22 June 2023
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (10:00): I am very honoured this morning to rise and recognise and pay tribute to the life of Joy McKean. Joy was born in Singleton in January 1930 and became a very famous early country act with her sister, Heather, the McKean Sisters. In 1951 she married Slim Dusty. Slim had already been on his way as a country star; his first hit, ‘When the Rain Tumbles Down in July’, I believe, was in 1947. So this was the start of a duo, a team, that dominated country music in Australia for decades to come. In their private life, Slim and Joy had two children: Anne Kirkpatrick, who is a very accomplished recorded country music star; and David Kirkpatrick, who is a doctor.
Joy is probably best known for her songwriting for many songs that Slim performed. She won one of the first Golden Guitars at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 1973. I remember it very well; I was actually a student at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in 1973, and that was the very first Tamworth Country Music Festival. Up until the point where Slim and Joy started to dominate, country music in Australia was considered hillbilly song that was heavily influenced by American performers, and Joy’s words and Slim’s singing put a real Australian slant on it. Her famous first Golden Guitar winning song, ‘Lights on the Hill’, was inspired by her driving through New England on a rainy night, with the lights dazzling her as she was in a car towing a caravan. It really sums up their life. They didn’t play major stadiums and they weren’t on Countdown every Sunday night, but they travelled extensively around regional Australia, and particularly to remote Aboriginal communities. The greatest fans of Joy and Slim were the Aboriginal communities in quite remote locations.
Many of her songs and have been covered by others, such as Lee Kernaghan, Keith Urban, Lee Greenwood, the Wolfe Brothers and even Mental As Anything. Her words are timeless. Sometimes my enthusiasm for country music and the work of Joy and Slim is not shared by everyone in my family or indeed my staff. Now that my car no longer has a CD, we are on the Spotify account. The beauty of these songs is that you can hear them time and time again, and they tell a story. They’re entertaining, they’re easy to listen to and they are very quintessentially Australian. There’s ‘Kelly’s Offsider’; one of the songs that I think could be a theme song for many in this House, ‘The Biggest Disappointment’, which goes around and around; ‘Ringer from the Top End’; ‘The Angel of Goulburn Hill’; ‘Christmas on the Station’; ‘Wind-Up Gramophone’; and one of my favourites, ‘Peppimenarti Cradle’. They are great stories and great songs.
The passing of Joy is really the end of an era. Those who have followed along in the country music scene have a lot to look up to and be grateful for, because they really pointed out that it wasn’t a cringe to be Australian. We didn’t have to replicate Americans and we didn’t have to have big black cowboy hats to be a country star; we could just be Australian. In this place some years ago I pushed to make 13 June a national holiday to recognise Slim Dusty’s birthday, with some very strong support from a very small number of people. We weren’t successful in that, but I would like to see some sort of permanent reminder. I’m sure that the country music fraternity will do something ongoing to recognise the work of Joy, and also her partnership with Slim, because there’s no-one else in Australia who can say that they have published 106 albums. That’s hundreds of songs. One-hundred-and-six albums—no one has come close to that.
Vale, Joy McKean, you were truly an Australian legend. Your legacy will live on for generations to come, and I’m deeply honoured to be part of this commemoration in parliament this morning.