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50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #40: Slim Dusty

Troy Cassar-Daley revisits the enduring legacy of Australia’s pre-eminent country music icon, Slim Dusty.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time - Slim Dusty

Emi Music; Glen Hannah*

In December of 2020, Rolling Stone Australia released a special edition issue which looks at the 50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time, paying tribute to the best and most impactful artists in Australian music history. While it would have been easy for the editors and writers of the publication to profess their love of the listed artists, the decision was instead made for those who found themselves inspired by these world-renowned names to share their own testimonials of why these artists deserve to make the list.

In celebration of the issue’s release in December, we’re counting down the full 50 artists and their accompanying testimonials in this ongoing online feature. If you want to get your hands on an physical copy of the magazine, be sure to subscribe now to experience the double-length edition featuring some of Australia’s best and brightest discussing the finest names in local music.

50 Greatest Australian Artists of All Time – #40: Slim Dusty (by Troy Cassar-Daley)

Slim Dusty tells the Australian story. Not many artists have been able to be as authentically Australian as Slim. He was the first person to bridge the gap to poetry for me. He was able to almost recreate Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson poems through song. His music spoke volumes of his love for Australian culture and that’s what sucked us all in. We felt like he was singing about us.

For me, Slim crossed all racial divides with music, he pulled a lot of people together. He had a huge following in the cities as much as he did in the Indigenous communities. That’s what glued everyone together and Slim was a big part of that glue.

The song that resonated with me the most when I first heard it was “Trumby”, which was written about an Aboriginal ringer who went out to do his work but because he couldn’t read or write he didn’t realise that one of the waterholes was poisoned for dingos – that’s how they used to get rid of dingos in the old days in the bush.

With Trumby not being able to read, he wasn’t able to read the sign that said, ‘Do not drink this water, it’s poisoned’. It made me very sad to think that someone’s literacy skills ended up taking their life but it also made me realise that maybe I should step things up at school. It was a big connection with me, not only with it being about an Indigenous man who died, but also the fact that it was a Slim song.

“Slim crossed all racial divides with music.”

While Slim’s guitar style is my default – and a lot of people fall back on that default of picking and strumming – I think what will really resonate throughout a lot of the younger generations of artists is his storytelling. He and Joy (McKean) were able to put together stories that were completely relatable and they’ll go on to be relatable to the next generations. That storytelling for me comes from my Indigenous side, but it also came through the music of Slim Dusty.

As for Joy and her contribution to Slim’s work, there isn’t enough time in the world for me to talk about it. She was cutting edge. You can’t talk about Slim stepping outside the square with his writing with big songs like “Indian Pacific”, “The Biggest Disappointment” and “Walk a Country Mile”, without talking about Joy. They were Joy’s songs.

She was able to push him because she was his wife and she pushed him into territory he was not comfortable in. That’s what an incredible partner does for you, challenges you. They push you to the edge of the cliff and you have to work out whether you’re jumping or not, but when you do jump they’re the actual safety net that’s underneath you in case you come a gutser. I see those challenges in beautiful songs that came out of that marriage and I hold her in such high regard.

I’ve watched the movie, Slim And I, twice, and the first time I watched it was in Tamworth sitting next to Joy. We laughed and cried, and I felt so nervous sitting next to her because it was her story. I was actually in the film and all I wanted to do was make her proud of what I had to say about her. F

or me, hers is this beautiful country music love story that we use as a yardstick in our own relationships. Everyone that sees Slim and Joy sees them as the marriage you want to have.

My mum and dad broke up very early in my life and what I found in Slim’s music was home. Sometimes my home was a little bit disjointed at times but a lot of Slim’s songs, even when I was living in Sydney with my Dad, made me feel like I had somewhere to inhabit.