Smoky Dawson, the first of the Australian cowboy crooners, died yesterday (Wed 13) in Hornsby Hospital in Sydney, aged 94. He had been ill for six days.

Dawson became a household name in Australia with his U.S. western-style radio show "The Adventures Of Smoky Dawson", which ran from 1952 until the early 1960s. Australian youngsters were fascinated with his adventures on his horse Flash: one million of them joined his fan club.

His recording career began in 1941. His last album, "Homestead Of My Dreams" was released through Sydney-based Origin Recordings in 2005 - at which point he became the oldest recording artist in the world.

Country singer John Williamson said of him, "He was one of those people who was born to entertain - and he'd do that at the drop of a hat. It gave him pleasure. So did helping and advising young country music artists. No doubt about it, he was an icon, a true slice of Australiana."

Added Philip Mortlock, managing director of Origin, "Smoky told me that writing a song a day and keeping an active was what kept him going."

Born Herbert Henry Dawson in Melbourne in 1913 and raised in the regional city of Warrnambool, Victoria, he was beaten often by his father who had returned home wounded from World War I. Herbert and his younger brother Ted were placed in an orphanage. He left after three years to join his elder brother Pete on a farm. Here he got his nickname "Smoky," for, according to legend, smoking horse manure.

He married singer and actress Florence "Dot" Cheers in March 1944, and incorporated her into his live show. They turned to the United States where he played the Grand Ole Opry and signed a three-year deal with Nashville publishers Wes and Fred Rose's Hickory label. He recorded a single "The Last Supper" and played a singing cowboy in the Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate with Dot. According to Dawson, he was offered a part in "Paint Your Wagon" with Burl Ives but impresario J. Walter Thompson asked him to return to Australia.

In 1978, Dawson was awarded made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, and given the Honour Award of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1993, the Australian Country Music Foundation (ACMF) was created in Tamworth, citing him as a direct inspiration. "He was one of the original country pioneers, and a true beacon," says ACMF president Bob Kirchner.

In 1999 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia, and inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame in 2005.

Dawson is survived by Dot, who turns 102 this year.