Flashback: The moment music royalty touched down in Rocky

AN undisputed king of country music stepped foot onto Central Queensland soil about 40 years ago.

Johnny Cash's arrival in Rockhampton was something music fans' dreams are made of, and now we're taking you back to when the Man in Black spread his magic over the city.

A special coup for the Beef Capital, the legendary musician performed his only non-capital city concert during the worldwide Silver Jubilee Tour at Rockhampton Showgrounds on Sunday, June 21, 1981.

Read Morning Bulletin reporter Sean Fox's exclusive interview with Johnny's sister, Joanne here. 

Upon his arrival, Mr Cash gave a rare and exclusive interview to The Morning Bulletin where he pointed out his prior desire to visit the region.

"I came to Rockhampton because I'd never been here and I always wanted to see what Central Queensland was like … Australia has a big appeal," he said.

"I looked forward to coming here … this is one place which is close to the land."

Ultimately, the concert was a great success and attracted about 10,000 fans to the venue, which had rarely boasted such a big-name act before.

Johnny Cash performs in front of thousands of Central Queensland fans at Rockhampton Showgrounds in 1981.
Johnny Cash performs in front of thousands of Central Queensland fans at Rockhampton Showgrounds in 1981.

While trends have changed over time, Central Queensland music fans have not forgotten the authenticity of Mr Cash whose legacy outlasts short-lived music tastes.

Rocky woman's close encounter with music royalty

A FORMER Rockhampton barmaid has reminisced the moment she served the legendary country music artist, and his family almost four decades ago.

Recently, the music fan (who wished to remain anonymous) took The Morning Bulletin on a trip back to 1981 when she was an employee at the city's once-popular Grosvenor Hotel, and happened to be working on the night one of the world's most beloved families stumbled into the pub for tea.

"I was about 18 or 19 at the time, and we served him and his family in the dining room," she said.

"He and his wife were both lovely people and good looking."

She remembered the Cash kids were running around the pub's kitchen, enjoying themselves immensely when the chef jokingly warned them 'if you come back into the kitchen one more time, you will end up in the pot'.

Earlier that day, June Carter Cash had been shopping in Rockhampton where she came across Georges' store.

An established artist in her own right, Mrs Carter Cash came back from her retail ­therapy to tell her husband about her great find, and said of Georges 'I have never seen a shop like it anywhere in the world' before they wined and dined at the pub.

Cash fan's favourite hit

FELLOW Rockhampton concertgoer, Steven Graham's experience at Johnny Cash's Silver Jubilee performance has stayed with him throughout the decades.

Aged about 12 years old at the time, the then-Mount Morganite was not only impressed with the music, but also the elaborate stage set-up which accompanied Mr Cash's show.

"The speakers were massive and there was a large screen above the stage," he said.

Mr Graham praised the musician's live vocals, saying he sounded better in concert than he did on a record.

"The song that stuck most with me was One Piece at a Time as the film clip was shown on the screen as he sang the song," he said.

Up close and personal

COULD you imagine how it would feel to be in the presence of music royalty? One of your musical heroes just mere metres away from you?

Narelle De Git is one woman who has plenty of Cash stories to tell from the superstar's whirlwind visit to Rockhampton.

Twelve years old at the time, she was one of the members of the Rockhampton Crusaders Marching Girls team who dressed themselves in white stetson hats and American-themed uniforms to welcome the music icon.

And they didn't go unnoticed.

Narelle de Git (second from right) with fellow members of the Rockhampton Crusaders Marching Girls team.
Narelle de Git (second from right) with fellow members of the Rockhampton Crusaders Marching Girls team.

Mr Cash was overwhelmed with the positive response to his arrival.

"I had a reception today which I thought should have been reserved for princes or prime ministers; I've never been so impressed before and those marching girls were really great," Mr Cash told The Morning Bulletin in 1981.

Before Mr Cash came to Rockhampton, Narelle's marching troupe was asked to greet him on the tarmac.

"Decked out with styrofoam Stetsons and American flags, we did a display of our marching then formed a guard of honour at the steps of the plane," Ms De Git said.

A true patriot, Mr Cash showed appreciation to his country on foreign soil.

"While the American anthem played, he stood with his hand on his heart," she said.

"When it was done, he came along each line and thanked every one of us by shaking our hands and giving us all a kiss on the cheek.

"We all then gathered around to get our hats and autograph books signed by him."

Renowned for his ­gentlemanly qualities, Mr Cash invited them all to his performance that night.

Johnny Cash walks off the tarmac at Rockhampton Airport.
Johnny Cash walks off the tarmac at Rockhampton Airport.

"He expressed that he wanted us up on the stage with him but was told that it was too dangerous with all of the equipment, so he wanted us at the front so he could see our flags waving," she said.

On the way to the concert with her family, Ms De Git asked her father if he thought Mr Cash would perform his smash hit from 1963, Ring of Fire.

Optimistically, her father believed the song would make it onto the set list.

Luckily, "it was the first song he did, and I felt like he was singing it just for me," she said.

During the concert, Ms De Git and her mother bought hot dogs after they became star stuck once again.

"Along the way, we met up with June Carter Cash and their children Cindy and John Carter Cash," she said.

"I was still in my uniform and June stopped us for a chat … as it was so long ago, my mother doesn't remember what they talked about but they signed my hat as well."

While her stetson hat was destroyed some years ago, Ms De Git still keeps the same shirt she wore on the day and autographs in her possession.

"It was an honour to meet them all … it really was a memory I treasure and love to tell people to this day," she said.

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