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Smoky Dawson, Sydney
, 2004

by John Elliott

type C photograph (sheet: 63.0 cm x 33.4 cm, image: 50.5 cm x 33.4 cm)

Herbert 'Smoky' Dawson MBE (1913-2008), entertainer, began his musical career in 1934 with a series of live broadcasts on Melbourne's Radio 3UZ - the first broadcasts of their kind in Australia. After securing his first recording contract in 1941 he served with an Australian Entertainment Unit in Borneo during WW2. Between 1952 and 1962 he and his elocutionist wife Dot gained nationwide fame as the stars of the radio serials The Adventures of Jindywarrabel and The Adventures of Smoky Dawson. Although chiefly known as a singer and songwriter, Smoky also excelled as a yodeller, whip cracker, sharp shooter, knife thrower and stunt rider - he and his horse Flash performed regularly until Flash's death in 1982. In 1978 Smoky was inducted into Australia's Country Music Roll of Renown; he was the inaugural inductee into the ARIA Icons Hall of Fame in 2005. His Smoky Dawson: A Life was published in 1985.

John Elliott, photographer, country music devotee, broadcaster and writer, grew up in Blackall in central western Queensland. Commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to amass a collection of portraits of people of rural Australia, he spent much of 2004 travelling across the country photographing people he met and collecting their stories. Combining photographs from his road trips with many in his archive, he was able to select more than 80 images of drovers, stockmen, rodeo riders, fencers, singers and artists that were exhibited as Thousand Mile Stare in 2005. Since then, Elliott has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to the USA, published the book Where Country Is (2006), exhibited works in Sydney and engaged in film and radio projects. His next film, exhibition and book, Duchess Road, will revisit a group of Aboriginal people he photographed as children in Mt Isa in 1988.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2005
Accession number: 2005.39