88 Documentary

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned this post contains an image which may feature deceased persons.

From 88 Documentary, image by Peter Solness
From 88 Documentary Facebook page, image by Peter Solness

Thought I’d give a mention to a documentary my friend, Michaela Perske has produced and co-written called “88”.

The documentary goes back to 1988, the year of the Australian Bicentenary, and tells the story of some of the many thousands of Indigenous people who travelled from all over Australia to join in protests on January 26. As well as being a seminal moment in the development of modern Indigenous affairs in Australia, it was also a seminal moment in the lives of many of those profiled.

The program goes to air on ABC1 on Thursday, January 30 at 8.30pm. A lot of hard work over a long period of time has gone into this, so I hope you’ll be watching :)

There’s more info about the program on their Facebook page.

Number 96 Turns Forty

Andrew Mercado introduces the Number 96 screening at Sky Bar.
Andrew Mercado introduces the Number 96 screening at Sky Bar.

“The thing I’m most proud about Number 96 is that it saved lives”, David Sale told us at tonight’s fortieth anniversary screening of the legendary Australian television show. As the creator of the show, and as a gay man, he was speaking about the impact of the program’s character, Don Finlayson, on the large number of young gay men who watched the show, like me, as teenagers. Don was reputedly, the first “openly gay character” (as we we called it then, and sadly, still now) on Australian television, possibly the world. For me, as a ten year old or whatever I was, I found the character of Don absolutely fascinating. I don’t think I’d put a word to the way I felt at the time, but I certainly felt an affinity with Don. David Sale told us lots of people have since told him, seeing Don Finlayson as a mainstream character on Australian television who was gay, and not a deviant, not a freak, provided them with a lot of affirmation.

Tonight, as we celebrated the fortieth anniversary of “Number 96″ being first shown on Australian television, I couldn’t help but notice Joe Hasham who played Don Finlayson was actually a bit of a hottie. At tonight’s screening, we saw the black and white Don, sans beard, and the colour television Don with a beard. “He looks like a Surry Hills hipster”, one of my friends commented. I don’t remember Don being all that cute. As a ten year old, I was more interested in the Chandler Boys, but hey, yeah, Don was pretty hot. Who would have thought?

I think I was eight or nine when I was first allowed to stay up and watch “Number 96″. Perhaps mum and dad knew something back then? This was in stark contrast to school friends who were forbidden from watching the show, as it had featured nudity, homosexuality, black magic and all manner of terrible things. Unlike many people who describe scenes of watching the program through partially open doors, mum and dad allowed me to watch the show without restriction. A friend tonight mentioned how her older siblings were also allowed to watch the show from an early age, as it allowed their parents to begin the open discussion about things like sex. Perhaps that’s what mum and dad also had in mind, or perhaps, due to their age, they were less hung-up about these things?

Interviewed by Andrew Mercado are David Sale, Elaine Lee and Elisabeth Kirkby at tonight's fortieth anniversary screening of Number 96
Interviewed by Andrew Mercado are David Sale, Elaine Lee and Elisabeth Kirkby at tonight's fortieth anniversary screening of Number 96

But to be honest, I don’t remember all that much sex on Number 96. Yes, I remember the full frontal nudity scene with Deborah Grey (which our local station 11/8 blacked out the screen for), but mostly I remember Number 96 for its sensational plot-lines and for its comedy. As much as having Don Finlayson in the show was obviously important in my development as a gay man, my favourite characters were, in fact, the comedy characters of Dorrie, Herb and Flo.

So yeah, there was sex. But as tonight’s host, Andrew Mercado noted, there’s a fair bit of mythology about the program too. “Lots of people say they remember Abigail appearing nude on the program when in fact, she never did”, Andrew told us. The first “nude” was in fact, Vivienne Garrett who played the role of Rose Godolfus. Vivienne was at tonight’s screening, and she was great, as she shared some wonderful stories and memories of the program. There were some other actors from early episodes of the show who I really don’t remember, but of course, the big stars in attendance tonight were Elaine Lee and Elisabeth Kirkby.

Tonight we were shown an early black and white episode which I’d never seen before, and a late colour one, which I’d also never seen before. It was the episode where Maggie Cameron was revealed as the person responsible for the bombing of the building. What a great episode, and what a great actor Bettina Welch was.

It was great to see these actors, along with David Sale reminisce about what was a remarkable television show it was. The one question I wanted to ask, though time prevented, was how the actors lived with the show’s legacy. By appearing tonight, I’m assuming they were clearly happy and comfortable, but was there a time when they were haunted by the memory? I guess we’ll have to wait for the show’s fiftieth anniversary. Judging by their presence tonight – Elisabeth is now in her 90s and apparently in good health – I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ll still be around. Or at least I hope so.

Television Saturday

Scene from Laid from ABC1
Scene from Laid from ABC1

Regular appearances by Sean Micallef could emerge as the only reason I don’t become totally addicted to “Laid”, the new black comedy on ABC 1. I don’t know why I don’t like him. I just don’t.

Co-incidentally, the last time I truly loved a program and found my allegiances tested was when he became Laura’s love interest on “Seachange”.

I think it’s because he has this constant look and manner which suggests he thinks he might be smarted than everyone else, and because he always plays “Sean Micallef”. Although I’m sure he’s probably a lovely person in real life, when he appears on screen I just want to punch him. I feel the same way about Kevin Klein and Richard Wilkins, but that’s another story and perhaps I need some therapy?

Anyway, the point is I saw an ad on television tonight for next week’s edition of “Laid” and I noticed Micallef makes an appearance. “Oh no”, I screamed at the television, adding, “I hope it’s only a camero and not an ongoing role”. Because if it is an ongoing role I will be really disappointed, as I was really impressed by the first episode of “Laid”.

I love the lead character. She has this great sense of vulnerability, but also strength. She works in a market research company doing focus groups. Meanwhile, she’s trying to get on with life and love and all of those things which challenge us all on a daily basis. She does so with passion and a dry, quite black sense of humour.

In this first episode, she goes to the funeral of a bloke she shagged twice at university, and who obviously held a candle for her for many years after. At the end of the funeral, she tries to hook-up with his best-friend, a guy she had also shagged a number of years ago. And guess what happens then? Well, I’m not one for spoilers, so will leave it to you to discover for yourself, as it’s available on iview for a couple of weeks http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/715577 (apologies to overseas readers, as the program is geo-blocked to Australia only).

It was one of a few television shows I watched today as part of “catch up Saturday”. There was also a WW2 doco on iview which I started to watch, but lost interest in. And then on live to air television, I watched “Who Do You Think You Are”, a program about maps, Melvyn Bragg’s show about the English language and then Graeme Norton. Yes, a dramatically interesting Saturday in front of the box.

Seriously though, I love “Who Do You Think You Are” in both its English and Australia formats. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a family history program which delves into the ancestry of a famous person. Today’s episode was about an English newsreader whose ancestry was Jewish-Polish via South Africa and apartheid. Although I’ve no idea who she was, her story was fascinating. If there was ever a chance to work on that show, I’d throw in my radio career and be there in an instant. I love this stuff.

But yeah, television was my best friend today. Nothing else to report.

Embarrassing illnesses

Embarassing illnesses
Every time you see Dr Christian Jessen with this face, you can be sure he is going to ask someone to drop their pants.

I don’t know if it’s my television viewing habits, or if it’s the summer season, but every time I turn on Channel 9 or Gem, there seems to be an episode of “Embarrassing Illnesses” (or one of the associated spin-off programs). Are they strip programming it at the moment?

I can’t recall exactly the first time I saw one of these programs, but I suspect it was late at night and I suspect I was channel surfing looking for something, anything to watch. Click, click, click, click. And then suddenly, there was a rather cute bloke – Dr Christian Jessen – who had just asked an equally cute bloke to drop his pants. “I think I’d better take a look at your penis”, he would have said, I’m sure.

“Hang on, I might stay around on this channel and watch this for a while”, I’m sure I would have thought to myself, only to discover a few seconds later the attractive bloke had some awful condition of the “private parts”. Something not quite right. Maybe something was a little bent? Something was, maybe, a little too large or a little too small? Or perhaps he’d had some unexpected and unwelcome visitors? :)

And then again a few minutes later, there’s someone under surgery, or someone with some awful skin condition on their bum. It’s not what you would call “polite television”. It’s not something you’d expect Mel and Kochie to host, is it?

But it’s actually quite a good show both in its concept and execution. I love the way they’ve taken lots of taboo subjects and have tried to normalize them, to make it okay to talk about stuff that affects many people, but which we don’t talk about. I think it’s fantastic they’ll address medical conditions which obviously cause people deep shame, and which often results in an avoidance of medical assistance. Sure, there’s a slightly voyeuristic quality about the program, but I think it’s great that they show people with these conditions, and show there’s a potential solution.

I don’t quite understand how English people go on the program. I mean, they have the National Health Service which, eventually, means their condition can be dealt with. But I guess there’s a degree of individual exhibitionism going on in the UK as well as the USA. Programs like Jerry Springer would struggle to work in Australia because of the shame factor, but I guess the UK is large enough to sustain a population of people for whom that wouldn’t be an issue. Personally, I would never go on a program like this, and I would never expose my personal, private illnesses on television, and I would never – intentionally – flash my tackle on national television, even if it meant speedy, safe surgery. But some people are happy to do this, and I guess we should all be grateful for that.

The program, of course, concentrates on physical conditions. It would be interesting to see them deal with mental illness, for example, though the treatment would obviously be far more complex and long-term than chopping off a bit of foreskin (which is not a good idea at the best of times in my humble opinion), I guess.

Yes, a good show. But what’s going on right now? Why is it that every time I turn on some late night television there’s someone with some awful scabby condition on their bum? :)

Life Can Be Sweet And Sour

Sweet and Sour - The Takeaways
Still image from Sweet and Sour by The Takeaways, as featured on ABC-TV Australia

I’ve had a wonderfully nostalgic night listening to the soundtrack of the “cult” 1980s ABC-TV series, “Sweet and Sour”, released this week on CD. Somewhere in the garage I’m sure I have the original album on vinyl, which I used to listen to regularly, though this is probably the first time in over twenty years since I’ve heard the album in full.

I got a copy of the CD earlier in the week, and for a few days I’ve been walking around singing a few short phrases over and over again. Phrases like “life can be sweet and sour, but I am in control…” and “from glam to wham, they let me fall I can’t believe I’m here at all…” The songs are so well embedded in my consciousness, I don’t think remembering these lines in particular is necessarily Freudian nor reflective of my state of mind :)

To be honest, I don’t remember too much of the TV’s show’s plotline, except that it concerned an up and coming rock band, and I’m sure – as things do – there was drama along the way. But I do remember loving the show, and when news went around this week about the CD release, including my tweets, there was much affection for the show from the 30 and 40-somethings I know.

In the last couple of years I’ve also met the actor Tracey Mann on a couple of occasions over a glass of wine at theatre opening nights – she’s a friend of a friend – which caused me much personal excitement. “Oh my God, she’s the lead singer from ‘Sweet and Sour'” I thought to myself when we met. “Be calm, be cool. Don’t appear too much like a groupie, crazy fan…” I kept saying to myself :)

How does it sound 26 years later? Remarkably good actually. Although there’s a few songs which now sound dated due to 80s production values, most of the songs stand the test of time, especially the title track with vocals by Deborah Conway.

Sharon O'Neill
Still from video for How Do You Talk To Boys by Sharon O'Neill

The title track was written by one of my favourite early 80s singer-songwriters, Sharon O’Neill who I’ve also been remembering this week.

For the last few days, as well as singing lines from Sweet and Sour, I’ve also been remebering and singing… “How do you talk to boys, how do you get to take them home”… an early hit by Sharon. As with the songs from Sweet and Sour, I wouldn’t read too much into it, I just think it’s the association of “Sweet And Sour” with Sharon who composed some of the songs for the album. The kinda interesting bit of trivia about this song is the opening line… “I’m on a computer date… the result of my request the perfect mate”. It was 1980! She was ahead of her time.

Sharon O’Neill was a favourite of mine for a number of years. She wrote and sang songs with wonderful melodies and heartfelt lyrics which were both well-sung and produced. Favourites included, “Words”, “Asian Paradise” and, of course, “Maxine”… “Case 1352 a red and green tatoo…” (she was singing about tatoos long before Stieg Larsson was writing about them). I saw her sing that at the Countdown Spectacular a few years ago and was mightily impressed.

There are worse ways to spend your Friday night than listening to CDs and searching for clips on Youtube.

Democracy in Action

Swedish political debate on television
Mona Sahlin, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party and Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the Moderate Party

After watching Q&A tonight, my attention turned to democracy in Sweden, as I watched a “leader’s debate” – or Duell, as they called it – ahead of next weekend’s general election there. If you’re interested, you can actually watch the debate with English commentary on the SVT website. In fact, it seems it was translated into several of the major languages spoken in Sweden these days.

As I watched, I noted some interesting parallels with the recent Australian election: with education, health, climate change and immigration dominating the debate, though I noticed a fair degree of bipartisanship on some of the issues, such as refugees.

There’s also the potential for the election of the country’s first female Prime Minister, and there’s the likelihood of minority government for either the Centre-Right Coalition or the Red-Green Coalition. Both leaders, however, said they wouldn’t do a deal with the Sweden Democrats (a right-wing largely race-based party) if push came to shove.

Unlike Australia, there was also a lot of discussion about the “Swedish Model” which is characteristically a debate about the extent of state involvement in people’s lives.

I’m not an expert on Swedish politics, so I’ll leave the analysis there and concentrate on what I found really interesting: how the debate worked as a “television event”.

The main differences between this debate and the one we “endured” in Australia several weeks ago included:

1. The use of just one moderator. There was no panel of journalists asking questions. The moderator was there to keep them on track and to ask the right questions at the right time. There was no sense of the moderator as celebrity, and she was often in the background as the two leaders spoke to each other.

2. They had an audience, and both candidates seemed to get the same amount of applause, so you would assume it was a carefully selected audience.

3. The candidates faced each other. And as one spoke, you got to see closely the facial expression of the other. This level of intimacy hopefully lead to more honesty.

4. They used a lot of footage from outside to illustrate points leading to questions. Although the footage occasionally included the leaders, it was mostly people talking about the issues that were important to them. High production values.

5. There was a slight “reality tv” feel to the production with a set that wouldn’t be out of place on something like “The Weakest Link”. There was also a slight “reality tv” moment when the moderator said that, as the two leaders spoke, the translators were writing down their every word, and that this would be shown on the screen and on the website as a “word cloud”. You could almost sense a deep intake of breath as both wondered what they exactly they had said. No need to worry, as they both used similar words.

6. The debate seemed to my eyes and ears to be one of substance and I don’t think I heard either leader repeat their party slogan endlessly.

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As a piece of television I found it quite compelling. If the “debates commission” – or whatever it’s called – comes to fruition in Australia, they could do worse than look at the Swedish television election model. It was quite a classy, substantive piece of television.

There’s another final debate on Friday night, the election is held on Sunday, and then on Sunday night both leaders will appear on television. It’s all very civilised, isn’t it?

Television Sunday

Bob Katter Taxi Driver
Bob Katter Taxi Driver

I’m checking out Twitter, I’m reading every newspaper article, I’m listening to the radio, and I’m watching a fair bit of television for even the slightest cue from the independents about when they’ll make a decision or announcement (it’s a professional interest for me at the moment).

Although there’s speculation, and there’ll be some rumours, I doubt there’ll be an official announcement until the Prime Minister goes to see the Governor-General indicating she can/can’t form a government.

As I’ve watched this unfold, there have been some interesting moments here and then, but my favourite moment so far was watching a bit of ABC News 24 tonight, when Australian journalists missed a really great opportunity. While they were asking Bob Katter questions through the window of a taxi, I wish one of them would have looked through the window and asked the cab driver… “so what’s your advice for Mr Katter?” It would have made for a great cab ride I reckon, and perhaps changed the history of Australia :)

Saturday Night Country live show on Landline on ABC1
Saturday Night Country live show on Landline on ABC1

But there were other reasons for watching television today. First, the ABC’s Landline featured highlights from the “Saturday Night Country” event I was involved in at last week’s Gympie Muster. Second, ABC News 24 featured a conversation with Bret Easton Ellis at the Byron Writers Festival conducted by my colleague, Simon Marnie. And then finally, a doco made by my friend, Michaela, called “Boxing For Palm Island” screened on “Message Stick”. It was great to see all a number of people I’ve worked with have television programs running one-after-the-other.

And as I’m heading off to Tassie this week, I spent a bit of time going through the program guide and organising my PVR so I can record my favourite programs while I’m otherwise away and busy.

OMG – is this what my life has come to? Forty-five years old in November, and my Sunday revolves around the TV guide?

I’m back on Thursday night, and almost as soon as I arrive home, I’m off to see the Swedish indie/folk/pop group, First Aid Kit.

So with all that happening, it’s kinda nice to spend most of the day watching television and preparing/packing for my trip to Tassie.