Australian Biography: Smoky Dawson
Smoky Dawson (b.1914, Warrnambool Vic) was Australia's first cowboy and a pioneer of Australian country music. Smoky and his horse Flash were legendary. An entire generation of young Australians grew up listening to his radio show and abiding by his "code of the west". He was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1994.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
My earliest memories: I go back to the first time I saw the world and that was in a place called Warrnambool, Victoria. You see I was born in 1913, two years before Gallipoli as a matter of fact. My father had gone off there to fight for his country and became a casualty. Got the DCM for his bravery, but was a casualty. And so when he came back he resided in Warrnambool. And my first glimpse of the world was being dressed up as a little soldier boy with puttees and all those kind of things like soldiers wear, and leading a parade down the main street. You see, I wasn't Smoky Dawson then. I was a little boy called Herbie, Herbie, and I was only five. And my cousin, she was about my age too. Her name was Daisy, a very old-fashioned name. She has long passed on. But my memories were in Warrnambool, but I was born in Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria. That's a long time ago. So the Smoky of today is ... was a different person then.
That was. Actually ... speaking ... that was my first public performance. And I do recall lying on the stage of a theatre when they had the movies, these silent movies of the war. And I was lying on the stage as a casualty, my arm in a sling and Daisy bending over me, dressed as a Red Cross nurse, with a water bottle, giving me a drink, like a wounded soldier. I think that wrung a few tears out of people and raised a lot of money for the soldiers.
I didn't have any feeling that people watched me. I don't think that children really know that people are watching them. They only look at other little children. But I do remember following a big white horse and there was a great soldier on it with a sword, and it had a lovely white tail. And I kept running forward and grabbing this horse by the tail. And I'd been ... I've had that feeling with horses ever since. That's why I love them so much, these four-legged friends. [Laughs]
Not really. I think if I look at my childhood, I look at it as another person really, to really get the feeling. It was really a life that was filled with trauma, pain, mainly fear.
Well in my childhood, you see, a child can't understand why he should get beaten and why such violence should come to him. And I was aware that all these things around me were happening with my brothers and sisters. And my father, of course, used to have these bouts, due to his illness. He'd get onto the alcohol and become a different man. And so I got no love. I couldn't feel that love. And I only have vague memories of my mother. In essence, I'd say, that I can't really remember my mother at all. Just as somebody moving around with loving and caring and trying to defend me. By the age of six she had passed away, and my elder brother, Les, had gone out swimming at a place called Eltham, Kangaroo Grounds in Melbourne and had drowned. That was on Christmas Day. So it was one of these things. All these things happening in such a short life that when I look back it's so easy to remember.
That I don't know. I really don't know. And I haven't even bothered to look up the records. And I don't even have a photo of my mother. I think there is one, somewhere. Probably some of my cousins might have it. I don't even have a photo of my father. All things move so quickly and my life has been such a momentous one, moving fast and getting out of childhood as fast as I could, so I could be a man quickly and look after myself.
Oh yes, I do remember on one occasion, back in Warrnambool, and I remember it was in a chemist shop. My father was a chemist and I remember all the sponges and all the scented things, and perfumes and lineaments of the shop. And this great big glass bowls with coloured water in it. And it had a stairway leading upstairs and I could see my mother coming down there, pursued by my father. And I knew ... and she grabbed me by hand and run me out the back and he was chasing her. He was very violent.
Yes and I was behind her and she was shielding me. I can see that all happening now. And I see a decanter falling over and the glass shattering. And I remember she was bleeding in the eye. She must have been hit with the glass and then, of course, it's faded now. I don't see it any more. And the next thing I know is that I'm going to the hospital where she is dying. But before that I was living in Clifton Hill. Now I'm moving very quickly now from Warrnambool. I was about seven - seven years old - and my father came home and looking very, very angry. Big heavy coat on him. He'd been drinking heavily. And he said to my sister ... [INTERRUPTION]
Oh, it happened very quickly. I can recall when my father was working at the dispensary in Clifton Hill ... He was always mixed up with medicine. In fact, he trained to be a doctor before he went away. And I remember he used to come home and he'd be very, very drunk and my mother used to send me out with my sister to bring him home, to find him. And we'd find him somewhere in the Clifton Hill Gardens, laying on the ground, prostrate and we'd help him up. These two kids helping this drunken man home, to get him home to bed. And then, of course, there are just sort of flashes. I remember her. She was in bed and it was on my birthday. And he brought me in and she was under sedation. And I remember them saying to her, 'Here's Herbie, Emily', and I went up and I kissed her. And after that she was taken to the hospital. And it was a stormy night, a most violent night. And my father came home and he said, 'I'm going to the hospital', and he said to my sister who is quite a few years older than me, 'Scrub the kids up and bring them in later will you'. He went off and I don't know what happened but I wandered out into the street. I found myself wandering out into the storm. And I wandered up there to the Clifton Hill railway station where there is this big bridge over the top. It's still there I believe. And I climbed up the stairs and leant over the rail, looking down at the trains passing underneath. And here's the wind and the rain and the lightning striking, but I had no fear of it. I was numb with cold. My hands were clutching the rail, looking at the trains going down. Just caught up with steam and train and lightning and storm, but lost. Because I didn't know where to go. I'd sort of gone into another world where I was alone and I didn't know where to go. And this is where my sister found me. She went out there, calling out, 'Herbie, Herbie', and I could just vaguely hear her calling out to me with this wind whistling around me. I can see it all now. This lightning, lightning happens. This is how she found me in the lightning flash up on the bridge. Where else could she look? She climbed up there and put her arms around me to show that she cared. And I loved my sister. She was like my mother - took the place of my mother. She was much older and always in defence of me against my father. So ...
There were five altogether. I had my brother Les, who was drowned. He was the eldest and then there was Peter, and there was Laura and my brother Ted. And me of course.
No I was the second youngest. My brother was two years younger than me: Ted. He has since passed on. So through all these years I'm the sole remaining member of the family.
Well I've experienced a lot of this in recent years. All my loved ones going. When I see others lose lives and lose their loved ones I know just what they go through. But to a child, where that is your protection and you've been brought up, it was very, very distraughting and she took me in. I remember in this hospital, [my sister] taking me up to ... upstairs and I'm leaning over the balcony waiting to be called in. Then somebody lifted me over and I kissed her. That was the last time I saw my mother alive. She was dying then. And my brother and I went outside. Little Teddy - I don't think he was aware of anything really and we leant over the rails and looking down below, both of us, pouring our eyes out with a flood of tears. And how I got home, I probably [was] carried home. But I remember ... I remember in the middle of the night someone coming into my room, probably my aunts, and all crying, you know, to tell me my mother had died during the night. And that were the last thing. I just sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, and so it went on. And then, of course, following that, within six months of that, my brother got drowned on Christmas Day.
I was sitting in the same bed - sitting out there on Christmas Day. He went out. He was a victim of my father too. He used to get unmerciful beatings. My father used to come in with a lamp and with this dog lead, and my brother would be waiting in the other room, and [my father would] go in there and somebody would have to hold the lamp up and strip him off and belt into him. And when he ... He ran away. He was a wood turner. He'd had his first job. He made this little wooden pistol. Poor Les. I remember [my father] came home one night and he said, 'I'll find the boy if it's the last thing I do'. He felt guilty. [Les had] gone out with his mates you see, from work. And they had a picnic out at Kangaroo Grounds at Eltham. They all decided to go in for a swim. He was a good swimmer, but what had really happened - he got caught in snags, undergrowth, and one of those whirlpools. So he wasn't found. And my father came home this night and he had a block and tackle. He had everything. 'I'm going to find the boy', and he was the one to find him. He found him floating dead on the side of the river with all this underbrush. And he was to see this white body with all the scars on, that he had put there. I think that, for a while, that calmed my father down, to see his handiwork, what he had done to his boy. I can't help but feel the emotion within me now, thinking about that. It's many, many years now and terrifying really. When he went, of course, I had to turn to my brother Peter. And poor Ted, of course, he looked to me. We all came in line for these beatings, this child abuse.
My sister, of course, oh yes. I'll never forget my sister. She was the second oldest and she was put in a convent to get her out of the way. She went through a lot of trauma too.
Oh yes. Yes. So he put her in the convent. And she did a lot of beautiful crochet work and the nuns were very good to her. And she is very lucky she was there, because she had peace. And so ...
Oh yes, yes. I went to Prince of Wales Park School. See it all now. They were the very early years. Peppercorn trees, pea shooters. A man called Mr. Darby. Everybody ... He had a bald head and everybody was having pea shots with a pea shooter, trying to hit the bald head. But he couldn't find out who did it, so we were all kept in. For the sin of one, we all were kept in. But I remember coming home. Of course, as kids you kick a tin along the way and by the time I got home I was getting a trouncing for that because ... I suppose, in a way it was justified that we were going through hard times. My father was still working at the dispensary. And of course boots were expensive. And of course most boys kick the front out of them, so you weren't allowed to wear them. Only for school and off they came.
You know the old saying, you always hurt the one you love. Most of all he loved me. He really loved me. But he wasn't able to show that - only when he was sober. And many a time I'd be sitting on his knee and he'd rub his bristles, whiskers on my face and he'd say, 'Why are you so naughty?' and I didn't think I was naughty. But I suppose some kids ... All kids have times when they let themselves loose. But they're in a different world to an adult. You've got to understand children and we played amongst ourselves and you didn't know whether that was right or wrong. But it was the drink that did it you see. And I do know that when he was a boy, my grandmother told me ... She was a wonderful person, and she was the only one that could lay oil on troubled waters and come down and stay with us and nothing would happen. And she used to say he was a wonderful son. A wonderful son. And he had a great voice. He was a baritone singer. He was at the old Bijou in Melbourne and they were the days of the top hats and hansom cabs and cobblestones.
Yes. He used to go under the name of Parker, Frederick Parker. And he used to do what they call 'descriptive baritone'. It's almost like opera.
Well he'd come out on stage and all those, melodramatic ... He'd come out there and he'd be reading a telegram: how he'd put his money on a horse and instead of saying, 'Oh I put all this money on this horse and it has lost', he said (SMOKY SINGS) 'A telegram boy had come to the door. I read what it says. I cannot believe it. I have lost it all. Goodbye'. Bang. And down he drops. Curtain, curtain, up and down. Crowd roaring. Acculations (sic).
Very dramatic. He was always a great actor. I have endowed a lot of his qualities. I probably have a lot of his ... because he had a great ... he always wanted to solve the world's problems, except his own. Great philosopher. I have some of his old letters at the back there - beautiful handwriting. And I later acquired that in my skills because when I went to school ... I was about eight, [and] at Faraday Street School I won the best writer of the year, the best composer of the year. All my books were put up in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne - the work of a school boy. And it was written on Anzacs strangely enough, my composition. And I remember the last words of that was read out to the class - what I'd written: 'And their names shall be eternal, written by the stars in the midnight sky'.
Yeah, I think you could say that. Yes, I have acquired a lot from it you know. There's a great balance in life, you know, because it seems as life is lows and highs and it's what they call the mechanics or the dynamics of life.
Yes. That was ... I have been to the point of where ... At later times, when we moved from there, I started doing a lot of running away. I couldn't stand it. I started taking up selling newspapers in the city of Melbourne in the days of the old cable trams. And do you know they were fantastic times. I remember when I was getting on those cable trams, coming round Spring Street, and the gripman would be in the centre there with his grips and his goggles on. And he say, 'Mind the kerb, mind the curve', and it was only doing about ten knots, as it jerked its way around the corner, coming down into Bourke. But I mean, you could milk a cow as you went by, it was so slow. Anyway, I used to jump from one tram to another selling newspapers. And then what money I had I'd go take it all back to the newsagents and I'd get my tips and the tips came very quickly because I always had numb fingers. I had bare feet and numb fingers and [was] very slow in giving change. And people were very impatient in those days. They wouldn't wait for the change. I knew I always had a little bit more money over than ... They were my tips. And with what I made out of the newspapers, I'd wander down and look at the Palace Theatre just around the corner from the Princess in Bourke Street, and I'd look in all the fish and chip shops and I'd look in all the big windows and see all the goodies, [thinking] I wish I could have that. [INTERRUPTION]
I was about twelve. About twelve. I'd thought about it when I was eight, when I was selling those newspapers, see, because I was working for a living then. And I was always singing. That's one thing my dad did for me - and that was he taught me how to use my voice: 'You project', and could I bellow - because I was used to yelling out when I got a hiding.
Sure did. It didn't strain them. I've never had laryngitis for ... through the fault of using my vocal cords the wrong way. It's always from a virus. But never from calling out and shouting after horses and kids and whatever. But those days there, my father was very much in show business then. And he was always dramatising and always wanting me to listen to his philosophies until I nearly [would] go to sleep. Because there were pages and pages and pages of what is wrong with the world, but not what was wrong with he. But no, eight seemed to me a very adult time because I felt I was a man. Anybody who can jump from one cable tram to another and do it expertly and make a living from it, and find a way of survival ... You see, we are animal and when our back's to the wall, we become very inventive. And Herbie became very inventive then, because he had his back to the wall. Because I didn't dare go to my grandmother because she'd take me home. Because she loved her son.
Oh she knew it was going on, but she thought the time will come. And she used to come down as much as she could. And he wouldn't play up, you see. So in the meantime I was hiding in rockeries and in old buildings, in trains. I'd get in the train to Box Hill and stay there all night in the carriage until it went the next morning, then jump over the fence at Jolimont. And down I'd go in through Richmond, running for my life, expecting to be picked up by the police any time. And I became very expert at that: jumping trains.
Well what I did I used to then walk. I'd walk all the way from the city to my grandmother's and then I'd hide in the wash house down at the back. And I used to get into the trough - you know those old cement troughs, all filled up with clothes ready for washing, [and] out they'd go. And I'd have my legs in one side and my bottom in the other. Like that. And I'd cover the clothes over me. I was so small you see. And that become my bed for the night. And I was able to watch through the window to see if she was coming out the back door, and I'd be gone before they were up and out on the street again. But one morning she knew I was there. She sent down my cousin, Nina, that's on my uncle's side. She said, 'Come up to the house. You must be hungry'. And then Gran came out and said, 'Oh naughty boy, naughty boy. We've got to take you home again'. I said, 'I know'. And she bought me a pair of nice boots and socks and took me home. We were then living at Reservoir, [had] moved out to Reservoir. And I thought that's the worst place in the world. Nobody'll know I'm there. And it was just an old hut built out of galvanised iron and bark and we were right beside the Plenty River. We had to go down with buckets and get this water out of the creek and bring it back. Just earthen floor with linoleum over it and hessian walls.
Yes, well to economise. We couldn't afford to rent a house, because wherever he went he couldn't pay the rent. So ...
Yes well he had a very strong ally in his brother Peter, his brother Pete, who served time with him in Gallipoli. And he also was mentioned in despatches too, in France. He went across to France - became a victim there too. And I remember in papers sent to my grandmother that said, 'If ever I was proud of my brother, I was on that day when I saw him at Gallipoli dragging men out of shell holes with blood streaming out of his ears, into the first aid tent, and then collapsing'. So you see although I'd been through all that trauma with my father, the day arrived when he knew me as Smoky - met me in the street and sobbed like a child on my shoulder, 'My little baby Herbie', and how sorry he was for me. And I had compassion for him, because I saw this man, a victim of a war and I was the victim of his war. You see so this is where the age of understanding come. But I had to be grown up a little, be adult you see. But that was my childhood and was filled with a lot of hate at the time, and fear. You see, so hate doesn't do it, you see. When you have time to analyse it you find we are all victims, that there's no responsibility there. And all those things I felt very sorry for my father and what a terrible life he must have had. I really do.
Oh, I think he was trying to get something out of him. And he used to tell me later that ...
It devastated me to find I was so fearful I could have died. My heart was ready to die. In fact, I put it in my book. I might as well say it now too, and my wife said, 'Tell it all, tell it all'. There'll be no skeletons in my cupboard when I die. The world will know it now. And that was I was home there one night, sitting down. It was in Fitzroy, the back of the Carlton brewery. I remember that well. And we were sitting at the table, my mother had died and I had my stepmother with me then. And of course to appease him she used to belt me. She said, 'I'll belt you now to save him giving you one when he gets home. I've already belted him, dear'. Well this night it was different. I was sitting at the table and my father would come in and sit there at the head, and my brother, Ted, here, and my stepmother opposite. And she'd serve out the dinner - all the vegetables. Oh we were well fed: pumpkin, peas, everything. Plenty of vegetables, but I hated them. I was sick with it because the fear in my wouldn't allow me to eat. And then I'd hear the tread. He was late coming home. And this very heavy tread of a man drunk. And the door would fling open. There he'd be standing, filling the whole doorway with his hat down over his head, blood streaming on his face, this old overcoat on, walking in then. And he'd be trying to mouth words. Somebody had hit him over the head with a bottle of beer. And I looked up to the wall and there was the dog lead. That was the usual thing - a dog lead. And he came. As soon as he got in the door, she rushed to take off his overcoat and he looked, staring straight at me. And I just going sick inside. My whole inside was shrinking up. 'What are you looking at? What are you looking there for? There's nothing up there. What are you looking for?' 'Nothing. Nothing Dad, nothing'. Then I started to cry. As soon as I started to cry he got the strap. Oh and that started it. So he made towards me. You know, I can see it now just as if it's all happening today. I'm sitting there and I can see him coming towards me. I can see my mother in the background and this man, here, is going to take my life. And as he gets towards me, he grabbed me by the throat, and next thing I'm up and I can't breathe and I'm dangling. And I can feel everything coming round my throat - the strangulation. I'm trying to breathe and I can't breathe. Fighting for breath. Can't get it. And then suddenly I just felt myself going down a well, down, down, and I can just see his face at the top. And the voices in the background. Next thing I was coming too again. She had knocked him out. To save me. He'd have murdered me. Then I went up to bed. I had a sore throat. My brother,Ted. Never touched Ted, always touched me. Terrible. It's ... I think it's good to get it out, you know, because ... it's very difficult to ... It must be there in my subconscious mind. I couldn't talk like that. Yet he must have suffered too, knowing he'd done that. And then there were episodes too when we went out to Reservoir, like I said, and he came home. I'd run away a few times by then. He said, 'You won't run away this time'. So he padlocked me. Put chain and padlock on me. And he gave orders to my mother. I slept in a little tent outside the bark hut. He said, 'You go to school tomorrow. You'll lay with that. You won't run away with those on'. So I got a ... I was always so close, always sitting right up at the top of the table and the next thing, bang, a smack in the nose. You know. I was getting fisticuffs and ... it's lucky I didn't break my nose. I was getting bashed all the time. And it was just a life of 'How will I ever live it out?' And I was trying to plead someone ... don't the ... I was frightened to go to somebody in case he'd catch me. And even when I ran away I felt that every ... every one ... [on] every corner he'd be there. I didn't realise that he wouldn't find me in a crowd, although we was only about five million people then. But that, that ... at Reservoir, that was the turning point, chained up. And my stepmother was given orders. She'd unlock me in the morning when I got up. So after that I'd had these beatings. I had all the scars on my back like my own brother, Les, had. So I made up my mind that I was going. So my stepmother said, 'Before you go to school, there's some groceries I want you to go and get at the shop', which was about half a mile away, near the railway. And we walked there with our dog Tipperary, little fox terrier, and Ted. [We] walked across. And I remember going into the butcher's shop, getting all these things that she given me the money for. And I came out and as we got outside there was a train waiting to go out. This was the end of the line at Reservoir. 'I'm going to get on that train if it's the last thing I do'. That's what I did. And I said, 'Ted, I can't go back'. And he said, 'Oh don't leave me. I can't go back and face it'. So he had to carry all these things. And as the train was about to go out I made one dive for it and jumped in and got in the carriage. I had no ticket. And I looked out through the carriage and I saw Teddy walking across the paddock, sobbing his head out. And this old dog. Carrying the meat, half hanging out under one arm, and a loaf of bread in the other. God knows what he'd get when he got home. And I made for my ...
My stepmother - she was my mother's sister. And she stepped in to take the place of my mother to keep him in order. She was the only one that could control him. But she had a way with her too. She had a ... A little bit of him rubbed off on her. And I think she delighted to ... She used to give me quite a few thrashing too, with the same lead.
You know, I should forget all this but you can't you know. A lot of it stays with you. It's got to come out. And maybe in time, or in time ... Jee, time's moving on. No, I think my time with my stepmother was fulfilled. I look back on her with a lot of sadness. I think she had a tough life too. And in later years they were to come back to me and ask forgiveness. And I forgive, but not forget. But I, you know ... Those drinking bouts of my father was just a daily occurrence. I remember a time when on the Saturday, football day, he would be home all day and those were the days I dreaded because he was with me all the time. Send me over to the pub to get the beer. And I walked over with this empty bottle to have it filled up and all these men around me with spittoons and foul language and the odour of urine and alcohol. It's very prominent in my mind as I smelled it as a kid. It was distasteful. And they'd make fun of me. And I felt dreadful. And I'd run back with it. And he'd say, 'Where's the change? I gave you more than that'. And I'd get a hiding. He just manufactured things. Or he'd come home and he'd say he saw me up the road, chasing girls. I wasn't interested in girls. I was shy like a rabbit - run a mile from a girl. He just had these things that probably that he did or he imagined if he were me that's what he'd be doing. Get up in the morning, go and get the fire wood, chop it down, bare feet, bring it in, down to the newsagent, sell Heralds, come home and he'd be home there to check the money before I took it back, and he'd always say that it was short and I'd get a hiding for that. So that's how it went.
I never knew what happened. I never asked Ted what happened, but I think that the game was up because I got off the train at Thornbury, Northcote, where my aunt lived. That was my mother's sister. They were a big family. Scotch. Yeah, old Scotland in a bit of me. Both sides Scotch. My mother was a Muir. But all her sisters ... they were all such lovely girls and I, of course, would run to them and I'd get all the cuddles. That's what I wanted. I wanted somebody to protect me. And my aunt, I showed them ... took off my shirt and showed my back. So she took me down to the police station and showed them my back. So I was whisked off from there and I was put in a sort of a holding pen - a little orphanage. They were holding people until they come up into court, because I was to be taken away from my father. Had to go to court. And I was moved from there into the Gordon Institute, which is the halfway house at the back of the old Melbourne Gaol. I don't even know whether it's still there, but it was sure a landmark. And that was a very poor place because there was a dormitory for kids and they had to wait for places to be taken and adopted. And you could sit out in the front with your feet in the drain in the gutter and let the water trickle by your bare feet. And we'd go down to the cake shop with a little wheel cart and get all the spare, stale buns and cakes, which were all handed round to the boys. And then one day a lady came and said, 'Come with me'. And we went to the court. I remember standing up in the witness box and I was interrogated by my father whom I hadn't seen, and he said, 'Face me boy. It wasn't me who hit you. It was your mother, wasn't it?' And I said, 'No'. And they told me, 'Whatever you do, don't waiver'. So I stuck to my guns.
I was dreadfully frightened and I think of occasions now, when people now, in case of rape charges, like with girls, frightened to go, or to tell anything about their husband in case they are beaten up, because the law doesn't assure them 100 per cent safety. And to my mind, I'd gone through all this and still hadn't been saved and so I was a bit reluctant. And she said, 'If he gets you under there and starts questioning you, you are liable to go back to him'. So I stuck it out and I came down off the dock. And I remember this lady taking me and my brother and we were walking down the hallway out of the court and my father came racing after and he said, 'My boy, I want my boy'. She said, 'No it's too late. You've lost him. He's not your boy now'. And my brother was given to the care of my grandmother and I was taken to St. Vincent de Paul's Boys' Orphanage in South Melbourne - Cecil Street, South Melbourne, who I still have affiliations with. I've been backwards and forwards to that orphanage and it's no longer what it used to be, but I saw the old places where I used to be. And where I was, had been actually promised by the Brother Superior that there'd be a permanent job for me on the Victorian Railways. (Laughs)
Who knows. I could probably have been the Commissioner of Railways if I'd stuck to it, but I didn't. I spent three years there.
It was a wonderful haven, [a] wonderful haven, but what concerned me was all this glass, broken glass bottles all round the walls. And the girls' orphanage had the same thing. And I questioned this, in the name of religion too. I might mention that my father had my brother and I both baptised, just because ... to hurt my mother and my other grandmother, who hated Catholics. And he had me baptised a Catholic by the great Archbishop Mannix, that great character we all know so well about, who's left a great history behind him. Yes, I had salt put on my tongue to take away all the lies I was supposed to have told. I was reincarnated and I was also confirmed as Saint Aidan - Herbert Henry Aidan Dawson. So I was put in an orphanage and I did, sort of, feel quite priestly for a while. I learnt my catechism. I become an altar boy and I said everything in Latin. I knew my catechism quite well. And my Bible History. I thrived on it. But I seemed to get a hiding there too. Because I found that the seat of the pants was somehow connected to the brain in some way - that your punishment come on the seat if you didn't learn. And it wasn't that I didn't know my subject, because Bible History was always the main subject and when you come in in the morning after your homework the night before, the prayers were said and the first thing was Bible History. Let's say, they'd ask one question and they'd start ... and everybody was so terrified they couldn't open their mouths. They'd go, 'Ah'. 'Next, next, next, next'. And me I'm ready. I know the answer and he said, 'Next, next ...' and he was so fast he went past me before I could give the answer. But I had to join all the others and bend over with this longest bit of harness I've ever seen. That took about seven rumps in one whack. So there I was. I'm out of the fat and into the fire. I was starting to get it there. And I thought, In the name of religion! This is when my little brain started to question God. And the Christian Brothers. I was terrified again. I went through another three years of fear. Fear. Getting older all the time, but winning all the time. I always won at arithmetic. They gave a lovely Wesclock pocket watch for the winner. And I won it with my compositions. My writing, arithmetic - head of the class. But I'd still get the beltings. They wanted perfection. They didn't realise that when you're perfected, you're God. So I decided one day I'd be running away from there. And really the opportunity came when Christmas time, boys were taken out by various people in the community, in the parish, for a holiday. And there was one family named Carew [?] - Mr. and Mrs. Carew - who took me to a place called Urac. And I shared this with another boy called Jim Cummings. And we were chosen to go, on this particular morning, on a holiday, [for] three weeks.
It was the beginning of life. The joy - I shall always remember that. That's one part of my life that is so vibrant and when I think of love I think of Urac and I think of the Carews.
My first encounter ...
Oh dear, yes. Catholic family. But I'd go for that. [INTERRUPTION]
It really was. It was the great joy of my life. It was the beginning of life, as I was to find in later years, that, something to set me off that gave me faith and hope and a lot of charity. And that was spending all these wonderful weeks of my holiday away in the country. Where 100 miles seemed like a lifetime, you know, away. And ...
It was special about it in one fact that I was free of all discipline, hardship, what was to be expected of me as a boy. And to [be free of] the enclosure. To be put in a thing that had broken glass in the walls, which was told ... I was told that the reason for that was to keep people out, not for us to escape. But when this family said they want to take these two boys, the Brothers were very joyful for me and I remember I had my new shirt, new pants, a lovely blazer with a moniker on the top, St. Vincent de Paul cap and a football. And a ... I couldn't sleep that night. It was all beside my bed and I got up in the morning - woken up at six o'clock in the morning in the dormitory. Hushed downstairs to a hasty breakfast and then down to Spencer Street Railway Station with this big steam train puffing away and I can see the engineer up there with his rag, polishing up his brass and oh, 'That's what I want to be, a train driver. I'll be an engine driver', and then he was shovelling coal in, filling up the thing. 'That's what I want to be'. You see, the mind has no boundaries, you know, when you start thinking of what you'd like to be. Fireman. I wanted to be all that. So I was on the beginning. So I went up and had a talk with the man at the engine. And he said, 'Going up the country?' I said, 'Yes'. He said, 'Oh you're going to enjoy yourself'. I went back and got in the carriage. And that Brother Breslen, he was a lovely man, he was the Brother Superior. And he was such a nice person. He said, 'Now you have a wonderful time. You're with wonderful people. May God be with you and away you go'. And as the train pulled out I waved goodbye. And out went our heads looking out there. And the first thing we cop was the blooming soot out of the train. So for the rest of the hour I looked at all the level crossings that we passed through, and all the washing lines in backyards. And these level crossings where everybody's waiting on bikes and traffic waiting for the train to pass and the bells ringing. Until we're right out of suburbia and right out into the hills and heading out into the country and all the cows and the green grass, the smell of new born hay and sheep. I'd never seen these.
Yes. Only I have moments of thought, days when I'm back as a child there in Warrnambool. Those ... It's just like looking through a glass, you know, at something that was happening, but I didn't know what. I knew it was in the country. It was a big house, but that's about all. But here I was, first time, out into the country. And that's where I learnt to milk cows and I wouldn't mind. I worked for nothing and of course, work was only 'allowed' to do it. They didn't tell you to do it. But you wanted to do everything that they did. This was the man of me, to get out of my childhood and grow up. Because everybody had made such a mess of it and I reckoned that I could be a better manager of myself than anybody else. And I knew one thing, that kids ... That was a place I didn't want to be, in the world of children. But on the train, there it was: clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, that wonderful sound and movement that I'd never had before. But for the first time of my life, I was a freeloader. I was jumping trains all up till then, but not paying my fare. And here it was all paid for me, and I had no fear. The conductor came along to collect my fare and gave me a big wink. 'Where you heading?' I said, 'I'm going to a place called Urac'. 'Oh then, you know Jack Carew'. I said, ;Well I am to meet him. I've never met him'. 'Wonderful man'. So, 'You've heard of the man from Snowy River, you'll talk to Jack Carew'.
Oh hope, yes. In my mind here I was going away and at ... I was leaving my childhood behind.
I was about twelve. About twelve. But I was really growing up. And a little romance in my life too, now and again. I was looking for my first dance - how I'd get on. I'd never danced in my life with a girl, which I soon found out I would. But I remember, when we arrived there, we arrived at Birregurra. We were transported to another shorter train, and we came into this, oh, this Birregurra - I think it was. It was just a small station that if the train went too fast you'd have left it behind, you know. We got out and there was this man waiting with a sulky and this other horse with his head down in the nosebag. This man smoking a pipe, his hat down over his ears. And he come forward and grabbed our cases and put us in there, and away we went on this eight mile, along the road to Urac, from the station. It was one of these off the main road, down the side track, the table dray and they had this well worn track where the horses' hoofs went and the wheels of the buggy. And all along there, and I start singing all the songs that I'd learnt to sing in the orphanage because they had a wonderful music teacher and a man in charge of the band called Les Hopman. He said, 'You've got a voice'. He said, 'Yes'. I said, 'My father taught me that'. And he said, 'Well I'm going to do something with it'. So he took me up the keys and next thing I was performing little shows around the orphanage, you know, in the South Melbourne Town Hall, raising money.
Little Brown Cottage That Stands On The Moor: 'Little brown cottage that stands on the hill. No. Little brown cottage that stands on the moor, two little windows, and one little door. I'll never forget wherever I roam, little brown cottage, my haven, my home'. I'll never forget that. Mainly all Irish songs. The Sunshine Sailed Away From Killarney and Danny Boy and I became the lead boy soprano in the choir. And there I was: 'Listen, listen, to the sound of fire. Listen, listen, to the sound of fire. Finiculi, finicula, finicula. Finiculi, finicula'. I was the lead boy singer. Soprano. So there I had my first appearances. I was really in show business. My little white shirt and white pants and green sash - very green, like Erin. 'Here oh'. And he's from Scotch descent. Mixed up with all the Irish and Moscum Judes [sic]. But they were wonderful times. They were beautiful times in the orphanage. They really taught me. They taught me well. I owe them a lot. I really do.
Oh yes. But I don't think it hurt me. See, they weren't devastating. My life wasn't threatened, only the seat of my pants. [Laughs]
When I got there, of course, there was a big family. Most Catholics did have big families. And Mrs. Carew - she was in a wheelchair, a lovely woman. And she made me welcome and she had a pet bird, a brolga, a native companion that they'd brought home as a little chick from the plains where the companions used to do their dance. And the bird used to get violently jealous of anybody who went near Mrs. Carew. And because she was so loving with me, the bird used to attack me. And this thing would stalk after me day and day like a jet. And me run for cover. But oh, the cows and the haystacks. Everything was done with a pitchfork. You tossed the hay up from the cart, from the big sheaves and the stooks that they made. After the header had gone through them and cut them and everything was horse driven then. Horses. And then they built this great haystack and I'd be out there, helping to pitch up the hay.
Yes. They put me on a little horse called Brownie. I'll never forget it. And I remember El, she was a wonderful ... one of the daughters. She was the one that did all the cooking of the scones and making the pancakes and on those cold, stormy nights and Jack was coming home from the cattle drive, and she'd be reading from her ... She'd have this apron on with flour all over it and the smell of good cooking and she'd be reading with this lamp The Man From Snowy River, How Kitty McRae Saved the Greytown Mail and the Ballad of the Drover, and I was just absolutely steeped in Lawson and Banjo Paterson and I was really ... that was my life. Then I wanted to be on the horse too. So they got Brownie out and he said, 'Let the boy have a ride on Brownie', and she said, 'Oh Jack I think ... be careful of Brownie. He does bolt sometimes, you know'. He said, 'Well he'll only go at a walk'. And Jim Cummings was with me, so he said, 'You and Jim share it'. So one lead the other. And that's what we were doing and we were leading it out.
That's right. They become the ingredients, as you say. They were necessary to compile this kind of character called Smoky, because Smoky is made up of many, many things.
He sure did. And I were terrified of the wretched thing. Once again, fear struck me when I got outside the gate. And I couldn't get back quick enough. And the bird spotted me. And I was on my way over to the ... over to the blacksmith's shop, where I was very interested in making horseshoes. And so Jack was over there belting out a horseshoe and this ... putting it in the coals and I'd go and push the bellows up and down. And as I came out the bird spotted me and I ran. Worst thing I could have done. Because he had the power of a jet. He was skimming to the ground with his great big wings flapping and this big red nose stuck out in front of his beak. And I looked round and here was the bird and I just tripped over and he come tearing up the top of me. He started pecking me to death. Oh, look at this great long beak and these big red flamed eyes. Jealousy written in them. And: My God, what am I going to do? My life's threatened again with this wretched thing! Because I was still only a small child, a boy. Still had the bare legs and short pants. And ...
He gave me a bad time. But anyway I got even with him. I was down the milking shed and I was learning to milk. And they had a very pet cow called Ruby that used to lick my back. And I used to take my shirt off. It was like sandpaper going over your back - this coarse tongue. That Ruby. I had a sort of affinity with this cow, but she gave me a lot of milk. And they always gave me an old cow to milk. It was easier to learn on because they were very full teats. You just had to squeeze them and it'd just run out of them. And so I used to go into the separation room and turn the separator, and the cream would go in one bucket and the skim milk in the other. That'd go to the pigs. And then while I was down there, I'd have gallons and gallons, drinking this skim milk down until I was full to the neck with skim milk. Well the girls had gone up to the house and left me there to clean up and while I was there, I was about to go out the door and I looked and I thought I saw this bird coming. And I shut the door. I looked through the keyhole and there's the darn thing looking at the cow. And it stayed there, wouldn't move. That blooming bird wouldn't move and I was terrified. Every time I opened the door there's this Peter, the companion, trying to get in. So anyway they came down to see what happened to me and rescued me. So they said, 'The thing is, you'll have to stay indoors'. One day I was picking up some wood for old Mrs. Carew. The firewood. And I heard a very familiar tread behind me, a crackle. I look up and here's this great beak looking down ready for the final thrust. 'Oh God'. So I reach out and grab what I thought felt, was his neck, felt like a rubber hose. And I held onto it so tightly that the brolga just fell down in a lifeless heap. And I knew how it felt because I'd had that happen to me once when I was being strangled. And next thing Mrs. Carew was hauling me off. She said, 'My bird, you're killing him'. There he was, nearly out to it. That bird nearly was nearly strangled. But I ... in my reaching out to grab, you couldn't miss it, it was such a long neck. You know, when I came up the following year, for another holiday, we were all met there at the front and out came Mrs. Carew and El with the flour on her apron and the scones - you could smell them a mile away. And there was Peter, instead of coming to the front, hiding behind Mrs. Carew. Every time he saw me, he kept out of my way. And she said, 'He's reformed. You don't have to worry about Peter any more and his jealousies'. So that's about the bird. Yeah.
So the Carews became the place you went on your holidays and you had this growing love of the country and country life. What happened to take you away from the orphanage and the planned career in the railways to become the country ...
Oh yes, I feel bad about that sometimes. I often wonder. We had to go back. Because those weeks passed very quickly and Jack was always such a wonderful shot with a rifle. And he was my hero, Jack Carew. Wonderful man. And they'd go to church on Sundays. One would stay home to milk the cows while the other went. And then we'd go to the dances and then hear the recitation of The Man From Snowy River. Oh that used to pass so quickly and when the day came I'd do everything I could to delay it so we'd miss the train. And we'd get in and he'd say, 'Come on, face up to it. You've got to go back. It'll come again. And we'll save all the rabbit skins up for you that they shot and they're all be put out there to dry and they'll all come up and be pocket money for you when you come back next year'. So with that thought in mind it wasn't so bad. And he'd take us back to Birregurra and we'd wait for the train to come. And as we got there, there was all the usual flood of tears. And Jim Cummings, of course. He wasn't as emotional as I was because he was very down to earth. He didn't care one way or the other. But anyway, we arrived back in Melbourne, the train ... We caught the tram because the Brothers trusted us you see, to come back. And I came back. This was the second year. The first time I went, right back, went into the gates. And this last time, my brother had come down from the country. He had gone many years before when he left my father. He had run away, gone up the bush and made a living for himself and really was great. In a place called Stewarton [?], Victoria, the Kelly country. And he was quite famous there for his breaking records in plough and shearing and whatever. And he came down to see the Principal to see whether he could take me back with him, being responsible, older than me. And they said, 'Oh no, no. We've got it all worked out for him. We've got him ... guaranteed a position on the railways'. So that ... I came back to this and they talked him out of it. They said, 'You can't take him. He's got all this that's going for him. He's going out to tech'. And so when we got near - we caught the cable tram. I said to Jim, 'Jim, I'm going to see my grandmother before I come back here, so I'll see you later'. So he went back. I took the tram out and saw my grandmother [whom] I hadn't seen for all those years. And oh, of course, there was the usual thing of, 'Come in. Oh doesn't he look like Emily' and 'I can see it all over again', and 'No he's more like his father'. Anyhow, they'd try and position you all the different ways of who you look like. But, 'Ooh isn't he lovely and tanned'. And I was standing up very proudly. I was a man, you know. I was thirteen. Thirteen. I was a man. And then grandma was going to get some money. Make a lot of money for gran. And all this. And of course she was looking after Ted and, of course, Ted come out. He was out of work. He was just living there. Everybody was so poor. Anyway, I said to her ... she said, 'Well, when do you have to go back?' I said, 'I don't have to go back 'til tomorrow'. So we were allowed out on weekends. So I stayed. It was glorious renewing the old times and my grandmother. Beautiful woman. She'd gone through a hell of a ...
Well I would have loved to have gone with my brother. I really would have. But I would have preferred to have gone back to the Carews. But you see they couldn't employ anybody. And I was a bit ashamed at the fact that my intention was to go anyway. To know that I ran away. It was going to be a hard thing to face them in later years. But I did think about what the Brothers had done for me. The St. Vincent de Paul Boys' Orphanage had given me character and it had given me a good schooling and although I didn't wait to get my Leaving, I had to go. But I look back on those days as the beginning of Smoky.
Your brother had come to ask could you come to the country with him. And the Brothers had said, 'No you couldn't'. They hadn't given you permission to do that. What were your own thoughts on the matter?
Well after I came back on this last journey to Urac, we went our ways. And I made my way out to Spencer Street Railway Station one morning and I got underneath the covers of one of those trucks. In other words I jumped a rattler. And I made my way up to Benalla. And before it got in there I jumped out and was surprised to find there were about twenty other hobos on the train too, all running in various directions. And I ran for my life, because I didn't want to be picked up. And I was to have met my brother and I couldn't see him there and so made my way down this road, which was the road to Shepparton: three chain, I'm using the word 'chain' - a very wide road, winding in a bit between ghost gums and things like that and buggies and trucks passing by. And along the road this man picked me up in a buggy. And he said, 'We've been looking everywhere for you', he said, 'Your brother sent me to pick you up'. His name was Frank Duggan. Frank Duggan.
Yes, he said ... He said, 'Well, your father won't get you here my boy', and along the road he met up with a few other farmers, who were having a congregation, spinning yarns and talking about the latest crop and what about the government doing this and doing that. And the farmer always gets a hard time. So I began to hear all about the farm problems, you know, and the man on the land. And eventually we arrived at this little cottage, in a place called Stewarton, which is about eight miles from the town of Goorambat, a railway siding, and Dookie. And I was to realise that this little Stewarton was also the place where the great Weary Dunlop was raised. He would later become my very dear friend. Sheepwash Creek. And Stewarton there, we settled down to a life. I felt for the first time in my life I was free and I was a man. I'd put my age up to fifteen. I was only thirteen.
Well when I arrived he said, 'You're a bit small for fifteen', and I said, 'Oh no, we're all small in the family, you know', and I said, 'I'm strong. I can do anything'. He said, 'Well, I'm going to teach you all you should know. Because ...' he said, 'We're having hard times now too', he said, 'And you can consider yourself as one of the family'. But being one of the family, of course, had its drawbacks because you didn't get paid. [Laughs]
Not a thing. But I did my bread and jam and a roast on a weekend and porridge in the morning, which I had to get up and get ready for them, apart from milking thirty cows on my own and then doing all the separation. Because I was boasting to him what I'd done at Urac. Big mouth. So Frank, he found in me a very, very lively candidate as a future employee that would work for him and give him a holiday. And he set out with a very wonderful kind of attitude. He had the right attitude that suited me. He always made me feel good. Whenever I did anything for Frank he gave me a pat on the back.
That's right. It's wasn't so praise, as the recognition that I was a man. And of course, all these kids are going to school. You know, I should have been still at school. And of course I had a horse to ride. They said, 'I've got this Trixie'. Oh yes I could ride. So he said, 'Well all right, I've got some work down for you at the Five Acre Paddock which is about five mile away', and he said, 'So Emmie will cut your lunch'. And he said, 'We have a lot of what they call Saffron Thistles', and he said, 'You know they're no good among sheep. So ...', he said, 'I want you to cut them down. So there's your water bag and take Trixie and there's your lunch'. So away I'd go. I had to watch Trixie coming home. So I got down there and I was all day cutting these thistles with this ... this slasher and I was getting sunburned and headaches and that. And my water bag would be drained in the first hour. And my lunch would all be under the tree in a bag. It was all, you know, gone hard - baked up. So I'd come home and get on the horse. And of course the horse got away with me. Fastest galloper I've ever been in my life. And I tore past this school in the hour. When I got near enough to the homestead, which was just a little skillion roof and a couple of shanties, I slowed her up sufficiently to make a jump. And I leapt off the horse. I never stayed with it because it seemed it was going on forever, like the road to Never-Never. So Trixie went and I just made my flying stunt leap and landed in the dust, on all fours. And I limped home and there was Trixie there at the haystack, chewing the lucerne. That was the first episode I ever had. But I learning ...
Oh, it was a hard way. And all the other chores came very quickly. You'd get out and milk the cows and Frank used to come ... make his appearance less frequent. He'd come back. He'd say, 'I thought you'd have them all done by now'. But I spent three years with Frank.
Well I was not intending to leave, but my brother, Peter, who by the way, had told everybody I was a great singer. And every Saturday night there'd be a dance at the Stewarton Town Hall. Or I say Town Hall - school house - where they had a violin and candle grease on the floor and they did the old sets, and I would sit there and wait in the doorway, too ashamed to pick up a girl 'til he put one right in my arms. And all I did was walk on her toes. And I had this watch chain that I won from the orphanage. Had a little ruby on the end of it - imitation ruby. And it had come out and left these two hooks which got caught in her frock and as I turned away, it just ripped her from top to bottom. Well, God, I had to go and hide myself. I felt so ashamed. And, of course, I was always there for suppers and things like that, of course. Always sung for my supper.
Yes. Everybody did something in those days. They'd get up and do the barn dance and all that and then drag me into it. And then they would ... One feller would get singing, sing some of the old songs: Scotch songs. And then they'd recite The Man From Snowy River and then I'd do my little bit.
Finiculi, Finicula and Little Brown Cottage and Good Morning, Good Morning ...
All those yes.
Well I had a real soprano voice. It hadn't broken. And it was a sort of halfway. Hadn't come to the yodelling stage then. [Laughs] And then I learnt to play the piano accordion - the old squeeze box.
Jack. Jack Carew taught me to play the mouth organ actually. He used to sit there and play the accordion when I was at Urac. And we'd sit in the dark of his room while he ... and he'd tell me all the stories of the outback and that and play the accordion. He used to play Click Go the Shears and then I learnt to play the mouth organ and the accordion and so when I went there I was well equipped for it.
Well, yeah. There was one of these hawkers who used to come down those days. And generally an Indian used to come round with his big caravan and with all sorts of things: shirts and bottles of scented oil and that and shoes. Instead of going into the town. And I'd saved all the money I was getting for my next job, when I left Frank, because five shillings a week soon mounted up. And I was able to buy myself a new shirt, patent leather shoes and this scented oil to put on my hair. And so I was fast becoming romantic.
Well ... say that again.
No I hadn't made any. All the songs I sang were handed down to me and I felt I did well. And recitations too. Plenty of that.
My brother came one stormy night, when I'd barricaded myself in because I was terrified of lightning, strangely enough.
Yes. And yet looking back as a child on that bridge in Clifton Hill I had no fear of lightning. I was sort of mixed up with it. It was all part of the night. But I had a great fear of this terrible way lightning was striking. And then you'd read in the paper where Mrs Grogan's cow was struck by lightning last night and he's only a hop, step and a jump from the barn. And I think, I could be next". So my inventive mind gave me ...
Yeah, I think so. It was all connected somewhere along the line. I think these things come back. They relate to former years. You know your mind takes in everything. Everything that comes into it is stored away and never brought on recall unless it's important.
Yeah, well he come in and I had the door barricaded and I had the dog in bed with me to protect me because I was terrified. We had an intruder prior to that. A feller that came ... came to the place looking for a job and he was a nutcase and we didn't know it at the time. And I was appalled that Frank had put him on and given him ten shillings a week, which was pretty good money, to do some ploughing for him. And I thought, 'He's had me all this time for nothing'. And then this feller came one night and woke me up and said that there was some intruders. 'Don't wake Frank', but he had the shotgun in his hand. He said, 'Now come out with me. You grab the pitchfork and we'll catch him. I saw him go round the back of the haystack'. So here we were in the moonlight walking in our nightshirts. He, with his shotgun, and I with a pitchfork - believing every word of it. And he'd say, 'There he is now!' and there'd be the shadow of an old cow or something. And he was seeing these things. He suffered from delusions. So anyway he said, 'You go 'round one way and I'll go the other'. Well you can see what would happen there. I came round to one corner there and I just see this shadow and I made one lunge with the pitchfork and he come round with the shotgun, just missed my head by that [HOLDS TWO FINGERS UP]. It woke everybody up. And of course the cows went scattering in the moonlight. And woke the farmyard animals up and the birds everywhere went for cover. And out came Frank in his nightshirt and says, 'You're crazy you two. What the hell are you doing there? Get inside, you idiots'. First time I'd ever been called an idiot. But this stupid feller had me. So Frank had to pack him off. He was a nutcase and they found he had escaped from the asylum.
Yes. He said to me, 'Where's everybody?' I said, 'They've all gone over to see his sister', who was at Dookie. Christmas Eve. 'And he's left you here like this?' I said, 'Yeah'. He said, 'Well you're not staying here one minute'. So he had a pushbike. He said, 'I've got a job for you with a feller called Les Todd. A big pub. A man who had a hotel he'd just sold and he had a lot of money. He built a lovely home and he had this little timid wife and it's their first child and he wants you to look after ... help his wife in the kitchen'. So here I was. Away from all the trauma of ploughs and shearing and this kind of thing and getting up in the morning. So he got me on [the bike] and dinked me over to Les Todd's place which was about a mile away. And took me in and he said, 'Les, here's Herb'. So I went in there and he said, 'Well, I'll give you five shillings a week'. He said, 'All I want you to do is ... You'll have a room to yourself and a lovely bed. You don't have to get up till eight o'clock in the morning. No cows to milk. [Just] be company for my wife'. He had to go to work. 'And ...' he said, 'And help her with the kitchen and whatever and when she has visitors or parties and things like that, or ladies for afternoon tea, you can help her wait on the table and bring in'. So I was doing that. So I was running in. She'd tinkle a little bell and then I'd come running and serve everybody and pour out the tea. I was well groomed. The orphanage had groomed me well. And I was well spoken. Still very shy. And they used to say, 'Where did you dig him up? Isn't he a nice boy?' And then of course the baby was the next problem though. Screaming. I had to go and give it its bottle. Poor little thing in a pram, and so when it had its drink I'd have to take it for a walk away from the house to calm her down.
No, that man in me come to the fore again. And I said, 'I'm not going to stand for this. I want to get back and be a man again', because it had got round the district that I was a nursemaid. So there was a fellow over the road called Sammy Johnson. He was one of the old soldier settlement cases: the farmer on the red hill. And he said, 'How much is Les paying?' I said, 'Five'. He said, 'I'll make it ten. No', he said, 'I'll make it seven and six. And', he said, 'All I want you to do is the milking', he said, 'And help my wife'. They all wanted me to help their wives. So anyway I went over to him. Well that was very ... I was very happy with Sammy. He was a lovely fellow. We used to often go into ... into a place called Benalla, where we met up with Ned Kelly's brother, Jim. Jim Kelly. The last of the Kellys.
They used to all tell me about Ned Kelly and then I started learning about this bushranger. But I never realised that that whole climate was still around there, that all the people in the district were tied up with him, that the relations of the Kellys were there and colourful as they were from the day they began.
Yeah, well, well here I am. I'll be eighty-one very shortly. And he was in his seventies. That's a very old age to a boy thirteen. With a long beard, sitting at the head of the table there, at the hotel in Benalla, with the gathering of the clan and all those sympathisers. There was a Ryan, a Peter Ryan and Martin Ryan. He used to breed the blood horses that took first prize at the Dookie Show. All had them lined up there for Kelly to make his getaway. And I was working for these people. And they were all associated, the sympathisers. They were locked up for being sympathisers.
Yes, one particular day, when one of the police were scouring out for Kelly - came across Peter Ryan's horses there, all tethered outside. Beautiful blood horses. And he said to Peter, he said, 'I'd get those horses and put them out of sight if I were you', he said, 'Because if Ned Kelly gets his eye on them you won't see them again'. He said, 'Oh that'd make a very interesting race. And I think my horses would win'. So they called him The Sympathiser.
No. This was a very colourful era. This was ... Still years later, after the death of Ned Kelly, the Glenrowan, the siege of Glenrowan, and the old home at Greta still stood, and old Jim was still out there. Jim was there. And I remember this man, he had very few words to say, but I was a boy just filled with adventure and to me he was a hero. What did he do? He was only sixteen when Ned was doing all his ... supposed to be doing all these terrible things and locked up for riding his horse on the footpath, little things like that. Put in gaol. And just as well perhaps, because he would have suffered the same fate of his brother. But I was to learn more about this later on, when I used to come in contact with the old Cobb & Co drivers and great people like Billy Kinnear in Melbourne. That's where I started to learn things and start to become a part of Smoky growing up. And I might tell you that's where I became Smoky because that's where I learnt to smoke. One night, a one night stand, that's all it was. Because Peter Ryan was always talking to me as I went by on my horse and he was always meeting me at the corner of this big paddock where he was harvesting. And he'd pull up and light up his pipe and he'd say, 'Come on and have a talk with me'. He said, 'Aren't you working a bit hard there? Frank working you hard?' And I said, 'No, no, I'm all right'. 'Mm'. And I said, 'The flies are something dreadful'. Out in the bush they are - the bush flies. And then of course I was making slaps here and there. They were in my ears and eyes and worrying the life out of me. And I said, 'How do you get rid of the flies Mr. Ryan?' And he was puffing away. He said, 'Use the old pipe'. He said, 'You want to try it sometime'. So that's what I did. Actually it was old Sammy that filled up the pipe for me. And he put dark Havelock tobacco in it. Filled it up. But he put a piece of horse hair in it, that I didn't see. Well I know, getting intoxicated with tobacco is one thing, but the smell of horse hair will always go through my mind. It's the most repulsive, repugnant [smell]. It was awful. And of course I, with deep breaths, filled my lungs up with it. I just about passed out. In fact I was sick for a week, sick for a whole week. And gone was Herbie, the transition of that little boy Herbie, who had come up so naive, so innocent, had learnt everything in the shearing sheds. Learned how to swear, knew when to raise his hat when anybody swore, remembering what he was taught at the orphanage. If anyone takes the name of god in vain, do the sign of the cross. And I was making it so often, so fast that I gave it up and I said, 'I have to make one sign and let it do the whole time'. On Sundays couldn't go into church. So bit by bit, all that went out of Herbie. It went and was put in the back of my mind, stored for future reference.
Everybody. I dragged myself around. I'll never forget it. I was just sick. Vilely sick.
Never smoked again. Never. I got to the point where I never wanted to touch a cigarette again. Maybe it was that horse hair. And my affinity with horses ever since, and this smoke - I couldn't get the taste out of my mouth and everywhere I went they'd say, 'Oh how's the Smoke today Herbie?'
Drink. Never. Never drunk. Alcohol was far from my mind. Just the smell of it.
So how did you deal with the fact that here you were with this great repugnance to drink, which must have been very much part of the life of the men after their day's work and so on? What did you do about that?
Well that's a strange thing. Do you know in all the time that I was there - it must have been happening, of course - I can't remember anyone drinking, see. Maybe I didn't see them. Maybe they were drinking somewhere else but I never saw that man ... never got near or filled up a glass of ale in front of me. Never had that. And knowing what drink had done to my father, the very smell of it alone used to turn me off. And so that combined with the tobacco ...
No. Well now and again and Dottie used to say on very hot days, have a light ale or something and she'd go for a piece of cheese or something. But never more. I've never been drunk in my life. I suppose you'd call that a reform ... Would you call it a reformed drinker?
Shandies and things like that, no. A glass of wine sometimes now. But you know I've learnt to have everything with tolerance, to never be obsessed or extremist in any direction. But I do believe in trying things out, experiencing them for your reference, and making your decisions on it. I think that the little boy in us, always looking for adventure. We all have that. Well I had mine with cigarettes. Well I never touched them. I wouldn't touch cigarettes anyway. And in future years I've come to find that this is the right thing. But Smoky was born, right that day.
No, as a matter of fact I was offered another job down with a fellow called Jack Payne, who ran the local post office. He was another veteran soldier and he asked me could I come and do the same thing for him and hand out the mail. And I thought: that's for me, the mailman, you know, because everything was horse drawn then. In come the coaches and things, and then have the mail bag, where you'd have to melt the wax, the red seal, stamped on the mail bag. And you threw it out to the cart as it came by and he'd throw out the other one and you'd undo it and all the letters would go into their pigeonholes, and you'd hand them out. The whole district - you knew everything. And then the exchange would ring and you'd plug into Mrs. Grogan or Mrs. Feldman. Oh Mrs. Riley, over here. Garden parties. And you could hear what was going on ... talking. And putting calls through from Benalla too, to Shepparton and I had the experience of it. It was a great thrill. I was getting ten shillings a week and all I had to do was help along there. No big chores like haystacks any more. And it was a wonderful time.
Ah well there, I said he was a benevolent man. He, this Jack, Jack Payne ... He said to me one day, he said, 'It's a long time since you ever had a holiday isn't it?' I said 'Yes'. He said, 'You've saved up all this money, what are you going to do with it all?' and I said, 'Oh I'm becoming a capitalist. I'll think I'll invest it'. He said to me, 'Well why don't you go for a holiday. Go down and dig up your grandma again', 'cause they all knew all about my whole story. And so that's what I did, paid my way down on the train, very important. Grown up, tanned, looking good, strong. I really was strong. Lifting big 200 pound bags of wheat on my shoulders, sewing up bags of wheat, fencing, digging holes, post holes, ploughing. My brother used to do it in the dark with a lantern. He was so conscientious. Everybody knew we were good workers. So anyway, when I got down to Melbourne I went to see Gran. I had all this money and I was able to give her some money. And she talked me into staying. She said, 'Oh don't go away again. I want my boy back with me'. So I remember at the orphanage there was ... there was a very generous donor, who helped the orphanage along. And he said, 'If any boy ever comes to me when they leave this orphanage and they are in trouble, we'll help them out'. And I went to him and I said, 'I'm looking for a job and I'm an old orphanage boy'. So he said, 'I'll give you an address', and it was down at Burnley. It was a tannery. And I went down there and they were Catholics too - this man and his son running a small tannery. And he said, 'Yep. I'll take you on. Thirty-five shillings a week and you work forty-eight hours a week'. I said, 'You mean I don't work Saturday or Sundays?' 'Only Saturday mornings'. Wonderful. I had Sunday off. Because in the bush it was daylight to dark, every day. So there was my first job. Lovely man. And that I owe to the orphanage and the people that said they'd help me out. And so that was the pass so I went there and spent two years at that tannery. Learnt how to tan skins. I learnt the trade. And then one day of course the Depression was getting worse and they were putting men off. So he said to me, 'I'm afraid I'll have to stand you down. Come back in a couple of weeks time and see what's happening then'. And I'd saved up my money. Bought myself a pushbike. I was going for bike racing, I wanted to be a cyclist then. And I also bought myself a suit at the Leviathan. It was something like five pound fifteen and you got an extra pair of pants with it. And I paid it off at three and six a week - three shillings and sixpence. That's not much today but it was a lot then. And out of that I paid a pound to my Granny for my board - out of my thirty-five shillings. So I still had a little bit of money to fraternise and go out to a dance or two. So that's what I did.
Well then becomes ... What is your love becomes your profession and I'd learnt to play the steel guitar. I bought a steel guitar - an Hawaiian guitar. There I had become raptured watching Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby films and hula girls and all. The magic of the islands caught up with me. And leis and perfume and jacarandas and orange blossom and all that. So I decided to learn the steel guitar. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
Oh I still used to sing. I used to go ... My brother and I used to go to a lot of parties too. And above other things too, I'd picked up a bit of ... a few magic tricks from Will Andrade and I was doing the disappearing balls in the mouth and the billiard balls and the egg in the bag and jumping in the box and disappearing. And I become Herabeto, the bungling magician. If it turned out all right I was good. If I made a mess of it, well they got comedy, you see.
I used to always entertain, wherever I went. I wanted to entertain. That seemed to be my goal in life. And of course, there's always birthday parties and things like that I'd be invited to. And they'd always ask me to sing. And of course I always revert to the old songs, but then I picked up one song that I used to sing when I was home with Granny, when I was working. And it was a Scotch song, which I later recorded in years after, called Granny's Twilight Song. It was a beautiful song and I think a film company here made a film of it and it was sent to overseas and the BBC played it and it got a mention in the paper. Some Scottish paper wanted to know who the singer was. Granny's Song of Twilight.
Well yes. I just took it as it came because I was very lucky to have the job. What was worrying me too that I had money I had to pay Gran. I couldn't ... she was only earning a pension, you know, and all the others were still living there too. So ... and I had this bike that I had to pay off. And I thought, Well I've got to do something better than that. So I go and learn. You know, do something else. So then we start taking in money and we'd go and do a party and we'd get paid probably seven shillings and sixpence.
The Coral Island Boys. That was the first. My brother and I - there were two of us. And we sang songs like ... which were the pop songs of the day called Gee But I'm Lonesome For You Caroline, Southern Moon Keep On Shining, and all that. They were the two things we knew well and we won with them on those, when we went in for the talent quests.
He was a very good singer. In fact Ted had a much richer voice than mine. He had more depth in his voice. But he never, never followed it up. He was always keen on jazz and more for the jazz kind of music and big bands. His heart was never sold in what we call Country Music today. But in those days, of course, it was wonderful to be recognised and to go first time on radio and be recognised as talent and to have a sponsor, which I later got. But ...
Well we made, a what do you call it, a demonstration disk which was done on acetate. I think they used bamboo needles then. A place called Fidelity: Fidelity Records. And this Jack Murray said, 'Listen I'd like to make a record of your act'. And we'd gathered in a few other people by the meantime. One was an accordion player. The other was a bass player and the other a violin player. Malcolm. And he said, 'What's the name of your band?' and for want of a word I called myself Smoky, Smoky Dawson. So I used what had been the link when I left the smoking, for my nom de plume in radio.
Yes. And he made this demo record and we took it up to 3KZ where I auditioned for it. And they said, 'Leave it with us'. I went back, waiting in my lonely cabin, waiting for word to say that I got the job. And they rang me back and said, 'We have a sponsor for you. Have you ever heard a programme called Pinto Pete?' And I said, 'Yes, I listen to it'. It was sponsored by Pepsodent toothpaste, the American company. And he said, 'They're very, very keen to give you a a contract because they like your program better than Pinto Pete because it relates to the Australian landscape and so forth'. And I was to learn that this was the first broadcast live of a western group in Australia. National sponsored. And so we went further than that. So I wrote all the scripts, with all my training with writing, and acting and I did all the sound effects that I'd learnt in the bush. I had the horses galloping in and the crack of a whip and the crows noises and that. And I'd take off different voices, like Grandpa. And my brother would take off another voice. So we made a lot of people out of just a few people. Around the campfire.
Well I had a pushbike. I was paying off a pushbike at five shillings a week. And I joined the Brunswick Amateur Cycling Club and it wasn't long before I was winning races, thirty-three milers and I never thought that I could ever do a thing like that. And then, Hubert Opperman came into my life. I was a great admirer of Hubert Opperman. He was the most wonderful man ever. And I thought: If I could only be as good as Hubert. So I turned professional and I joined the Collingwood Pros and I set about on some of the big races, one particularly - the Warrnambool to Melbourne, which was one of the world's greatest classic cycling races. And you know, to ride that 165 miles non-stop is really a marathon - was in those days, because the tyres we used were like those garden hoses. We didn't ... and worst of all of course was the amateurs who weren't allowed to have a free wheel. You had a fixed wheel and just one sprocket so whatever sprocket you put on, you had to push into it. That was hard. And I'd been through that and when I turned pro, of course, I was allowed to free wheel. But we didn't have like today: the changing gears. It's all we had. And you'd carry your spare tyre around your shoulders and you had your bidens in the front and your cap down and your goggles on, and may the best man win. So I joined up, as I say, with the Collingwood Pros. And I met up with a man called Buzzer Bent, who is still alive today and just sent me a photo the other day of us together. And great memories. And he was one that used to ride with Hubert Opperman too. And he said to me, 'Now look what about us joining together and forces. I'll be your ... I'll be your what you call, guardian man'. So I said, 'Right'. So in other words if I want to win, he'd block the others. It was all tactics then, when the professionalism come into it. So apart from riding 165 miles, you had to be on your guard that you could get a breakthrough to get through and not be blocked: learning the tactics. So the Warrnambool to Melbourne brought back some very happy memories because that was where I saw the first daylight when I was a child. And I hadn't been back there all that time. And here I was coming back as a full-fledged, grown-up cyclist. And I had to rise at 6.30 in the morning and we'd ridden down there to get the feeling of the thing, so it was a good training exercise. And I was on the seventeen minute mark, which really wasn't too bad considering that the limit was about 110, well over an hour start. But because I was winning so many races they kept putting me back and I was just at seventeen minutes ahead of the scratch men, which was Hubert Opperman, Freddy Lamb and Ozzie Nicholson. They were the three great riders. And I thought that, well, I guess that Oppie will catch up to me, no doubt about that. At 6.30 we were on our mark in the dark and they set us off and away we went. It seemed no time when we were coming into Colac and there was a prize for the first rider under seventeen minutes to go through Colac. Now the happy memories of Colac, of course, was Urac. That's where I came up in those days and I thought of the wonderful people and little did I know that they were there to see the race and to see me, just win there by a tyre - the sprint race into Colac. The first sixty-five miles. And by that time I had really just started to warm up. So I must have been in good condition. Along the way, what I do when I was riding, all my songs were coming back to me. As I pedalled away I just made up songs. So if you shut your mind off from these kind of things, you can do so many things that don't need a lot of attention, you know. So I got to the rhythm of the song and I probably write a song while I was doing it. That helped a lot. By the time I got to Geelong, I'd broken away from the main bunch, which I'd picked up, stragglers along the way. At Cameron's Hill in Colac they're always there to feed you. They were called the Feeding Station. Jam tins filled up with bread and milk and you just drank it down as you went by and kept on pedalling. We come down through Winchelsea and they'd done the road up for something like five miles of loose gravel. And Winchelsea is very windy and, of course, the speed coming through there was really fantastic. You know, let your head go and down you went. And somebody got into the loose gravel, out in front of me, and the whole pack come down. About thirty of us all come down the bunch. I pulled myself out of there and straggled on. One feller out, his leg through a sprocket and his hands through a chain. A lot of casualties there. I was very lucky. I got a lot of gravel rash, but I never felt it. It's a strange thing you know when you're excited and your out to win, you don't notice it, do you? I just pedalled all the harder and got myself out there and by the time I got to Geelong I caught up with two other stranglers and formed another bunch. When I got to Werribee, it's only about twenty miles from the finish, I was out in front on my own. And I took the back road across, the Bacchus Marsh road, the Ballarat Road, and there, the race ended at Sunshine and with five miles to go, I was in front. And The Herald car was coming along behind me saying, 'Keep it going, son. They're five minutes behind: the big pack'. Ozzie was leading them. Ozzie Nicholson, Freddie Lamb and Hubert Opperman and all the stragglers hanging onto them. I used to go out with Oppy on weekends in training, so I thought, well if I don't win it, at least I'll come in with Oppie. And I got ... I did a fatal thing - I was that dehydrated I got off the bike to have a drink of water. I was just dehydrated. And I went over to a dam by the side of the road, which from recent rainfall had filled up, and filled myself ... had a gutful of water and I went flat. I got on my bike and I found it so heavy. I should have kept going. And anyway I could see in the distance the Dunlop Road Race and ... but all the lovely feelings of winning was going very quickly for me. It was dying fast because I was hungry. I was cold. I'd been sitting on this narrow blooming seat, you know. It was one of those occasions where bikes weren't as good as they are now. And the next thing I knew there was a big pack coming up behind me and Ozzie Nicholson and Freddie Lamb with Hubert right up in the front. And as you know they pace. They all lead each other. I remember a voice calling out, 'Hook on son', and I did. Oppie was up in the front. I swung back. I got into the pack. Once you get into the pack you've got a draught, a wind. You can free wheel and just run along, because there's no head wind. See, what I was doing was riding the race on my own. I didn't have a team to work with. Had I been with Oppie I might have gone further. So I come in. Well I finished with all the bunch. I didn't win the race. But I rode three Warrnambools and that was my last one. And when I came out I walked over to get my wheel checked. They examine the seals on you're ... They were very, very careful in those days. You couldn't have a car give you a spare wheel or anything like that. You'd change the tyre. You had to start with what you had. Everything was above board. And the roads were rough and tough. They weren't like they were now. I walked over to check in the tent and I don't remember any more. I passed out. And it seems I had ... I thought I had heart failure. I went to be insured and the doctor said to me, 'What sort of work do you do?' He said, 'I don't think I could pass you'. I said, 'Why?' He said, 'You've got a bumpy heart'. A bumpy heart. He said, 'What sort of work you do?' I said, 'Well it's not work actually, it's a sport. I'm a bike racer'. He said, 'Ah that accounts for it. Too many sprints'. Anticipation working. I'd go and dream of a night that I was winning it and the sheets'd be up on my legs and I'm pedalling away. I'd run my race the night before. So what happened to me, see, I drained myself. So, I'd notice I'd be lying down and my bed would be rocking with my heart. It'd bump - bumping all the time. And I had that for a long, long time. I gave up cycling because of that. Although I had ridden some bigger races. Like the thousand mile bike race over the Australian Alps. Oppie was in that with us. And we used to do 120 mile one day, 150 from Bairnsdale to Melbourne. Down, eight round laps in Como Park and I was so fit. I was really fit. And the bike was my love. But all that time I must have written about fifty songs. That was when my music had kept me going. I found that music ... you know, think of a world without it. It's infinite isn't it? Music has that one soothing feeling it gives to us. When you're in love and all that kind of thing. But you can shut yourself off from the world with good music. And that's what I did. I used to put my head down and forget about the road and just go on singing to myself. And I'd wake up and another five mile had gone. That's the story of the bike. I tell you what: it's been a good grooming for me and it also gave me a wonderful friendship. I must look up Oppie some day. I haven't seen him for a long, long time.
The music has been going ever since. As I say, it's infinite.
Well then of course I had this steel guitar. And I loved that steel guitar. Of course that's when I was telling you about the islands was calling. Dorothy Lamour.
Well I took up playing the guitar. I bought a guitar for five shillings a week. A Hawaiian steel guitar - not a pedal, on the level. And I learnt to play all those wonderful [songs]: Goodbye Hawaii, and Aloha, Alohi, I Love You and all this kind of thing. And my brother took up the Spanish guitar, and we'd become a duo. And we called ourselves The Coral Island Boys. And we entered the professional and amateur parade on 3KZ Melbourne. And we finished up with a bigger team than we started with and called it The South Sea Islanders. And we got through to the finals with it in the instrumental section. And the only people that beat us was a couple called Lal Chieri (?) and Lou Campara - the two Ls. And he's still around, the Camparas. And Toppano. And they won, and we were runner up to them. But out of that emerged ... Dot came in there to help me. And we put sound effects into it. As always, I was always a man that likes to put atmosphere into my programmes. So we invented a theme that would give us that lovely sound of waves coming up on the beach to Waikiki. So we got a little box made with the flywire, you know, and we poured out some shot out of a cartridge and poured that over there and just tilted it up and down like that in front of the microphone. And the effect was shhhh, just like the waves coming in. And over that we got Terry Dear to say what I'd written: 'Aloha, aloha. This is the voice of the islands'. And we'd come in with Beautiful, Beautiful Little Hawaii and we had a wonderful team and Dot was part of the team. And has been ever since.
Well the money was there. I was doing everything for love at the beginning. And you know what love is don't you? You do anything for love. Then I found that, you know, you had to pay your rent too. And we were staying in a little place up in Lygon Street, not far from where Squizzy Taylor was shot. Six musicians out of work at the time. Whoever got a job fed the others. And we were all lined up around this ... the room for six shillings a week. And we'd have six people. One would play a trombone, the other a clarinet. And one would rush in of a night and he'd say, 'Guess what, I got a job! We eat! We eat!'. Yes so I turned pro because I had a band to think about. And this was a bigger band, growing bigger and bigger all the time. Of course when we won that, with The South Sea Islanders, I was invited then to do a western. Up to that time I hadn't used Smoky Dawson. And I just had that first, what they call, thing that I put down on Fidelity as a thing. And the campfires. So Pepsodent picked it up. It went and they used The South Sea Islanders too.
Pepsodent became my first sponsor. They were the one that kept my teeth in order. Now look, I still have them. And you might say that my teeth have outlived the product, because they don't make toothpaste anymore. Not Pepsodent. So I think that they did me a bit of good. They were my first sponsor. Dot was my second sponsor.
Well she wouldn't marry me. She said either adopt me or she would sponsor me.
Well she was on the station. Actually before that we had met on what they call an amateur station: the hams. Every Sunday morning in Victoria, in Melbourne, the ham stations used to come on early in the morning and go off at ten o'clock. That was about the time the commercial stations used to come on air. But you see it was very Victorian in climate then. No work was allowed on Sundays, trams didn't run until midday, church bells rang on Sunday morning at the cathedral. And there was nothing virtually on Sundays. But the ham stations had to get off to allow the commercials to come on. So a fellow called Chris Rainbow had this big amateur station out at West Preston and he invited us to come over and try our talents. And when I got there of course, there was Dot. And she was doing drama. She had her sister Jean with her and they did little French sketches, you know. And my brother and I had walked five miles, carrying our guitars, all the way from East Melbourne, only to get there and [be] told that they couldn't fit us in because Miss Cheers and her sister was on. And I went grrrr. Didn't know that I was going to marry her one day.
Florence Cheers, I'll have you.
Well Dot ... She was called Dot because when she was born she was so small compared to the rest of the family, they called her The Dot. And she's been affectionately named that ever since. It's a short way. But no one calls her Florence. That's a beautiful name, Florence.
Oh not at the time.
My brother said, 'Get this sheila off. Gee, we walked, look how far we've walked, carrying this'. And Chris Rainbow said, 'Never mind. Mother's made a big banquet for you'. And they had the local brass band, anybody who could play a mouth organ. Anybody could go on and do their act. And this is where we ... we sat in the middle of a room with a little crystal set and broadcast. And this Chris Rainbow is alive to this day and he always says to this day that he acted Cupid for us. And this is how we first met. Then we went to 3KZ auditions. She got in doing sketches on there. And then I got sponsored by Pepsodent, which went for three years. And oh, every front of the The Radio Times and the Listener In was always, 'She is the wife of Smoky Dawson, Florence Cheers'. And she went to 3KZ. She become in charge of the children's programmes. So she was with a feller called Norm Swain, known as Billy Bouncer. She was June, named by Terry Dear for want of a name. 'We'll call her June'. We were all on the one station. And honky tonk, on they'd come, Children's Hour. And it'd be June - Billy Bouncer and Auntie June. And then Smoky the Cowboy. So there we were. We had this kind of triangle.
Oh no, no. No, it was a long drawn out experience I can tell you.
Well she had doubts as to my ability in being able to speak as well. Or to perform. And I couldn't convince her that two could live for the price of one, not in a Depression. And might I say about the Great Depression, bad as it was, it taught us a lot. You know I think today, looking back at the recession, it's only in times of that, of the Great Depression and big catastrophes like the war and all that, that we find that wonderful characteristic that Australia is known for, and that's mateship. It was very, very evident there. Long before we had the cars. It disappears the moment you get to the wheel. It existed and has existed here with recent fires. Mateship comes to the fore. And the Australian character is identified readily. But in those days everybody shared everything with everybody. It was one of those wonderful periods in my life, remembering how I used to go down the street, with Dot, you know, and take bowls of soup to people down the road. And there was always that. And her father did the same thing. Everybody cared about each other, you see because there wasn't much. Nobody had much. So we were all on the one level and when you get on the one level, then you have family. And this is what's gone wrong with the world today, is that we've lost that, in some sense. The values. The simple ways of life and how to get by. Either we want too much. We all want things rather than what we need. So we had the old, what do you call, the old ice chest we used to have. And Coolgardie safes with the old piece of canvas and hessian down the back, where the water went down and cooled the butter inside. We got by with it. And we all washed out things out with our hands. I still do it. I still don't use much my clothes washer here. I just wash daily and simplify it. I was brought up in the days of washing boards and we worked hard. But it was a good, clean way of living and everybody seemed to have more love for each other. Maybe.
Oh she was magic. I didn't know whether I'd ever get her you know. Because she was so ... she was so tall and stately. She carries herself well and she was doing a lot of ... you know, she was modelling. You know, she used to be dancer, she was the first Darryn girl down there in Melbourne, when they had all these things on the show and they had these frocks coming and she'd put them on. And then of course they'd be all ... everybody racing for them. They'd nearly drag her off to get it. So, and then she used to come home through the gardens, the Alexander(sic.) Gardens, with her lunch. I always waited for her, because she gave me my lunch. And she always shared an apple with me. You know, she'd peel the apple. I was at the YMCA where I got some cheaper diggings. Dot had a school of music but it wasn't going too well until I got started. But she stood by me. She's so wonderful and she'd be there. I'd see her coming with the basket after she did her work. She was getting a pound a week. Then she'd come over there in the gardens and open up her little hamper and there were all these lovely sandwiches, like she's doing now. And she'd always have that apple. She'd peel it all. Cut it in half. 'Here's yours. There's mine'. And this is the way we've lived our lives. Sharing apples. We share everything. Because there's so much ... that's what she wanted to say to me about getting married then, you know. Unless you can do that. And she didn't think that I'd be mature enough. I don't think she thought that I was mature enough as a businessman, because I was too wrapped up in fantasies and love and building bridges and things that she didn't realise that some of my bridges would turn into realities. Which they have in the long run.
Oh crazy age there: about nineteen. Think you know all. You know, you think you're grown up until somebody tells you, 'Oh you're only a kid. You're only a baby yet'.
Well yes. Well I thought she said that because she was mature to me, very mature. And of course I must say that I was ... I'd been absent of a mother for a long time and I hadn't had any girlfriends. She was my first girl, so it was a great experience for me and a great triumph when I brought it off. But it took a war to do it.
Oh yes you do. Impulsive youth. 'Let's get married'. Don't worry about whether you can keep her or not.
Oh yes, the voice: 'Beware. Go back. A lot of thing left to be done first'. But she'd come and we'd see each other a lot and I'd be at her home a lot and her mother ... I'd talk to her mother and we'd sit by the fire, poking the embers and I'd wish her mother would go to bed and leave us alone, and she wouldn't. [Laughs]
I grew on her. I wore her out. No, I'll tell you what it was. After about nine years of it, 'til in the end I didn't ask any more because I was still getting this. It was rather a difficult period for me to keep my self-respect and feel I was important without being dragged down, that I was using the wrong words. And I was always looking up the dictionary to see what it meant. You know, and that business of coming and saying, 'Guess what I done?' was really put in order. And she said, 'You didn't done it, you did it', which sent me into confusion because I used to turn around and say, 'I didn't did it at all'. 'Now you're getting worse. Forget about it'. So she'd keep pulling me up on these things. So, one day, the war had broken out and they start thinking differently, don't they. I think: Ah, she'll think more of me now, I'll enlist. And so I was hoping they wouldn't take me. [Laughs] So I said to her, 'What about us getting married?' And she looked shocked. We were sitting down there. I think it was Mordialloc, or somewhere down there ... or Mentone, on the beach, watching the seagulls, tide coming in and out, you know, looking out to sea and my thoughts on her and I said, 'What about us getting married?' And she said, 'For what reason?' And I said, 'Well I love ya'. And that's when she put me down. She said, 'It is not ya, it is you'. Not ya. So I didn't ask her any more until I got enlisted and I come home and I said, 'As a married man, if I go overseas I get one and six extra a day. What about it?' It's marvellous what they'll do for money. [Laughs] It did it. But she said, 'I wish you wouldn't have rushed me'.
Nine years of it. Then the war was on. I was up in Darwin. A few bombs were falling here and there and I come back. And I hadn't married her. I was still in the army. And I come down and I [say], 'Get ready to get married. Now, because I'm on leave'. So I remember as I got down nearer to Melbourne I raced home and there she was. And had to be the next day because I only had a certain ... about a week off. And I had to be back in Sydney at the barracks here. And so she said, 'You know what you've done to me? Here we are, we've got this coupon business ...' You had to have coupons to buy material. 'I've got no wedding frock, nothing. I'll have to make one'. And that's what she did. 'And you're not supposed to see me the night before'. And I didn't see what she was making but she'd bought this lovely little veil of lace and that there. And did a little shortie. That's all I could afford. Borrowed other people's coupons. These were the blackouts too. The war was getting on. Japan had come into it. And I thought: Well, there you are, don't want to ever forget. And the next morning there I was in my uniform, up there in Collins Street at the Congregational Church, standing out in the front, waiting for the bride. And I hoped she hadn't changed her mind. And there she came in all her glory. I tell you what - it was the most beautiful day of my life. I said, 'Now two will live for the price of one,' because I got the Army to help me. [Laughs]
Ah, what a beautiful place. A place called Yarra Junction. We used to often go up there: Warburton, near Warburton and up the Acron Way, a beautiful part of Victoria. And there's enormous bush fires up there too. We had built a little cabin up there. I called it My Little Old Log Cabin In The Shadow Of The Pines, which I wrote a song about - my going away and coming back. And there we went on our honeymoon. When we got married in the church by the way. Henry Evans - he was an old Welshman ... and Dot had often gone into the pulpit to read the lesson. She was one of those girls you know. That's what she was. She was all going round with the Methodist Men's Choir, dressed in her evening frock. Going into the ABC of a night and doing ... she had to go and do a ten minute spot on air. She'd catch the tram in full evening dress. And nobody could see her in studio. And she'd do this little Florence Cheers: her sketches, and come back again. And so I thought, dear oh dear.
That was the shortest honeymoon. I had three days honeymoon and a little boy that she took along with us ... He was only about six. His mother was very sick. And this is where Dottie was trying to help somebody else out - took this child with us, on our honeymoon. Young Ray, sharing my honeymoon. I'll never forget it. Oh he used to play. We had three pine trees up there and he used to swing in these in old rubber tyres and that. It was good to see him about, you know. And ...
Oh terrible. It was terrible because it all went so quickly. You see, I kept telling myself how we waited all those years, all the years waiting to get her, now I'm going away. I might lose her. And so I ... we promised that when we went, what we would do ... We just had an embrace, a kiss. And I was loaded up like a bloomin' camel. I had everything. She even made me a great pillowslip. Enormous. It could be my sheets, so I wouldn't be eaten by the fleas up in the camps. Always had that. Trying to be a mother to me. You can imagine what the soldiers would say when you come to a camp and you got sheets. Anyway, I walked down the hill down there. I hear the whistle of the train down ready to go. And here's Dot, looking me over and she said, 'You can't carry it all. I'll help you down with it'. I said, 'No'. I had my guitar with me. I had my bayonet and my rifle and my respirator and a gas mask and steel helmet. And then my roll of blankets, army coat because it was winter time and away down the hill. One kiss and we promised we wouldn't look back at each other. Go. I couldn't bear it. And I walked down. It was one of those very cold frosty mornings and as I got down towards the station, I could hear the old train coming down. You could see the smoke up round through the hills, puffing away and whaa, whaa, you know. And I could see it was getting nearer and nearer. And as I got to the station I thought I'd never make it, you know. And the train pulled in and it was these old carriages, single doors, and I couldn't get through the darn door with my pack. There was two elderly ladies inside and they helped me in. And I took off all the gear, sat down in the corner seat with the window, looking up onto the hill where I'd come. And I saw the pine trees and I saw her up there standing. And oh, the big tough soldier burst into tears, and I cried and I cried and cried. And the two old ladies started crying too. 'Poor boy going off to war'. I never thought I'd ever see Dottie again I'll tell you what. And do you know that kid, that Ray, he spent about seven years with Dot. He become part of the family. When I come back he was still there. Had my honeymoon and all my life. [Laughs] That's the funny side of things, but I didn't feel that way when it happened, I tell you what. It was ...
It was my anchor, it was my life, you know. I was really going away and so were many others too. And I saw all these fellers going away and we didn't know - destination unknown - we didn't know where we were going even.
Before we get you to the war, I'd like to go back and pick up on what was happening with your radio career at this time because I wanted to ask you another question about that. And we'll get you up to date and then we'll go to war.
How was it for a young guy from the country who could sing and knew how to bring a band together and knew how to make a really good programme, but knew nothing of business as far as I know? How did you manage the business side of it?
Oh yes, I did. You know that almost slipped my mind. Yes I did have a business. It was a school of music. You see that's one thing about music, I did learn music and the orphanage taught me to read music and write music. So I was a musician and I had wonderful musicians with me. They were all the best that you could get around in Melbourne in those days and nobody thought about the word 'country or anything like that. They were just straight out musicians. They could play jazz, anything at all and they'd harmonise. You write parts. We read our parts. And I'd formed this wonderful group and the show, after we'd finished with Pepsodent, went on to be ... The station carried it, it was so good, that they did a barter system with me. And I opened up a school of music just a few doors down in Elizabeth Street, not far from where 3KZ was, and we opened this up as Smoky Dawson's Hillbilly Club, in which you could learn to play anything from a jaw harp, a Jew's harp, a mouth organ up to a piano and vice versa. And we even sold instruments. And so we had about 2,000 square feet of dance floor above Don McKellar's Dancing School, right in Elizabeth Street near the terminus, almost near Flinders Street Railway Station. So it was a wonderful spot. Now KZ gave us free publicity for us to do a Sunday program and we kept going. The Smoky Dawson Band became a very viable one and of course we got a lot of jobs from it. We did a lot of songs with the ABC. We had contracts with Colin Crane on The Hillbilly Cabin. We took over from Freddie McIntosh and the Rhythm Boys and we went into Coconut Grove, and all the big shows around Sydney all engaged us. And then when the war came like this, I had to leave that behind. And I had this big school of music where I was teaching. I couldn't pay the rent because I had to go out. So they transferred me to a smaller building and I put my name on the door: Smoky Dawson School of Music and I took private ... just private students until I was about to go. And I had a partner who was a Mormon preacher. But he was a musician with the ABC and he really had me on. I thought he was a lovely fellow. And he said, 'Look ...' Of course his conscience wouldn't allow him to go away. War that was a violent thing. So he wasn't in it.
Last time you described how a young man set out for war, and joined two old ladies in a railway carriage, and weeping as he left his bride behind. What was ... Where were you headed for and how did your war begin?
Destination unknown. We were told to assemble at Pagewood in Sydney here, among the sandhills, under the captaincy of Captain Jim Davidson, who used to be leader of the ABC Band. And he got together what was known as the First Australian Army Entertainment Unit. But they were drawn from all parts of the army. Anybody who could entertain was suddenly put into this particular army division. And we were to ... to boost up the morale of the boys in the islands. You see the war had got to a pretty bad state at the time. Japan was very close to Australia. It was a turning point in whether we'd become a free country - keep our free country or be under the rule of Japanese. It was very strong and we knew that wherever we were going it'd be in the fighting zones. And although we were classified as soldiers first ... We all had our jungle training. I had a big schooling in army medical. I was number one stretcher bearer in the early days. It had been like,following my father's footsteps in a way, and so when I was suddenly plucked from that and brought into the Entertainment Unit, and they told me I was going to have a wonderful time, I believed them, except for the fact that the war might go on longer than we might think and I might never see Dottie again. So on the train that morning when I saw her on the top of the hill and I poured my very soul out and those two ladies weeping with me - because they had two nephews who had gone away ... By the time I got into Melbourne to pick up the threads and say goodbye to Dot, I had left all that behind. Now I was on the real ... the march northward, destination unknown. So we arrived in Sydney and we were escorted by the Provos and marched all the way down to the Sydney Showgrounds, where we were all inspected health-wise and I was a B2 at that time. I wasn't A1.
Well the fact is that I didn't pass the medical A1, when I joined the army.
Well they had doubts about my ticker. Now if you remember I was talking about my earlier escapade, riding pushbikes, in which I passed out. And the insurance company had doubts about whether they should insure me because I had a bumpy heart. Well this, of course, put me through a bit of ... a little bit of unpleasantness because the doctor at the time at the drill hall told me to strip off and stand in the corner, naked, and jump six times in the air, like a bouncing animal. How ridiculous, you know. The damage you could do to certain portions of your body anatomy didn't help me any. And Pro Hart did a wonderful job of that illustrating it in my book. But it was ridiculous why the doctor would want me to do that because I thought I'd probably end up with a rupture anyway. And when I got there and I was so breathless he put his machine onto me and came up with 'You've got a weak heart'. 'But', I said, 'I didn't know I had a weak heart. I'd rather have a very strong heart and be fighting fit and do what I can for my country', and he said, 'Well I think we will send you and have you put in a place where it'll be a non-combatant unit, in the army medical'. So away I went down to Darvey and they said, 'Oh you're going to have a lovely time'. They found out I was Smoky Dawson. And of course when I got down there I had to sing songs and I become very popular round the camp. Then we started learning all about the vertebras [sic] and how many vertebras [sic] you've got and your nervous system, your digestive system and every system under the sun and I passed with flying honours. And after that, of course, I was about to go overseas to New Guinea.
Fantastic. I think the only time it beats a little bit fast is when I look at Dottie. [Laughs] But it did palpitate a lot and a lot of things, and I do still have a bit of a bumpy heart. But it hasn't hurt me any. My doctor assures me that I'm strong as a Mallee ox. And I've taken his word for that. I have survived, but as you say, where was I going, where did I go. Well we didn't know at the time 'til we were all assembled there down at Pagewood and out came Jim Davidson and said, 'Attention everybody. Just stand at ease and I'll just tell you what's happening. First and primarily you are soldiers. You've all had your training. And we have added to that', he said. 'You will be going and be split up into various combatant units or non-combatant units. You will be entertaining and wherever there is a fighting zone, where you may be caught, you will have ... have organised where you will have somebody with you to escort you here and there. But first of all, if you happen to be caught in those areas, you'll have to fight your way out. Not I'm telling you you're going to be fighting. But', he said, 'You could end up in it'. So I said, 'All right'. Davidson was a great psychologist. He always built you right up and made you feel fantastic and then he'd pull you into his office and pull you down to the lowest. Now he said, 'Now we're going to make the B1s, the big bands', and they had complete symphony orchestras. They had people from all walks of life, who had been in the Middle East, ex-commandos, all pulled out to do entertainment. So they were well skilled in army. And we still had our army routines to do of a morning. We'd get up and do a five mile march. We had to do sentry duties on the gate. Ridiculous, of course, because you could walk in the back in the door over the sandhills without going through the front gate. And many a time I did some soldier's leave for the price of seven and sixpence. It wasn't too much money. Or ten bob or somebody's dungarees and his uniform. And so, you know, earn a little bit of money while you were away. So this is why we were assembled until we were then told where we were going.
And then he said, 'Well you're going north. You're going to the islands. But to go to the islands you have to be A1'. So I was formed into Number 10 I think it was, Troubadour Party, along with five others. And we were self supporting. We had native carriers to carry our gear. And we had ... I'm talking about rifles and things like that too, and greatcoats and our respirators, to go into a hot climate. I couldn't believe it. Because at that time we didn't know the Japanese wouldn't be using gas. So ... but they could have found out from General Melford, who was in command of the divisions there fighting in Borneo, where we eventually went.
Ah yes. Well that was one of those little manoeuvres you see, knowing people in high places. Davidson said, 'Now of course you have to be A1 to go overseas'. Well that were already doing this in New Guinea and it was overseas but you see it was still Australian Capital Territory. Beyond that you come into a different category. And so they marched us out with a little note from him to the medicals. Out of the Showgrounds. And they just said, 'How do you feel?' 'Good'. 'Okay. A1'. And I wasn't A1. I was really not fit to go into that kind of climate, for a start. I wasn't fit to stand up to the conditions too, because I found I had a low blood pressure. That was there all the time. And there were a few other things - ingrown toenails that nearly killed me. And I know a few soldiers that didn't go away because they had flat feet. I would have swapped them for a flat foot, instead of having ingrown toenails. And despite the fact that I was in the army medical and they said, 'Oh you'll get that and you'll get all your haemorrhoids and all those done free', and I never got them done at all. It cost me money in the end. after the war was over. to get them done. However we assembled one morning and they said, 'Right. You're in transit. That means in transit you're going North. You're going. Prepare. If you have anything to do you'll have leave around in Sydney, but no soldier goes any further than that'. Well I said, 'I'm going to see my Dottie. I'm not going to leave her down there and never see her again'. So I planned a little thing where I might sneak on a train and avoid the Provos and the Military Police and get down to Dottie, who was living just at West Brunswick, which is a hop, step and a jump from Royal Park. And how did I do that? Well there's only one way that you can escape the Military Police, is just join, join the troops that are going down south in transit, which I did. And I waited for the first troops coming through all marching along there in Central here. And the Provos marching along with them. And I fell in step with them and I said to my ... to the next soldier to me, I said, 'Willie, lend us your rifle'. So I carried that and next thing I was told what to do. They put me on the train. A Provo put me on the train. 'Get in there soldier'. I said, 'Yes, sir'. That's how I was. Then, until a lieutenant decided to check up and see how many was in the carriage and there was one more than there should be. So 'Quick', I said, 'Fellers, for God's sake hide me'. So the three on this side of the seat here, got up and put me on the seat and sat on me with their greatcoats over the top of their knees while the lieut on the other side was, 'Righto soldier, what unit do you belong to?' and I'm nearly suffocating under these three heavy louts sitting on top of me. All I could see was this feller's knees. And I thought I'd die, all this suffocating, until he got up and went. And that's how I did it all the way down to Melbourne.
Always. And the things that I did, you know. You see I had learnt a lot since a child. If I may recall having said to you prior, in my earlier life, when your back's to the wall, you become very inventive. And it pays. You do what they call lateral thinking. Not the positive. The last straw. Anything will work.
About two hours. All for the sake of that I could have put ... been put in the boob and been run around with a pack on my back and soldiers, Provos, whipping me along. And bread and water. [Laughs] I missed all that.
She said, 'What are you doing back here?' I said, 'Oh I can't bear it. I've got to stay with you. I've got to see you again'. And I said, 'And I've worked out what time the next troops going north will be going, coming from Camp L'. Camp L was just around the corner. That's where I first went in. And so I watched for it, said goodbye and ran like anything all the way up there and waited. Then I saw the next lot of troops all going north. And they got over here at Royal Park and I fell in with them again, and put into a carriage. Whole trouble though is that when I got to Albury we had a change of gauges. The rail didn't go right through on the same gauge. So we all had to get off. And it all started again: the process of being numbered again, who's in what carriage and what. And so I had to invent things and of course the place where they look is generally in the toilets to see if there's anybody hiding or going AWOL. And this time, after having a lovely breakfast which was provided, on the platform there at Albury, we were all put back in the train again. So I got back in the train, new train of course, and this time I was put up in the rack ... on the rack with all the feller's luggage on top of me. And I could spy down and see it all happening. This is where mateship really came to the fore again. Wonderful people. That's what it does for you.
Well I was sent to ... First of all I didn't even know we were going to Balikpapan but that's where we went. But we knew when we boarded that ship, which was the Joseph Carrion by the way, an American merchant ship of ten thousand ton displacement. A very small ship with two holds in it with about a thousand men crammed into the two holds. Over crowded. It was the most sickening voyage we've ever been. In fact we had a mutiny. It ended up in a mutiny and it looked like the ship wasn't going to go anywhere because the Americans on board. They were American crew men. They weren't belonging to anything here. They were helping us out in the islands providing ... sending ammunition and provisions and a lot of whisky for the officers on the island. And when we boarded it we were all told, 'You go down to this hold'. One in the fore, and one in the aft, and we had one rope ladder and that's all. And we had our little - I'll never forget it - if I may go back - when I first went into Camp L and spent the first night in a tent, when I was a rookie, I was told 'You, you, you and you, soldier, get yourself a palliasse and get into that tent over there and you, you and you go there', and I said, 'What's a palliasse?' and I remember this big sergeant. He got me by the ... held me up like that and he said, 'A mattress, stupid'. And I said, 'I hate you'. He said, 'What? I didn't hear that'. I tell him I hated him and he said, 'Your grandmother won't know you when I'm finished with you', and I hated all those sergeant majors, I tell you what. And I had this bit of a chip on my shoulder all the way because as soon as we got in the hold we got this standover business. And I'd been such a free man. I'd had all this persecution in my childhood and here I was starting off. 'I'm going to do something for my country and here's a feller pushing me around'. So of course, it doesn't pay, does it? You get all the duties. All the hard work. So no matter what they did, they couldn't change me. I was not a rebel actually. But they always asked why I had to have my hat look like a cowboy hat, why my green shirt had to look like a cowboy shirt. Because no matter where I went I still looked like Smoky Dawson. They weren't going to call me Private Dawson. And my mail came that way: To Smoky Dawson. And they used to yell out, 'Smoky Dawson, Private Dawson. No one called you Smoky in this. You are a soldier and that's all you'll ever be. Understand. Do you understand?' 'Yes sir, yes sir'. They drilled that into me all right. But I said, 'Oh well the war's not going to last very long. Wait 'til we get back to civvy street. I got a good memory of faces'. So anyway, you forget all about that. We got down in the hold and found that our palliasses were about a foot apart. All these soldiers laying on that, in this ship. And of course there was no air conditioning like we've got now. The heat was unbearable. And they were smoking, smoking. And a lot of us got violently sick you know. We got into some rough seas and I've never been a good sailor and I was always sick. And there was my ... my bloomin' steel helmet there and my bayonet and all my weapons for war - my gas mask lying there. All the things that I'm supposed to use when I got to the islands, if necessary. And my guitar and the pillowslip that Dottie had made me. This huge pillowslip. It was like two big sheets put together. Of course at the camp up at Wandecla ... Before I went away with the Sixth Divvy the camp was full of black fleas and everybody was getting bitten and were covered with rashes. And I sent down to her and I said, 'For God's sake get me something for these fleas'. So she went to the chemist and she said, 'Have you got something for ... a talcum powder or something like that for fleas'. And he said, 'What animal, madam?' And she said, 'It's my husband'. When it arrived I got hold of this stuff. I didn't put it on my blankets. I got naked and I tipped all this powder over me - this flea powder. And then I got into my sheets. I was the only one that survived the black fleas. So having been ... Strength it was to have knowledge of that. Great to have wisdom and know how to apply it right at the right time.
Yes it was. Yeah, of course, yeah. No. Well, let me tell you this. It was bad in both holds. [INTERRUPTION]
I went by way of a merchant ship, an American merchant ship called the Joseph Carrion. It was the last of the liberty ships and most of them had all broken up in heavy seas because they were welded jobs. And I never forget the morning in Brisbane when we boarded. It was one thousand troops boarded onto a ten thousand ton ship and I didn't know how we ever got them in. We were certainly overcrowded. And our mattresses were about ... you know, about a foot apart and everybody smoking, and people being sick and all this kind of thing. And one rope ladder we had to climb up to get our meals, which had to be served up on deck. Needless to say it was a complete mess up because by the time you got up on deck it was time to go down again. And it was too late to come back for another meal. So they only had one meal a day. And they put the toilets up the other end of the ship - on the bow. And so you had all these things, sit down toilets, makeshift there, on the deck, looking out to sea with the seagulls while you made your circle around the deck until you come up to your feeding station and you held out your pannikins and got whatever they handed you. Dog biscuits or a bit of ... a stick of celery or carrot. All dehydrated stuff you know. And wherever you could go: sit in a life boat or anything, you sat down and ate it. Or get down below and eat it. So it was a very kind of painful situation and we never really felt we were eating well. And me, having had all that lovely comfort of Dot, you know, leaving that behind, I started to feel it. But I otherwise felt pretty good. The thought of going away, once we got to sea, I sort of left things behind and I was looking forward to what was before me. And I had my other five mates with me. We were told before we boarded too, that midships was out of bounds. Anyone caught there would be severely dealt with. And that was to be understood that it was an American merchant and they had their own quarters and we were not to go anywhere near them. So that was broken because by the time we got to Cairns and put into ... overnight into the Redlynch staging camp, waiting supplies to be loaded on board to take us further north to where we were going, only then were we told we were going to Borneo. And we were told also that we would have twenty-four hours leave. And we made use of that. When we got to Redlynch we all went down into Cairns and the first thing we did was get 'round and enjoy the sights and the next thing we knew there was a paddy wagon running around rounding everybody up. We should have gone back to camp. And somebody came back and said, 'Smoky pull off your colour patch. The Provos are just round the corner'. So I pulled the patch of my hat, which bore my unit. So I had no identification - to escape being captured. And along around the corner came the old paddy wagon, with this little cage on top with all these soldiers in it, that had been rounded up. They spotted me but wouldn't let on that I was one too. And back they were taken to camp to be dealt with. So when we saw that everybody was getting rounded up for refusing to go back we'd all made up our minds we weren't going back because we were overcrowded, and the colonel was a pretty strong British man, but a very fair man on his ship. He was a colonel and very, very, very English. So when we got back, we got back as fast as we could, he assembled us all and he said, 'Men I know your plight. I know things are bad. I'll have them reported. Never have I seen a ship crowded as this, even in the Middle East and the worst. But', he said, 'Bear with me and we'll make it as comfortable as we can'. He said, 'But you must go back'. So we all went back on board again. Got down into our holds. And then it started. Before we got to ... just off the coast of Bougainville, we got in some pretty rough seas. And because ... you must understand this, during the war, it was a blackout, you couldn't show a light. And we had on board Grant Taylor, you know, with Peter Finch. Peter didn't come with us but Grant did. But he was one of the team. If you remember 40,000 Horsemen and he was a ... had once been a military policeman. Very tough. And of course he was going overseas with us too, and he was a rebel. He was in midships in the dark, lighting a cigarette, until a lieutenant coming by, with no identification on him because it was so hot that no one wore shirts, tapped him on the shoulder. 'Put that light out soldier'. And of course, he turned round and grabbed the feller, knowing who he was, and grabbed him in one piece and slung him over the top of the rails. He said, 'One more [word] out of you and that's where you go, into the brink'. So they left him alone. You couldn't stand over him. But we were getting a lot of this standover again. What had really happened, we were told that we weren't allowed in midships, but the wireless operator and all those people on top that had cabins, had given up their cabins for the officers to have their cabins. And all these lieutenants and those above us were sharing accommodation that were on the merchant ship. Into their cabins and were made very comfortable while the men were down in the holds. Well ,we're walking around the deck waiting to be fed in the evening this ... in the dark and I happened to look through the port hole and I see that there's a crowd of Americans sitting down at the table. And they're all having a good feed: steak, eggs and bacon, all this kind of thing. Cookies. Beautiful. And the aroma of coffee wifted through the port hole to me and I put my head in and said, 'Oh half your luck'. They said, 'You all come in, come in'. And I said, 'I can't come in. We'll be caught if we ... we'll be court martialled', you know. So he handed me a cup of coffee and a cookie and, of course, I went the rounds with this and so we did it several times. I wasn't eating what was handed out to me, I was relying what was fed through the porthole. So this feller came to the porthole and he said to me, 'Why don't you all come in and have a meal'. I said, 'I'll get shot if I do'. 'Look', he said, 'Wait 'til after dark and meet me around at the middle of the deck there', he said, 'And I'll be waiting for you'. So I waited 'til everything had gone and everything was quiet and I sneaked around and I came to the door leading in to the midship, down below the decks. And this feller was called ... oh, now what was his name, it'll come to me in a minute.
It doesn't matter. Yes it does because he had a name that was to be a part of me for the rest of the voyage and years later. I'll come back to that. But anyway he was a hillbilly, from them thar hills of Arkansas. And when he found that I played a guitar he said, 'You're like one of us'. So I got in there and I started playing. Brought me guitar in and I sat down and I was fed up with steak and having a wonderful time. And then I spotted all my mates going by, looking through the port hole saying, 'Half your luck Smoky', and I was passing stuff out to them. And I had a wonderful time for about two or three nights. They said to me, 'Why don't you stay here? Move your things in. We've got a spare cabin'. [INTERRUPTION - PHONE, SLATE]
So you're in a really bad situation on this ship. Now always Smoky Dawson seemed to find some kind of way to survive, or to make things better when he was in bad situations. What happened? What did you do to improve things on the ship?
Well one thing that I wanted to do was to get into that ... with those ... into the hold where these fellers were having a good meal. And they looked like my kind of people too, because they played Country Music. And this feller invited me in ... to come in, which I did. And when I got down there ... His name was Thelmer Burns, from Arkansas, and he said to me, 'Well', he said, 'I'll tell you what. When the war is over, Smoky, I want you to bring your wife and your kids and spend some time with me in the hills of Arkansas'. 'But', I said, 'Thelmer, I'm not married'. He said, 'Never mind, bring your kids'. [Laughs] That's the sort of character he was. They had a spare cabin there for me, shower and everything in it. Unbelievable, with about six bunks in it. So he said, 'I'm going to put you in there'. I said, 'Look, if I get caught in here, you know what it's going to mean? I'm going to be court martialled'. 'Well', he said, 'It won't happen. I can tell you that. We run this ship. This is an American merchant ship and we're the guys that are looking after these people upstairs. They're up there and you're down here. As far as we're concerned, everybody's the same with us. And they do the same things as we do. Now', he said, 'We want you ... we're asking you ... you're going to be our guest. You're not intruding. So', he said, 'What the colonel might have meant was don't disturb us, but we are inviting you as a guest. Smoky Dawson'. 'So', I said, 'Considering that, I'll stay'. So I got to bed and I got on the ... lay down on the bottom bunk and anyway, all of a sudden he said to me, 'Now whatever you do, if you hear any commotion, don't open the door. I'm going to lock you in'. Little did I know that they were going to raid the hold which had the whisky in it. And this is what happened. The crew raided the whisky, got drunk, and then they had this bloomin' fight in midships. Up in the corridors I could hear them pounding and banging and there was 'ahs' and 'oohs' until there was a casualty. And then I thought: My God I'm going to be caught up in this'. Next thing there's a bang on the door and somebody's pushing, and they can't open the door. They're trying to bring this feller in. And all of a sudden I heard a familiar voice. It was Thelmer and he said, 'Well where's Smoky? I left him in there', and he said, 'Smoky where are you?' And by this time I had hidden underneath the mattress. And I climbed from the bottom right up onto the top. And next thing he burst ... He got the door open and he said, and he said, 'Righto throw him up here'. 'Oh just a moment', and this thing was going to be on top of me and I suddenly revealed myself. They were going to throw this body on top of me. So I climbed down and I heard him mention Doc. 'How bad is he, Doc?' And there's this little old man sitting across there with just a towel on around him. And he said ... He said, 'Doc, this is Smoky Dawson', he said. He said, 'He's our guest'. He said, 'I know Smoky Dawson. I come from St. Kilda'. He said, 'Doc you won't tell on him'. 'I never ever saw him in my life'. Wonderful. So having that good feeling - this feller had a big gash on his head where he'd been hit on the head with a bottle. So they put him down and the doctor treated him and they said, 'Now Smoky go to sleep. You'll be all right now. Have a shower and forget everything. In the morning, get yourself up early and get down back to the hold again before they wake up'. So I did that. I went to sleep and the moans went away and the old soldiers down below went to sleep. Woke up in the morning, decided to have a shower, and I'm just getting dressed and ready to go out the door and bang, knock at the door. Opened it and there is this officer with two soldiers standing either side of him. He said, 'Soldier, what are you doing here?' I said, 'Well I was invited here sir'. He said, 'You're up on arrest. Follow me'. So they walk out and I follow him. And he marched me down into the other ... number one hold, where they had a big table set up and there was the O C Ship with all his braid on and his medals and they stood me in front of him. And he said, 'Well, well, what have you got to say for yourself?' And I said, 'What can I say?' I said, 'I was invited in by ...' He said, 'Never mind being invited in. You knew the orders. You were told not to go midships and you'll be dealt with very severely'. He said, 'So why did you break the law? Every other soldier didn't do that. They never did that'. 'Well', I said, 'Well I understood ... interpreted that we weren't to interfere with the other people down in the midships, the American merchants'. And he said, 'No. I meant nobody goes in that hold. It's a blackout. This is the law. If you can't do it right here, you're not going to do it right over there either. Now', he said, 'The penalty will be: you are to be taken down into the ...' There's a hold there that had all the provisions in it: dehydrated vegetables, and meat, tinned things, you know what I mean, in tins. 'And you move them from one side of the hold to the other and back, 'til the end of the journey'. So down I went. And they put me down this hold and they said, 'Righto, get to work soldier', and it's this ton of canned meat and dehydrated vegetables. And I started moving them over to this end. And when I got them over to the other side and this was going on for some time. And all of a sudden I heard a voice above say, 'Smoky!' And I look up and there's Thelmer, with a few others of the crew, looking down on me. 'What the heck are you doing there?' I said, 'This is what I get for being disobedient'.
They marched me down into number one hold and they had me move all the cans, the tins of food and all their provisions going to the islands, from one side of the hold to the other.
'Just do that. Penance, work you and don't do it again', and I was half way through this and getting very monotonous to, and I look up, I heard a voice call. It was Thelmer up on the top, looking down, with the members of the crew and he said to me, 'Smoky drop what you're doing and come up'. And I said, 'I can't. I will be dealt with pretty severely, you know', and he said, 'You'll have to come mate because I've just got a whole letter here signed by the colonel that says that you are free and you can be our guest. Because we told him that unless we, the crew of the Joseph Carrion ... unless you are released, we won't take this ship any further'. [Laughs] Unbelievable. So there I was. I went down and I spent the rest of my journey to Morotai, the island of Morotai ... But I also did another thing too. I went and found the rest of my members of the Troubadour Party and said, 'Righto boys, grab your things and come with me'. And I said to Thelmer, 'Would you put their names on the list too'. But the whole crew had actually signed their names, that they wouldn't take that ship any further and they told the colonel. They said, 'Now how come that you think you're any better than Smoky Dawson, just because you got a few pips here and there? One thing you can't do, you can't yodel like Smoky'. And I think the officer found a lot of fun in that. Because he said, 'Well you know, we can't [have] everybody sleeping in midships and breaking the rules. But', he said, 'I see your point. Okay'. Because they were all enjoying the places too, you see.
I felt very guilty about the poor beggars that didn't get what I was getting. Yes, that's right. I was very sad about them. And when we land at Morotai, there was the Australian General Hospital too, a big marquee, where I was to, not long after that, to be brought back to as a casualty. But we were destined to go to ... from Morotai to Balikpapan. The ship then, of course, with the remaining people on it, was destined for Brunei and on the way it struck a mine and a few of them were killed on it. And I can ... [in the] part actually where I used to sit and talk with my mates, an officer was killed. So I ... I don't know really what happened to the ship but knowing the history of the liberty ships, they were destined to go down. And this was the old man's last trip. I think he lost about two or three of them. So anyway, we were next thing put on a little plane and flown all the way to Balikpapan. But we touched down in Tarakan. And that was a miracle kind of landing too because, as we arrived, as you know, when the Japanese were vacating ... getting out of Tarakan, when our forces took over the airport, the mesh that was put down there for the planes to land, something had happened with the water. Everything was buckled up. The water was coming in underneath there, and everything was blocked. And the planes were ... There was quite a few wrecks in the jungle there where some of the planes couldn't make it. So we did quite a few little rounds and rounds and eventually landed. Then we took off again. It was only a very small plane. And very turbulent. And I was pretty sick in that too.
Ah well, I wasn't a casualty straight away. I was a casualty to the point of fact that I wasn't suiting very well to mixing in with the climate. The humidity was so unbearable and my metabolism didn't work so well. And apart from that I picked up a dose of malaria and I don't know how I got it because I always was very careful about keeping mosquito nets over me and all the protective gear and that. And we were doing ... We were sent up to the Milford Highway - sent up to the front line, to put on our shows [in] a little jeep, and half the time we're dodging mines along the way on the Milford Highway. It was one of these runs - hit there and run back, not knowing what you're doing next and I just got run down so fast I went down.
Yeah, well one of the worst things too was my nervous system. I knew all about that. My central nervous system just folded up. And prior to that I was ... We were in camp there at Balik and during the night we'd have all sorts of things like orangutans and monkeys coming and jumping all over your tent and over your bed. Pythons. All sorts of things and then we'd had about 4 o'clock, with out [fail] ... you know it was right on time every day, you would have this great storm. Lightning and the cracking of ... noises in the jungle just like canon, which would set me off.
Yeah. I was, and all those things like lightning that come back to me so that even the storms, and the guns themselves - the fire of the guns - were just the same as when we had a thunderstorm. So you'd have this tremendous thunderstorm. You'd hear somewhere out there there'd be a tree hit and these enormous violent storms and all this kind of thing going on all the time. It just wore me down.
Yeah, all this was the reaction from all that was coming back. You see I should never have been A1. I was B2 and yet I'd gone through a training of A1 and it wasn't ... it was a pressure, and don't forget we were doing concert after concert, making people happy. See we were right up behind ... we were sent up there ... one little ... the Second Third Commandos, right behind the lines. There was a feller called Billy Christian and about six or seven others there I remember, in this little clearing of the jungle with their one-man tents. You know, they were about this size and you had a fox hole you dig in and you get down underneath that. And about this time there's a lot of cleaning up and you know, they'd made quite an advancement on the front, cleaned up a lot of pockets, but every now and again there'd be skirmishes and things like that. And so you'd have this kind of quiet, all quiet with nothing happening, and then all hell would break loose. And here we were there, still with our jeep and our native carriers and our weapons there in case we had to hop in, with an old guitar that was so warped that you could hardly ... I could only play it in one key, it was so low, trying to entertain soldiers. And these fellers were nearly going to sleep there. They hadn't had a wash for weeks, sitting there in the middle of the road there. They'd have a little kitchen there where they cooked up M & V, vegetables and that, and feed them. And they were sitting there with their Bren guns and Allen guns and we knew the Japanese were everywhere because they were up among trees, interested in anything that was going on. And I remember saying to Billy Christian, I said, you know, it was getting a bit dark and I said, 'Can you give us a bit of a light on what we're doing'. We were putting on this show, doing all the things we do normally on a stage. We were doing quartets and that, and duos and then I was doing a comedy act called Texas Dan, dressing out like a cowboy. Throwing ... making up what I do out of my jungle uniform, putting my khaki scarf on. And he said to me, 'What do you want a light for? Do you want your bloody yodel cut off?' [Laughs] He said, 'Japs just over there'. I'll never forget that. Anyway all this went on. They just whipped me off from another camp - from one to the other. And so ... then Gracie Fields came to Balikpapan. And we had an enormous crowd there in the bowl. And I was asked to support her. So I got up in the top there and looked up at this great mass of troops there and they just loved everything that we did, you know, keep them well. They had the toilets there too, and so many got on these toilets that they caved in. In fact a few got drowned in it. It's a horrible way to go, isn't it? And anyway, so ...
So Smoky, do you feel that this pressure on you, that you were actually working very hard at entertaining, you were surrounded by danger, you're physically not well ... do you think that your violent childhood and the things you'd experienced had made you very vulnerable to a nervous collapse?
Oh that's for sure. Yeah. It was always there, but I've always been on top of it. I've always been in control. It's a thing that I do all my life, I always try and get on top. Then of course, the little boy is there all the time. But at the same time I was on a cloud nine. I was along with good, hard, fighting troops. They were all my mates. I saw men die, and that upset me a lot. And all this kind of thing had a tremendous, terrible effect on me. So by the time I got to Tarakan, where everything was easing off, the war had ended - the Japanese had capitulated and they were all put into camps - and we were all taking a sigh of relief when we were sitting down there one night ... It was just a Casualty Clearance Station at Tarakan, and we had some American films they were showing us. And suddenly I just felt myself going numb and my breathing become harder and I found it very hard to control my breathing. So what was happening I was losing control of my diaphragm. So suddenly my legs become numb and I was paralysed from there.
I just completely had a nervous ... a collapse of the whole nervous system. So much that I didn't know where I was and they took me over to the Casualty Clearance Station, put me on the table and I was shaking all over like I had palsy. There wasn't one piece of my face that wasn't a quivering piece of ... like jellyfish. I lost complete control of thinking, even. And my heart was racing at a rate I'd never felt before. It was erratic. I could have died any minute because the diaphragm ... When your diaphragm goes you have no control of your breathing. So I had a rapid gasping for breath and shaking all over from head to toe. Couldn't walk - I was just like a sack. So they put me under for five days and I woke up and [they were] trying to tell me, well, they going to send me back to Australia. But before that they had to get me well enough to travel. So they put me on this little plane and carried me on, on a stretcher, and I woke up at Australian General Hospital at Morotai, where I'd left before. And there I was in bed with remnants of the Changi prison and the boys on the Burma railway line, all suffering from beri-beri and malnutrition. My ribs were sticking out just like theirs. I had lost so much weight that it was unbelievable. I had been dehydrated and I was in a sad way.
One thing I was frightened of that, knowing a lot had gone off their brain. It's called troppo. A lot were sent back to Australia in padded cells on the ships. And so I had all that fear within me. That was ... The thought of never seeing Dottie again plagued me. So that's my humble confessions of the great soldier, the great Smoky. But you see you can only do what your body will allow you to do and I just couldn't take that. So the A1 soldier become D: totally medically unfit. And I had to be brought back [and] nursed back to health in Morotai. And I become great friends, while I was there, with all these boys, these ex- prisoners of war, the lost division, the Eighth, who I see quite a lot on Anzac Day. And they talked to me and I started to get well by the fact 'I'm going to entertain them' and what was left of my old guitar, I tried to entertain with them, and this feller next to me, a big six footer, he said, 'That's an old guitar you got'. He said, 'Doesn't look too good, does it?' I said, 'No'. I said, 'The humidity has buckled it up you see'. He said, 'Will you get compensation for that when you get out of the army?' 'No', I said. 'It's not bad enough'. He said, 'Would you like me to do a proper job for you?' He said, 'I know the feller in the laundry, in the steam laundry. What's say we put it in the steamer?' So he sent it over and put it in the steamer and it came out like a canoe. [Laughs] You know ...
Well yes. We're talking about post-war now. I'll reach out for Anzac Day, and here on Anzac Day I was marching, many years after the war here in Sydney. And gosh, I'm marching down George Street, you'd think I won the war. Everybody cheering and yelling. And all my mates - they see our sign, you know, the First Australian Army Entertainment Unit and the cameras all picked up me and they said, 'They love you don't they?' A policeman said, 'They love you'. And I said, 'Yeah, they think I won the war'. He said, 'And did you?' I said, 'Yeah, I really won it, because I survived it'. And I said, 'There's one feller I'd like to meet and I'm hoping I will one day'. So as I got down to Hyde Park and we all pulled out of the march, I stood there having a cup of coffee with a couple of my mates and around the corner came the Eighth Division. And as they marched by, just for wanting to have a shot at them I said, 'Arh you lot of larrikins', and this big feller, six footer, looked across at me, he says, 'Smoky!' Broke his rank and come over to me and he said, 'Do you remember me?' He said, 'You remember back in Morotai, the Australian General Hospital, I was the feller in bed next to you. I was the feller that did a good steamer on your guitar forty years ago'. I couldn't believe it. He said, 'Did you ever get compensation?' 'Yeah, I got five quid'. It was a good ending to that episode, but Morotai ...
Ah, a long, long time, I might say. But it takes a long time. Takes a long time to get ...
Well I stayed there for some time and I was priority number one to fly me back to the mainland as soon [as possible], because they didn't think I'd live. And I ... They filled me up with vitamins because what had really happened, having not eaten and [being] dehydrated, my stomach had shrunk, so that I could only take liquids. And I was going down fast. So I was just skin and bone. Skin and bone.
[Being] dehydrated, everything I ate just come up - I retched all the time. And I ... my nervousness and that was still there. And I didn't know what was really going to happen to me, but anyway, I came home. I was told that I was about to go home with 27 AMWAS and medical team - doctors, nurses, coming back from the islands, back to Australia and I would be put in repat. hospital at Heidelberg and would be given treatment. And so as though ... We were going on a Liberator and as we know the Americans called them Flying Missiles, the bombers. Big silver things. And very precarious. You know. That's all they were: a flying missile and you couldn't get up very high. You know, we didn't have pressurised cabins then. And I got shoved up in the gun, right in the front turret where the gunner sits, with a young lieutenant. Right out on the nose of this plane, you know, with the pilots at the back of me and all the rest of them just laying wherever they can. No seats, just lying, packed, jammed into this plane. And we had to take off from this airport - a strip that wasn't set for big bombers. With a big load like this. So we all had to get up in the front to take the weight off the tail. And we said, 'Let's hope we make it', and I'll never forget taking off there and my nerves shot again. So we screamed up down this tarmac, heading out towards the sea and hoping we'll get it and we lifted. Great cheer from everybody. But you know when you're sitting out in a blister like that, it's like you're floating out in the sky on your own. And all I could see were the volcanoes behind me and it got ... It started getting colder, the humidity was gone. And I felt for a while safe. The next thing I went out: passed out. And I woke up to find myself in Darwin and I was in the general hospital in Darwin. I'd passed out on the plane. And ... Very, very low blood pressure. And as you know we didn't have all the facilities that we needed on board. And I was put back on the plane again that night. They'd refuelled and this time they brought me inside, and layed me on the bomb bay doors, where they drop the bombs. And I was laying there with all my equipment around me and all these AMWAS. And the thing you've got to think about on board there, there was no facilities to go places.
You couldn't go to the toilet. And my water works were playing up a bit and I think it was just a terrible time because you're flying non-stop from there to Melbourne.
It took a long time. Well I started off in the afternoon. It was the dim dawn of the next morning arriving there in Melbourne and it was a very, very foggy morning. But I did ... I remember going into a violent storm and the crew had put the plane on automatic and they were all playing cards and had got this thing running on its own. And I ... my God, I look up and I see these fellers all playing cards and [say], 'Who's running this? Who's running the darn plane? We'll crash, we'll crash'. All these things were coming in. I was a fatalist by this time. The water was coming through the cracks and we were in a most violent thunderstorm, rocking all over the place. And I asked where I was and they said, 'You're on just the dead heart of Australia'. And I never went to sleep. I looked through the chinks - through the chinks on the bomb bay door and I'm glad the guy didn't pull the lever. I could see all this red sand. I knew we were somewhere in Central Australia.
I thought I was going to die all the time. I was really dying from the moment I was ... that I took that turn. I was dying all the way and the thing was I was going to die without seeing Dottie. It was she that kept me alive. I wanted to see her. And anyway I was taken off there. When I got off at Heidelberg, put into repat.
I was in repat there for about five days before Dot was even informed. Didn't even know I was there. And they were going to give me treatment. A lot of them were given treatment for their nerve system. A lot of the men were terrible, in a terrible condition. And so I was then transported down to a convalescent home at Rockingham under the Red Cross, to nurse me back to health. They wouldn't let me out. The war - it was over. It was 1946 by this time and here I was still in there and they wouldn't let me out until I weighed eight stone. And I was coming out very quickly then. So I was having egg flips and that's when it all started. And Dot used to come out and see me. And then I was put on therapy: making rugs, making ... making polished tables. I've got a couple of pieces here you might see in the background. My little polish table that I did there. French polishing.
One year. Yeah. Exactly a year before I was released from there to go back well enough to face city life and be rehabilitated. And then I wasn't allowed out at all. All this time doing this therapy, as I say, doing rugs and furniture and I learnt all this. And entertaining the boys was ... I found that entertainment, which by the way, is the greatest industry in the world, it survives everything. The harder the times the better it works. And I found with that I was getting better.
Well Dot came out to see me and of course, how can I describe that? Our first meeting after coming home, and she said, 'They're going to allow you to come home of a weekend'. So she was allowed to take me. Now I wasn't ... I didn't have the confidence to even get on a tram or a bus, to walk across the road. I just couldn't do it on my own. And she'd have to take me across to the bus or the tram and I'd be hanging onto her arm, just like a little boy hanging onto his mother, and get on the tram. And everybody on the tram would all wait till I got settled. I was that bad. My feet were all shaking under me. I still had the trembles. I couldn't face it. I'd lost my complete confidence and I had to start all over again - start a life all over again. And it was through Dot getting me back and spending two days and then she'd take me back home again on Sunday night and then we'd go on and bit by bit I started ... they weighed me every day. [Laughs] The Red Cross were marvellous. Absolutely marvellous. And I ... All the fellers were getting ... putting on weight. Everybody was getting fat, in fact. And for the first time in my life I found that my face was getting fuller and I was getting something over my ribs - were covered up a bit. But it took a long time to eat. When Dot took me home that first time it took me over twenty minutes to eat a little piece of chop. Lamb chop. Because my stomach had shrunk. And bit by bit I had to take meals quite a lot until I was able to take a normal meal. But that's how I was. But anyway, Smoky become back to Smoky again.
When I went down of course ... The first thing - I went down to my school of music that I'd left behind with this feller, this Mormon, only to discover there was a Russian button manufacturer there. My name wasn't on the door anymore. And he said, 'Oh no', he said, 'The man that was here has sold out and went to New Zealand'. 'Oh did he?' And he did and what ... not only that but he had taken a lot of people's money for lessons on guitar, saying that Smoky would fix them up when he come back, which I had to do to fulfil my obligation. And he'd gone and sold my business up and [taken] all the money and cleared out. So you know, I come back from that to that - no business to start all over again. I don't know where I was going to start it all. But Dot by this time had been commandeered by the ABC. In fact she was the first woman to be engaged by the ABC for the special effects department. And she was in charge of drama at one time - which she's very good at. And then she become very, very, very good at the turntable - spinning the records in the middle of drama where a car moves off, or a horse galloping along or something like that, which had to be on cue. It was very, very important in those days that you came on cue when you had these things. So that's where Dot was. She was in work and I wasn't. So that was my getting back to civvy street. I had to be rehabilitated. We went to the Red Cross. We went to everybody to see what they could do. Nobody could do anything for me. They said, 'Unfortunately we can't do anything for you'. So I had to go back and do the walk around Melbourne: up the hill to 3AW, or to 3XY - Frank Mogg, bless his heart. I went to Frank at the Princess Theatre. And I said, 'Frank, have you got something for me?' He said, 'What do you want?' 'Well', I said, 'What about a show?' He said, 'What, for instance?' I said, 'Well I've got this ... this kind of 'sing a song'. Is this your favourite song? And Smoky'll sing it for you. Radio requests'. And he said, 'Well what's the deal?' 'Well', I said, 'If you can give free publicity for my school', which I was starting up again. And he said, 'Well, this is a contra deal'. So no money passed hands - what KZ used to do. So that's what I did. I went about six months on 3XY and it was called Smoky Dawson's Musical Buster. [Laughs] And gradually it started then. 3UZ took it up. Smoky coming back again to radio. And I picked up my boys and that's how we started off again.
There's quite a story to that. One that I reiterate so many times. I think it's worth telling again. As I say Dot become very adept at this kind of thing. She was very good at it, not only that but promotions too: pushing Smoky. And so, there was a prize winning play called The Golden Lover and its head here was Frank Clulow of the ABC. And they were going to do this in Melbourne. So he went down to Melbourne to produce it - a national show. So he said to my wife, 'We require a dog in this'. And he said, 'This dog is a very special dog because', he said, 'The story is about this man on the island. He's got this beautiful dog that almost talks to him, you know. And then one day a beachcomber comes in a shipwreck, a feller [who] has some bad ideas. He's out to get this man. And the dog knows quicker than what the master does. And he doesn't take to him too well'. And of course, the long and short of it is that before he can murder his master, the dog goes for him. So this dog had to do all these kind of things on cue and they never had a record to do that, so they wanted something live. So they auditioned about fifty people and they're all little yap yaps and nobody could do it. And I was sitting home there twiddling my thumbs wondering when I was going to get the next job. And Dot came home one night and she said to me, 'I've got a job for you'. I said, 'At last'. She said, 'It's a play called The Golden Lover'. My eyes lit up - the great acting part for Smoky. 'What part do I play, the lover?' She said, 'No, it's a dog'. [Laughs] A dog. 'A dog', I said, 'What do I do?' She said, 'You have to bark'. And I was a bit crestfallen because I really wanted something a little bit more dignified than that. She said, 'Go in and do it, and you're going to love it. Because the money is just as big as the actors'. The top money was five pounds. Five pounds. So that Cliff Cowley and all these people were all getting only five pounds. So I said, 'How many barks do I do for that?' She said, 'Well it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't matter if it was only one, you'll still get paid'. So I went in there and auditioned for Frank. He said, 'Now be realistic', and you know me. So I decided to do something a little bit different, like Smoky does. I got down on all fours and marked out my territory and lifted my leg and I rushed at Frank - a comedy act really. Grabbed him by the cuff of the thing and growled. And I did this enormous bark to really sent him flying into the corner. He said, 'My god, I never thought I'd ever hear this one'. I was never out of work. That dog bark was barking all the way to the bank with me. Dog barks.
Well first of all I had to do various types for him, and he said, 'Well give me a type of a dog'. So I started of I go [barks]. Well that's a normal dog. 'No', he said, 'What I want is something really big'. I said, 'Something like this'. [barks] 'You got the job'.
What about the growl. [Growls and laughs]
Well my ... [The] Smoky Dawson Show was ... well I went back to the early days, like I told you in my radio career, where I provided all those sound effects: the crow, the cows - everything on the farm I provided.
When I was with Frank Duggan and with ... yes, it was with Frank Duggan. And all the time I had there listening to the crow [crow call]. I used to go out there and sometimes the poor sheep would be down lambing and the crows used to pick their eyes out. And I used to go down with a shotgun and sometimes I had to help a little lamb out that wasn't born properly and save it. So I saved quite a few little lambs in my time. So I had all these sound effects built into me, you know. And the crow has that [crow call]. You know about it. And pigs and these kind of things - I had them all the time. I used to feed them [pig noise]. I could do all this kind of thing, you see. And dogs far away ... when you sent the dog off to bring in the sheep: 'Fetch him up there'. And he goes [dog yelps]. And as he got near [barking]. See? So you can get sort of dimension in it. You like that?
Well, what I used to do was throw knives. That was one of my main performances. I think I had the only type of knife throwing that's ever been in this country, because where everybody considered that knife throwing was about having a balanced knife - it had to be balanced, I was throwing anything that had a point on it: screwdrivers and even battleaxes. And I did this for something like three years, with the late Stan Gill who still walks tall in my memory.
Well now all this had rubbed off from the islands. As you know before we came home we had all these commando knives - machettes, and all sorts of things, and during my spare time, in my earlier times, we used to all be throwing bayonets at trees. You know, sticking bayonets in. And I found myself getting very ... quite efficient with this. And when I decided to do this in the circus, I tried it out with one of my old commando knives. And I bought up a lot of them and took the handles off them - the brass handles. They're all made of surgical steel and so I just put leather handles on them, so that it would give them a good balance. And then I learnt to throw by the handle as well as the blade. First of all I started throwing at balloons and things like that. And Stan Gill's great rodeo ... I was partners with Stan 'til the day he died. And we were coming down through Bega, New South Wales and ... on the way to Melbourne of course, to match up with Dot again. This was post war. And I wrote and told her I was starting a new act. I was throwing knives. So ... and she wanted to know what I was throwing at so I said, 'Balloons'. So what we were doing, we were putting this board up inside the tent and putting balloons on them and just with kits throwing the knife and piercing a balloon. And of course it never went over everywhere. So ha, ha ha. So I didn't do the act - I decided to do it live. And Stan said to me, 'How are we going to start it? We'll have to get a volunteer', and I said, 'Well what say we try out one of the tent hands?' Now the tent hands ... we'd pick up fellers along the way who want a job, [to] put up the tent. And when they signed up they did all sorts of duties. Now to get them to volunteer to stand for me they were offered to be free of all those duties: be Smoky's target for the night. But first of all I had to prove that I was accurate, like splitting apples and all this kind of thing with a commando knife. I learnt it all. My artillery I had then were plough shears I had made into a double battleaxe, and machettes - anything that had a handle, and tomahawks. So it was quite an array. And the board was about that wide, [GESTURES ABOUT TEN TO FIFTEEN CENTIMETRES] - that thick rather. It had to stand the impact of a five pound battleaxe, which generally landed over the shoulders of the target. And the last one was the pumpkin on the top of the head which I split with a tomahawk. And they used to stand sideways with an apple with a dowelling put into the core - where the core is, held up like that [GESTURES TO HIS MOUTH]. And then what I used to do was, with a commando knife, split the apple just under his nose. That was some feat I can tell you, because I was running out of targets. The first volunteer just flitted the next night and never come back to the circus, so we had to rely then on audience. Today I would never even think about it because I'd have a writ on me straight away, just for upsetting their nerves at the thought of it. But the people that I used to call out to, to come down and volunteer to stand for me, and I said, 'I promise you I won't go even close to you. I'll just demonstrate on the board, throwing knives around you and make a lovely picture - be like a frame round you'. And they were all girls. The girls used to come down. The men wouldn't take it on. And I'd stand down there and Dot said, 'It's amazing. It seems like the girls have got more courage than the men'. I think it must have been the hormones really. [Laughs] They were getting turned on. [Laughs] However, by the time I got to Melbourne I had perfected my act and we were showing out at Ringwood and I invited Dot to bring Mum. Her mother was alive then. And her mother said, 'What's he doing?' and she said, 'He's throwing at balloons'. And I'll never forget it, they came in and we had this special seat for them and Dot looked up and there was a big policeman standing at the door. Well, we always had them in case we had louts in the show trying to take over. We always had a bit of a problem then, even then - travelling rodeos. And when they carried this big board out, she said, 'What's he going to do?' And then out came this young feller. We had a man do it this time. All dressed in white like he was an athlete. And we had this board painted black with just red jagged and white jagged edges around it, like the lid of a coffin. And he stood against this board. 'My God, he's not going to throw it at him!' And I said, 'Well ladies and gentlemen, I have never done this act before. [Laughs] This is my first time I've ever used a human target', you see. For the benefit of the audience, because it had to ... up to the time I was throwing at balloons at trying this out. Anyway he said, 'But this young feller here, he's quite safe and I assure you if you just hold your breath and nobody screams, everything will be all right'. So we played it along and I had all these things on a table. All these shiny axes. All chromium plated by the way, and I'd sharpen them all up. Then I'd dip my hand into a basin and put a pair of gloves on. I'd put on. Make it very spectacular, like a Buffalo Bill. R. M. Williams had made me a beautiful jacket, fringed jacket, like Buffalo Bill, which I still have to this day. And then I'd just wield this big axe around my head and say I was about to throw it. My God, you should have seen everyone putting their heads down. And then I'd proceed to throw all these were landing, not out like I had with girls, but right in close - pinning their clothes down. I used to go right 'round so the whole target was completely ringed. And I used to put knives underneath each armpit, and then I'd spread his arms out until he was right there. Then I'd put a knife across here from that angle and one across this way, (GESTURES A KNIFE GOING ACROSS THE THROAT TO ABOVE THE SHOULDER, AND ANOTHER ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE - CROSSING IN FRONT OF THE THROAT] so that he was completely laced in. And then I'd fill in the gaps here and there. And then I'd finish up splitting the apple in the mouth and hit the pumpkin on the head with a tomahawk. By this time the audience ... Some of them had recovered. Some people fainted. They couldn't stand it. And it was amazing. I never ... All the time that I've been throwing and I've been throwing a long time now, I have never hurt anybody, never hit anybody.
No. Had I thought that I would have. And the old ... Of course the old cliche is, oh, 'Do you ever miss?' You know. 'Do you ever miss?' And I used to think to myself, Well gee, thank God I do miss because if you ... the problem is, you see, a lot of people think you put a target up and you throw at the target, but you don't try and hit him. And it's not like that at all. You don't even see the target. You don't see them. You stand them up there. I don't think they see you too. They're petrified. And they ... They just stand there and all you tell them is, 'Don't move. Don't move'. So by the time they get through it they feel exhilarated. That's marvellous and of course everybody wants to be in the act.
Accuracy is so much in the time ... When I started doing the big tours, travelling outback up to Queensland, down across into Victoria and South Australia ... We used to do national tours with this great travelling show with the late Stan Gill, a wonderful showman, dead and gone now. But the crowds were fantastic. Everybody came to see the shows. In the middle of winter they'd be there with their greatcoats on, sitting up there on these planks in the circus. We'd have circus acts too by the way. But the knife act was the one - the most sensational of all. And in between the buck jumping and we had this on. A real wild west. And the thing was, doing matinees and things like that I had done so often, I'd become ... I couldn't even get a thrill out of it myself. And I used to cook for myself in my caravan and they'd come and call me in the middle of a casserole. 'Smoky, you're on'. And then run in and there was my big board there and I'd march in and dinner half eaten, wanting to get back to it. And they'd stand them up, clonk, clonk, clonk, out and back I'd go and finish off my dinner. And it got that way in the end that, you know, I had to think of other things such as throwing with a mirror. That was the hardest of all - throwing backwards using, standing in front of a mirror. And so if you stand in front of a tall mirror as long as you can't see the target you stand in front of him, you're throwing away from him. So I was throwing tomahawks - all tomahawks these were. Because I'd seen a Mexican doing apples on the top of somebody's head, you know, with little knives, edgeways on. I never tried that. But I tried the mirror job. And then I started doing it through my legs - throwing it up in the air back to front, landing over the top of the head. And you'll see, if you want to see a few films of mine, where I was actually throwing from thirty feet - long shots, which I did for Channel 9 some years ago, for Brian Trenchard-Smith, where I did a series throwing from 10.30 in the morning till midday at one of the stunt men, who stood there all that time, getting different angles: close shots, long shots, slow motion shots, and throwing from different distances using the same procedure, same knives, either by the handle or by the blade, without having to mark out my steps. Everywhere I was I knew where to put a knife in. It was one of those uncanny knacks that I developed. And I took that act with me all the way to America.
Ah, that was ... That was I suppose one of the greatest highlights of my life, bar getting married of course, to Dot: arriving in the United States on a seven year contract with options up to twenty-one. Until Dot cried and wanted to come home. She thought we were put into exile. We sold up everything and went away. And I took with me these great big trunk of battleaxes and the Customs said, 'You better come in and undo this trunk here', he said. 'We can't lift it off the platform, it's like it's nailed to it'. It was full of my armory. 'What's this for?' I said, 'Oh that's for ... it's a public relations exercise I'm doing. I'm doing a lecture tours around the colleges and the universities of America on Australia'. 'My God'. I said, 'Nobody gets hurt. We're just showing them what type of people we have down there'. Anyway things went very well for me in America. And as you know, it's one of the toughest places in the world. I think New York City is about the hardest city in the world. Like the rock it's built on.
Well I'd run out of steam here. You know, I'd run out of all the glitter. The ABC were my greatest ... you know, the ones who give me the work, and my last show was in concert with the late and great Peter Dawson, who was my wonderful friend 'til the day he died. He always used to call me affectionately his 'illustrious nephew'. He taught me a lot about singing too. How to get the best out of my voice.
We had a wonderful relationship, Peter Dawson and I. I look on him as one of the greatest Australians ever. And with that, and the snakeskin tie he gave me, that he autographed ... I wore that all the way to America. And as I say, I arrived in New York and looked up at the tall skyscrapers ...
Yeah, I wanted to prove myself a little bit more because I playing to about seven or eight million people. And the buildings here were like two storeys and three storeys. When you looked across over there that seemed to be the land of opportunity. Where Australia was really the land of opportunity, but America was to any artist. They all have to go overseas to find whether they can work. And with me ... I took with me a kangaroo. In fact there were four ... four kangaroos, which were to follow me on Pan American and I was to do a lecture tour with these kangaroos on Australia. And I was signed up by an American showman, who ... a feller called John Calvert of the Falcon series in Hollywood - who was a great magician too. And he was down here, saw my talent and said, 'Boy if you were in America you'd be a multi-millionaire with what you do here'. I said, 'The population's too small for me', and you know, it's like comedians here, when you crack a joke you've got to think of another one because your joke's heard by everybody in one go. And it's a very hard way to exist. And to live in this country and still be a star in your own country in such a small population is most difficult. Which means you have to have versatility. You had to do more than one thing. Hence the knives, the axes, whip cracking, riding a horse, making dog noises, and all this kind of thing. You had to be versatile. And it paid off because when I got to America, if I fell down on one thing, I had another to fall back on. If I got laryngitis I threw knives. It was a dumb act - pretty dumb. Anyway, as I say, I landed in there with all the letters from Australia, from Ron Wills at EMI to say I was one of their top recording artists. And they sent a letter to Steven Sheltz (?) in New York City, who was in charge of RCA, would he consider recording me? And when I got there I handed over all my beautiful wax records that were all on 78s, he had a little bit of a laugh at the time, because they were looked at as museum pieces over there. We were so far behind. And he said, 'I don't know whether you'll get by in the south with your accent', he said, 'Because Australians aren't too well understood'. He said, 'So you better get down there and develop yourself an accent and create a demand for your records'. So Dot and I, after spending half our Australian income in one night in New York ... we headed down across ... under the Hudson and down the Pennsylvania turnpike all the way down there to Atlanta and into the Deep South. And I was under contract to Calvert to ... who were then to promote me for television and movie theatres. Think I'd make movies like Gene Autry, all this kind of thing, which didn't eventuate because half way through the thing I had a motor accident. This is a quick way to a thing, you know, that nearly ended my life, but down in the south, you know, when you talk as an Australian, you're not understood.
Yes I did. Dot was horrified, being the teacher of English. She said, 'They won't change me', but she had to explain a lot. When you come out on a ... These schools down there by the way, they're enormous. And of course you're billed across America just like you are in clubs here. All the schools receive your posters and it's like a theatre.
Yes but I did it on my own bat, mainly. My manager fell down badly on it because he was going overboard. He was sort of overwhelming the way he'd go and talk to the principals of schools about me, and ask them what religion they were and all that, until they got to dislike him. And so he went down further. He couldn't get anything for me. He left me in ... He left me in Chattanooga and while I was there I developed a wonderful relationship with a Van Campbell, the manager of WAGC Chattanooga, which was on top of the Hotel Patten. And that was a wonderful place because I learnt all about the south and Rock City Mountain and the Battle of the Clouds and the North and South War. I become steeped in American folklore and the great wars. So I needed all this because what I wanted to tell them about how we were like them in many ways to the Americans, our American cousins. And I wanted to show them all about our Australian continent down here: the last frontier which I knew so well, the outback. We had all the ... all the songs that I'd written about the outback and we likened that to the great treks to the gold rush days to California as we did to the west here, in the Kimberleys too. Australia had a lot in common so I was a kind of Australian ambassador of goodwill.
Oh dear, oh dear. Up to that time I was really proving myself because I developed this accent and I remember the first day if I may say so, before I get to the accident, I really had become quite good in Chattanooga. I was booked up everywhere. I was doing two and three schools a day. Twenty-five cents they used to charge the students to come in and they'd have a thousand in the assembly in one go, from all ages because I can talk from little children up to adults in the same go in a way that I could embrace everybody. And they would split the difference with me. The school would keep half and I'd have the rest. I made more money than I ever would make in television. And so that was the big thing. Schools are big business. And I had a kind of way to talk and when I came out of course Van Campbell had trained me a bit - changing my words to ... from 'them' to 'thayem' and 'because' to 'baycowse' and 'that' to 'thayet' and 'aye' instead of 'I' and get all that, because to them I sounded like a Cockney. So I can say, 'Howdy folks, I'm surely glad to meet you owll, you owll', and 'You loo'ik goo'ed' and I'd say, 'I'm sorry I sayed that' and 'Because of thaat I won't say ed again'. And bit by bit they said to me, 'You're gradually learning, but you sound awfully English'. And I never really got the southern accent right but now and again I can 'tawk like thayet' and they think I do have something - some little bit of possibility of learning a southern accent.
Yes I did quite a bit of recording around in Nashville. But not in the commercial use, only more what they called 'demos'. They were to get me a contract with a wonderful organisation and the largest and greatest Country Music publisher in the world: Acuff Rose. And I'm talking about, and with great affection, that wonderful man, Fred Rose. Fred Rose, who started it all - Nashville's first publisher, who did a lot with Gene Autry. And it was he that took Hank Williams to try and keep him straight and keep him off the drink, that managed him, rewrote his work, did all that and heard my little effort of a song called The Last Supper after an accident that I had. And now to that accident, yes? Well, I had a call from my manager, who just as a last resort, went down to Shreeport, Louisiana to a station called KWKH, where that word you might hear from John Laws saying 'Hello world', that's where we heard it: 'Hello world'. And we had the Louisiana Hayride every Saturday night with Jim Reeves. And Jim Reeves wanted me on his programme and that was to be my first entrance. You had to go on the Louisiana Hayride before you went on to the Opry. Because the Opry ... the Grand Old Opry in Nashville was set aside only for native born ... for those born in the hills and steeped in that folklore and here I ... I didn't have even the accent. So I had a long way to go before I ever was to be a guest of Ernest Tubb, which I eventually did. But so, he sent me a telegram and said, 'Pack up, get down here as fast as you can. You're booked on Saturday night on the Jim Reeves Show. So I said to Dot, 'Oh my God, we've made it'. So I had a new Mercury ... Mercury car, all set up to go and that was about, oh, 2000 mile south, in the heat of summer. Dot said, 'Look, you go ahead and get some petrol in the car and I'll pack up. By the time you come back we'll be ready to go', because we were keeping house then. And I went down, got in the car and my mind was on this thing, you know, and I just on Channel 9 you know - cloud nine. As I went through the intersection there, the light was green then halfway across it turned red. And the next thing I knew there was a big Cadillac came up on my left and went right through me. And I was going ... tearing across the road heading for this great telegraph pole. Now in Chattanooga, that's where the power of the Tennessee Mountains, the Tennessee Valley Scheme, like our Snowy River Scheme, provides all the electricity for Chattanooga. And my thoughts on that short ... let's say my short ride across the road, got into my head was I was going to wrap around this and be electrocuted. Funny thought isn't it? But you know in seconds in your life when you think you've only got that to that corner, I was able to turn that car across the road and head straight for the corner, to a brick wall to avoid the post. At the same time, I could see Dot's face in front of me as clear as if she were there, and the thought's racing by that I'll never see her again. And do you know, it transported back to her because when the police came to tell her about my accident she hadn't even bothered packing, she knew something had happened. She's always been psychic like that. And do you know I even had time to think about not hurting people. The great fear of being killed had vanished completely. The adrenalin was so high with me I could even taste it in my mouth. My heart was just frantic. All that nervousness had come back, shattered that ... there was sort of a fear of not hurting somebody else. And the car mounted the footpath and I saw all these blacks running everywhere. And I hit this ... the wall on an angle and the engine came straight up onto the seat. I broke the steering wheel on my chest. My head hit the top of the ... the ... the ... the glass and my teeth ... come out through my teeth ... went through my lip. And my shin bone was just right down to the bone where I went underneath the dashboard. So there I was. I was spared. The engine there it was sitting on the seat and the whole thing was just in a circle of crushed metal. And I pulled myself out of that and my days of an army medical man ... shock: you need plenty of sweet, sugar in your tea, coffee, all that.
Oh. It didn't take long. I love life you know. [Laughs]
Yes I missed that one with Jim Reeves, who I worshipped. I thought Jim Reeves was such a wonderful singer. That would have been my great stepping stone to the Opry. And of course, I probably might have changed the course of my whole life. Instead of coming back to Australia I might have even stayed in America. So even these little things have some bearing of which way your life's going. You know you have command of your destiny but not your fate. And I always feel that these things are meant to be somehow. The good Lord wanted to spare me a little bit longer. But I did wake up in the hospital there, laying on a slab, with nothing on, just a sheet. I thought: Oh I must be in heaven somewhere, or in the morgue. And there was a policeman who wanted to arrest me for running a red light. And there was no witnesses. They said I run a red light. And he said, 'You run a red. You run a re'ad'. I said, 'I didn't run any re'ad. I got heet', in my best southern accent. He said, 'Well the good lady says you did, you did'. And I said, 'I didn't'. And anyway they were stitching up my mouth here while I was semi-conscious, stitching it all back and making it look up like this. And my chest was absolutely paining because, as I say, the steering wheel had smashed on my chest. Thank God, but I got a terrible whiplash out of it and my head was aching fearfully and I couldn't walk. So he said, 'I'm afraid we can't keep you here but I'm afraid I'll have to arrest you for reckless driving'. 'But I'm a casualty. You going to arrest me?' So then Dot came in, looked down on me and she said "What are you trying to do to him?" And all the people that I'd made friends with there in Chattanooga - Van Campbell, and all the civic clubs that I'd been made honorary member of, the Kiwanas, the Rotarians, the Optimus Clubs, of which I was an honorary member - all came to my help. They'd all heard about it on the radio. And there was the radio station there doing a broadcast about it and he knew a judge that would help me out. And the big welcome of course when you come in ... into the city in Nashville is 'Welcome South brother', it's a lovely warm feeling. Here I was being treated like this. Because they'd brought the black Moria up and he said ... and I remember this lovely lady, Rosemary, who had married one of the GIs, an Australian girl, who took me home and nursed me. And she was there too, crying her eyelids out and she said to Dottie, 'Dottie you're not going to let them put Smoky up in that are you?' And Dot said, 'I don't care if he goes on a dirt cart, so long as he can walk'. And the man looked at me, he said, 'You needn't get inside. Come sit up in the driver's seat with me'. So he gave me a little bit of respect. And down it went, down to the lock up, with this great cavalcade of cars following behind. And there was the recruiting officer from the Navy with his Southern flag flying on his big Cadillac, and Van Campbell and all friends and news reporters, and people looked in the street to see this strange procession going down. 'What is it?' 'I don't know, must be something important'. Then I got down there. It was only a few minutes then I was bailed out. I was bailed out for reckless driving. And I was put in ... I was sitting down there waiting ... waiting to be released, and I was sitting by a couple of fellers who were gun running and all sorts of things. And I often think back and think: What if I didn't know anybody? How would I have fared? I really would have had a terrible time.
No, except the lady driving the car. She was the wife of the Chief City Engineer of Chattanooga so you know whose side they were on. And she was on her way up to meet her husband at City Hall where the Police Department was, where the Mayor met, where everybody was, and the Crown Prosecutor. And here was me - not only an out of town driver ... Of course I was being arrested for reckless driving, but she was only cited because she lived there. But I was also an alien. And this is where you feel people coming to another land. Here I was - I wasn't an American. I was an Australian and I didn't even talk right. I did my best. [Laughs]
That accident was to change the course of my life and my destiny you might say. Because when we went down to the court the judge looked at us once, and he happened to be at one of the big Kiwanas, a big meeting that I was a guest for and I was described as a Will Rogers. And he said, 'Mr Dawson,' he said, 'I never enjoyed so much in my life your wonderful speech', and he said, 'I wish I could help you', and I said, 'You can help me. Let me out of all this'. And he looked across at the lady, he said, 'What all happened?' She said [QUOTED IN A SOUTHERN ACCENT], 'I don't know. I was coming up the hill and there's this man coming by and I ... all I know is that the ... the light was green when I went and the next thing I'd gone right into him. And my mother had broken her shoulder, she hit it so hard'. Well, it stove the side of the car in. But the thing was, look at the double standards here. The same judge had prosecuted a man only about a week before because he'd been pulled up at the traffic light at the back of another car, where another car came in the back of him and crushed him. And so he said, 'You did the hitting'. Although he was pushed into it he did the hitting.
He said to me, 'Are you two people insured?' And we said, 'We all are'. And he said, 'Well I think I'll leave it to the civic courts to do that. Have a nice day Mr Dawson'. And so on my crutches I waddled out and one of the men from the Kiwanas came over to me. He said, 'I'm a lawyer and I would like to take up the case for you and we'll sue her for $25,000'. And he said, 'This case is not over yet'. Well by that time I'd gone - hitchhiked my way down there to Nashville with this record under my arm of The Last Supper and I met the great Fred Rose. And there were all these wonderful people there and he invited me in and his son, Wesley, who has died since. And Bud Brown, the accountant, who signed me up on a three year exclusive song writing contract and took my record and said, 'Smoky, we guarantee you a major label and you're under contract to us and the management will do the same as they did with Hank Williams'. I become the party of Acuff Rose, who have been the greatest friends of mine of my life. They're dead and gone now. Roy Acuff's gone and I got all my pictures of them. I've gone back to America so many times since then and been feted. They've joined me up among them as their Reunionaires along with the American All Time Greats and I've had some wonderful times. And so, you know, our American cousins and Australians are now in a bond of friendship which proves the universality of Country Music.
Oh no. I had a kangaroo. One kangaroo I thought I had, but actually there were three and they were given to me by the citizens of South Australia as a goodwill token and the RSPCA passed them, and Pan American were to take them over. And Mr. Moorhouse who was in charge of fisheries and game, passed them. Okay, right? And they were to follow me on my trip to America so by the time I got there I would have this lovely kangaroo - a little joey I could lead around. It was only about this size. And when I got there, of course, no kangaroos. Eight months down the track still no kangaroos. And then I read in the paper that Clive Evatt, here, had overstepped his authority and confiscated my kangaroos when they were in transit here into New South Wales, where they were protected. And he gave them to Sir Edward Halstrom down at Taronga Park. So he had my kangaroos. And I was so angry about this I wrote to Frank Hardy. I knew he'd fix it up. And I said, 'If something's not done, I'm going to sue him because he has ruined my whole concert over here and for what I've come to do'. So in a very short time the kangaroo was released and they were on their way to America. Good old Frank. So when I got to Nashville, they told me that I had a telegram from J. Walter Thompson to say that ... that they'd like me to be in touch with them. They had some very interesting news about the show I'd done in Australia for Scrimmager (?). In the meantime I thought: Well I better see New York, so I'll look them up when I get there. So I said goodbye to old Nashville and Fred Rose and took the Greyhound bus to New York. When I got there I looked up an old friend of mine who was living up near the Palace Theatre on Broadway and he said to me, 'Just in the nick of time', he said. 'Do you know', he said 'The Roxy Theatre up here ...', which was the biggest large ... or largest movie houses in the world. They played half vaudeville, variety, and half films. And he said, 'They are having a premiere of the film made in Australia called 'Kangaroo', which is played by Peter Lawford and Richard Boone. Now it so happened that I had a bit to do with that before I left here, in whip cracking. And so I thought to myself, Ah-ha, I'll hook onto this one. So with my knife still on my hip as a knife thrower, three days stubble of beard and this stockwhip over my arm and in thought back on the pet farm of these kangaroos that had arrived in Hollywood, I armed people with all this information on Australia I went down to see Sterling Silliphant - I think he was man who created Naked City. He was the big chief of 20th Century Fox. And I'll never forget when we walked in, I just stood there in front of him looking very much six feet tall and rugged looking, but all Australian, with this snakeskin tie that Peter Dawson had given me. 'Well, well, well. What have we got here?' And so they said ... they introduced me and said, 'They call him the Man from Down Under. Wild Man from Down Under'. And he said, 'As a matter of fact he has been the technical adviser on the film Kangaroo'. And I said, 'Not that', and Charlie said, 'Oh yes you are'. He whispered to me, he said, 'You don't say anything like that in New York. Just say you did it. You did it. That's it. Get the job'. He said to me, 'What do you do with that whip?' I said, 'I crack it. I do a few tricks'. So he put a cigarette in his mouth and I went bang, bang knocked it out of his mouth. Wow. And he said, 'What else have you got?' I said, 'I've got a kangaroo'. He said, 'Hey, get the PR boys. Get down and get to work on him'. He said, 'I'm going to sign you up.
Well I certainly had use for them. What was to happen to me ... when I arrived in New York I found that there was a big film made in Australia called Kangaroo by Peter Lawford and Richard Boone, and it was to be shown at the Roxy Theatre, which is the second largest movie house in the world. And I went up to see Sterling Silliphant there, who was the chief of Twentieth Century Fox, and armed with my knife and my whip, looking like a real man from Down Under, introduced myself as from Australia and I had with me a kangaroo. And of course he had me put on the payroll and he said, 'I'm going to change your name from Smoky Dawson to Smoky ... Mister Craig Dawson, affectionately known Down Under as Smoky, and technical adviser on the film Kangaroo', which at that time I hadn't even seen. [Laughs] So he got the PR boys to do a job on me and I must say it was one of the highlights of my life because I was riding around in a big black Cadillac. I had a chauffeur there waiting for me at any time. I was staying at the Astor ... the old Astor in Times Square and I was on call anytime that they wanted me. And then, I got a call one morning and he said, 'Now what we're going to do, we've got to try and sell this film, because it's a lousy film'. It was done on the cheap. As you know the film itself was all about two villains who were out to get an old man, rob him of his money and they used the kangaroo as the backdrop and they had a posse of kangaroos, or stampede of kangaroos, and they'd done this here, expecting them to do work like cattle and of course the scene in the bushfire was psht like that. That's all they saw of the kangaroos. So they had to run them back this way and that way to make a stampede. So in all, there was very little to do about the kangaroo in it. Now the kangaroo I had was given to me, like I said, from Australia as a token of goodwill. But when it was sent over to me, after a lot of pressure, I found that I didn't get the same kangaroo as what I had. They sent me a buck instead of a doe. Instead of getting a joey I got a very robust male kangaroo, who was a bit terrified too. Having been coming on Slip Airways across from New York in a storm, it was unsettled. [It] arrived on Long Island and was put in the garage at Sterling Silliphant's father-in-law's home and he rang me up on the Saturday morning saying I was to arrive at the Roxy Theatre, where I was to be met by a team of journalists and there was to be an exhibit of a white albino kangaroo sent over by Sir Ed Hallstrom. And I was to tell them all about the habits and the great nature of Australia and this wild kangaroo, but it all back fired. Then of course I was to come with my kangaroo on the lead. Well he said to me, 'Come over here. We've got a monster. Come quickly'. So away I went to ... we were supposed to be ten o'clock Saturday morning arriving, coming down with a police escort down Broadway. Here I was on Long Island. Got out there and there was Sterling to meet me, very upset. And he said, 'I didn't bargain for this'. And of course I think: Oh there goes my meal ticket. And a contract. He said, 'I can't manage the darn thing'. I said, 'Where is it?' He said, 'It's in the garage and get it out quick fast'. So when I go down there's this poor frightened thing standing up in a corner. And the smell is absolutely terrible. What he was concerned about, [was] his father-in-law's big beautiful Cadillac. The kangaroo's bounding over one side to another, manuring all the time. Zipparoma. So he said, 'Doesn't know', I said, 'Might know you'. Well I walked in and talk about getting out of fixes and things. I always manage some way. So here was I with a stockwhip and the media behind me to see that everything went well. That's the worst part. They're there to check on you. And Mrs. Sterling - you know, she was so naive. And she looked in and said, 'Oh that poor little Joey', she said and she referred to its undercarriage as its pouch. She said, 'Oh that's where the kangaroos come from'. And I said ... He's looking at me and he said, 'It's a funny looking female'. Anyhow I said, 'Yeah I know. They've sent me the wrong one. It's a buck'. So he said, 'Right. Do something. Get it'. So I said, 'I'll do it. I'll make one dive on it'. So I dive down and grab it by the tail and throw it off its balance. Swung it over and, oh, it fought all the way - slipped and slid all over the garage with me hanging onto it. I was able to wrap a little bit of my whip around it to hold it and gradually carry it. And here's Mrs Silliphant there with a bowl of bread and milk trying to feed it. I said, 'Take it away. The kangaroo won't be eating that'. Now how are we going to get down to Broadway with this? I tell you what. They're very strong - kangaroos, and they look very small but when they stand up straight ... And my God, we put it in the back seat of this Cadillac and we put some covering there so it wouldn't manure all over the seat. And the chauffeur, he was from the South and he was like ... it was like a shot from Mack Sennet. His eyeballs were rolling around and he said, 'Get me out of this', in the front seat trying to drive this Cadillac. I said, 'We'll keep the hood down'. 'No, no, no', he said. 'Keep the hood up. Open it when you get to New York'. So we put the hood up. Convertible Cadillac see. And down we went down Horace Hardy Boulevard. Now, as you know in America, they don't call police stations police stations, they call them ... they call them precincts. So we went from the Fifth Precinct to the Fourth to the Third, all the way down Horace Hardy Boulevard with this kangaroo in the back and me with my arm around it. His name was to be Zip, Z-I-P, Zip. Smoky and affectionately with his little kangaroo Zip, which was a buck. And of course the kangaroo just frustrated, just stood there, just sat there and gave up the struggle for a while. Well we were about passing the Fifth Precinct and on either side were the wild woods of Long Island. You'll find the big places like great shipping line, the Vanderbilts and all that and multi-millionaires and palatial columns and homes and gardens. This is where Zip had his eye on. Because as we were passing one of these places he made one final leap after I was nearly passing out with Ziparoma. And we pressed the button to let the thing down. The kangaroo made one dive. I grabbed it by the tail and there we both ended up on the tarmac - on the ... on the freeway. So, he made one dive across the road, over the fence and into the wild woods of Long Island. Well I just stood there and thought: Well there goes my meal ticket. I'm back to Australia, no money, no what. Because I'd failed. I couldn't turn up. But the PR had come behind me. The Public Relations car had followed me. They raced up to me and said, 'What the heck do you think you're doing? What did you let him go for?' I said, 'I didn't let him go'. He said, 'You just did'. I said, 'No he did it all on his own'. I said, 'Oh God, what am I going to do now?' He said, 'There's only one thing you can do. But for God's sake don't mention Twentieth Century Fox. We don't want this ... This is not a stunt, but it's going to look like one. Now', he said, 'We've got to think, quick. I'm not going to go in with you. You go straight into that Fifth Precinct. Go in there and tell them that you are the technical adviser on this film and you've lost a kangaroo and you need help'. So in I went and of course I probably over reacted. I went in with my best Australian southern accent and said, 'I've lost my kangaroo. What can you do to help me?' And they did. Both fellers got up from their, buckled up their guns and looked at me and it was like I was ready for the green card. And they said, 'Wait a minute. You all quieten down there. Where you all from?' I said, 'I'm from Australia. My name is Craig Dawson'. They said, 'You sound like you're one of those hillbillies from Daisy's Mountain'. And I said, 'Well I was talking the best'. He said, 'Well your accent ...'. To New Yorkers I did sound like that. And when I got stirred up and, of course, in Rome you do as Rome does. So I played it all. I was there standing six feet tall with my whip around my shoulder, this three days growth of beard and looking very much like a wild man from Down Under. And they had never seen a kangaroo before. See you're looking back into 1952. America didn't have a kangaroo. Didn't have one in New York at all. This was to be New York's first kangaroo. And here we were. And this escapade. How am I ever going to get through this? Well and I went into the police station, and as I say, they jumped up and reacted that way. He said, 'Make him a cup of coffee. Sit down'. Making a few phone calls. And in come Twentieth Century Fox PR. He said, 'Just a moment, I'm his manager and this ... we're Twentieth Century Fox', he said, 'We've hired Mr. Dawson for this kangaroo and by golly we're going to get it'. And he said, 'We thought you'd gone around the bend'. 'No. No, no', he said, 'This is Mr. Dawson. He is the greatest entertainer in the world'. 'Oh an icon. Well'. Well, I got all the treatment in the world. He said, 'Mr. Dawson, I've got twenty-seven men here I can give to you right now to help you out. We are going to get that kangaroo for you. In fact my men haven't had a shot at anyone for ...' 'I don't want anyone shot', I said. 'This is my friend. This is Zip'. 'Oh. Oh I see. Oh you want it back in one piece?' I said 'Yeah'. 'My God, How big is it?' 'Oh about this big - prehistoric'. And of course, the posters at the Roxy Theatre, outside the theatre, billed this enormous looking kangaroo from a prehistoric age, with blood coming off its fangs, leaping. This is the only way they could sell the darn thing. And here I was painting this great picture of this prehistoric animal. And it wasn't long before the Nasser County press picked it up and said, 'Kangaroo escaped in the wild woods of Long Island'. He got through to ... to ... to Sterling Silliphant and said, 'The kangaroo's lost'. 'What happened?' 'It got out of the car. We can't find it'. 'Keep him lost', he said. 'Keep him lost?'. He said ... he said, 'Better than what we had. We were going to get that kangaroo down here and Smoky was to be arrested because he was going to block up the footpath with his Zip kangaroo and we were going to put him in the wagon and take him up town and try him before a kangaroo court'. [Laughs] Which never occurred, I didn't have to do that you see. And it all backfired. So there was the kangaroo, lost for five days in the wildwoods of Long Island. And it took me about three days to find out [that] it broke the news on the front page, wiping the Korean War off the front page of the New York World Telegram, which at that time was a big paper like the New York Times. And there it was. In black letters, big, like war had been declared, 'Zip Zigs as the Police Zag'. And me, great Dawson, I was made overnight. I was asked to join the Adventurer's Club and show my movies. [Laughs] Isn't that fantastic?
They found him out at Lake Success, where the United Nations were meeting. I think he was there to put his little bit in, and represent Australia. [Laughs] And who was to get him but the very ... the sergeant in charge of the police station. He was the one that found him out at the golf course and threw a net over him. The poor thing had run himself out. He'd scared everybody in Long Island and the front pages showed that all the school stopped having children come to school. They were frightened of the prehistoric monster jumping buildings. You know people's imaginations go really a long way, don't they?
Well, he eventually ended up ... I handed him over with great ceremony to New York Central Park Zoo, which is for children. In other words to go to a zoo, the Central Park Zoo, you have to be escorted by a child. And that's where Zip went to spend his days, with a big ceremony and the ggodwill from the ambassador ... the Australian ambassador, who was much concerned about it. Because back home all the news was coming back that 'Kangaroo scares Americans in New York jumping around here' and 'Cheap showman riding on the back of a kangaroo to get a meal', 'Our native fauna', it still went on, even then, you know, the environment. So I had a bit of a branding back here for the environment issues. And I didn't ... We didn't have greenhouse or green effect then, but we had that protectionist group that reading in the papers thought that I was just getting a cheap thing out of the kangaroo. Now I could have made a lot of money out of that kangaroo. I was offered a lot of money. And the idea was they were going to take him to ... down to Atlanta and he was to dine with me with the Mayor of Atlanta, and I was to decide which zoo he was to go to. Can you imagine a kangaroo sitting there in a restaurant there while they dined, while we discuss which home it's going to, and eventually the Atlanta Zoo would get it? And so, I finished up by giving it to Central Park Zoo and Twentieth Century Fox were going to sue me. Because I gave away the kangaroo, they said, 'We had other things to do with it'. I said, 'No way. I got all this pressure on me and I don't want it'. I felt sorry for that little kangaroo, which had become a monster in the people's minds. And thereby is the tale of the kangaroo. Do you know what? That was to turn my whole life around, and the decision whether I was going to come back to Australia or stay there as an icon, because I had a lot of success there. I was offered a part in Kiss Me Kate in the Theatre of the Round. And it was the first experience I ever had of going in that and playing Petruccio and cracking a whip round Kate and watch her drop, almost to her underwear. And drinking a bottle of wine and decorking it - doing things I'd never done in my life in the Theatre of the Round, Atlanta Field, New Jersey. All these great things were happening to me because I was suddenly wrapped up in a world of show business. And the Palace Theatre. There was offers for me. Irving Barrett - he was big booking agent there at the Palace Theatre, where Judy Garland was then showing and Will Mahoney, and he said, 'You've got a great future. Boy you've got talent. I want to represent you'. And I said, 'No I don't want any more please. I got to go home'. 'No, you can't do that'. So, I did come home. And I'll never forget it. After all the offers were coming through for me to stay and make movies and go to Hollywood and ... but Australia was calling. Kellogg's had eventually ... not because of my kangaroo, but what they had seen at the Wintergarden Theatre in Rose Bay, of the movie that I made before I went away, The Cowboys from Down Under with Uncle Scrim, a one man show, in which I carried the camera, I did all the stunting, I rode the horses, I milked the cows. I did all sorts of things in it. With one cameraman who only had one eye and a camera that he had to get a screw driver out to get a close up in his lens. And I had to carry all this up the hills there up near Gosford. Oh, I'll never forget what I had to do to try and make myself famous.
They saw that. They said, 'We want him'. And Tom Carruthers and Scrim said, 'We've been trying to sell him before he went away'. 'We'll get him back'. So I did a real bargaining there and I said, 'Right'. And I said, 'Well you got to come'.
They made me the biggest offer that's ever been offered in this country. I was right on the top bracket with the Dyers and ...
They wanted me to do a serial which was called Jindawarrabel, a national programme. They were going to have an Australian character that would replace, on the movies and the theatres where they go, Gene Autry and Wild Bill. They were going to have Smoky Dawson. And for the first time the drovers in Australia, they'd be like me, they'd have their own cowboy. And when I told this to Americans later, that we only had one cowboy and a horse, they said, 'How come?' I said, 'That's all they could afford'. Yeah. Well, you know - when I look back in all this it is just like a fantasy. But it's very real, but ...
Oh yes. See, it took a bit of decision. But I think what made me decide to come home was mainly Dot. Plus the fact I do believe, too, that I hadn't finished with Australia, that I had still a lot to give to it. And although I might have gone on to a lot of success - I had a little short movies offered to me. Like before I went home I was offered a couple of short movies, like riding out with Gene Autry, riding out to do a quickie on a horse, a baddie and throwing a knife in ... past somebody as I went by on a horse. Just a quickie in and out. And fly me ... pick me up in a few minutes in a helicopter and go home. As quick as that.
A bit homesick I think. She was missing home. She had a few tears, you know. Mainly it all started when I was training to play Petruccio. Or understudying Ted Scott. But I had to fill in a gap and I had to do this stock whip and to get a bit of practice we were staying at the Woodward Hotel. So we went right up onto the top and stood up there on the top, with all the skyscrapers around us. And she was holding these pieces of paper and doing all that. And I'm banging this whip and all these fellers are yelling out and of course she breaks down and starts crying. And I went, Oh God, what have I done?' And then out - all these fellers in their shirtsleeves. It's a hot summer night too. And of course when you crack a whip you can hear it echoing all down like canyons, down through the city. And all these fellers open their windows: 'What the heck's going on? Leave the darn girl alone. What are you doing beating her like that for?' And I'm trying to tell them to shut their mouths all this time, that I'm trying to get a rehearsal in. And Dottie said ... she was to come along and she was going to be the girl in it too - play Kate. And oh, she broke up. She went down. She said, 'Why can't we go back to Australia? Why do we have to do all this kangaroo chases? You're always up to something. I never know where you are'. Worrying about me. It all comes out all right. And I thought: Oh dear, what am I doing now? So I went back. I went back to the agency and I said, 'I'm sorry, I can't do it. I can't play Petruccio'. 'You'll play Petruccio'. I said, 'My wife ...'. 'Well we'll find somebody else's wife, but you've got to do that. If you don't do that, I will blackball you right through America. You'll never make another appearance in America'. There I was torn between Dottie ... my love for Dottie and that, and I'd never be able to do that and my ego. My climbing to success, who knows where I might have ended up. Oh dear, oh dear: What'll I do? It was all emotional, you know. And I thought: What's she gone through for me ... because you see I was out doing things, where Dottie ... and all these things were happening and she was powerless. And half the time I was never there. I was just reporting back to her. 'Where have you been? I've been waiting here all this time and where are you? I've been hearing you on the radio. What are you doing?' 'It'll all be over. Let us go home. All right. We'll go home'.
Well I also had an ABC contract too. Harry Pringle decided to get in on the act, just for The Showman on Sunday. The Adventures of Smoky in America and I done three years with him on what was called The Inlander, stories of the inland in which I travelled outback and brought back and put them into sequences [for] quarter-of-an-hour programmes. Got the honours of the week in Melbourne when it first started, much to the amazement of some agencies, who thought it would flop, for its unusual character of a man coming into a living room telling stories and singing songs about it. So I had three years with them and then I finished up with that too ... with Peter Dawson. But, now here was Harry Pringle. He was out there to meet me at this airport. Now Scrim had worked the Oracle. So we were booked to come home and I said, 'We're not coming home, unless Dottie's in the programme too'. So she played Janet. They wrote her into it. And she become the lovely girl that Bud Tingwell had to fall in love with, playing the part of Sergeant Keene at Jindawarrabel Station. That was all tied up in one go and that's how segue ... segue, you know, from America back home, this wonderful meeting at the airport. Home.
About ten years. That was with replays. It existed ten years. It only succumbered (sic) because of this thing called television. And as I was doing plenty of it in New York ... In fact I did a lot of television. I had no experience with it but I gathered it all and I found what you had to do and what you didn't do. And I knew things like shadows on the face and the type of make up and over reaction and movements. And I just fell into it. I set up my stockwhip and knife throwing act as quick as anything. I could do anything at all. And I was going over everywhere I went. I was going big and all this was opening up for me. When I come back here and then Kellogg's signed me up and they said for three years and I had a contract that allowed me to go back one year here, one year there. Do enough here. Because I was signed up to do a major movie and it was called Adventure Down Under about an American and an Australian, which I had written and because they wouldn't come to the party here with Aborigines, they were going to use Puerto Ricans and I'd dress them up as Aborigines. [Laughs] And we got all this stuff for a television series and motion picture. And I still got those old scripts but it never eventuated because Scrim wouldn't come to the party. So I stayed. I never went back to America for many years. I become successful.
Could you describe ... I want to ask you a question and I'd like you to put together for me in one nice, neat answer, the whole business of that period of sponsorship by Kellogg's and how you had the radio programme and you also had the Smoky Dawson Club and, you know, all of that. So I'll ask you a question about that. You are asked by Kellogg's to come back and do this radio programme, what other kinds of things did they want from you as your sponsor?
Well they wanted me really to sell cornflakes, [Laughs] which I did. In fact we took the cup from the world as the biggest eater of cereals and got the cup, and due to Smoky. And they made the serial so good that it went all over Australia and won the hearts of everybody. It was supposed to be doomed to die in the first year but it went on and on and on. And we had the best actors, like Gordon Chater and Bud Tingwell, who are the only two remaining people. Grogan has since died played by Ken Wayne. Leaves me a little sad. But yeah, that programme embraced a lot of other good things. It was to get down to the hearts of children in their ways of life - the values of life. Smoky was a good guy and it was me - I really wanted to do that. So they invented ... they had a lovely badge. And this was to be pinned on every child that was able to adhere to certain principles: the Codes of the West that were ... one was to obey your parents, come to the table when you're first called with clean fingers, clean mind and all that kind of thing. And honour your flag and country, which was most important. Be a good sportsman and a good citizen, help your neighbour in need. And when you fulfilled twenty-two days of that without blemish, mum and dad pinned the badge on you. Now I might say, along the way, those little boxes weren't all filled in with ticks. And many of them have shown me their old forms they filled in and never passed. They had a lot of crosses in them. And I know some very important people doing policy today that still have their badges. I don't know whether they adhere to those same principles, which I feel they should. I think they've gone a little astray and I think they need another Smoky to bring them back into morality and to get on with the business and get the country running and that wonderful mateship going again. So Kellogg's did something there. They gathered in one million fans - one million all over Australia, which was the biggest, the most biggest club we've ever had. So big they couldn't handle any more, because of the correspondence. And I still have some of those letters. I keep every letter. I don't keep diaries - dangerous to have diaries. But I have letters of children when they were writing when they were six that are somewhere in Australia. If we put a call out and say, 'Where are you?' well maybe we might come up with some answers.
Ah well, we had Bob Cavallieri. I know he's still got his badge. He was one of the Ministers in the Labor government when yes - not so very long ago. And Paul Keating. And I had some memories too of who we got ... Ministers, still got it. And some of the artists too have come up to me and said they've still got their badge. Some have sent their badges to me - turned them in, only because they're frightened they might lose them. But I meet them every day and I find people coming along [saying] 'When I was a kid you taught me the ways of life and I want to let you know how far I went'. This is something that I'd like to know. [INTERRUPTION]
[Laughs] Well I can't rule out the Prime Minister, Paul Keating. He's a friend of mine. I've had several occasions of meeting him with Kevin Hill, the Mayor of Bankstown and his wife is Dutch, as you know. And of course she didn't know anything about Australia and of course when we were invited to be the guests at the mayoral ball we were the VIPs and Kevin said to me, 'Look, wait a minute because I had two special friends coming to join us, who will be sharing the night with us', and when he walked in it was the Prime Minister and his wife. And he said, 'This is Smoky', and he said to me, 'I know all about Smoky Dawson. I've just been telling my wife, who is from Holland, all about what Smoky stands for: Honesty, Integrity ...' - everything that was on the Code of the West. So I said to him, 'Fancy that, I didn't know that you were a member'. He said, 'I've always listened to Smoky Dawson. I've been one of his members for years'. And I then discovered too, when I met up with Graeme Richardson, when he opened up that big school on what was once my ranch up there now, and he said, 'Anyone that's got this place of Smoky Dawson's is on hallowed ground'. And he said to me, 'I remember Smoky'. I said, 'Yeah'. And he said, 'When I was a kid', he said, 'You nearly took my bloomin' tongue off with your stockwhip, trying to knock a piece of paper out of my mouth', when I went to his school.
Well, television - that monster that devours everything, material as fast as you make it. Now the radio show had had its time. It went ten years. And I was advised that I should get into television and I felt that because of the mistakes they were making in the early days of television I wasn't going to be the guinea pig. And although I'd had experience in the States on television, I decided that I'd like to keep that wonderful mystery, the wonderful feeling about radio, which has its own following and their own producers. So I didn't want to destroy that image where people might remember me as Smoky riding into the sunset and so just watch him come on television twiddling a gun and telling him, 'Now, kids, don't wear guns'. I didn't feel ... it wasn't my time for that. So I kept right out of television and everybody thought I was lost completely.
Well, Dottie presented me with about twenty-six beautiful acres up in a place called Ingleside which was to become the Smoky Dawson Ranch. And it was on my birthday and she gave me the keys to the gate. It was a beautiful place because it didn't have a building on it. There wasn't a house in sight and all was this wonderful mountains around, the Kuringai Chase and we had these lovely white rails that we put up, and a rodeo ground, and shoots and things and that's where I was to put my horse, Flash. At that time, Flash was down here at the council yards where he was sharing the meals with the old draft horses that used to pull the drays here. So we decided that he needed a better home than that. So, quite an expensive place for one horse.
I got him as a two year old down at a place near Goulburn and he was running wild. He belonged to a fellow called Tex Mooney, and the Mooney family were wonderful horsemen, and they said, 'Well, if you like to catch him, he's spoiled. He's young and unbroken but he's a rebel'. So I went out there and got Flash and at that time I was advertised to appear at the Redfern Oval for the Smith Family. And of course there was a wonderful crowd down there at the South Sydney Leagues Club. And I put Flash on a float all the way from, oh, way up in Castle Hill. We came with Allen Dennis. He was the man who helped me put him on. He'd never been on that kind of a situation before. And this float I had was all beautifully done and pulled one horse, where I could watch him behind from driving my car and Kellogg's had written all over the back of it The Smoky Dawson Show, in great big black letters and the stockwhip on the side, and I had to be at the Redfern Oval in time for this big concert and to ride Flash around ... around the arena. And it poured raining, absolutely came down in torrents and I went for my life to get there as fast as I could and I could hear this horse whinnying behind me. He'd never been taken away from his home before. When I got down to the Redfern Oval all the police were out there and I think even the Commissioner of Police were there that day. The place was packed and Rolf Harris had run out of ... laryngitis really, from singing Tie Me Kangaroo Down, and everything had ceased on the showground. And there was about a foot of water. The maypoles had stopped going so they ... I grabbed the saddle and put it on his back and we never realised when we went in that he wasn't mouthed. Now I had these two forty-five Colts and I raced around the oval with him and fired off my guns. As I came around, there's Esmond Tester came forward with a film crew, to welcome me in and I pulled the horse up, but nothing happened. I said, 'I'll get you on the next round'. And I might tell you, I went close to that fence, so close to it, I thought I was going to go over the top. And Dot was standing back with all these kids behind this ... this railing fence. And the horse was on its side like a drrrrrrrrr, just like a car on two wheels. I did four laps and the ol' horse just petered out.
And that was the beginning of Flash, but why did you need a real horse for a radio programme? Well, we had to. The programme we did with Kellogg's demanded that Smoky Dawson have a super horse. He had to be a horse that would follow me for the rest of my life. He'd be a pal who would understand when I'm in danger and he was a horse that would always carry me away to safety. And therefore, we needed a horse with intelligence and he had to be a beautiful Palomino, of course. We couldn't let Roy Rogers have it on his own. I might say, he had four Triggers and four Triggers in the life of one Flash. Which was something of a record because nobody could understand why a place like Australia could only afford one cowboy and a horse, but then of course, they don't get Kellogg's every day, do they? Sponsors of that magnitude. Yeah, well, we had to have a ranch and that's where Flash went.
Well, he did some unusual things. First of all he was a bit of a rebel like I said, and I put him in the show ring to see how much talent he had, and they opened the gate and he just came charging straight at me with bare teeth. Open mouth, this big monster tearing down, galloping at me and I cracked my stock whip around him as he got near and he just bucked off and just missed my ear with his back heels by about that much. And then he went galloping around the ring and I cracked my whip a few times and he come galloping up to me, put his head on me shoulder, [and] decided that it would be safer to be near me than too far away. He didn't know what was coming from that ol' whip. But I might say, I never hit Flash once in my life with a stock whip, but did a lot of cracking around him. And I taught him to do all his turning right and left with a forty-five Colt blank in his ear, so if I wanted to go left I just put the gun up and gone bang and he'd go this way. And you could ride him with just a shoe string around his nose. Other than that ... but you couldn't pull him up. He was very tough on the mouth, unbroken and John Denver almost found out to his cost. He wanted to get on him and he bolted and nearly decapitated him under one of my pine trees up there. And ol' Flash: yeah, a wonderful horse. Lived to thirty-five. I had him all those years. Taught him wonderful tricks because they had to be in keeping with what I did on ... with the Kellogg Show and Flash was The Wonder Horse.
Yeah, he was. You know the old cliche is never fly ... [never] follow an elephant act or any animal or a kid, but Flash stole the show and I think he'd be the only horse that ever walked down into Nock & Kirby's. Went down in their lift in York Street and walked through the ladies underwear department without soiling them and put him in a little corral there and met the people and then McDowell's had them ... [PHONE - SLATE]
Well, we did a lot of unusual things. Matter of fact, we used to have a race. I used to do all these things up on the ranch to amuse the kids. We'd have the finishing line and we'd both get down ready to go, and I'd run and he'd follow me but he'd never ever pass me. I always taught him, so I always won. And I taught him to do scenes for films where you might be looking a young attractive lady - the cowboy and the lady situation and very embarrassingly, you know, introducing yourself and the horse comes behind and fixes it all for you by shoving you into her, nudging me in the back so my arms go around the girl and there we go on the ground. Very embarrassing situations at times. And he'd also do the Spanish Walk. He did all those wonderful dressage movements. He could jump, he'd do the Back and Forward. He could even play the guitar with his tongue. I used to play the chords and he'd just lick the chords. I think he thought there was something sweet on them but he was very good. We appeared at the Hordern Pavilion: the only time ever that, that a horse ever appeared on the Hordern Stage just after the Liberace Show and I did this for Kevin Jacobson. And the place was packed out. Col Joy's band was on stage and Flash ... I rode Flash up onto the stage, dismounted and then from one side I directed him to march to me just by hand signals, and when he got to the centre, he turned in and went to the mic and bowed, put one [hoof] down and bowed to the audience. Then I'd join him and then I stood beside him and we played a little game called 'the cowboy isn't speaking to his horse' and the caption there was, the lady kissed the horse but not the rider, so the cowboy isn't speaking to his horse. So I turned away from him like this, and he turned away from me, and of course then he tried to make up with me, knowing I had a little carrot here but nobody knew that, so he'd put his head right around there like this, and it was a beautiful scene. And I know that the people went crazy about this golden horse. He stole the show from me that day. But after four days there, without making a nuisance of himself, he couldn't help ... he couldn't contain it any longer. And I looked round and there's his tail going up with a spotlight on it and somebody starts, 'By God's sake get a box someone', because here it was coming down. Kevin Jacobson had a drummer in that day and this was about to fall on his drum. Oh, talk about ... it was the greatest bit of fertiliser you ever saw. And what do you think I did with it? I turned it into a part of my act. I auctioned it to all the ladies for their roses and I got five dollars and we put a bouquet around it with a little flower on the top so Flash wasn't actually disgraced. That was one wonderful episode. Another time too, was riding up King William St. or up William St. rather. I'm back in Adelaide. In Sydney here, to the Hyatt, to the Outback Bar, where I had to ride my horse down into the bar and meet the President of Hyatt International and there, of course, they put out a news flash that any of the journalists that would like to come along and join Smoky between ten and twelve, they'd have free drinks. [Laughs] That was one way of getting the media there. And I had to ride down the steps and it's all done up like an Outback Bar with the tin shed and fly marks on the wall, and we went up to there and ordered a beer. I think there's a photo of that somewhere of me, with Flash, having a beer. It wasn't really adopted. The horse had one look at it and turned away. I think he knew his master wasn't much interested in alcohol.
Yes, it was a big loss, because you must understand that, apart from anything else, one of the big highlights of my life with Flash, on air when he was just, you know, a two year old and he died at thirty-five. It's a long time to have a horse. You know, some people don't have their wives that long and, you know, well, Flash and I were invited to lead the Waratah Festival, which went eighteen years and in that course, that Flash had bowed to something like four Governors: Sir John Northcote. He was the first Governor and that was where they went a little overboard and had me lead the whole parade with this horse doing his marching act in front of the armed forces and the police horses. They found that protocol had been breached. I was not supposed to have taken the salute from the Governor, but Flash went over and bowed to him, and the Governor got up and saluted and he liked it so much he kept on doing it. I couldn't get him up. [Laughs] That was right in front of the Town Hall. Then it become the usual thing, every year, everybody congregated there to see Flash make his bow, but only after the police horses and the army had passed, so protocol was observed, but Flash was remembered by many thousands. Along the way, I remember some years later just at the end of that Waratah Festival Parade, I took my horse across from one side of the street to the other bowing to people with my horse and firing off my gun and a lady said, 'Oh', to me, she said, 'Would you look down to my little girl', and I said, 'Why sure'. And she said, 'Do you know', she said, 'Years and years ago, when I was a little girl, you bowed to me', and I realised how long we'd been leading that parade. It was a wonderful time with Flash and, I might say,it was very sad time when I lost him because he indeed was a wonderful friendship and all that came with that horse was friendship. He was almost like a human being. He had his own little thing and everybody loved him.
Oh yes, we became very inventive. We had to do a lot of things that a lot of people didn't do and that's work a bit harder. We went on to an empty piece of land and we built a complete western town there. The idea was that we could in this western town we could accommodate people so in the Saloon or the Barber Shop there'd be a bed [Laughs] until the Council took a dim view of it and said, 'You can't do that'. And they said, you know, 'You got a plan for this?' and I said, 'They're only temporary structures', he said, 'I think you still need a plan. They don't look temporary to me', and I had to convince them that there's nothing permanent in life. Everything was temporary and I tell you what, it proved it because when the bushfire came it all went. No, we had a wonderful time up there. We put about thirty years into it and Dot, God bless her, she looked after all the kids, because everybody found: oh, we'll take our kids up there, let Smoky and Dot look after them. Although we didn't have children of our own we soon found them, and in all the years we were there we were putting kids to bed. We were teaching them the good values of life I might tell you too. And they loved it. And anybody who had asthma lost it when they got up there and got it when they were going home. [Laughs]
It was more than a holiday camp. It was a training school for most everything. It was a venue for some of our greatest films and series. The Grundy organisation used my place extensively and they also used me as their technical adviser and I was also a horse master. I did a lot of stunting for them. I taught horses how to fall, with just the shot of a gun, where they were using trip wires and that was ... Bill was the first and only horse to ever do a fall by a shot, but of course there was a problem there too because every time a car backfired and there was a kid riding him, he'd fall down and the kid would think he was dead and there was quite a lot of commotion. Yeah, we had that and being film sets and riding school, teaching dressage, hiring out horses - very limited though because nobody would insure you on a horse. You know, it was like walking the tightrope when you ride a horse. You can be insured to be kicked by one but not riding it. So I think the ranch provided us with a lot of revenue in many ways. We also had a stunt team headed by Herbie Nelson, the late Herbie Nelson, and they used to use the land for their stunting and we'd put these things of an afternoon when people came to congregate up around the barbecue and they'd all dash past ... past the western town and there would be fellers falling out of trees and the gunshots and the horses would fall down of course with the gun and so it had a lot of use. And then we'd hire it out for birthday parties and I'd go along and sing happy birthday and then we'd have the little kindy kids coming in with their mothers and I'd sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with my little guitar and cut the birthday cake with the kids. I involved myself with children entirely from babies all the way up to grown ups. We put a lot of big seats on saddles that should never of been on them. That's how I got a lot of my back problems, by trying to be nice with ladies who were a little overweight and trying to carry them on to the horse instead of letting them get on themselves. I had a couple of horses that went swayback with some heavyweights.
Dot, my wife, is actually a great mathematician. She's always been a great bookkeeper and she's the one in charge of the money and I always feel that if I hadn't had Dot, maybe I wouldn't be as safe as I am today, financially. She's been a wonderful person and everybody went to her and she'd tell them when their time was up and take the money and away they went. Everybody was happy.
Oh tremendously, yes. Yes in every way. We've been ... This is a wonderful thing. We do everything together, you know. It's ... Everyday is like a deadline too - talk about getting a news item out. We do everything together. We do a couple of radio shows a week and she's always with me, remembering the days when she had to change a needle on every record when she was at KZ Melbourne and now we do it today and everything is so easy, you know. We just push a button and you've got a CD going and it's so easy today and communication has changed magnificently.
Oh yes yes.
Well, actually FM stations. One of them is on a satellite of a 110 stations. I do that every week. That's 2RDJ Burwood and we have shares in the company. Also at Northside - 2MSB. We celebrated our ten years on air the other day. Robyn Wood from the ABC and the Symphony Choir, well known for all that. He and I and the Mayor of Willoughby went into this to start that station and we were with them right from the start when it opened in a little cottage up ... up there near the station in Willoughby. And it's absolutely magnificent now. It's a great station with a lovely feel and we talk to our people out there. The reason for doing this of course, I run a Country Music Showcase, Australian talent only, because I mean, [it's] one way that we can get it around, is for me to tell them all about what Country is, and give the artist their airing, and FM provides all that so we do two of those a week. That's about two hours of our showcase, so doing plenty of that.
Oh, yes, eighty? Even when you say it quickly, it's a lot, isn't it. Yes, I never realised I'd turn eighty, but here I am.
Oh Sure, yes yes ...
... It's a symbol.
... And even when you weren't in America learning to use those vowels, you still had modelled yourself on the American Western heroes. Why was that do you think? Was that part of a lack of Australian confidence or was it ... Where did that come from?
Well not really. I think if you look at the Australian character in general, you have either got to look where are we ... are we ... are we wearing the same things as Americans do or are we using things that come from England? Our ... We don't have a true Australian dress. Everything we have, either we go back to bowyangs and concertina leggings and then boots and things like that and moleskins and be very English, or use what has come from America. And let me say, I've got some old photos that show in Hooves and Horns many years ago a picture taken in Australia of our drovers and also on the Santa Fe trail in America, and they both wore the same thing. They both wore the waist coat and the big hat. The hat was only there for, of course, the intense heat that we have in the Outback and everybody today, if you are looking at Country Music, you're looking at the universality of it, because it has spread it's wings all over the world. The origin of Country Music was in America by the one and only Jimmy Rogers, the late Jimmy Rogers, and he was more or less a traditionalist and a folk singer and his songs, of course, are still alive today. But they don't have the appeal that is in the category of Country Music as needed in the marketplace of today, which is very sophisticated and therefore, the symbolising Country Music now is the hat. If you look at part of my gear that I'm wearing now, there's not much part of it is American. These boots that I wear here are bought in Tamworth for thirty-five bucks and I'm going all over the world and everybody [says], 'Where did you get those buckskin boots?' And the belt I've got there - a Magnusson belt there, see - was made for me something on 1939, the outbreak of war ,by a fellow working at Fisherman's Bend, on the aircraft, and that little buckle belt there was made from Geralium. That's what they made aircraft out of. And don't talk about my wealth and my jewellery but they're still there. I carry it everywhere with me. It's totally Australian. Sure to God it's Australian. This is Australian [TOUCHES NECK] and the hat: this is the only part that isn't Australian. It's a beaver. It's a J. It's a real John Stetson and I like it very much because it was given to me when I was over in America and the one thing about these sort of hats too, is they never go out of shape. You know, haven't you seen those movies where the cowboys fight and their hat never comes off and their guns never ... are always full and never empty? Well, you are looking at a hat that stays on when you're riding. But you use one of the old wool ones we make here and they blow off on the first ride and you've got to tie them down. No, the character of Australia is here because if anybody today thinks he's dressing like an Australian, he's not because he's ... first place those wearing jeans. All those who advocate we should be totally Australian and wearing Australian dress, are walking around in these running shoes that are all American. They wear American jeans and rodeo is the same. We are affiliated with the world in rough riding. In the early days of rough riding, the Australian's had their own type of saddles. The Americans had a different one entirely - always had a better one than we had. And we bought them, and we won, so we had a lot to learn from our American cousins and that's what we have to do now. We have to open our minds and let it go and whatever comes into your mind, go with it.
I was by a few but you get a few people along the way who are really obsessed. You know, like, you know, in the case of people like in the wilderness, you know, I'm a moderate. I think that when you come to the point where you ... where everything has to be this and that, you know, it causes argument. I walk away from it. But I have been described by only one person, that Smoky unlike Slim or Buddy Williams and what, has had the American influence thrust upon him and he's more followed in the American cowboy tones in all his dress. Well, that's a lot of rot, you know, because when I came back from America I came back as an Australian. I never came back with an American accent although I had to adopt one over there. And I was ... I provided them with their first hero and the hats I wore had been worn by the drovers. They all wore them. The first time they were heroes too and Jingles, God bless him ... The late Allen Herbert was Jingles by the way, in case you didn't know. Allen Herbert's passed ... is gone now but his counterpart was Andy Devine in America with Wild Bill Hickock. Wild Bill Hickock and Jingles for the same [?] company. Here was Smoky Dawson and Jingles. So there you are. Jingles was a big character but he wasn't by any means Americanised and my accent in all those radio shows was purely Australian, backed by great Australian actors.
Well, if you go back to moleskins you will. You can still buy those sorts of things but there are very few things now that are not American, or come from another part of the world. All our fashions are decided in Paris, whatever. People don't go dressing like that do they. The only thing I can identify, you go in the Outback and see them wearing the big hat. Although they are being made in Australia now you see. But ...
Yes, and I might add to being called a cowboy is a phrase that's been carried on and on. I never call myself a cowboy. I've always been called a cowboy and the rough riders are never called rough riders. They have always been cowboys. The cowboys. It's just a term that has been nationalised around the world. And for that matter, then, things like songs now, in the early parts, I wrote a lot of songs that were American songs. I sang a lot of American songs and today I'm asked by a lot of my fans to sing some of the old favourites. And now, what is wrong with Cool Water? What is wrong with You are My Sunshine? Now all those that advocate you shouldn't be singing American songs, you should be singing Australian songs, they all sing You are My Sunshine and never realise that that's an American song written by Governor Jimmy Davis, who I knew very well. So, you've already started singing American songs when you start singing You are My Sunshine. Now I mix it up because people like to hear some of the those old great standards - Classical Westerns. And I am known more as a Westerner than I am as a Country. And a lot of people object to the word hyphenated: Country-Western. We don't want the Western. They don't realise that the Western was once the one that cradled Country within it. All the sorrows of a cowboy and his hardships and his love-making behind closed doors with spurs on, all came from the Western and now it's Country, but of course it's been sophisticated to make room for the Pop people. Now Australian songs: I'm writing a lot of them and you can't get anything better than The Days of Old Khancoban or High Country, can you?
Well, I just can't go into numbers but there are quite a number. I've got a lot there that I still haven't had published yet, although I have my own publishing company and I'm writing songs practically every day, but I don't record them every day because it's very very expensive putting down a record. My last, The Road to Anywhere, cost me in the vicinity of $42,000. Well some people don't have that much money to put down on a house and you know, to think that you'll put that down on your own ... Now I make my own records and I lease them out to whatever record company require them for a period of two years and then I get them back again. And away they go again, you know, compilation set up and they've been on Macca's programme. They've gone on ABC Records and Khancoban has gone around the world. In fact High Country has been played in Beijing, China, introduced by 2CH Sydney. And now EMI have released Khancoban - EMI in England. So two great Australian songs. Not American.
Oh, well, it was known as the Columbia Graphaphone Company. Graphaphone. A lot of people call Gramaphone, and of course, I often pass the old place down there. If you go down Parramatta Road at Homebush, where I first went there many, many years ago back in 1941. I wandered in and saw Arch Kerr and did my first recording session of six sides in one morning. And I was horribly sick going out on the train. I was so poor I couldn't afford to come on a plane. [Laughs] Come over on the train, put up at the YMCA, and went out the next morning and when I got there, they said, 'Right, we've got two and a half hours to do six songs and no rehearsing', and we had a couple of microphones and it went directly onto wax. They did all the cutting there. They did the balancing up first. All the balancing was done and we had the best musicians you could find. I think of some of the boys from ... from the Trocadero - Ted McMinn on fiddle and Abe Remain's boys, and I had Charlie Lees from the Prince Edward Theatre - at that time, the greatest guitarist there was in Australia. They weren't just Country artists, they were straight up musicians and, as I say, I was brought up as a musician. I learned to read and ... read music and write it and I had all my songs all written out there and we'd get into a studio at Alberts, in a little room, crowded in there with a bass the night before, and go out there and they had to learn it off by heart. And we'd stand in front of the microphone and have terrifying moments and they'd just say, 'Okay, no coughing. No, nothing. Just wait', and we'd look through at the panel there, the control room, and they're all ... It was so clinical - EMI in those days, you know. Everything was spit and polish. Everyone running around with white coats on like they were doctors or something. Arch would look through the window at me, hoping I'd do a good job and then on would come this little red light and then a beep, beep, beep, then beeeep and we'd all jump, take a deep breath [Laughs] and away we'd go. And you couldn't hear yourself back because there was no tape in those days and you just projected straight into the microphone and in two months time you got a test record. I might say that those records are being released this year: Smoky in the Forties, and they are still very good.
The Days of Old Khancoban, although there was another favourite of mine that went back to the Kellogg's days and that was the theme, Riding with a Smile and a Song, which is actually my theme wherever I go now because that's what I do in life: sing and smile. [Laughs]
Now it must be pretty hard always to smile, given the way that your life started, with so much violence surrounding it. A lot of people who have childhoods like the childhood that you had, with all of that pain and suffering and encounters with really terrible violence, themselves become violent people. Why do you think that you were able to avoid that?
Well the only ... the only thought there that I've had why I'm like that is probably, the attitude that I've adopted: seeing so much suffering of other people, knowing that I wasn't alone with this. And like when I wrote that book about Herbie, I wasn't just writing about Herbie, I was writing about a million Herbies. And the suffering in the world today, maybe I was able to capture that and to know that I was just part of one. It's a part of life which probably has been, probably less painful than many others have endured, so I feel very fortunate indeed that I have lived through it all and therefore I can afford a smile. A smile and I've had it always returned. It's one of these things, you smile and the world smiles with you.
Oh yes, I have felt very, very angry and of course when I was younger I had to the point of hate - like for my father because ... and my fear but we mature you know and I think that it's part of life of who you may meet, that changes all that, and you have to believe in some spiritual force within you. Otherwise you're lost, you can't go through your life in a negative attitude without having a soul. Materialism is a never a real satisfying part of your life because you always want a bit more, like money, you want more and more and there is always that bit of ego to achieve this and that, but behind that there is a spiritual force of where you have contentment. That's the only thing you have in life that balances it up for you.
Oh true, yes.
No, I never did. As a matter of fact, I was walking up Bourke Street with Dot arm and arm one day and of course, this was when I became Smoky, and I saw this old man walking down towards me, half staggering along, a mop of white hair, the wavy hair. He always kept a good head of hair like me and I said, 'Oh my God, there's my dad'. And Dot just walked on. She ... she never really got to meet him. She couldn't really in her heart forgive him for what she knew he did to me and the moment he looked up and saw me, he just wept and he grabbed me. Here we were standing in the middle of the street embracing each other - people walking by looking at us and this old man weeping on my shoulder and crying out, 'My little baby boy, Herbie, and now you're Smoky', and I shed tears too. I mean, it came then. I felt so sorry for that man. He was in one of those old men's homes and he was suffering, but I remained in touch with him 'til the day he died. We used to send him a little money now and again, and Dot allowed me to do that. And I still have some letters that he wrote to me and poems that he wrote to me that I still treasure ... [INTERRUPTION]
Well, I think it was a different lifestyle, you see. You got to understand when he was born the world wasn't such a great place too. We had a war that was supposed to end all wars and he was one of the first to get up and go away to fight and of course, being wounded as he was, he had a terrible life after that, with the drink and that. Which is evident today among broken homes and things like that. So my father had a different lifestyle to me although he was brought up in a world of entertainment too. It was all cinema [sic], you know, and theatre and he was a great actor and of course he could even do that in normal life. He was always putting on an act. I can't say the same for myself. Oh I suppose you could put it in as Act One, Act Two, Act Three in your life. This may be Act Three: the final one.
I'm interested in the fact that you often talk about yourself in the third person and it's almost as if Smoky was created to be the opposite of what Herbie might have become. Herbie growing up so violent, in such a violent atmosphere and full of fear and lacking confidence and perhaps with a lot of feelings of aggression himself, and Smoky was created as this totally happy person ,who just wanted to please everybody. Do you think there might be something in that? That the invention in a way of Smoky gave you a way of getting over your childhood?
It was. It was real magic. It was one of those like searching for the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow but it came my way and I think it ... to me it seems to be pre-arranged, programmed, all things, everything born is programmed and I think that maybe it was meant to be that way. Smoky was my salvation but I might say the great, the most indestructible industry in the world, which is show business - that no matter how hard things are, it survives even better - is a world in which we are able to survive in. But the conflict of the war with my father, and to what was to follow, the Great Depression, was a different kettle of fish to my lifestyle because I met happier people. Mine was a very short reign in the terror you might say is a childhood. In fact, it was a lost childhood, one that I got out of very quickly. And so, it's been one of adventure for me and I've seen both sides of the coin. I've seen a lot of hardship and sadness but a lot of wonderful mateship too. You see, people have done that for me. People have been so good to me. They made up for all that and they had love and understanding, so Smoky was the one to change.
Yes, well she did fill the gap in understanding because I had to tell her. My grandmother said, 'You'll have to tell her you know. You must tell her. Otherwise, she may not want to marry you into that kind of situation or that kind of family'. I might grow up the same way. It might be in the genes. But I think that I took after my mother really. She was very soft. My brother took mainly by my father, more square jawed and heavy built. My more oval face is more like my mother and my sister Laura. Yes, I think that had a lot to do with it. And then I was, of course, a Piscean too. I was a great dreamer - building bridges which turned into realities. Some didn't, and I was always being [told], 'Oh, you're always dreaming', you know. Pisces do that you know. I'd always been a little Pollyanna. You know, the sun's always shining. You just have to get above the clouds and say, 'There you are, you know, I told you, it's been there all the time'. And I think this is what Dot took to me for, because she could realise that she had something to work on, something to mould and she did make a wonderful job. [Laughs] She's managed me very well really.
Yes. I did miss a mother because I can't remember having felt the affection of a mother. I know she was there to embrace me but I can't really feel it. With Dot, when I start looking for a girl: I'm going to get me a mother first and she supplied all that for me, she being much more mature than me, very much mature [more] than me. She always looked at me as a little boy. And ... No doubt about it too, because you see Dot had a wonderful father and he died during the Great Depression, too. He worked very hard and built up a big business there, in a foundry, which she had to carry on when he died. He died of pneumonia in a short time. A man that helped everybody and when he died, she had to stand on her own feet and always helping the members of the family too. So she had that in her to get up and do things, always with a broom in her hand too. I've got pictures of her when she was a young girl with a broom still sweeping. But, yeah, Dot did the same with me. She started managing me and I felt here was something that I would have for the rest of my life. She was my first girl and she'll always be my first girl and only. I wrote a song called My Sunshine Girl. That's the only time I've seen a few tears come into her eyes when I sing. [Laughs] No, it's been a wonderful life with Dot.
Everybody else's children, millions of them. Yes yes, we've had children. No, well, let me tell you: the climate wasn't right. First of all there was Dot's age to me at that particular time. Secondly, we were just getting out of the Great Depression: two couldn't live for the price of one, although I had saved up my gratuities and that one and six a day helped a little bit. And ... but ... The other thing was when I came back I was medically unfit and work wasn't so plentiful. We had to start all over again and we ... It's only with Dot's help and helping to feed me have I been able to return to her to the strength that she expected from her father. So it's a give and take today, although as the little boy, we had that embrace and I wanted to be hugged and loved and all that, she too likes a nice shoulder to lean on. So I've always been upright and standing and felt that six feet tall knowing that Dot can depend on my strength. So I do supply to her, I feel, something of strength like her father because she still thinks of him, and she in turn provides that which I miss in my mother. So it was a wonderful situation, wouldn't you think?
Yes, Ted was more for jazz and the night life in clubs - Neverready's Night Club with Billy O'Flynn. [Laughs] And goodness gracious they'd be out all hours of the night. He was always a bit of a comedian, Ted. I miss him very much. And he pulled out. He didn't think there was any great future in what they called Hillbilly Music. That's why he got into the others. And of course he didn't realise how far we would go with Smoky Dawson. Smoky Dawson was a name that we all shared, I might say. When we had that team, we used to share ... We only got five pounds from Pepsodent per week for all our efforts and there were seven in the band, so it didn't go far and of course, if anybody wanted to get a ... or had another job and they felt well, they couldn't do it because they had another job that paid more money. I'd give him half of mine. I was always cutting myself down for the sake of the band. But Ted pulled out in the end and he went that way and I continued on on my own and I was to ... I opened up a school of music and I had a vocal trio - the Smoky Dawson trio. And we got on to great things, like the Star Lydal ? on the ABC with Paul Jacklyn and we got into the rhythms - rhythm section too. We did all this wonderful Swing Music and it went for years and years. But I miss Ted very much. He went on and on and eventually got himself a job in a Vacuum Oil Company and then become an electrical engineer. He worked with the State Electricity in Melbourne, become a full fledged electrician. He wanted to wire up my ranch. We used to bring him up there and he'd look around and breath in all the scent of the gum leaves, but unfortunately he ... he took a heart attack, a massive heart attack, although he's two years younger than me. He was my little brother. So Ted is gone and I'm just carrying on as Smoky and if it wasn't for Dot, I'd be like the Lone Ranger. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Oh yes, I've had that said to me too. 'Oh, boy the publicity you'll get out of this, you've no idea what value publicity is for you son. Everybody in the world is going to be there to see this and who knows where you might be?' Well after about ten years down the track, I'm still doing it, you know. RSL's for nothing, choking in their smoking fumes and beer, but you did it. Everybody did it and a lot just were used. Yes, I was used over and over again and I'd always be caught but I always had that word trust and I always had a little philosophy, you know: that you've got to trust somebody, but first of all you have to trust yourself. And if you don't trust somebody, then life's not worth living. Along the way there is somebody that you can trust and you've got to give somebody a chance and many of the people that did me dirty turned out to my advantage later on. I've had many cons that were ... fell down in the industry that were really using me to get somewhere, but although they went down, through them, I rose to fame. So you never know do you? I mean, the horizon is always something is exciting for me. I never know when the sun comes up, what's going to happen the next day.
I don't think I've ever made millions. I've been, one, content to live on what I can eat on. Having been through it all, money is not all the things we need in life and I think we've done a lot of bartering in our time, like they did in the good old days when the plumber would come along and do a job for the dentist [Laughs] - here's me spouting for a set of teeth. We do a lot of this along the way and I find that that comes in the name of good will. I don't think the taxation look on that very lightly though. Some ... We've got to find the balance of how much the teeth are worth and what the spouting is worth, but I have done a lot of bartering and I think this is more or less my pointer into what we should be doing.
In some ways it doesn't worry me, but when I hear the news on what is about now about violence, and all the things that are happening to kids, it does bring it back to me, so you are never really rid of it because it's grown to such proportions now it's part of life, isn't it? Every day there is some kid getting bashed up and when you see so many kids still going on the street, no place to sleep, it brings it home to me, my life again.
Oh, I think you have to get on top of it. I think, I become .. I did mature and I had so many things in my life and goals to reach and that, I just put it behind me. My main thing was getting home to Dot. In fact, when you are overseas, that little strip of water, you know, doesn't matter how far away it is, is an enormous gap. If it had been New Guinea, there'd still be a gap, but it would be Australian territory you see. So when I did have those moments, when I thought of Dot, of course, I thought of my early years again. With all these lovely letters I get too with 'Dear Honeybunch ...' l[Laughs] As soon as I say that now ... must tell her about that. Honeybunch.
Oh in the bush mainly. Well, it's like everything. You know the mind takes everything ... everything that is sound and in life is stored in the brain and it never forgets. And it's off and on recall at times when you least expect. You can call on it. And of course the tragedy always come forward first, doesn't it? But I've always been tied up with wildlife and all that, and that's where my heart has always been ,and therefore my shows have been full of it too. And I've always injected it it into my ... into my performances when I go on stage and do my act. I always do the gallop of a horse and re-enact those early days and echoes from the past, you know of Flash galloping down the trail and the people love it,you know. Matter of fact, I always, wherever I go, I always carry a coaster, you know. I must have a thousand of these that I carry around with me and I'm never without it because if I see a kid in the street, I go up to him and put it to his ear and I say, 'Would you like a little adventure son?' And I do this: [MAKES A GALLOPING SOUND WITH HIS FINGERS ON THE COASTER] This is an old coaster: whee, whow, [FOLLOWED BY DOG BARKS AND DONKEY BRAY] and so we have material laid on: sound effects. [Laughs]
What gave you the idea that knife throwing would be a good thing to pursue? It seems to me like as if you were ... That's very controlled violence, isn't it? It's showing that you can very much be in control of something that you throw at the other person.
That's right. I think knife throwing came out of the war itself. I had a collection of these commando knives, which I brought back with me and I took over ... a lot of my mates gave me all their weapons too. And my truck is still filled with them out there. No, it was something that when I joined the rodeo, I went with Stan Gill. Let me tell you about Stan, because he couldn't read or write, but he was a great bushman and but with me we clicked straight away and we had a small rodeo that grew in time to become one of the biggest on the road. And of course, western rodeos and circus always attract a lot of people and it was sort of escapism too from the city. Once we got into the Outback with this big travelling show with all this great string of caravans and horses on the float and even a bucking camel, which we got at Maree [?], we injected something that would be the real wild west. Now most people do sharp shooting acts. Tex had a wonderful sharp shooting act. He, in himself, in my recall about Tex and pay tribute to him was a flamboyant, delightfully rude person and I loved him very much indeed. We understood each other, same as the late Buddy Williams. We were the first of the three in the first wave of Country Music, as it was known then. In our big tent shows, we never crossed each other's corridors. We advertised each other, wherever we went. Tex had a sharp hooting act and I said, 'Well, I'll make mine a knife throwing act'. And there was a man called Estaban Callebanto [?] that came out here with the Sidney Kidman, a big international rodeo and with the great Yak Kemat [?], who I was to meet some years later over in Hollywood and interview him for the Stockman's Hall of Fame. He was the man who taught John Wayne how to walk like a cowboy and always played a part of an Indian - a great stuntman. Cowboy Number One. Rode with Teddy Roseville's rough riders back in 1901. You see, I'm really steeped in ... in ... when it comes to other people. He'd been to Australia and he was loved and was very affectionately known among the rodeo circles. And the Gills and Scuthorpes [?] were like the Martins and the Coys, always fighting to be who's the best. Stan Gill will always work ... will always be say six feet tall in my life. An unfortunate accident happened during a show up at a place called Gayndah in Queensland, just after I came back from America to rejoin the rodeo and we were going great guns. I came back to do another episode with Kellogg's and in the meantime, there were a couple of very bad characters living eight miles out of Gayndah that came in the Saturday night and started shooting up the town and they came down to the circus and they wanted to get in and of course, Kitty Gill, who was Stan's wife, was in the ticket box and she wouldn't admit them. She said, 'Unless you've got the money, you can't go'. So they came around the back where we brought the horses in. Well, of course we've had a lot of skirmishes in the rodeo. The Darling River, the back of Bourke - I can remember many a fight there, people trying to burn down our tent, and the king pole nearly coming down and I turn up Colonel Bogey as loud as I could on ... to make the music so loud the audience couldn't hear the fight outside. It was one of survival but this is how it ended. This feller came around the back and, of course, the fight was on. They jumped Stan as he came out and he clowned the whole three of them. Down they went, one with a broken jaw. So we had to pull the tent down and the trucks were moving in to put the ring on and all the equipment to go on to the next town, and this feller had gone home and got a rifle. He came back intent to shoot everybody in the show. Now once again, God spared me because I was always with Stan telling yarns and he was leaving the side of the rope arena where we bucked the horses and this feller came at the back of him and said, 'I'm going to kill you, you bastard'. And before Stan could even measure him up, he turned around, he had a pipe in his mouth and smiling ... As he turned around, the bullet went straight through there [POINTS TO BETWEEN THE EYEBROWS]. And it was so ... The reflexes didn't even change beause he ... he just fell down with the pipe still in his mouth and a smile on his face. His brother, Jack, came running out and grabbed the rifle and ran ... across to the tent and said, 'You bastard, I'll take you on', so he started shooting across at him and here comes this great gun battle. Talk about a shot from the Wild West. And there you are, and he went over to his brother. He fired at this feller and he's fired it back at him. Bullets were exchanged and the feller came shooting from the hip with two bullets in the thigh and still came on shooting, and then when he found that he was bleeding, he made for the sidewalls where young Johnny West, one of the tent hands, was pulling out the tent pegs and he pulled up the side of the tent and looked. As he saw this feller out with the blood streaming from him and the rifle in his hand, he just picked up the iron tent peg and hit him over the head with it. And all he did was drop the gun and he went 100 yards before he fell down. Do you know that feller survived and got life with hard labour. Probably out by now. So Stan went and [that was] the end of the Wild West Show but I was spared because usually I was with him. So it's another episode of violence in your life. I wasn't there to see that thank God, but I did go to the cemetery at Rookwood, where all good cowboys go, and there Stan was laid down to rest in Rookwood. And the great and wonderful Lance Scuthorpe, the pioneer ... the man who started buckjumping shows in Australia, wept over the coffin and said, 'Stanley Stanley, you little boy, that used to sit on my knee ...' And a month later, Lance died too and I went to his funeral. Seems like I've going everybody's funerals and I always say nice things when I go there, like 'Three cheers for the man who can tell the best yarn', and in fact, when Jack Gill died, not long ago, like his brother, [he] died with his boots on. He was in Victoria and a car ran him down - crazy drunk driver while he was leading his horses across the road. Both men died with their boots on: the Gill boys. And so I had to go out there to Rookwood again and their son said to me, 'You've got a way with words Smoky. Will you say something nice for dad, because the pastor knows nothing about him'. And all the showmen that we knew for years and years - Greenall [?] and Jackson and they were all around there and Tex Morton was there - all dressed up with their best cowboy hats on and I said, 'This is a celebration day. We meet in the place where old friends meet in one way or another, so three cheers for Jack', and Happy said, 'Do you mind if I do one last thing?' And the ... the minister looked across at the funeral director and said, 'This must be the strangest funeral that I've ever seen'. And as the coffin lay on the planks waiting to be lowered down into the grave, he put on a little cassette and played Bill & Boyd, Put another Log on the Fire, [CLAPS HIS HANDS] and everybody did this and it was the greatest funeral we ever had been to. [Laughs]
There was always be the bad boys. We've always had the violence, in the back box [sic]- boys at the back. But we always had good supporting people like the police. All the country towns in those days, the police were always horsemen and they love horses and our rodeo was well and truly protected. And only for that well, we could have been in a lot of problems but you know Dougie Ashton, too, he had the same problem. And of course even worse, but they used to have the elephants, see. [They'd] bring out the elephants when they had the mobs and the elephants would pick up the chains on a whistle blow and they'd just sweep them down like ninepins. Well, we didn't have elephants but we had a lot of fists and I can tell you what, we had many a fight out the back of Bourke. [Laughs]
In order to survive you've had to be very versatile and develop a lot of different abilities and skills. Which are you proudest of? Your riding, your singing, your sound effects, your knife throwing? Which do you feel is the real you?
The real me is the writer, the ... I love singing. Singing is a way of expressing your emotions, how to say something nice about somebody or don't say it at all. And you can do it in songs and I think that singing to me will be always number one. The other paths are part of a PR exercise, you know - draw attention to what you do. It's also a survival kit because when you go to a place like America you have to do more than just sing. Which I proved my point and I was able to do strange things like going in, playing that understudy to Ted Scott and playing Petruchio and cracking the whip and taking the top off a bottle, and never done it in my life before, but the Lou and Leslie Great Agency booked me up and they wanted me to do a tour with the late ... should I say, folk singer, Burl Ives, who was in Australia at that time, and he was going to do a tour of America when he went back and we were to start off at Music City Hall and they wanted me to do all my whip cracking and knife throwing, and then I had a party at Paint your Wagon.
You developed a lot of these things, as you say, as part of an extraordinary PR achievement. Smoky Dawson was created, developed as an icon in Australia to represent something that everybody recognised and everybody could respond to. Was that done by you or done deliberately by Kellogg's, or what was it really? Have you always had a great ability for instinctive PR or did you plan it?
No, it was something that was spontaneous. It'll be ... I always had a thing that there is nothing in the world you can't do or be what you want to be. In fact I even wrote it and said, 'It's all written in the golden book and it's all written there for free'. [Laughs] A man can be himself but versatility comes into it. To survive in Australia, it is very difficult because it's such a small population. It's getting better now because we have a lot of migrants and a lot of people coming into the country and we are getting a bigger population. And ... but there again, there were a lot of meal tickets to go around, a lot of artists that are not sharing and they are amazed that I am still around, you know. Whereas in America you have countless millions and you can go around the world there in one act because by the time you come back, there's another million babies born. Here in Australia, it's a different kettle of fish. You had to do more than just sing. So I put it this [way]. Let's say for argument's sake I had a dose of laryngitis, which I did have not long ago during the bush fires. Well there again, see, my knife throwing act would have come in very handy then. I could have done the dumb act instead of sing, or speak for that argument sake. So in terms of being versatile, it's very necessary to do anything that you can think, that comes into your mind but there's always those who bring it to you. Kellogg's wanted me ... expected me to be something that was more of an icon, a word which has only crept into our vocabulary in the last few years ...
Star. Now that's another, oh ... something I was very disappointed to hear, from the scientific point of view, as a burnt out satellite. Scientifically, if you look at the stars, you're looking at what they were because they are dead. If you are looking at them ... and of course life is like that, like a million light years away and to look in the galaxies ... See, I'm one of these people too that often probe the universe too, and the enormous space out there and why doesn't it have side walls to it? Where's the ending and where's the beginning? And of course, when you start looking at that, your mind gets boggled down because two and two don't make four, you see. Mathematically, it's argument.
No, but I respect the Catholic religion. I got a lot of friends in the Catholic religion but you see, of course, I ... I join the fraternity of the Brotherhood of Masons, which I'm very proud of and our Grand Master is doing a wonderful job.
I was invited in to by another great Mason too, that's Ron Wills, who used to be at EMI. For years he was going and producing my records and he said to me one day, he said, 'You belong to the craft don't you?' I said, 'Craft?'
[Laughs] No, not any more but I respect the Catholic religion and I think there is a wonderful lot of goodness in it, a lot of lessons to be learned and one is that keeping the family together. And I think that the respect of someone greater than yourself: God. I think it's there and the one's that I've seen in the families of Catholics have been very devout. But I look back with affection on that and the days of St. Vincent de Paul Boys' Orphanage, who I'll be going back to see very shortly. That was my grooming in life. Yeah, it'll always be there.
[Laughs] Well, I look at St. Vincent's as the beginning of life, learning how to control myself and learn respect and learn how to cope with things. It's very good you know. You know the ... Even the confessions, when we had to go to confession, and you'd see them all lined up. Little boys would go in the little box there and you see a little trickle running our where he'd peed himself, you know, with fright. And I was about the same too. I'd go in there and I was so ... I was so intent to make sure that my soul was unblemished that I'd tell the priest things I had done, which I hadn't. He'd say, 'My son, what have you to tell me?' And I said, 'Oh, I swore'. 'How many times?' 'Oh, about sixteen'. [Laughs] I'd finish making up things. He said, 'Well that wasn't very nice of you. Well you can do the Stations of the Cross on your knees', or 'Three Hail Mary's and one Our Father'. And don't forget, I was always taught that if you pass a man of the cloth in the street, you always raised your hat. But of course the day's come when nobody wore hats anymore so I got out of that one. But I always remembered my catechism and I ... [PHONE AND SLATE]
[Laughs] Well, after many many years, I was asked one day by a great friend of mine, was I a member of the 'craft'. And I didn't know what the 'craft' was. I said, 'Oh, a member of the 'craft'?" Then he said, 'Oh, I'm sorry', and I was to learn. He asked me was I a Mason. And when he told me that he said, 'Would you like to be? Have you ever thought about it?' And I said, 'Well, it seems a great way of life. Tell me a little bit more about it'. He said, 'Well, we can't tell you everything because you'll ... There is a lot of surprise in it but let's say it makes a good man a better man, to make something of your life, so in other words you have to be a good man in the first place or I'd never have asked you'. And so that's how I joined Lodge St. Ives and I went right through the whole thing, took my degrees and finally become the Master of the Lodge. And from then on I went into other degrees of Masonry, ''til I finished up in Seventh or Eighth Chairs and I finished up with a Thirtieth degree. Then I went to America and they made me a Knight Mason of the United States.
... by the Grand Master of South Carolina.
The great thing of Masonry is ... and of course, it's misunderstood by a lot of people. There ... It is not a religion, and the difference between that and why there is always a difference between the Catholic religion and Masonry is because Masonry believes in the brotherhood of man on all levels, despite his religion or his creed, [or] whatever. They are all respected. He's on the one level so they don't discriminate between men. And it is a kind of philosophy of life you might say. You certainly learn how to read. You certainly know how to get up and propose a toast and respond. You know the usage of words. You know how to enjoy beautiful charges: things that have been written hundreds and hundreds of years ago and have stood the test of time. And [some of] the greatest men in the world, even kings on their thrones, have given up that to take on being a Mason. I found my life with Masonry was a wonderful brotherhood of men that would do anything for you and their charity is not something that is known widely because they don't advertise, but they raise millions and millions and millions and strangely enough the people who [benefit] are not all Masons. It's generally people who are destitute, not Masons at all. It's a great way of life and I still go around to my meetings and I've had ... and you'll find from out of that emerges great people like Rotary, who have learnt 'Go forth you've learned what to do now, go out and practice it'. And you never say nasty things about people. Say nothing, be silent, and having said that, I still join the Terry Hills Rotary Club as their Honorary Member and I've been with them ... the Hillbillies ever since. And I know that life has been very much enriched since I've been into these communities, raising funds and all this kind of thing, and mixing with those sort of people. It's been a great world.
Well, God is a word that is really interpreted as goodness. God is goodness and, of course, there's nothing wrong with goodness, is there? We could do a lot of that in the world today. If I remember back when I was learning in my Bible History, God is everywhere but we cannot see him and so that is ... that's the spiritual force within us and I always carry that with me, so that gives me a lot of consolation and a lot of hope, a lot of faith. The three fundamentals of life is faith, hope and charity and that's how Dot and I live today, by those three fundamental values.
Well, I ... now that's a question. You can expect that anytime. I've had some near misses. I haven't thought about it. Oh, I hope that I have behind a legacy. I hope that I have left behind something that will benefit mankind, that will be remembered as goodness, that has helped some kid understand. There's probably somebody may find me as a model, a role to follow on and probably perfect for better. I don't know. All I know that is, if I do go, that there is a place where we do meet again. And not without thinking there is another life, because as we can't understand the nature of space and all that, we are so naive in that way that anything is possible, isn't it?
I was once. No. I have a great respect for it ,and I nod off as it is now. I often go ahead for an hour and that could have been that way. If I were to fear anything and ... it wouldn't be just death, it would be what happened before death, and I would hope that I would have the strength, like some of the men I know in my time, like Fred Hollows for argument sake, who had that wonderful strength within him before he died, to die graciously. I think I shall do that. I have been to ... beside the bedside of many men dying and holding their hands and squeezing their hands as they went. I know that they have found some confidence and some feeling of hope, even me being there. I hope that somebody will be there with me when I go. There is one thing that I would like, that I'll always be with Dottie.
Well, I don't know about that. What has been the hardest? They've all been milestones. They've all been mountains, that being my signature: climb the highest mountain you know. There'll always be a mountain. I think the hardest thing that we ever ... and I have to bring Dot into this because whatever I've done, Dot has shared with me, you see. And that was to start that ranch off and get that going and to endure the time we were on it, all that time, to be able to survive and never to go into debt. I can say that we've never borrowed in our lives. We've never mortgaged in our lives and whatever we've had, we've made do with what we had. This whole house here has been furnished on little bits and pieces - my collections and things that I've made myself and what we did buy was when we had the money to buy it. But we bought the house first and paid for it before we had the furniture. We slept on the floor in the early days. Got an old mattress. We ate off packing cases. The great Smoky Dawson, they'd all ... The carts would go by here from the Council, [and] all these guys would pull their hats down over them, making themselves look like cowboys and all be singing 'ridin'. They didn't know that Smoky was here sitting on a kerosene case but you see I was half the time out, didn't matter. I didn't need chairs to sit on right then because I was in a studio recording my series, so today what we have here is all paid for and a couple of Dawson chairs thrown in. [Laughs]
That was devastating. That looked like it was the last thing, that really came out of the blue. It was one of these days and I remember it very well because the big company that were building the Entertainment Centre, Holland and Company, were up there at the ranch and they'd hired out my ranch to have their annual big picnic, break up - Christmas break up. And they had my band up there playing. It was a wonderful day but a very, very hot day and Reg Grundy was up there shooting a scene from Secret Valley. It was a series which he was going to make there and we were down in Luke's Kingdom, the frontier town, that we had there - a wonderful town, where we made Glenn Campbell Down Under with Olivia Newton-John and lot of other shows and the day was over and that night I smelled smoke. I looked across the hills and I could see flames down in the Kuringai Chase and then the wind came up and it was coming from the east, the west, the north and south. It was chopping and changing: [a] violent kind of wind and the next think I knew, the fire had broken up around near the Baha'i Temple which is only, on the same mountain as to me, and we had all these ... all my horses out in the ring and Roger Mirons, who was shooting down below, grabbed his camera and the film crew ran for their lives. Got out before the flames got there. Virtually speaking, there were pieces of branches of trees coming down over the top of us. The sky was red above us and we were in radiation. There was a telegraph pole about 200 yards away that burst into flame. There wasn't a tree near it. It was just out on sand, [but it] burst into flame [from] radiation. All we do ... We ran into Jerry Aafjy's next door, which was a big sand pit ... It had a big water hole and we wet ourselves. Threw all the horses in there - kept running them around and the police came and said, 'You've got to leave or you'll be cooked', because the flames were going over the troughs of Mona Vale Road. The fire fighters come up on the hill and they tried to get water from our tank and I only had a spring, that I fed ... that I had my horses on and they emptied the tank in one go, and the next thing they saw the flames all around. They saved the top of the tower and they saw it heading down toward Luke's Kingdom so they rushed down there, and there was this vacuum of nothing and then all of a sudden this great fireball just hit one of the buildings and literally blew it apart so a six tonne of bark just went up like a mushroom cloud. And I ... Matter of fact, I got a copy of a film the ABC took of that same ... there's Smoky's ranch going and there's mine going up like it was an atom bomb. It had created just a turbulence unknown, and trees were thrown to one side. And the next thing I had was just a blackened mass. There wasn't even a piece of charcoal. Everything I had in my carts and all the things I'd had for years and years in this great wonderful frontier town ... It was so wonderful, and had been used in so many films, and it was part of my income there, because I used to use it for tourism. And so ...
No, they didn't insure that part of it at all, you see. In fact, the greater part of my place wasn't insured - only the saddlery and things like that, so when it came down to ... for compensation, the powers to be came up to us from Warringah Shire and said, 'Unfortunately you don't live here. It's not your residence', and you know, but, you know, it was my place of work and I'd raised millions of dollars there for the Shire over the years with Apex. Every weekend we'd be ... we were with something like Foundation 41, Multiple Sclerosis, the Autistic Children. We were in the forefront of everything, giving everything we had: our pony rides, not for percentages, but the lot. We worked for charity. They always had the fire brigade. The bushfire brigade used to have their annual picnics up there and have barbeques. The President of the Shire would come up. Everybody used my place but when it came to the point of compensation, we didn't come into that category. They were only just giving to the people who lost their homes, so there I was, and I just said to Dot, 'Oh well, we can always start again', and she said, 'Yeah, but how? How?'
Well, once again, this is the same thing, the good Lord must have thought, Smoky it's time for a change. You've been too long there doing one thing. [Laughs] So tears went ... We both were home here sobbing and looking at all our years go down the drain, all our memories and all the places that we valued so much and people used to come up there and ... all come up as visitors to see where the fire was - not to ride a horse. We had a few ponies and [they] didn't want to bother about a fifty cent ride on one, and that disgusted my wife. She said, 'All they want to is just come and look, so let's get out of it. At least there is one thing we don't have to worry about any more - the land tax for our amusement park'. So I had a great friend in Lee Bottrell, a great journalist there on News Limited and he was a great one for me and I had a lot of write-ups from Lee. 'The ol' spoke ... the ol' Smoke's on fire, but he won't give up', and he rang me and he said, 'I've got a place for your horses', and he told me about Lee Holm Hyperians Thoroughbred Stud out at St. Mary's and he said, 'These people are wonderful and they want to give you a fifty acre pasteurised paddock free, for your horses. They're going to send out a big float and take them all over there and spend their days there'. So that's when I got back into show business again. And I went over there and there was ol' Flash - he was in between You Bet I Do and Radio and Echo and these horses were winning great races, and Flash was eating up what they left over. He got very fat, spoiled but he ... Although he was ... He'd been gelded, he still kept his stallion characteristics and they always used him for teasing the mares [Laughs] 'til the day he died. He dropped dead at thirty-five, getting in a shampoo. And I'd just come home with a nice rug for him for winter and they rang me up and said, 'It's too late, he's just died'. That was a bit of a wrench. I had Flash for all those years. So Flash went and do you know all the other horses ... When Flash died we buried him there and [there was] a feller on the road, who was grading the road, and we ran out and said, 'Could we have a lend of your grader', I said, 'The ol' horse has died'. He said, 'Smoky Dawson, God [when] I used to be a kid I used to listen. I'd love to do it', and he got in and he put him on his big scoop and he said, 'I won't hurt him'. He put him on nice and gentle and we put him down in the pit. I grew a crab apple tree over the top of him like I've got one here. And all the other horses came round the ring and watched it: the ceremony. They're such strange things - horses. They go quiet all of a sudden when one dies and all my ponies died there on that ... out at Lee Holm Stud. Now those horses should be very grateful to Terry Mulville and Allen Gainey and the syndicate.
What would you like to tell children today? You were such a character for the children of years ago. What would be the thing that you would most like to leave behind as a thought that you have for how to live, today?
Well I think they should try to live like Smoky the cowboy, you know. Look for a climb: climb a mountain. Go for the highest one. You know, life is made up of many adversities and I always tell kids, you know, without adversity, there's no achievement, so why not go for the big adversity. Look for one, look for the trouble and look for the great success you get out of it. That's what you want and go for those high mountains and don't forget my old Codes of the West: don't forget to honour your mum and respect your mothers and your parents for all they are and what they are, and don't forget your friends, and don't forget your country and don't forget the old flag too. Because we do, when we march on Anzac Day, and I think if you do that, and have a little thought for your neighbour and your friend and try and help people, you'll have achieved a lot in your life time. That's what I'd say to the kids and I think that should make them feel pretty good.
Ahh, regrets? No, no regrets. As a matter of fact, if I'd ever thought of living my life over again, I don't think I'd really change anything because it's an experience that has been singled out for me. Everybody has a life planned for them, you know. It's in the process and I was destined to meet Dot. Always, every one of these things have turned to some lead off in a direction where I've got over that obstacle, that adversity and made it my goal. So the pattern is there, and I wouldn't want to change it because life is made up of those, as I say, dynamics. It's light and shade and along the way we've been able to experience all the joys as well as the sorrows. Today we are looking at a great happy world I live in - a sad world for many, but I think we can make it brighter by the simple philosophies of life, by getting up, perhaps writing a song too. Writing songs has a great value in life because when you write a song, particularly, your lyrics come first of course with a message, and then you transport it into the minds of other people and it becomes their's too. So from a record it becomes what you have planned and thought, becomes the lifestyle of other people. That's a wonderful privilege to have in your life - to be able to have that opportunity of being able to write a song. So it's very important that what you say ... what you say means something. I believe in word power. I believe in using the right word although I've been corrected many times by Dottie who says, 'The word should be such and such', and she says, 'It's very hard for you to be brief'. [Laughs] But of course, I'm me: that's Smoky, not Herb. [Laughs]
Yes, I have created Smoky and I look on Smoky as I share with Dot in our bank accounts, the Smoky Dawson account, shared by Florence Dawson and Herbert Henry Dawson. It is a business name and I often look with affection on that old Smoky [Laughs] because there's a lot of people using my name today too. Anybody by the name of Dawson, they adopt themselves as Smoky. We're one of the cricket, don't we? Graham. We've got Gary Gossum, the golfer, who I read ... who I met very recently, who's been more or less ... he's been my fan for years, and out there, there would be many colonel's and even cats and dogs. I know when I got the MBE and I went down to Government House to be invested, as I walked up the red carpet, and my name was called out, Herbert Henry Dawson, and by the time I got there, he said, 'Affectionately known as Smoky', and everybody looked up: oh, Smoky. And he lent over to me as he pinned medal on me and he said, 'We named our dog after you'. [Laughs] So Smoky is a very important name indeed. And I often think ... and it only come to me the other day, if I hadn't been born, all these Dawsons around wouldn't be called Smoky. Now they are very lucky indeed that I was born. [Laughs]
As just an ordinary bloke, as a kid who grew up with a bit of hate here and there, that found his way, that went through his life and valued life and never forgot to look back at somebody he might have forgotten. And always to remember those who helped you along the way. And have a thought for those throughout the world, too, that are in desperate need and even if you only save one, it's well worthwhile. Our short term on life is so brief, that we have a lot of work to be done, but you know, being together like this, we can all achieve it by the multitude all adopting that attitude. If everybody followed that bit of philosophy I'd be very happy indeed. Maybe I'll be looking down and say, 'Well, done there, well done'.