The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert turns 21 this year. The Australia of 1994 was no beacon of progressiveness. Difference was at best frowned upon and at worst scared into hiding. A vegan would be looked upon with suspicion. A girl surfer would get flack. As for being openly gay or on the rainbow spectrum in the outback... Well that wasn’t going to lie.
The blatancy of the intolerance is satirised in Monty Python’s ‘Bruce’ sketch. A professor called Michael (the Bruces call him Bruce to avoid confusion) is visiting a Queensland uni from the UK. He is introduced to the philosophy professors. “Hey, Bruce, are you a poofter?!” It turns out Rules 1, 3, 5 and 7 are all ‘No poofters’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f_p0CgPeyA
All the Bruces are clearly mates, all drink beer and all think alike. They seek a simple harmony – albeit an illusion. This blow-in, while breaking the monotony, threatens, in their minds, to upset the apple cart. So it is with the three travelling performers of Priscilla – two transvestites and a transsexual, played gloriously by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Terence Stamp. And the struggle to make the film a reality was a case of life imitating art imitating life. That struggle is explored in the new doco Between a Frock and a Hard Place. (Click the post title for details.)
Priscilla’s legacy is far more wide-ranging than a new acceptance of differing sexualities, important though that is. It’s about individuality in all its forms. Freedom of expression. An appetite for the many diverse stories now on offer – from this land and the world. Priscilla is fabulous, and the next generation of Australians will be also.
The laneways of inner Melbourne have a vibe all their own. There is comfortable narrowness, history infused with change, and a relaxed buzz. None of which makes a whole lot of sense on paper, but all of which makes perfect sense when you’re there.
This guide is the first to cover every last lane (even the empty ones). #26 is Hosier Lane, pictured above (and in the Ausculture avi). The article notes the ongoing hypocrisy that while tourism officials have turned its street art into a world-famous attraction other officials will happily haul anyone caught adding to it off in cuffs!
Explore the magic of Melbourne’s laneways – there’s nothing else quite like them.
STRAYA DAY! The day to kick back and celebrate what a great bloody country this is! Only it’s not quite as simple as that.
The 26th of January marks the day in 1788 the First Fleet made anchor near present day Sydney, claiming ‘New Holland’ in the name of the British Empire. And given that the locals had called this land home for tens of thousands of years, the charged term ‘Invasion Day’ is actually a lot more accurate. (Australia’s Federation was on 1st January 1901.)
So millions of First Fleet descendents and blow-ins flock to the beaches to celebrate with tinnies and Aussie flags while tens of thousands of progressives take to social media to try and rain on their parade!
This article has some good tips for being right on this Australia Day. The argument for moving the date is a good one. But it’s OK to celebrate the best of our country. And we have difficult days ahead on several fronts – climate change, terrorism, economics... I think we *need* Australia Day. And we need it to be a celebration.
Ausculture’s tagline is ‘In search of Australia 2.0’. Well, anyone wanting an illustration of the sensationalist, retrograde groupthink we need to move beyond need look no further than the Azaria Chamberlain case. The tragic loss of the two-month-old to a dingo at Uluru in the Red Centre in 1980 was followed by a frenzied (mis)trial by media and a life sentence for murder for mother Lindy. In a case drenched in cultural misogyny, father Michael received only a suspended sentence. Lindy Chamberlain was acquitted in 1986, but it was not until 2012, 32 years after the incident, that a fourth inquest finally confirmed Lindy’s original account.
The cultural impact of the case has reached far and wide, Lindy in her large sunnies having her iconic place alongside Harold Holt in his wetsuit and Hoges with his cheeky grin. And across the pond tasteless jokes about dingoes taking babies are told by people clueless as to what a dingo actually is.
The dingo is Australia’s apex predator. And it’s in trouble. Classified as Threatened, the canine with the big PR problem has suffered over a century of persecution, as European settlers claimed vast tracts of its territory for farming, aggressively culled it and built a five and a half thousand kilometre Dingo Fence to keep it out of south-eastern Australia. It is also under threat from cross-breeding with feral dogs. The publicity around the Azaria Chamberlain incident has hardly helped the dingo’s cause. But half-sister Zahra is turning that around. As seen in this video, she has teamed up with the Durong Dingo Sanctuary in south-east Queensland and is quickly becoming an ambassador for the much maligned animal. So after ending an ugly story with no winners here begins a beautiful one with no losers.
In the friendly tussle for supremacy with Sydney, Melbourne has an ace in the hole: its culinary excellence. Every corner of the globe is represented, thanks to an easygoing multiculturalism stretching back generations. And with an active and discerning patronage standards are sky high.
Here, The Urban List presents a (subjective) list of the Top 50 must-eat dishes for Melbournians. If you’re just visiting, simply choose one at random – it’s bound to be ace.
The Ghan is the train service traversing the 2,979 km between Adelaide and Darwin. Begun in 1878, construction of just part of the route took 51 years. The Port Augusta to Alice Springs line picked up the nickname ‘Afghan Express’ in 1923 – a nod to the Afghani camel drivers whose camel trains completed the journey north to The Alice right up to 1929 – and this got shortened to ‘The Ghan’.
Construction of the Alice-Darwin leg was not started until 2001. On 4 February 2004, the $1.3bn project was ready and it was finally possible to take a train from Adelaide to Darwin. Locals celebrated the arrival of that first train in a typically Territorian way – with a twenty-one bum salute! And how to mark 10 years of The Ghan in Darwin? Um, yes, that is indeed the flag of The Northern Territory!
From beered-up snag-lover to well-groomed SNAG: The quiet evolution of the Aussie male has been rapid and significant – if faltering. (Well, we do have a senator now whose idea of a good time is throwing kangaroo poo at his mates!) New research has found Hugh Jackman to be the celebrity more men aspire to be like than any other. That he is seen as intelligent, friendly, family oriented and a gentleman all run in his favour. Shane Warne is considered a fallen idol. But actually, it’s not so much that Warne has fallen, more that the male standard has risen. Australia, ladies and gentlemen, is coming of age.
Visiting Alice Springs you’re struck by what a hive of activity this remote town is, despite not seeming that touristy and lacking heavy industry or anything much in the way of commodities processing or agriculture. The answer to this little riddle is a giant secret – if not a well kept one.
Just 20km south-west of the town is Pine Gap, the US-run base said to control their network of spy satellites. One of the many ironies facing Peter Garrett (inset) is that Midnight Oil protested against the base in the song ‘Power and the Passion’ and he now finds himself in government supporting it. Pine Gap directly employs around one in twenty-five residents, and taking into account ancillary and support services it’s not too much of a stretch to come to this News.com.au article’s conclusion that ‘it basically runs the Alice Springs economy’.
The great Aussie tradition of the fair go is immediately out the window as soon as the mining juggernaut heads your way, backed by a state government greedy for royalties.
In the case of the small township of Bulga in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley, the prospects for halting that juggernaut seemed truly remote. The mining giant was Rio Tinto – arguably in second place for title of the world’s biggest and most ruthless miner – the government was NSW – with an appalling record for abandoning local and environmental interests in favour of a quick buck – and up for grabs was coal valued in the billions.
One man took a stand. John Krey (pictured) rallied community support, and an epic David and Goliath legal battle ensued. This multimedia piece by Bernard Lagan and colleagues at The Global Mail recounts it all. In six parts, it looks at how an entire community can be traumatised – a phenomenon newly identified as ‘solastalgia’, how ‘iron-clad’ legal protection agreements from soulless multinationals can be torn up arbitrarily as soon as a commodity price picks up, and how it’s worth fighting for what really matters – the wellbeing of ourselves and the environment.
Australia’s pollies may be dragging their feet on marriage equality, but on form-filling options, at least, we are now a world leader. Official forms will now widen the narrow, birth-determined male and female genders to also include ‘indeterminate’, ‘intersex’ and ‘unspecified’.
Still shaken by its ordeal, the vegemite sandwich chucked by a school kid in the general direction of our PM gives an exclusive interview to Crikey staffer First Dog. In a six panel sequence (click through for the rest) the lunch snack – perhaps hoping for a guest spot on The Bolt Report – opines for all it’s worth.
Spike the skateboarding rhino did a neat trick in 2011. No, not a 360 kickflip. He managed to reduce pedestrian fatalities from tram impacts by 27%, by reminding Melbourne road users trams are heavy. Really heavy. As heavy as him and 29 of his mates.
Now he’s back, in striking black and yellow. You can’t miss him. But make sure you do.
When Dan Nolan wanted to put together a Paul Keating insult generator app for the iPhone he had to contend with a new law preventing use of the federal parliamentary record for satirical purposes. He was advised he needed to make do with Keatingesque imitations, so you get “You imbecilic caucus of political harlots” instead of “He’s like a shiver waiting for a spine”. It didn’t stop his 99 cent insult generator becoming Australia’s top paid app in the Store. But it’s a law that goes against our long tradition of ‘keeping the bastards honest’. And an insult to free speech.
It’s an important question, and one that our adopted Kiwi Sam Neill strives to answer in his new doco. This write-up on it by Ben Neutze takes seven paragraphs to get to Neill’s film. And it doesn’t really articulate just what a fine job he does in just 90 minutes of covering the ugly realities of the Gallipoli campaign and how the ANZACs’ struggles have coloured our collective psyche over the subsequent 100 years. But it gives an interesting answer of its own:
“[Immortalising our disastrous Gallipoli campaign] allowed Australia to shift its focus from its ugly colonial past.” If you’re after a one line answer to this complex question then look no further.
When your country is also a vast continent, with everything from salt plains to snow covered peaks, from wetlands to tropical rainforest picking just ten destinations is something of an impossibility. This list doesn’t even cover every State and Territory. But there are some great suggestions here.
Western Australia makes up a third of Australia’s landmass and is nearly the size of India! Yet its tourism industry is still playing catch-up, and a lot of what it has to offer is little known, even to Australians. (Did you know, for instance, it has a vast coral reef system?) So it’s good to see a couple of WA destinations on this list.
The Bungle Bungles in tropical northern WA remains a hidden jewel, still largely unknown and partially unexplored. The striated beehive sandstone formations are striking (the photo doesn’t do them justice) and form steep ravines protecting unique wildlife. The photo with the boat in the background is mislabelled. It is actually Lennard River, east of Derby in northern WA – one of several mighty waterways that cut gorges and ravines through the ochre stone in the wet season. This area – The Kimberley – has been continuously inhabited for around 41,000 years, and is rich in indigenous culture and dreamtime stories.
So do add WA to your bucket list – a healthy tourist industry will help counter ever-increasing pressure from miners to damage unique wilderness and heritage areas.
The docile and diet-fussy koala is under threat on many fronts. Habitat loss, increasing heatwaves and attack by feral and domestic dogs have all played their part, with some populations down 80% in a decade. Only a few tens of thousand remain – mainly in eastern Queensland and southern Victoria. Chlamydia infection is another major issue impacting populations, causing infertility, blindness and often death. But a vaccine developed over five years by the University of the Sunshine Coast is proving effective against it. In an ideal world, natural processes would be allowed to run their course. But until we can restore the koala’s habitat – Australia is one of the ten worst offenders for deforestation on the planet, having cleared well over half a million hectares – it looks like our iconic ‘bear’ could really use the help.
The Bald Archy Prize has been thumbing its nose at the annual Archibald portraiture competition for twenty-one years now. And sources of inspiration for its offerings – sometimes gently joshing, sometimes acerbically satirical – have never been more enticing: Mining magnate, dinosaur wrangler and political loose cannon Clive Palmer alone is the subject of nine paintings this year. Tony Sowersby here depicts PM Tony Abbott obsequiously attempting to marry off his daughters to Prince Harry. But judge Maude the sulphur-crested cockatoo picked another winner – what a galah!
Four in five of us think Australia has a problem with alcohol. Recognising an issue is an important step in dealing with it, and for Australians to no longer be so accepting – even proud – of being regularly wasted is a big shift forward in attitudes.
Gone is the beer culture – in urban circles, at least. And the proportion of drinkers on only a couple of drinks a night is up 8% to 55% in this annual Galaxy poll of our drinking habits. We are now more cultured and discerning drinkers, enjoying local wines with a justified worldwide reputation for quality.
In the 2008 film Ten Empty, country father Ross is at a loss when his returning city son Elliot turns down every drink he offers, wanting only tap water. It’s a poignant scene, and a reminder that polls struggle to give a true picture in this vast country-continent: harsh outback lives give watering holes great appeal.
Australia is proud of its blue skies and hot summers. For those hailing from the UK, the hail – like the warm beer – is something best forgotten. But Christmas is an exception. Even Christmas In July somehow lacks wintry authenticity. As for Christmas proper, right now Perth is experiencing temperatures in the high thirties.
But Perth’s London Court – the central shopping arcade built in 1937, but aiming to look more 1537 – is not letting that get in the way. In the run up to Christmas there will be daily 15 minute snow showers at midday, complete with carols! It’ll be the perfect spot for all those surfing Santas to pick up their stocking fillers...
In the Top End, ‘bogan’ doesn’t have much sting to it. After all, a Territorian is hardly a Territorian without a healthy dose of the ocker about them! And being searingly direct, a beer lover and a bit rough around the edges are all part of being ‘Territory tough’. So the putdown of choice is ‘redneck’.
(This is a bit of a shame. In a country-continent that loves coming up with new language and playing around with existing words – chardie, a blue, galah – using an unmodified American English word with a strong Southern twang is a rare lapse.)
This Crikey blog post uses the redneck putdown, and I think a little unfairly. It looks at comments left on an NT News article. The major newspaper for the Territory, it nevertheless seldom takes itself that seriously and prides itself on a generous dose of the aforementioned traits. For its Federal Election issue on September 7th it went with the cover above and the line “We moustache you a hairy serious question...” Which makes a lot more sense if you imagine the guy saying it blind drunk!
The article referenced is about a laudable but poorly communicated plan to use funds obtained through land rights to raise healthier Aboriginal kids in Kakadu with greater opportunities. Bob Gosford sees racist tones in many of the comments. Well, other projects with similar aspirations have left communities burnt. And cynicism is strong in the Top End. Are these rednecks who are choosing their words to get past the moderators, or pragmatists with legitimate misgivings? It’s hard to say.
As for Bob’s question – why Territorians can be mean-spirited and ignorant – the NT is not an easy place to call home. The spinifex hangs on in isolated clumps where it can, surviving by being frugal and having a tough exterior. And so do the people. The xenophobes of Sydney’s inner West have no such excuse.
Short of venturing to Antarctica, Tasmania is the natural choice for observing the aurora australis. And with this being a solar maximum – the period in the sun’s 11 year cycle of magnetic activity where the most charged particles are sent our way – now is a great time to try and catch this ephemeral and beautiful phenomenon.
An annual Aurora Australis Festival has been established (see below), with viewings, talks and exhibitions. There are also photo galleries on the website – this other-worldly image is by Ricki Eaves. The Mercury article (see above) also includes a montage of time-lapse videos.
But there is no substitute for seeing an aurora live: quite aside from the mesmerising dance of shimmering multicoloured lights, you are reminded that our fragile existence in a hostile universe is only made possible by the natural ‘force field’ of Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere.
Tomorrow, a boldly futuristic transport system begun by an aspirational Sydney twenty-five years ago is relegated to the pages of history. In ‘An Ode To A Troubled City Icon’, Luke Hopewell relives the magic and reveals where it all went wrong.
“It has been raining in Sydney all week: a city weeps quietly for its fallen icon in a sad ode to progress played out in a pitter-patter orchestra on the carriage roof.”
It was the capitalistic model that killed the monorail – not the conceptual one. After a buyback last year, the NSW State Government could have torn that up and delivered free transport, giving the same good vibes and tourist boost Melbourne gets with the City Circle Tram. Sydney residents will have plenty of time to be sore that it didn’t... all of the future.
A hundred years after Canberra’s inception, a curious creature took to its skies for the first time. Patricia Piccinini’s Skywhale is as extraordinary as Canberra is ordinary. (Sorry, Canberra, but it’s your own fault!)
Here, she can be glimpsed floating above the seaweed-like gums of the Victorian bush, singing a brooding song befitting this impossible creature. (Or it might be a fine track by Luke Howard.) Go forth, Skywhale – fire those Canberran neurons!
Two hundred years ago, bilbies could be found across most of mainland Australia, venturing out at night for bugs, seeds and fruit. Today, the lesser bilby is extinct and the greater bilby is struggling to hang on (see map), with numbers in Queensland estimated at just 700. Feral cats, food loss to countless rabbits and habitat loss have all played their part.
In 1999, conservationists Frank Manthey and Peter McRae set out to create a small safe haven for bilbies in Queensland. They needed a very good fence, and they found two creative ways to fund it...
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