With its rugged terrain and rough-and-tumble reputation, it’s no surprise that Australia has developed its own country music scene.
While much of the genre was heavily influenced by American country music in the early 1900s, it has matured into its own over the last century.
With so many years of country music, there are many venerated singers, but here are 10 of the greatest and most famous Australian country singers. Read on to learn more about them.
1. Olivia Newton-John
Although she was born in England, Olivia Newton-John may be Australia’s favorite adopted daughter. She was born to an MI-5 officer who moved his family to Melbourne when Newton-John was 6.
She was singing, appearing on television shows, and recording before her 20th birthday, but it was her self-titled 1972 album that contained some country cuts.
“Let Me Be There” won her a Grammy for Best Country Female, though she would move more toward pop in her subsequent years.
The movie Grease made her a superstar. As the biggest box office hit of 1978, it—and she—was everywhere. She followed with genre-hopping endeavors, including “Physical.”
Breast cancer sidelined Newton-John in the 1990s, but she scored another country hit in 1998 with a remake of “I Honestly Love You.”
Her recent passing in August 8, 2022, due to the recurring cancer has sent family, friends, and fans into mourning, but her contribution to the music industry endures.
2. Keith Urban
Like Olivia Newton-John, Keith Urban isn’t a native Aussie, as he was born in New Zealand, but he was raised in Cabultoore, Queensland. He made his way onto New Faces, an Australian talent show, as a teenager and made a splash there.
From that appearance, he strung together some gigs, a country band, and a following. He also developed his signature sound, a combination of rock and country.
In the early 1990s, he did what most aspiring country singers do and moved to Nashville. His band, The Ranch, was an almost instant success. The group released an album in 1997 to critical acclaim, at which point Urban struck out for a solo career that took off.
He’s won multiple Grammy awards, appeared on huge stages worldwide, and is married to actor Nicole Kidman.
3. Slim Dusty
As Australia’s King of Country, Slim Dusty may be the most important figure in the country’s history in the genre. Dusty pioneered the so-called bush ballad, a country-infused style of music that told stories of life in the bush.
He came into the world in 1927 in New South Wales as David Gordon Kirkpatrick, and by the age of 11, he’d written his first song and chosen a stage name—Slim Dusty.
By age 19, he had a record deal and soon released “A Pub With No Beer,” an international hit that was, at the time, the biggest-selling Aussie record of all time.
Between 1973 and 2005, Dusty won a Golden Guitar almost every year (only nine of those 32 years passed without him winning). He married Joy McKean in 1951, and the pair made music together until he died in 2003.
4. John Williamson
As a boy growing up in Victoria, John Williamson watched his parents perform as amateur musical theater actors and taught himself various instruments.
In 1970, as a 25-year-old new face, he also appeared on New Faces, in which he won. From there, he formed a country band called Crow—one of the members of which was guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel—that had some success. They eventually changed their name to Sydney Radio and started playing pop and rock music.
The band split in 1981, at which time Williamson started playing solo. Five years later, he released Mallee Boy, a hugely successful country album. He remains a revered member of Australia’s country music elite.
5. Joy McKean
While she may not be a household name in the US, Joy McKean made a huge mark on country music. She was born in New South Wales to a schoolteacher father who encouraged her and her sisters to pursue their interests in music.
She’s known as the Grand Lady of Country Music, but she got started with her sister Heather on a radio show in 1949. Only 19, McKean and her sister sang on the show for seven years.
They made some recordings during this time, which spread their fame, and McKean met Slim Dusty, a fellow Aussie country music luminary. They married in 1954 and performed together and as solo acts until Slim passed away in 2003.
McKean won six Golden Guitar awards. This feat is even more impressive considering that she was only nominated for six, meaning she never lost.
6. Tex Morton
Born Robert William Lane in New Zealand in 1916, Tex Morton became known as the Yodelling Boundary Rider due to his popularity on both sides of the Tasman Sea.
He’s in this list since he laid the foundation for what would become the bush ballad, as he traveled throughout Australia in the 1930s, playing and recording music heavily influenced by American country artists like Jimmie Rodgers.
Before World War II, his recordings outsold many mainstream American country acts, and he was tapped as an entertainer for troops during the war.
Morton was inducted into the Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown in 1976. Lung cancer claimed his life in 1983.
7. Smoky Dawson
Our next singer, Smoky Dawson stands as Australia’s answer to the Singing Cowboy, something of a combination of Gene Autry and Will Rogers. Herbert Henry Brown was born in 1913 in Victoria to an abusive father. This abuse led the boy to start creating songs to make himself feel better.
Though he wasn’t an orphan, he ended up in an orphanage where he learned to play the guitar and harmonica. He adopted the name Smoky Dawson and began performing country music with his brother.
After being disqualified for service during WWII, Dawson took to entertaining troops. He ended up with a radio show for more than ten years.
The postwar years took him and his wife Dot to the US, where he recorded a few demos and performed in a Shakespearean play. Dawson was beloved by the Australian people and died in 2008.
8. Chad Morgan
Born in Queensland in 1933, Chad Morgan has been called “the clown prince of country music” by Slim Dusty due to his comedic takes.
Morgan’s trademark is his teeth—bucked and crooked. They’re so noticeable because, at first glance, one would be forgiven for thinking he was wearing novelty teeth as a joke.
However, his discovery depended on his songwriting and performing, rather than a quirky look, as he parlayed an appearance on a radio talent show into a record deal in 1952. He went on to be one of Australia’s biggest-selling country artists.
Morgan married twice, has three children, and is still active. He also released an album inspired by COVID-19 lockdowns.
9. Donn Reynolds
Though he was born in Canada in 1921, Donn Reynolds made a sizable contribution to country music in Australia.
He served in World War II in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was transferred from deep-sea rescue missions to an entertainment unit when RCAF officers heard him singing around the ship.
Following the war, Reynolds headed for Australia. He quickly established himself as a gifted singer, appearing on Joy McKean’s radio show, among others.
His hook was his yodeling; by the time he left Australia for the US in 1949, he had become known as Canada’s Yodelling Cowboy.
Even though he only spent a few years Down Under, he was one of country music’s biggest stars there, and his name still gets mentioned alongside those of fellow pioneers Slim Dusty and Tex Morton.
10. Clare Bowen
Born in New South Wales in 1984, our last singer, Clare Bowen may be best known as an actor stemming from her turn as Scarlett on the TV musical drama Nashville.
Before that, she made several appearances on Aussie shows, but her performance on Nashville revealed her to be an exceptional country singer.
As the show’s network released music in single and album form over several seasons, Bowen got a lot of radio play. In 2018, she released self-titled album, which was well-received. Bowen cites Dolly Parton as her biggest influence.
Summing Up Our List Of Australian Country Artists
That’s it for our article covering famous Australian country vocalists. We hope you enjoyed reading it!
While not every name on the list is a household name in the US, all ten are giants in Aussie country.
And there are more where these came from, so let us know if we missed any of your favorite country singers from Down Under so we can add them for you!