Slim pick­ings for coun­try star

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Barry Oliver

IT’S a long and, at times, suit­ably dusty road to Slim Dusty’s boy­hood home, hid­den in the depths of rural NSW. We’ve been told it’s 12km as the crow flies from our base, the Pub With No Beer (it now has plenty) at Tay­lors Arm (pop­u­la­tion 50), it­self 25km from the near­est town of any size, Macksville.

The pub got its name af­ter be­ing fea­tured in Dusty’s 1957 hit, though that hon­our is also claimed by a ri­val Pub With No Beer in north Queens­land. We’re not buy­ing into the ar­gu­ment but lo­cal Barry ‘‘ Bloody’’ Fuller makes a con­vinc­ing case for a NSW win. (His nick­name comes from the rau­cous night when Dusty so­licited his help to es­cape from a sea of sup­port­ers in the pub.) Fuller says the song is linked to the time the beer wagon broke down and the pub was dry for a cou­ple of days.

His es­ti­mate of the dis­tance to the home of Dusty’s youth (he was born in Kempsey, 64km away) may be good for crows but when you’re re­ly­ing on four wheels it’s hardly help­ful. Kilo­me­tres come and go, green pad­docks full of graz­ing cows flash by. We cross cat­tle grids and bump over rick­ety wooden bridges, hardly see­ing an­other car as the road twists and turns.

Then, suc­cess. We spot a sign on a tree point­ing the way. An­other 2.5km down a bumpy, un­made road and we’re there, though we miss the sign by the farm gate and have to per­form a 100m re­verse.

Home­wood on Nulla Nulla Creek is a small, lonely house set back a lit­tle from the road in a green pad­dock where friesian calves and chest­nut horses con­tent­edly munch grass. A sign with a pic­ture of a smil­ing Dusty hangs be­hind the fence. We press a but­ton and his recorded voice drifts across the fields. ‘‘ This is where I was raised . . . I’ll show you a few things.’’

He tells us about the ma­chine that used to sep­a­rate the milk from the cream: ‘‘ Dad would take a slurp when it came to the top,’’ he tells us with a chuckle.

I can’t see it but now he’s talk­ing about his 1947 song When­theRainTum­blesDownIn July , which he wrote while liv­ing here. He says he re­mem­bers the day well, since the rain re­ally was tum­bling down. Then he’s singing the song.

The mu­sic drifts across the pad­dock as we climb the barbed wire fence — is this al­lowed? — and head for the house, care­fully avoid­ing a mine­field of cow pats. The mod­est wood-and-iron home is laced with cob­webs. The win­dows are so dirty we can hardly see inside, but there doesn’t ap­pear to be any furniture, just bare boards. What was once an out­side loo is full of wood and rust­ing iron. The prop­erty ob­vi­ously hasn’t been lived in for quite a while.

Over­grown roses tap at the win­dow panes on one side and a few gera­ni­ums cling to life at the other, where a tree sports pink buds. The back door is pad­locked; the front is miss­ing its han­dle. It’s not hard to imag­ine the teenager sit­ting on the front veranda, strum­ming a gui­tar. Now the record­ing is fin­ished it’s strangely quiet and the pas­toral scene seems rather sad. Surely this home should be pre­served, not left to de­cay. We de­cide it would be a per­fect spot for a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val with the pad­docks a sea of tents.

On the way out we push the play but­ton again and Dusty’s chirpy chat breaks the som­bre mood. As we drive away, the song slowly trails off un­til there’s just the sound of the car bump­ing along the road be­tween us and the Pub With No Beer. Next Wed­nes­day marks the fourth an­niver­sary of Slim Dusty’s death.

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