Slim Dusty’s daughter Anne Kirkpatrick remembers her hero

"20 years without my dad."
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Sydney’s grand St Andrew’s cathedral had never seen anything like it – the prime minister, senior churchmen, and assorted celebrities all bellowing A Pub With No Beer at full volume in send-off a rousing state funeral send off for Slim Dusty.

It’s been two decades since the country music star, born David Gordon Kirkpatrick, left us.

But his indelible legacy – and that of his late singer-songwriter wife Joy McKean – lives on.

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“We talk about Dad a lot, and keep his memory alive through the Slim Dusty Centre and his recordings,” Slim’s daughter Anne Kirkpatrick, 71, tells New Idea.

“I always feel he left us far too early at 76. He was still making music just weeks before he passed, working on another album. When he couldn’t sing anymore, that’s when he thought, ‘I’m outta here.’

“Until then, he was still packing out venues, so full of ideas and wanting to tour and record … he did everything he wanted to do. He and Mum left us so much.”

Anne Kirkpatrick and Joy Mckean, daughter and wife of former Australian country music legend Slim Dusty, arrives at the 35th Country Music Awards of Australia. (Credit: Getty)

Celebrated as the voice of rural Australia, Slim died at the family’s Sydney home on September 19, 2003, following a lengthy cancer battle.

His adored wife Joy, who penned many of Slim’s greatest hits including Lights on the Hill, passed away in May this year, aged 93.

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“It’s been hard,” Anne says with a sigh. 

Preserving her family’s legacy, Anne is also a talented musician. (Credit: New Idea)

An award-winning musician herself, the mother of two is proudly maintaining the Kirkpatrick/McKean tradition.

“With both of them gone, it really is the end of an era, but we do have wonderful memories,” she adds.

From the age of two, Anne travelled from gig to gig with Slim and Joy.

Anne spent her childhood on the road with her pioneering parents. (Credit: New Idea)

Even when she and younger brother David were sent to boarding school, going “home for the holidays” meant rejoining the family caravan wherever it might be – like Kalgoorlie or Far North Queensland!

“I remember sitting in the back of the car,” Anne says. “Mum and Dad were always so energetic, still young, talking about their plans for the next show, or the year ahead.”

“It was a huge adventure, and they were in it together for around 50 years.”

“He was still making music just weeks before he passed.” (Credit: New Idea)

The son of a “fair dinkum” cattle farmer, Slim was a runaway success from the moment A Pub With No Beer became a hit in 1957.

It was the first Australian single to go gold and the first, and only, 78rpm record to be awarded a gold disc.

His homespun version of Waltzing Matilda followed and was beamed to Earth from the Columbia space shuttle in 1981.

Slim also performed it at the 2000 Sydney Olympics closing ceremony.

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Slim released 110 albums, won an unequalled 45 Golden Guitar Awards, received an MBE and an Order of Australia, earned a place in the Aria Hall of Fame and was voted a National Treasure by de-voted fans. (Credit: New Idea)

“We were immensely proud,” recalls Anne.

“It’s incredible to think about Dad’s iconic career. Starting out as a boy wanting to escape a tiny dairy farm, he ended up playing for a worldwide TV audience of 2.4 billion people!”

He and Joy not only helped establish the Tamworth Country Music Festival, but also blazed a trail, Anne says.

The state funeral for Australian country music legend Slim Dusty (real name David Gordon Kirkpatrick) at St. Andrew’s Cathederal in Sydney. (Credit: Getty)

“They inspired so many other younger Australian country music artists like Keith Urban, Kasey Chambers and Morgan Evans, who have made it big overseas. Mum was a pioneer in proving that you could have kids and a career.”

It’s an example Anne has been proud to follow. Brother David is also a gifted singer-songwriter and her son, James Arneman, plays with his wife Flora in a Melbourne-based band, Small Town Romance.

But family aside, to Anne her father’s greatest legacy is the songs.

“That’s what will live on,” she says smiling.

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