A Bluewater tale: Slim Dusty, the skipper and the car racer

SMOOTH SAILING: Robyn Hamilton and Alain Francqueville, who share a love for fast cars, sailing and Slim Dusty, pictured at the country music festival in Nelson Bay on Saturday.
SMOOTH SAILING: Robyn Hamilton and Alain Francqueville, who share a love for fast cars, sailing and Slim Dusty, pictured at the country music festival in Nelson Bay on Saturday.

Every country music fan has a Slim Dusty story to tell and there were plenty on offer at the Bluewater festival staged in Port Stephens over the Queen's Birthday long weekend.

This is the story of Australia's best-known, most loved country music star, a French boat builder and one of this country's greatest female racing car drivers.

Admiring the country twang emanating from Nelson Bay's d'Albora Marina stage on Saturday was a toe-tapping couple who were only too happy to reveal their encounter with country music 'royalty', the late Slim Dusty and Joy McLean.

Alain Francqueville and Robyn Hamilton, who run Sydney Catamaran Cruises, moved to Tanilba Bay five years ago to retire.

They are in the process of selling their business to spend more time travelling, but there was a time when this couple lived for speed - Francqueville in boats and Hamilton in cars.

Francqueville, who has more than 40 years' experience as a shipwright, skipper and seaman, was working in Sydney when he was approached by country music's 'king and queen', Slim and Joy, to do a fit-out of their boat for a round Australia concert tour.

Robyn Hamilton in her car (left) and as a racing driver (right).

Robyn Hamilton in her car (left) and as a racing driver (right).

"I think the year was 1978 and Slim was preparing to do one of his country pub tours. He said he wanted to tow his boat on the back of his Holden so the couple could slip away on their days off," the 75-year-old Francqueville recalled.

"We installed a specially made ladder, stove and fridge and other little comforts. They were both lovely people, very obliging and of course I was a big fan. Slim had been a favourite for many years."

Francqueville, who also raced offshore power boats for many years, later met and married Robyn Hamilton, who also had a penchant for racing. Her claim to fame was car racing - "some may remember the Gemini series" - in an era when very few women dared to take on the men.

During the late 1970s and early '80s, Hamilton became a trailblazer for female car racing drivers, famously and fearlessly competing against - and in some cases beating - some of the big names of the time including the great Jack Brabham, Alain Grice and John Harvey.

"I was only small in stature but I was known as a dynamic driver. I didn't let any of the male drivers intimidate me," she said.

Now aged 65, Hamilton said that she had taken up the sport after "wasting a few years" at university and doing other odd jobs.

"Racing cars was the only thing I enjoyed, so I took some lessons and started racing. The sport served me well until I met Alain and helped set up the catamaran business."

Now it's plain sailing and country music.

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