Born David Gordon Kirkpatrick (June 13, 1927- Sept. 19, 2003) in New South Wales, Slim Dusty adopted his stage name at age 11. In the decades to come, his blend of traditional Australian bush ballads, truck driving songs and other folk-informed topics and styles made him a national treasure.
Voice of the People
In the face of rock music’s global spread, Slim Dusty reached his first career benchmark with his cover of Gordon Parson’s “A Pub With No Beer.” Inspired by a true story about a bar that’d been drunk dry by U.S. soldiers, it’s a folksy story-song that, despite the line about “where the wild dingoes call,” could be about a restaurant or dive from Europe or the states. Perhaps that’s why it became the first international hit by an Australian country singer.
Other material, such as “Fair Dinkum,” “Indian Pacific,” “Nulla Nulla Creek” and “G’Day G’Day” rely more on lingo, reference points, poems and folk tales from surrounding and sometimes under-served cultures.
His recording of another Aussie standard, the classic bush tune “Waltzing Matilda,” became the first country song broadcast from space. The space shuttle Columbia crew played his version of the song in 1981 while passing over Australia. At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games’ closing ceremony, he sang “Waltzing Matilda” to a captive audience of over 100,000 people.
A National Treasure
Of course, those quick facts barely scratch the surface of Slim Dusty’s legacy. The ARIA Hall of Fame member and Officer of the Order of Australia sold millions of copies of his impressive 100-plus albums–including 2000’s multi-platinum Looking Forward Looking Back–and netted multiple special achievement awards. He was also the first Australian country singer with a gold record.
Patriarch of a Talented Family
When he wasn’t earning global acclaim on stage, Slim Dusty spent time with a family blessed with musical talent. He married fellow singer and songwriter Joy McKean in 1951. A fellow bush balladeer with an affinity for Jimmie Rodgers and other famous American stars, she wrote quite a few songs her husband covered in the decades to come, namely “Lights on the Hill,” “Walk a Country Mile” and “The Biggest Disappointment.” The couple’s children, David Kirkpatrick and Anne Kirkpatrick, are successful performers in their own right.
Slim Dusty passed away in 2003 after a battle with cancer. A state funeral followed, attended by Prime Minister John Howard and other dignitaries. In 2015, the Slim Dusty Centre opened in Kempsey NSW, offering fans a museum and event space themed after the singer and songwriter’s impressive career. It’s one of several Slim Dusty landmarks, adding to a list of fan meccas that already included his childhood home at Nulla Nulla and statues of him and McKean in Tamworth.