Book review: I’ve Been There (and Back Again) by Joy McKean

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Slim Dusty’s influence on Australian country music is legion and legend. What many people who have only a passing awareness of Slim may not realise is that his wife, Joy McKean, shared not only his life but his career – they toured together, played together and wrote songs together. They also had two children, Anne and David Kirkpatrick, who went into the family business.

Joy and Slim met because of country music, and this shared passion brought them decades of travelling and playing. At the very least, it was an interesting life, but even a casual observer can see that ‘fascinating’ would be a more accurate term. Now, Joy shares some of the stories behind their songs – from Slim’s 106 albums – in her new book, I’ve Been There (and Back Again).

This is a hardcover, illustrated book (as the jargon goes), filled with photographs from throughout Joy and Slim’s lives. Joy’s publisher has given the subject matter the respect it deserves by producing such an impressive volume, which is obviously a must for any Slim fan. I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes a good yarn about the bush, for there are many great stories about the people and places who shaped not only the songs but the people who wrote them.

Slim and Joy seemed to have visited every corner of Australia with a ready smile for anyone who came across their path. This willingness to travel far and wide was, no doubt, a large part of Slim’s success, because his audience was so broad. Joy and Slim’s openness to the country that unfurled before them was reflected in their songs, which in turn describe so much of Australian rural life, in particular, and the Australian national character in general. So this book is a social history, of sorts. And if you’re at all interested in music and musicians, it is fascinating to read about how shows were put together and what sort of life gigging musicians had in the middle of the twentieth century.

There is family history here, too – how Joy and Slim met and what their families were like, what happened when their children came along. Throughout, Joy’s direct way of telling a story – familiar to anyone who knows her songs – guides the reader through. She has a familiar, almost intimate, tone that makes the stories come alive. It’s a great read, whether you like country music or not.

I’ve Been There (and Back Again) by Joy McKean, published by Hachette Australia 2011. RRP: $39.99


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