Joy McKean & John Elliott – Tamworth Country Music Festival

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Gavin Flanagan interviews Slim Dusty’s widow, Joy McKean, and well known photographer, John Elliott, about their upcoming visit to the 2012 Jayco Taamworth Country Music Festival.



Joy, we can’t wait to see you in Tamworth for the 40th Jayco Tamworth Country Music Festival. One of the attractions this year will be Slim’s old Ford Fairlane ‘Ole Purple’, and I believe you’ll be driving it to Tamworth?

Joy: Yes, I am bringing Ole Purple up to the Festival. She’s being all checked over right now as a matter of fact, because she hasn’t been on the road for a while – so she’s just being brought up to date. She’s going to be in the Cavalcade.

But I think we will put her up on a truck. People can see her a lot better there. She’s been sitting in the garage at home, and Slim used to take her out regularly.

And of course, Ole Purple is one of the stars of The Slim Dusty Movie, which is being shown at the Festival this year in the park as one of a number of family movie nights?

That’s right. I’m going down there that night, and if we can find a good safe place for Purple, she might come down too.

Joy, you and Slim have had such a long association with Tamworth, and I think it’s significant that on the first night of the 40th Festival this year, you and your family are going to be heavily involved in the Opening Celebration – which is essentially going to be a showcase of the last 40 years. You must be looking forward to that?

I am. I think that’s a wonderful idea to do it as a showcase of the 40 years. I’ll be involved, and Anne and the Travelling Country Band will be too. I think it will be a great opening for the Festival.

The 40th Festival is using the title of the Slim Dusty classic, written by Don Walker, Looking Forward Looking Back as the theme. It sums up the feeling of the 40th Festival.

It has touched a lot of people that particular slogan, and it really does fit so well with what the Festival is trying to show for the 40th anniversary – so we were glad to do that.

You and Slim must have some great memories of Tamworth?

Yes indeed. The times that we have driven up there through floods, and one year we didn’t think we were going to make it, so we flew and then we flew through storms. Coming up to Tamworth, I remember the very first Awards and the big thrill of getting a Golden Guitar – it was all so unexpected. And you know, the thrill of the Festival and the Awards Night never dimmed over the years.

Your new book, I’ve Been There and Back Again is a wonderful collection of stories, songs and pictures of your life and times with Slim. How did it come about?

A lot of people had been saying to me I should do a book of my lyrics as poetry, and then another friend said it should be a coffee table book with nice big photographs. Then out of the blue, a publisher got in contact asking me to do a book for them – and she suggested a totally different book. When I told her about this idea, she absolutely loved it. So we thought, “Right … we’ll print the stories behind the songs, how they came to life, what they were based on, what they were about, why they were written, where they were written and what was happening in our lives at that time.” And therefore, I decided to use photographs from my personal albums and from my father’s albums. And that’s how the book came to be.

The Slim Dusty Centre in Kempsey has been a labour of love for you. How is the centre looking?

Oh, it’s wonderful. We just recently had the official handover of the building to the Foundation in the symbolic shape of a key made out of the Red Cedar, and it means that the whole building is complete. All the car parking, lighting and landscaping – and we are now on the last leg. We have all the documentation designed for the interior. We now just have to raise the money to build that interior, so we are all pretty excited and getting ourselves together for a big push this coming year.

One of the first things we need is to raise money for safe road access into the building. Any donations would be very much appreciated and can be sent to PO Box 70, Kempsey or

John, congratulations on being appointed the official photographer of the 40th Jayco Tamworth Country Music Festival. There’s a great vibe in Tamworth for the event …

It’s amazing for all sorts of reasons. There was a bit of a negative vibe around about the Festival, but it’s amazing how quickly that’s turned around. I think there are a lot of people in the industry who are pretty thrilled that there’s that focus this year, because it’s the 40th, on the respect for the tradition and respect for where the Festival’s come from. I think that the 40th is going to be a beauty!

When did you first come to Tamworth? 


What were your first thoughts on the Tamworth Country Music Festival when you first arrived?

Mate, I was thrilled. I was obviously a huge Country Music fan. I like taking pictures of interesting things, and that was there in abundance. There was music everywhere … really great music … every venue you went to had fantastic music. It was the music I loved; it was cool, and there were some real characters. That’s continued on, and I still get a thrill. I think I’ve been to almost 30 of them, and I still get a thrill every year when I go there.

John, you had a wonderful association with Slim Dusty. You worked with him for 15 years, you wrote and published a book On The Road With Slim and photographed 20 of his album covers. Apart from his music, what was it that made him so special?

He was fair dinkum; there was no pretence. Slim was Slim. He was exactly the same on stage and off stage, and I remember the thing that really attracted me to him was his loyalty to his audience. He was 100% devoted and committed to his audience, and everything else he did had to fit around that.

Joy McKean’s new book I’ve Been There And Back Again about her life and times with Slim uses photos from your collection. You must be thrilled with how the book has turned out?

Well, I was thrilled when Joy called and said she was doing a new book and she would like to use some of my pictures. Slim and Joy must have known from day one that what they were doing was important, because they’ve got the most incredible collection of photographs from all throughout those touring years.

Joy’s an incredible writer as well. She’s also so enthusiastic and passionate about what she does. She knows those stories are important to her and also important for Australia. Being in her 80s doesn’t slow her down at all.

Thanks Joy and John.

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