Slim pickings for country star
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.