Smoky Dawson

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Smoky Dawson
Dawson astride Flash at his ranch, Terrey Hills, August 1962
Background information
Birth nameHerbert Henry Brown
Also known asHerbert Henry Dawson
Born(1913-03-19)19 March 1913
Collingwood, Victoria, Australia
Died13 February 2008(2008-02-13) (aged 94)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Genreswestern, folk, Country
  • Musician
  • singer-songwriter
  • guitarist
  • radio presenter
  • television presenter
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • harmonica
  • piano accordion
Years active1932–2005 (professionally[1])
LabelsFidelity records , Columbia

Smoky Dawson AM, MBE (19 March 1913 – 13 February 2008), born as Herbert Henry Brown, was an Australian singer-songwriter and musician, who performed western and folk music with a tinge of country, he was a radio and television presenter, entertainer, and icon. He was widely touted as Australia's first singing cowboy complete with acoustic steel string guitar and yodel, in the style of Americans Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.[1]

Dawson had an extraordinarily long and prolific career, releasing his first single in 1941 and his last album in 2005, aged 92. Through his high-rating syndicated radio serials (at their height broadcast on 100 stations), "The Adventures of Smoky Dawson", as well as television appearances, comic books and songs he created the persona of a happy-go-lucky singing cowboy.

Dawson did his own version of Wild Colonial Boy, rewriting the words and music with American country singer Glen Campbell.[1]

Dawson also met The Kelly Family, and wrote a ditty about Jim Kelly, the brother of Ned Kelly.[1]


Smoky Dawson was born as Herbert Henry Brown on 19 March 1913 in Collingwood, Victoria.[2][3] His father, Parker Frederick Peter Brown (21 November 1884 – 1957), was a labourer of Irish descent;[4][5][6] his mother, Olive "Amy" Muir (ca. 1880 – June 1919), was of Scottish descent.[7][8] His parents married in 1905,[2] and they had five children, Leslie Muir Wood "Les" (1904–1920),[2][8][9] Laura Olive Emily (1906–1941),[2][6] Peter Frederick James (1908–1972),[2][6] Herbert Henry "Herbie", and Edward Parker Peter "Ted" (aka Ted Dawson) (1915–1978).[2][8][7]

The Browns initially lived in Melbourne and briefly moved to the rural area of Warrnambool.[10] His father, Parker, also worked in a dispensary,[5][11] and had performed as a baritone under the name Frederick Parker, at the Bijou, a theatre in Melbourne.[7] Parker had studied as a medical student before serving in World War I.[5][10]

Parker Dawson enlisted in the Australian Army in June 1915 and fought at Gallipoli from October until January 1916 and also served in Borneo.[5] He was diagnosed with neurasthenia and was honourably discharged in August 1916 on medical grounds.[5] Dawson later remembered, "[m]y dad went to Gallipoli ... but unfortunately he suffered a lot from it and so did the family".[12] In June 1919 his mother, Amy, died of unspecified causes and the following year his brother, Les, died by drowning on Christmas Day.[9][7][13] By that time his father had remarried.[9] Smoky marched every year in the annual ANZAC day marches, right up until his death

Early life[edit]

Dawsons early life was unsettled, as his father Parker was prone to heavy drinking and violence, he repeatedly ran away from home after his beatings.[7] Once he was nearly choked to death, ran off and, after being caught, he was chained in a dog's tent by his father.[13] From the age of eight or nine he was "making up little ditties" which soothed him.[14] At about nine-years-old, Dawson was so severely beaten that he ran away from home again.[7] He travelled to his mother's family, the Muirs, in Melbourne and was sent, by a court order, to live for three years at the St. Vincent de Paul Boys' Orphanage, in South Melbourne.[7] It was administered by the Catholic Church's Christian Brothers, and Dawson was baptised in that faith and took the confirmation name, Aidan.[7] For school holidays he was sent to a farm in Eurack near Colac, run by the Carews.[7] He had learned to sing at the orphanage and Jack Carew taught him to play the harmonica and piano accordion.[7] At the age of thirteen Dawson left the orphanage to join his older brother, Peter, working on a farm at Stewarton (about 8 miles (13 km) from Goorambat).[7] Each Saturday night he would sing at the local town hall with a repertoire that included "Funiculi, Funicula", "Little Brown Cottage" and "Good Morning, Good Morning".[7]

Music and performing career[edit]

In 1932 Smoky Dawson worked at a tannery and on weekends he played a lap steel guitar in a duo, The Coral Island Boys, with his younger brother, Ted, on Spanish guitar.[15] Both sang lead vocals, with Ted's singing described by Dawson as "a much richer voice than mine. He had more depth in his voice".[7] They performed then-popular songs, such as "Gee But I'm Lonesome for You Caroline" and "Southern Moon Keep on Shining".[7] In 1934, Dawson formed a Western group with an accordionist, a bass guitarist, and Malcolm on violin; which cut a test acetate at Fidelity Records with Jack Murray recording.[7] It was the first professional use of Dawson's nickname, "Smoky" – he had tried pipe smoking when living at Stewarton but it had sickened him.[7][16] The recording led to sponsorship by Pepsodent – a toothpaste company – and so the group were named, Smoky and the Pepsodent Rangers.[17] In 1935 they were the first Western group to be broadcast live on an Australian radio station, 3KZ, and by 1937 Dawson had his own radio show.[7][17] His show was re-broadcast into New South Wales on 2CH as "Hill-billy Artists" by "Smoky" Dawson and His Boys.[18] In 1941, he signed with Columbia Records, where he recorded his first commercial releases, including "I'm a Happy Go Lucky Cowhand" and "The Range in the Western Sky".[10] He also toured around Australia.[19]

Dawson had used music as a way of comforting himself and during World War II he took this talent to boost the morale of others.[20] In 1939 upon the outbreak of the war he had attempted to enlist, but was rejected on medical grounds for a "bumpy heart".[20] In 1940, with Smoky Dawson's Five-Star Rangers, he would perform at soldier's socials.[21] In 1941 when the Japanese forces approached Australia, he enlisted as a non-combatant nursing orderly and was commandeered by the First Australian Army Entertainment Unit.[20] On 13 March 1944, while still in the army, he married Florence "Dot" Cheers (12 October 1906 – 27 October 2010),[22][23] an elocution teacher – they had met nine years earlier when both worked in radio.[14][17] Western Mail's Louis Clark, described Dawson as an "Australian outback songster" and the unit as "an array of genius".[24] Aside from music, Dawson would also perform at rodeos, circuses and country shows demonstrating his skill at knife-throwing using machetes, commando knives, tomahawks, or two-edged axes.[16][25] By October 1949, Dawson had recorded about 60 tracks from his songbook of 280 tunes – all of them "have a cowboy setting—with a dash of romance".[16] Dawson travelled around Australia for eight months a year while Dot remained behind as Auntie June on her own radio show for 3KZ.[16]

Dot and Smoky Dawson, Adelaide, November 1952

In March 1951 Dawson, as a cowboy entertainer, narrated a documentary film, directed by Rudall Hayward, on Australian rough riders at a Kyabram rodeo, which was to be broadcast on United States TV.[26] Dawson sang a self-written song praising their skills and noted "there's nothing half-baked about Australian rodeos or the boys who ride in them. They're entitled to all the credit we can give them ... Rodeos and rough riders are just as much a part of our national heritage as symphonies and seascapes".[26] In June that year Dawson and Dot travelled to the US where he played and recorded demos in Nashville. While in New Jersey, he took the role of Petruchio in a stage version of the musical, Kiss Me, Kate.[7][27] His trip to the US was cut short after he was injured in a car crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee; while driving to Shreveport, Louisiana, for an invitation to appear on Louisiana Hayride hosted by Jim Reeves, Dawson absent-mindedly ran a red light and his car was hit by a Cadillac going the opposite direction; he was hospitalised and his appearance on Louisiana Hayride never eventuated.[7] When Dawson returned to Australia in September 1952 he was hailed as an "Australian singing 'cowboy' who has made good in the US at the expense of the world's best".[28] For trick riding his palomino horse, Flash (1951–1982), was bedecked in American-style tack rather than Australian.[14][29] Flash lived to be 31 years old and Dawson supplemented his feed by giving him porridge with a spoon.

The Adventures of Smoky Dawson radio show[edit]

Echoing US singing cowboy, Roy Rogers, on 8 December 1952 Dawson starred in his own radio show, The Adventures of Smoky Dawson, which stayed on the air for ten years until 1962.[14][30]

At its peak, Dawson's show was broadcast on 69 stations across the country. Dot also had her own radio shows for children. A related comic book of the same name was published from 1953 to 1962 and both featured "Dawson's persona [which] became 'Australia's favourite cowboy', with his faithful sidekick Jingles, his horse Flash and their young friend Billy fighting the evil outlaw Grogan, adhering to Smoky's 'code of the west', pausing for a song, a moral and sometimes a bowl of cornflakes, courtesy of the program's sponsor".[31] For the radio show Dawson provided "rendition[s] of a magpie, kookaburra, rooster, turkey, pig, cow, an impatient horse, a posse with bloodhounds (with the bandit being shot), a pack of dogs fighting and next door's dog howling in the middle of the night".[14] In 1957 he founded the Smoky Dawson Ranch on 26 acres (11 ha) farm at Ingleside as a venue to host country music shows, a horse riding school and a holiday camp for children.[10][13][15]


In 1974 a TV series, Luke's Kingdom, was shot at Dawson's ranch.[32] The following year he featured on This Is Your Life hosted by Mike Willesee.[32]

In 1988 he appeared in two episodes of TV soap opera, A Country Practice, as a drifter, "Charlie McKeahnie", who passes through the fictional location of Wandin Valley and proposes to town gossip, "Esme Watson" (portrayed by Joyce Jacobs).[32] His performance was so popular with viewers that he made another appearance the following year. Dawson was a Freemason.[33]


In his later years Smoky Dawson was diagnosed with arthritis, emphysema and two hernias. In June 2000 he was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver and had spinal injuries.[31] As of 2004 he and Dot presented a radio show on 2NSB and lived in Lane Cove, New South Wales. Herbert Henry "Smoky" Dawson died on 13 February 2008 after a short illness, aged 94.[22] He was survived by his wife, Florence "Dot" Dawson, an elocutionist, radio actress and presenter, who died on 27 October 2010 at 104 years of age.[34] In a 2005 interview Dawson indicated how he would like to be remembered, "Ah well, just as Herb. Just as one who's tried his best, he's carried out, lover of his country and always thought about the good things in life. Being honest and true to yourself, the main thing, true to yourself. And ah, I think to be remembered as an old friend".[22]

Awards and legacy[edit]

Smoky Dawson Bronze Statue, Tamworth, New South Wales

Smoky Dawson continued his long career of recording and performing after his radio show, and enjoyed performing until his death. He has frequently been recognised for his contributions to music and entertainment.

On 31 December 1982 Dawson was awarded an Order of the British Empire – Member (Civil) with the citation, "In recognition of service to country music".[35]

In 1978 Dawson was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown.[36]

In 1985 he published his autobiography, Smoky Dawson: A Life.[37] An updated and expanded addition was released in 2021.[38]

In the 1999 Australia Day Honours Dawson was made a Member of the Order of Australia with the citation, "In recognition of service to country music".[39]

In 2005 he was inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association Hall of Fame. In April 2007 he donated his first electric guitar to the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame.[40]

Smoky's Bar and Grill was opened in his name in 2005 at the West Diggers Club in Tamworth – he attended with Dot. His recording career spanned more than six decades, his last album, Homestead of My Dreams, was released in 2005.[41][42]

Powerhouse Museum described him as "a singer, showman, songwriter, scriptwriter, knife and double-headed axe thrower and all round performer who has lived a long life entertaining audiences. Through his radio serials, comic books and songs he created the persona of a happy-go-lucky singing cowboy".[31] From 2001 the museum has displayed his signed copy of the comic book, The Adventures of Smoky Dawson, and other memorabilia, which was subsequently donated by Dawson in 2004.[31]

Near Dawson's former ranch in Terrey Hills is the "Smoky Dawson Pavilion", a multi-purpose hall (containing a full-sized basketball court) situated within Galstaun College at Ingleside. Smoky Dawson Pavilion opened in late 2014 with money from the estate of Dawson and Dot.[43][44]

Australian Roll of Renown[edit]

The Australian Roll of Renown honours Australian and New Zealander musicians who have shaped the music industry by making a significant and lasting contribution to Country Music. It was inaugurated in 1976 and the inductee is announced at the Country Music Awards of Australia in Tamworth in January.[45]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1978 Smoky Dawson Australian Roll of Renown inductee

ARIA Music Awards[edit]

The ARIA Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music. They commenced in 1987. Dawson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.[46][47]

Year Nominee / work Award Result
ARIA Music Awards of 1989 High Country (with Trevor Knight) ARIA Award for Best Country Album Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 2005 Smoky Dawson ARIA Hall of Fame inductee

Country Music Awards of Australia[edit]

The Country Music Awards of Australia (CMAA) (also known as the Golden Guitar Awards) is an annual awards night held in January during the Tamworth Country Music Festival, celebrating recording excellence in the Australian country music industry. They have been held annually since 1973.[48][32]

In 1988 Dawson and Trevor Knight won The Heritage Golden Guitar at the Country Music Awards of Australia for "The Days of Old Khancoban" – written by Dawson about the droving days of his youth in the Snowy Mountains. The following year Dawson and Knight won a second Golden Guitar for their song, "High Country", as Best Vocal Duo or Group.

Year Nominee / work Award Result
1977 himself Hands of Fame imprint
1988 "The Days of Old Khancoban" Smoky Dawson & Trevor Knight's Newport Trio Heritage Award Won
1989 "High Country" Smoky Dawson & Trevor Knight Vocal Group or Duo of the Year Won
  • Note: wins only

Mo Awards[edit]

The Australian Entertainment Mo Awards (commonly known informally as the Mo Awards), were annual Australian entertainment industry awards. They recognise achievements in live entertainment in Australia from 1975 to 2016. Smoky Dawson won one award in that time[49]

Year Nominee / work Award Result (wins only)
2007 Smoky Dawson Outstanding Contribution to Country Music awarded

Tamworth Songwriters Awards[edit]

The Tamworth Songwriters Association (TSA) is an annual songwriting contest for original country songs, awarded in January at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. They commenced in 1986. Smoky Dawson won four awards.[50]

Year Nominee / work Award Result (wins only)
1987 Smoky Dawson Song of the Year Award Won
1989 Smoky Dawson Traditional Bush Ballad Award Won
1990 Smoky Dawson Songmaker Award awarded
1997 Smoky Dawson Tex Morton Award awarded


  • Smoky, Dawson (1985). Smoky Dawson : a life. Illustrated by Pro Hart, Introduction by R. M. Williams. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-0-86861-774-9.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Dawson, Smoky; Willis, Rob. "Smoky Dawson interviewed by Bob Willis for the Rob and Olya Willis folklore collection (sound recording)". Rob and Olya Willis Folklore Collection.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Edwardian Index, Victoria 1902–1913 (CD-ROM). The Crown in the State of Victoria: Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. 1997. ISBN 978-0-73110-614-1.
    • Henry Herbert Brown born 1913, Collingwood, Registration No. 2726
    • Parker Frederick Brown married Olive Amy Muir, 1905, Registration No. 6942
    • Leslie Muir Woods born 1904, Northcote, Registration No. 12496
    • Laura Olive Emily Brown born 1906, Melbourne West, Registration No. 20568
    • Peter Frederick James Brown born 1908, Coburg, Registration No. 2311
  3. ^ "Service Record: Brown, Herbert Henry". World War Two Nominal Roll. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  4. ^ Pioneer Index, Victoria 1836–1888 (CD-ROM). The Crown in the State of Victoria: Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. 1998. ISBN 0-73115-300-6.
    • Parker Frederick Peter Brown born 1885, Footscray, Registration No. 2709
  5. ^ a b c d e "Digital Copy of Item with Barcode 1800644". National Archives of Australia. 21 August 2006. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Death Index, Victoria 1921–1985 (CD-ROM). The Crown in the State of Victoria: Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. 1998. ISBN 0-73115-302-2.
    • Parker Brown died 1957, aged 72, Heidelberg, Registration No. 12431
    • Laura Olive Emily Maxwell née Brown died 1941, aged 33, Mont Park, Registration No. 2231
    • Peter Frederick Brown died 1972, aged 64, Box Hill, Registration No. 8913
    • Edward Parker Dawson died 1978, aged 63, Parkville, Registration No. 6199
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Hughes, Robin (7 February 1994). "Full Interview – Smoky Dawson – Interview Transcript". Australian Biography Project (Screen Australia, Commonwealth of Australia). Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  8. ^ a b c Great War Index, Victoria 1914–1920 (CD-ROM). The Crown in the State of Victoria: Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. 1997. ISBN 0-73110-616-4.
    • Olive Amy Brown died 1919, aged 39, Richmond, Registration No. 18833
    • Leslie Muir Wood Brown died 1920, aged 17, Kangaroo Ground, Registration No. 14930
    • Edward Parker Peter Brown born 1915, Brunswick North, Registration No. 1215
  9. ^ a b c "Family Notices". The Argus. 30 December 1920. p. 1. Retrieved 1 January 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ a b c d "Smoky Dawson". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  11. ^ "Brown Parker : SERN 1885 : POB Yarravill Vic : POE Melbourne Vic : NOK W Brown A". National Archives of Australia. 21 August 2006. Retrieved 1 January 2013.
  12. ^ Hughes, Peter (3 June 2003). "Smokey Dawson: Country Music Legend". Backyard Stories. ABC Tasmania. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  13. ^ a b c Jinman, Richard (15 February 2008). "The Adventures of Smoky Dawson". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  14. ^ a b c d e Phillips, Nancy (August 2000). "Where there's 'Smoky' there's life and laughter". Gateways. ISSN 1039-3498. Archived from the original on 23 May 2004. Retrieved 31 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ a b "Smoky Dawson". Time Out Sydney. Time Out. 13 April 2010. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  16. ^ a b c d "Smoky learnt all the old folk lore". The Mail. 8 October 1949. p. 24. Retrieved 31 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  17. ^ a b c "Australian Country Music Roll of Renown – Smoky Dawson MBE(C), AM 1978". Australian Country Music Hall of Fame. Country Music Association of Australia. Archived from the original on 9 April 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2012.
  18. ^ "Broadcasting". The Sydney Morning Herald. 14 September 1937. p. 3. Retrieved 29 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "80 Years of the Greater 3UZ" (PDF). Melbourne Observer. 9 March 2005. p. 11. Archived from the original on 21 May 2005. Retrieved 29 December 2012.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  20. ^ a b c Moremon, John (1 June 2004). "Smokey Dawson: First Australian Army Entertainment Unit (People)". Australia Japan Research Project. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  21. ^ "Soldiers' Social". The Argus. 13 March 1940. p. 20. Retrieved 29 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  22. ^ a b c O'Neill, Sharon (14 February 2008). "Smoky Dawson Dies at 94". The 7.30 Report. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  23. ^ "Happy 100th Birthday Dot Dawson". Radio Info. 12 October 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  24. ^ Clark, Louis (29 November 1945). "The War's Greatest Morale Builders". Western Mail. p. 60. Retrieved 30 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  25. ^ "Cameraman Braves Axe". The Daily News. 22 March 1949. p. 15 Edition: Home. Retrieved 31 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  26. ^ a b "They're rough, tough men in fancy shirts – They're on 'T.V.'". The Argus. 13 March 1951. p. 20. Retrieved 30 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  27. ^ "'Smoky's' Back from USA". The Argus. 4 October 1952. p. 12. Retrieved 31 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  28. ^ "Children Greet Cowboy Singer". The Advertiser. 29 September 1952. p. 6. Retrieved 30 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  29. ^ "The horse that wouldn't go home". The Argus. 13 October 1955. p. 1. Retrieved 31 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  30. ^ "Smoky Dawson on 5 AD Tonight". The Advertiser. 8 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 31 December 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  31. ^ a b c d Powerhouse Museum. "2004/168/4 Comic book, The Adventures of Smoky Dawson No 10, paper / ink, published by K.G. Murray Publishing Company, printed by Sungravure Ltd, Rosebery, New South Wales, Australia, 1953–1962". Powerhouse Museum, Australia. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
  32. ^ a b c d "Smoky Dawson – A Most Extraordinary Life". Country Music Capital News. Vol. 33, no. 3. Rural Press. March 2008. Archived from the original on 28 April 2013. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  33. ^ "What is Freemasonry?" Archived 5 December 1998 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ "Smoky Dawson's wife Dot passes away". Herald Sun, 28 October 2010, Accessed on 28 October 2010
  35. ^ "Mr Herbert Henry Dawson, MBE". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  36. ^ "Roll of Renown". TCMF. Archived from the original on 21 August 2018. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  37. ^ Smoky, Dawson (1985). Smoky Dawson : a life. Illustrated by Pro Hart, Introduction by R. M. Williams. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-0-86861-774-9.
  38. ^ "Smoky Dawson – A Life". Imprint Imprint. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  39. ^ "Mr Herbert Henry Dawson, AM". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  40. ^ "Smoky Dawson donates guitar to Hall of Fame". Australia: ABC News. 9 April 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2007.
  41. ^ "Homestead of My Dreams".
  42. ^ "Folk legend Smoky Dawson dies"
  43. ^ "College Facilities". Galstaun College. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  44. ^ "College Benefactors". Galstaun College. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  45. ^ "Roll of Renown". Tamworth Country Music Festival. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  46. ^ "Winners by Award: Hall of Fame". Australian Recording Industry Association. Archived from the original on 2 February 2009. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  47. ^ ARIA Award previous winners. "ARIA Awards Best Country Album". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  48. ^ "Past Award Winners". Archived from the original on 25 October 2020. Retrieved 2 November 2020.
  49. ^ "MO Award Winners". Mo Awards. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  50. ^ "Tamworth Songwriters Association". Tamworth Songwriters Association Online. Retrieved 23 March 2022.

External links[edit]