New Slim Dusty documentary puts Joy McKean at centre stage

Australian country music icon was one half of powerful double act.

A new documentary featuring country music great, the late Slim Dusty, puts the spotlight on his wife and business manager Joy McKean. 

The partnership, and particularly McKean’s role as wife, business manager, performer and songwriter, is the subject of Slim & I which will be released in selected cinemas around Queensland on 10 September.

While Dusty was a headline act on the Australian country music scene for more than 50 years, Slim & I producer Chris Brown believes McKean deserved to share top billing.

Speaking at the Brisbane launch of The Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival, to be held in Winton from 18–26 September and which will be opened by a screening of Slim & I, Mr Brown said he was initially approached by Universal Music to make a film about Dusty, who died in 2003 aged 76.

“I thought, actually what else can I say about Slim, I really don’t know,” Mr Brown said.

“Everything’s already been said.”

Mr Brown said he wanted to be certain, however, and started looking further into Dusty’s life which led to him learning more about McKean.

That’s when it became obvious the movie should focus on her.

“People are always complaining that there are not enough stories about iconic women of Australia and here was the most extraordinary woman,” Mr Brown said.

“She was the first woman to be co-host of a radio show ever in Australia. Here was a woman who had polio at a very young age and never let it hold her back … who married Slim Dusty and wrote probably most of his iconic songs.

“Here was a woman who ran the family, who ran the tours, who ran the business and wasn’t the woman behind the man, here was the woman who was right beside the man.

“It was a relationship of love, music, business and everything else which ran for 50 years. I mean, how come nobody ever told this story before?”

Mr Brown said the first person he got on board for the movie was director Kriv Stenders, whose credits include Boxing Day, Red Dog, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan and The Go-Betweens: Right Here.

“Like me, when he read this stuff, he went like, ‘Oh my god this story is amazing’,” he said.

“So, what we’ve ended up with is a story about this family that embraced and understood and communicated with regional Australia for years and years.

“Everybody who knew them or experienced the roadshow and the visits and the music ... and had that experience, became part of that family.

“It didn't matter whether you were black or white or from where you came, everybody connected with that music 100%. It’s quite an extraordinary thing.”

McKean and grandson James Arenman are executive producers of Slim & I, which ensured filmmakers had access to a huge catalogue of videos and photos belonging to the family.

Slim Dusty and Joy McKean with a gold record.

“It wasn't just an insight into the family, it was an amazing snapshot of Australia between the late 1930s, 1940s up to the present day and it’s fascinating to see what Australia was,” Mr Brown said.

The film also features interviews with modern-day Australian performers who were influenced by Dusty and McKean, including Keith Urban, Troy Cassar-Daley, Paul Kelly and Missy Higgins.

“Part of the film is each one of those people has an unplugged moment where they play their favourite Joy song. They just pick up the guitar and play and it’s fantastic,” Mr Brown said.

“When we approached them to get the involved in the movie, all of them just went like, ‘When do you want me? Next week? We’ll come tomorrow’, because they just adored both of them and they particularly respected Joy because of her song-writing ability

“So, what we’ve got is an amazing movie which, as I said, is a snapshot of Australia which is completely unique, and some absolutely rocking music.

“It's going to be something that, hopefully, will be enjoyed by everybody who sees it.”

A soundtrack from the film will be released on 4 September and will include songs from the pair’s 50-year catalogue and interviews with the cast.

It will feature a new song I Don’t Believe You, written by 90-year-old McKean and Arenman.

RACQ members can get discounted tickets for films at Event Cinemas and BCC Cinemas