulla Nulla Creek west of Kempsey, New South Wales, the son of a cattle farmer. His childhood home, "Homewood", survives and is now heritage-listed. He was known by his middle name, Gordon. He wrote his first song "The Way the Cowboy Dies" in 1937 and adopted the stage name "Slim Dusty" in 1938 at age 11.[2] His earliest musical influences included the American Jimmie Rodgers, New Zealander Tex Morton and Australia's own Buddy Williams. In 1945, Dusty wrote "When the Rain Tumbles Down in July" and released his first record that year at the age of 19. In 1946, he signed his first recording contract with Columbia Graphophone for the Regal Zonophone label.[3]

Rise to fame and enduring popularity

In 1951, Dusty married singer-songwriter Joy McKean and, with her help, achieved great success around Australia. In 1954, the two launched a full-time business career, including the Slim Dusty Travelling Show. McKean was Dusty's wife and manager for over 50 years. Together the couple had two children, Anne Kirkpatrick and David Kirkpatrick who are also accomplished singer-songwriters.[4]

McKean wrote several of Dusty's most popular songs, including "Lights On The Hill", "Walk a Country Mile", "Indian Pacific", "Kelly's Offsider", "The Angel of Goulburn Hill" and "The Biggest Disappointment".[5]

Although himself an accomplished writer of songs, Dusty had a number of other songwriters, including Mack Cormack, Gordon Parsons, Stan Coster, and Kelly Dixon, who were typically short on formal education but big on personal experience of the Australian bush. Drawing on his travels and such writers over a span of decades, Dusty chronicled the story of a rapidly changing postwar Australian nation.

Nevertheless, the arrival of rock and roll music saw major metropolitan music radio stations abandon support for country artists, and despite record sales in the multimillions, after the 1950s, Dusty was rarely heard on-air outside regional centres in Australia.[6]

Dusty's 1957 hit "A Pub with No Beer" was the biggest-selling record by an Australian to that time, the first Australian single to go gold and the first and only 78 rpm record to be awarded a gold disc.[7] (The "Pub with No Beer" is a real place, in Taylors Arm, not far from Kempsey where Slim was born.)[8] In 1959 and 1960, Dutch and German cover versions of the song became number one hits (even evergreens) in Belgium, Austria and Germany, brought by the Flemish country singer-guitarist and amusement park founder Bobbejaan Schoepen.

In 1964 the annual Slim Dusty Australia-round tour, a 48,280 kilometres (30,000 mi) journey that went on for ten months, was started. This regular event was the subject of a feature film, The Slim Dusty Movie, in 1984.

Dusty recorded not only songs written by himself and other fellow Australian performers but also classic Australian poems by Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, with new tunes to call attention to the old "bush ballads". An example is "The Man from Snowy River" by Paterson. The 1980 album and songs The Man Who Steadies the Lead and The Pearl of Them All were the works of Paterson's rival for the title of Australia's bush balladeer, Scottish-Australian poet Will H. Ogilvie (1869–1963). In 1970, he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire for services to music.[9] In 1973, he won Best Single at the inaugural Country Music Awards of Australia at the Tamworth Country Music Festival (McKean won Song of the Year as writer of "Lights on the Hill"). In all, he won a record 37 "Golden Guitars" over the years.

Dusty and his wife were patrons of the National Truck Drivers' Memorial located in Tarcutta, New South Wales.

The general manager of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, Bob Whitaker, invited him and his wife to perform in 1997, recognising 50 years contributing to country music. The following January, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to the entertainment industry.[10]

Dusty recorded and released his 100th album, Looking Forward, Looking Back, in 2000 and became the first artist in worldwide commercial recording history to do so; second was Cliff Richard. All 100 albums had been recorded with the same record label, EMI, making Dusty the first music artist in the world to record 100 albums with the same label.[11] He was then given the honour of singing "Waltzing Matilda" in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics, with the whole stadium (officially 114,714 in attendance, the largest in Olympic history) singing along with him.[12][13]


Dusty died at his home in St Ives, New South Wales, on 19 September 2003 at the age of 76 after a protracted battle with lung and kidney cancer.[14]

Thousands gathered at St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, on 26 September 2003 at a state funeral attended by the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and the federal opposition leader, Simon Crean. The Anglican Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen paid tribute by leading the congregation of family, statesmen, fans and musicians in the singing of "A Pub With No Beer". The funeral featured tributes from Dusty's children as well as words from other national musicians (Peter Garrett and John Williamson) and music from Graeme Connors, Kasey Chambers and Troy Cassar-Daley. Thousands of fans travelled from around Australia to stand outside the cathedral.[15] Dusty was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium, Sydney.[16]

At the time of his death, Dusty had been working on his 106th album for EMI. The album, Columbia Lane – the Last Sessions, debuted at number five in the Australian album charts and number one on the country charts on 8 March 2004. It went gold after being on sale for less than two weeks.

Columbia Lane is a tribute to the laneway juxtaposed to Parramatta Road in Strathfield (near the railway bridge link), where the EMI studios once stood (now Kennards Hire), and it is where he traversed to begin his music career.

In 2004, Tamworth hosted the "Concert for Slim" as a memorial tribute featuring more than 30 Australian musical artists including Paul Kelly, Keith Urban, Lee Kernaghan and Kasey Chambers.[17]

In 2005, a statue of the "Cunnamulla Fella" was unveiled in Cunnamulla, Queensland, in tribute to Dusty and Stan Coster and to the iconic song of that name performed by Dusty with lyrics by Coster.[18] The song recalls Coster's days working as a sheep-shearing "ringer" around Cunnamulla in the 1950s. Dusty recorded the song and it became an enduring country music hit, later covered by Lee Kernaghan. The statue was unveiled by country music personalities Anne Kirkpatrick (Dusty's daughter), Jayne Kelly, and Tracy and Russell Coster.[19][20]

EMI Records' Australian sales of Dusty's records surpassed seven million in 2007.[21]

Honours and milestones

Slim Dusty was Australia's most successful and prolific musical artist, with more Gold and Platinum albums than any other Australian artist.[22] He was also:[11]


  • EMI Records' Australian sales of Slim Dusty records surpassed 7 million in 2007.[21]
  • Dusty was a guest on the Wiggles' children DVD Wiggly Wiggly World.
  • His daughter Anne Kirkpatrick is also an award-winning country singer.
  • Dusty's life was the subject of a 1984 feature film: The Slim Dusty Movie
  • The Slim Dusty Centre was built in Kempsey, NSW, Dusty's home town, and opened in October 2015.[28]
  • The 2010 book 100 Best Australian Albums by Toby Creswell, Craig Mathieson and John O'Donnell ranked The Very Best of Slim Dusty as the 24th best Australian album of the previous 50 years.[29]
  • Dusty had a Floribunda Rose named in his honour, which is a Golden Orange Coppery toned bloom, reminiscent of the Australian Outback, that he often wrote and sang about.
  • "Pub With No Beer" was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2008.
  • "Flying with the King" by Lee Kernaghan is a song honouring Slim Dusty



  1. "Curator's notes A Pub With No Beer (1957) on ASO - Australia's audio and visual heritage online". Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  2. "Senior Australian of the Year", 1999 award by the Australian government. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  3. "Slim Dusty: The boy who lived his dream", The Age (Australia), 21 September 2003
  4. "News". Slim Dusty. Archived from the original on 30 April 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  5. "The Country Music Store – Slim Dusty Sings Joy McKean". Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  6. "Slim Dusty – Chronicler of the Bush". 19 September 2003. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  7. Dave Laing, "Slim Dusty: Country singer famous for A Pub With No Beer", The Guardian (UK), 20 September 2003
  8. "North Coast: The Pub With No Beer". NRMA. Retrieved 13 June 2008.
  9. It's an Honour – Member of the Order of the British Empire
  10. It's an Honour – Officer of the Order of Australia
  11. "Music Australia – Slim Dusty". 3 April 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  12. "2000 Sydney Closing Ceremony Music List". Olympic ceremonies. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  13. "Slim Dusty performing". YouTube. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  14. "Slim Dusty dies", Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 2003
  15. "Nothing morbid, nothing drear, just Slim". The Sydney Morning Herald. 27 September 2003.
  16. Sydney Morning Herald, "Crematorium opens doors to everlasting celebrations of life", 16 June 2012; Retrieved 7 August 2013
  17. "Concert for Slim (Slim Dusty): DVDs". Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  18. "Cunnamulla Fella – Things To See and Do". Queensland Holidays. 18 November 2005. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  19. Shrimpton, James (13 November 2008). "Bronzed Aussie president over Cunnamulla". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  20. "Cunnamulla Fella". Tourism Queensland. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  21. "Milestones". Slim Dusty. Archived from the original on 20 September 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  22. "Australian country music –". 31 October 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  23. STS-1 audio (Orbit 16). April 14, 1981. Recorded at Orroral Valley Tracking Station. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  24. Country singer Slim Dusty, whose recording of the song.... 14 April 1981. From UPI archives. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  25. "Roll of Renown". TCMF. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  26. "Royal Australian Mint celebrates the life of Slim Dusty with a 1 Dollar coin". News Allnumis. 13 June 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  27. "The Slim Dusty Centre Project. Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia. Slim Dusty Paver Program. Slim Dusty Tyrrells Wines. Slim Dusty Music Memories Week". 30 October 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  28. "The 100 Best Australian Albums | music news | triple j". 28 October 2010. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
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