Joy McKean, author of I’ve Been There (and Back Again), answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |November 18, 2011

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Joy McKean

author of I’ve Been There (and Back Again): Slim Dusty and Joy McKean’s Lifetime of Travel, Stories and Songs

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Singleton in the Hunter Valley of NSW and lived the first three years of my life on my grandparents’ farm in Doyles Creek. My dad was a country schoolteacher so we moved after that about every two years. We lived at various country districts in the Hunter, the Southern Highlands, Sydney and also the Tweed Valley before returning to Sydney in the mid 1940’s. Dad taught me to read and write; I had correspondence lessons when hospitalised with polio, and then from about fourth class was taught again by my father. Thence to Murwillumbah High School, and then again to Parramatta High School, my father’s old school.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve and eighteen I aimed my sights at becoming a school teacher. My father, uncle and aunt were teachers as were my grandfather and his brothers, and my great-grandfather before them. When my ambition was floored by the fact that I was polio affected in one leg, I turned to music. With my sister I performed onstage, recorded my own songs with her, and ran a half hour weekly radio programme on Radio 2KY, Sydney. By thirty, I was married and touring Australia; aiming to write and record country music and make a big success of my husband’s career and mine.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I believed that the world was my oyster and that I could overcome any obstacle because I knew all there was to know; these days I know that although I’ve learned a lot I still know little and I knew even less at eighteen.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

My writing was originally aimed at songs and I began doing that when I was eleven or twelve. This was probably because there was music in our home; my mother played piano and piano accordion. Both of my parents played Hawaiian steel guitars, and owned a gramophone. They bought early country and ballad records and I learned the songs from them. I could vamp on both piano and steel guitar to accompany my singing, and then my yodelling. So writing my own songs seemed a natural progression.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book – aren’t they obsolete?

English teachers at high school encouraged my essay writing, and by the end of high school my sister and I were singing and performing semi-professionally. So my writing was channelled into song writing and continued so for years. When my husband Slim Dusty was asked to write his autobiography and was offered a ‘ghost’ writer, we recalled the amount of work we did on a previous project and I decided that it would be less work to do it myself. So that is when I branched out from writing songs, to writing stories or telling stories of our life on the road and onstage. I had been asked many times to consider doing a book of song lyrics presented as poems with photos to illustrate the poems. From there the idea expanded to the stories and people behind the songs. And no, I don’t think books are, or will become, obsolete.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

I’ve Been There… And Back Again is a coffee table book of song lyrics presented as poems, together with beautiful photographs from friend and colleague John Elliott. I have told the stories behind each of these songs by telling how the song was written and why, what was happening in our lives at the time, and anecdotes about the people and places we were travelling in at the time. I included lots of historical photos from our own family collection… some taken by my father, others by Slim and myself. Most of these have never been seen before. The book tells about a way of life that no longer exists here. There is also a limited edition of the book; gold edged pages, leather cover, autographed photo and a CD of the soundtracks of the songs included in the book.

(BBGuru: publisher’s description –

A stunning, full-colour hardback filled with the songs and stories of Slim Dusty and his wife and fellow singer and songwriter, Joy McKean.

The perfect gift book for Slim Dusty s legions of fans, whose numbers are still strong even years after his death.

Joy McKean wrote many of her husband Slim Dusty s most well-loved songs, such as Lights on the Hill and When the Rain Tumbles Down in July . She is a natural writer and now she turns her talent to telling us the stories behind 25 of their most popular songs. Through the lyrics and stories she gives us an intimate insight into her life on the road with Slim. This couple were famous around Australia for their performances and for their love of the outback and its people. Slim and Joy were awarded a total of 37 Golden Guitars between them, and Joy is respected by other performers both in and out of the country music scene, such as Troy Cassar Daley and Paul Kelly.

This beautiful, fully illustrated hardback will comprise of a selection of 25 lyrics, Joy s stories and reminisces about each song, photographs from the family collection and outstanding shots by acclaimed photographer John Elliott, who has been photographing Slim and Joy, their band and family for decades.)

Click here to order a copy of I’ve Been There (and Back Again) from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Book Shop

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

If my book could change the tendency to believe that everywhere else in the world needs to be admired and copied more than the values based on our own natural character and lifestyle, then I would be happy.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

I can’t answer that question; there are too many great people out there and their greatness awes me.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I want to write another book some day, and maybe some more songs. But the first ambition to fulfil is to see the opening of the completed Slim Dusty Centre and Museum in Kempsey in the Macleay Valley of NSW.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Actually, I don’t give advice as I don’t believe I’m qualified to do that. I am not a disciplined writer of either words or songs. That is why I avoid participating in songwriting workshops and such. All I might say perhaps is to write with meaning… not just for the sake of stringing together some nice sounding words or lines. Try to say something!

Joy, thank you for playing.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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