Comic book, 'The Adventures of Smoky Dawson No 10', paper / ink, published by KG Murray Publishing Co, printed by Sungravure Ltd, Rosebery, New South Wales, Australia, 1953-1962
The significance of this comic book stems from its association with Smoky Dawson, Australia's first cowboy entertainer and a pioneer of Australian country music. Dawson has been 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. The Smoky Dawson comics were modelled somewhat on American cowboy comics but had an Australian character. The eventual decline in local comic production which occurred through the 1960s and 1970s was in large part due to the massive influx of titles from America, particularly those coming from the Marvel and DC stables.
Born in Warrnambool, Victoria in 1913, Herbert Henry (Smoky) Dawson spent three years in an orphanage after losing his mother and brother early in life. He has recalled that, even at that early stage, music soothed him. By the age of eight or nine he was making up songs. He began his musical career in 1934 when he formed a western group and began doing live radio broadcasts on Melbourne radio station 3UZ. While working in radio he met his future wife Dot (Florence Cheers) who presented a children's program. Dot had worked as an elocution teacher in the early 1930s before joining radio station 3KZ. She had her own radio show 'My Friend the Policeman' and taught at a radio school run by Morris West. Dot and Smoky were married in 1944.
Smoky Dawson enlisted in World War II as a stretcher bearer but on the eve of departure for New Guinea he was commandeered into the First Australian Army Entertainment Unit which entertained troops on the front-line. His detachment was sent to the frontlines of New Guinea.
He recorded locally for EMI in the 1940s with his Rocky Canyon Boys. They released singles such as 'I'm A Happy-Go-Lucky Cowhand' (1941), 'The Old Log Cabin On The Mountain Trail' (1941), 'Mother, Please Open The Door' (1942), 'Just A Sprig Of Golden Wattle' (1945) and 'The Lights of Cobb & Co' (1948).
In 1951 Smoky and Dot moved to the USA where he worked in radio, appeared in several Broadway productions, obtained a publishing contract with Acuff Rose and performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
When the couple returned to Australia they were greeted by a crowd of well-wishers at Sydney Airport. They began the Smoky Dawson Radio Show in 1952, staying on air for ten years. In Sydney the program was broadcast in prime time on 2GB. It included Smoky Dawson's dramatic adventure serials ('The Adventures of Jindawarrabell' and 'The Adventures of Smoky Dawson'). Dawson's persona 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 Kellogg's. This persona became the hero of the Smoky Dawson comic books.
Dawson had a long and distinguished recording and performing career. He used his skills in whip cracking, story telling, sharp shooting and trick riding with his horse Flash to raise money for charities and community projects. He was featured on TV's 'This is Your Life' in 1976. He was inducted into Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown in 1978. Allen & Unwin published his autobiography 'Smoky Dawson: A Life' in 1985. One of the better known songs from the latter stage of his recording career was 'The Days of Old Khancoban' (1988). He recorded the album 'Singing in the Saddle' for Festival Records in 1989. 'The Cowboy from Down Under' is a short film about Smoky Dawson and his horse riding ranch at Ingleside in which a group of migrant children receive a lesson from Smoky about their new home Australia. Film Australia produced a 1994 documentary for the 'Australian Biography' series titled 'Smoky Dawson: Entertainer'. His saddle and bridle are in the collection of the Stockman's Hall of Fame at Longreach. The wax museum at Tamworth has his horse, hats and axes. He received an MBE in 1983 for services to country music and was awarded the Order of Australia in 1999. Although Dawson was knocked down by a hit and run driver in June 2000, he and Dot were still presenting his 'Australian Country Music Showcase' on community radio station 2NSB-FM in 2004. He died on 13 February 2008 after a short illness.
This comic was printed by Sungravure limited, Rosebery, New South Wales and published by KG Murray Publishing Sydney between 1953 and 1962.
This comic book has been part of Smoky Dawson's personal collection since it was produced. It was lent to the Powerhouse Museum in 2001 for display in the exhibition 'Spinning Around: 50 years of Festival Records'. At the conclusion of the exhibition Smoky Dawson agreed to donate his loan items.