Life’s a jingle


I watched an excellent documentary last night called How Australia Got Its Mojo, which is about the iconic Australian advertising agency of the seventies and eighties called Mojo.

For anyone who grew up in this era, a program like this is bound to be nostalgic. So much of what Mojo did has become a part of our culture and, for people around my age, a part of the national consciousness. There are not many advertising agencies that could claim so much.

Their work was quality, but the true gift they possessed was in aligning to, and articulating, what was a burgeoning national identity. A lot happened pretty quickly in those decades, and Mojo rode the wave.

They had a uniquely Australian voice, and that was a big part of it. The voice was literal as well as metaphorical. The ‘Jo’ of the business literally gave voice to the many great jingles they produced. It was a confident and laid-back Aussie accented voice that appealed to our self-image, but then so to were the stories it told of us, and the images that reflected our life.

All this was certainly true of me, growing up through this. I was burgeoning too and wanted to believe in an Australia of sorts, and the voice, both masculine and easy going was probably how I wanted to be myself. And the images, of surf and sport, of families in the sunshine and in the streets, were what I knew as well.

Mojo created the original Winfield ads with Paul Hogan, which are classics: ‘let ‘er rip, Boris.’

They took on Meadow Lea as a client and were responsible for telling us ‘you, oughta be congratulated’.

They conceived of the hugely successful campaign for Tooheys – ‘I feel like a Tooheys, I feel like a Tooheys, I feel like a Tooheys, or two…’

At the height of World Series Cricket, they were called upon to ignite interest in a failing contest and wrote the iconic ‘C’mon Aussie, c’mon’ – which promptly went to the top of the charts.

They wrote the jingles and advertising for Australian Woman’s Weekly, and created the hugely successful ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ campaign for Qantas. And, working with Paul Hogan again, they created the Australian Tourism ads that were so successful in the US – ‘throw a shrimp on the barbie.

I swear I had tears in my eyes in remembrance. These were artful ads that told a story and defined a generation. Looking back, it seems such a shiny, hopeful time. And I remembered not just the tunes that were so catchy, I remembered what it was like to live then.

It was a simpler time. We were more of a community. We were engaged as a nation of people, and full of hope. We pulled together, and these ads articulated that.

Across the world these days such reflections are not unusual. It’s so fractious and messy and confusing that it’s comforting to look back at times that through memory seem easier, or at least, less confusing.

That’s a general trend, but in Oz we had our own unique brand of. It’s a time that remains vivid to me though now it’s nearly 30 years done. It evokes a powerful nostalgia – if not sentiment – as if you haven’t guessed.

That’s what I felt last night, the joy of remembrance tinged with melancholy knowing how much has been lost since then. Some of that is purely personal. Mum was around then and my grandparents and I was a kid becoming a man and riding a bike and hanging out with friends and my first kiss or two, and so on, and I had a full on lust for life.

The Mojo ads tell the story of my life in a way, because they reflected middle Australia, the voice and the imagery so spot on and familiar that we recognised ourselves. That’s why it resonates still, and why it was so mightily effective back in the day.

Recency


I was over the Cheeses for dinner last night. Afterwards, we had a bottle of wine and settled down to watch a movie. The movie happened to be the recently released film about Laurel and Hardy (Stan and Oliver), plucked from a selection of movies to watch.

It was a pretty good movie, and affecting in ways, but the fascinating thing was that Cheeseboy, around my age but who grew up on the other side of the world from me, had basically the same memory of Laurel and Hardy as I did.

When I was a kid there’d often be old movies played in school holidays featuring comic performers of yesteryear. That’s how I discovered the Marx Brothers. I remember watching at least one W.C. Fields movie, there were Abbott and Costello, and the Three Stooges (I loved them), and Laurel and Hardy.

In the years since I don’t think I’ve seen anything of them except the odd Marx Brothers movie. They were of a time for me and when I was a kid, of a recency – say between 25-50 years prior – that they still had a general connection to the era I was growing up in, though times were very different.

Cheeseboy had a similar experience in Holland, it seems, though he never encountered the Three Stooges. Laurel and Hardy were his favourites back then, big in the Netherlands, it seems. He explained one of their famous scenes to us, the scene where they haul a piano up a long stairway before letting it slip and crash down at the foot of the stairs. I remember those sort of scenes myself. It was all slapstick and visual gags, facial expressions and body acting.

It seems to me that sort of humour has gone out of fashion. You don’t see much slapstick anymore. For us, watching as adults, there was a sense of childish glee and nostalgia as we watched. It’s innocent humour, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t happen so much now, because fewer people grow into the world innocent these days (though there’s no exemption for stupidity). As adults, it was refreshing.

Watching with us was Cheeseboy Jr. He hadn’t heard of Laurel and Hardy, and I wonder what he made of it, though he watched to the end. He probably we was a bit silly as we hooted occasionally, and told our stories. Unfortunately, this generation doesn’t have that experience, though maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s a Laurel and Hardy of the Z generation I don’t know about.

I sometimes wonder about the historical perspective the generations grow up with. I don’t mean the big stuff like the wars and shit like that, I mean the cultural stuff. I’m willing to accept that when I grew up, I may have been more alert and conscious of things that came before. I was curious and asked questions and read books. I’m Gen X, but I reckon my close cultural knowledge extended back probably to around the depression era – roughly speaking, to the beginnings of the talkies and the jazz age.

I knew a lot – still do – remember watching movies with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the early Carey Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire (there were a lot of his movies being played back then), even Errol Flynn. I knew a lot of the music because mum was a music lover and a singer as well, and would go about the house singing old standards. My grandparents had grown up in that era, and though I don’t remember ever discussing it with them, I’m sure I must have absorbed some by osmosis.

By contrast, I recall a conversation I had about ten years ago with a very cool hipsterish dude at a party. He was about twenty years younger than me and was big into music. He raved about it as if it was his sole purpose. We talked a while about recent bands when for some reason, probably connected to what we were talking about, I made a reference to the Spencer Davis Group. They weren’t a huge band, but they were notable in the sixties scene, particularly in Britain, and spawned some significant careers out of it. They had some great tunes, a strong, funky groove and I think that’s probably what I was alluding to, comparing a band of the day back in time to the SDG.

The guy gaped at me. He’d never heard of the Spencer Davis Group. I was amazed. How could you be a serious music lover if you didn’t know the roots of it? Upon discussion, I found he had only a sketchy knowledge of the Beatles. Once more, I was astounded. I looked at him as if he was from outer space. He was an affable character smiling at me with curiosity, and so I showed him a clip on my phone of the Spencer Davis Group, Gimme Some Lovin’, or I’m a Man most likely, though maybe Keep on Running – great songs. He was blown away. “How’d I not know this stuff?” he exclaimed. I wondered the same.

I like to think in the years since he’s filled those gaps in his musical education, but the point is, recency means that our sphere of knowledge only goes so far back, and seems to be shrinking. What’s a reasonable period of time to have knowledge of before your birthdate? It was about 35 years for me (and, even so, decently sketchy understanding going back even further). Is it less now? It feels sometimes as if we are becoming goldfish in a fishbowl.

More to it than winning


For one reason or another it’s been a while since I’ve been interested in the Olympics. I became jaded by the almost perpetual reports of corruption and incompetence, each little bit taking the event further away from the purity of its founding principle. With that it became more corporate with every incarnation, which was reflected in the coverage – always heavy on advertising and promotion of sponsors, and in recent years, ridiculously and annoyingly partisan. (Seriously, I reckon most Aussies would much prefer an impartial coverage to the barracking so often provided as commentary).

In theory if I was over the Olympic games, then it’s poor relation the Commonwealth games didn’t factor at all. At least the Olympics could boast the very cream of the crop – what could the Commonwealth games offer?

It’s for that reason I wasn’t excited about the Gold Coast games just ended. It was poorly promoted to start with, and there was no sense of anticipation. I hoped we – Oz – went well, but in the first few nights I preferred to watch my own shows than switch to the coverage. Then something changed.

Australia traditionally does well in swimming, even at Olympic level, and some of that hype transmitted to me. I switched over a day or two in to watch the exploits of our Aussie swimmers, hoping to see them topple the Brits.

The swimming was great, but I kept watching when the second week began and other sports took over. A lot of it was familiar. Though there were exceptions, much of the commentary and coverage was mediocre. The Aussies were blitzing in general. We’ve had our ups and downs in recent years, but throughout my years of watching international sport it’s been pretty standard for Australia to do well. It’s nice, it’s a bonus, but it’s normal pretty much. It was nice this time, but what really got me was something different.

The whole ball tampering crisis in South Africa has reframed the whole notion of Australian sport. We always had an Australian way, but the bottom line is that we expected to win and would exert our every fibre to achieve that. It can be pure, but in recent times it’s taken on an unsavoury edge. All of us feel that, and all of us want something different. Winning isn’t everything.

That’s what captured me. There were many moments in these games that demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship. Across the board there appeared great respect between competitors, and between spectators and competitors. Overall it appeared a very friendly games. Everyone wanted to win, and the Aussie crowds were rowdy in their support for local athletes, but contest over there was appreciation for the effort.

More than many games I feel as if the stories of the competitors and competition were just as important as the results. Perhaps it is the nature of the Commonwealth games that the sense of community comes to the fore. There were world champions competing, and world class competitors sprinkled through the sports, but reality is that many who won medals wouldn’t have made an Olympic final. This is a second tier competition at best, but being that it emphasises the spirit of doing your best and having a go. It’s nice to win, but to be a part of this, to be in fellowship with fellow athletes and to enjoy the experience of a lifetime trying your best – well, that’s the true essence of it.

That was emphasised by the integration of disabled competitors into the program. This was a great success, and universally heartwarming. None of these competitors are objectively the greatest, but what they exemplify is hope and effort and belief. They define themselves by their determination to overcome the variety of physical handicaps they are faced with. Watching them you realise that there’s much more than coming first. The attempt to surpass your limits – to be better – is the ultimate challenge.

I know, that sounds unusually wet for me. I love competing. I love winning. I hate being second. It’s perspective though, too. Winning is a thrill. It’s an irreplaceable moment in time. The broader experience lasts a lifetime I reckon.

There’s no better example of this than Kurt Fearnley, the much loved, universally admired disabled athlete. He’s been a warrior since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a fierce competitor and a wonderful representative of Australia. He is a man who has overcome the handicap he was born with to become something much more than a man with a disability.

He won his last ever event yesterday, the wheelchair marathon. He spoke after of how when you wear the colours of Australia you have to be fierce, but competition done, to err on the side of kindness.

That, to me, should be the Australian sporting mantra going forward – fierce, but kind. We used to be that way naturally, but maybe the pendulum is now returning to that. It’s a philosophy that puts these games into perspective, and competition in general.

For me there are no better role models in Australian sport than Kurt Fearnley and Mick Fanning, legends both.

Much ado about something


The first test between South Africa and Australia played in Durban finished yesterday with a sensational Australian win. This series was billed as a showdown with the two best test teams in the world (settle down India). By bowling strength I figured Australia were slightly ahead, but I also had question marks. We flogged the Poms over the summer, but England were so poor it was hard to draw a line. The Australian team that knocked over the Saffies was the Australian team I remember – relentless, clinical, ruthless. They picked apart South Africa with immense pressure, and some brilliant cricket.

I sometimes think that the edge Australia has is it’s mentality. There have been some champion cricketers, and Starc in this test match was devastating, but it’s complemented by a mindset that never gives a sucker and even break, and never takes a backward step. It intimidates opposition and makes them work harder than they want to. A lot of them fail trying.

Unfortunately the spillover from this is often controversial, and this match was a classic example of that.

I don’t mind playing hard. I don’t mind giving a bit of lip. I don’t mind crowding the opposition and letting them know we’re coming for them. I don’t mind slipping the knife in or sinking the slipper. I believe in being ruthless: it’s called ‘test’ cricket for a reason.

In my mind there are limits to that. For a start, don’t get personal. That can be a grey line, but in my mind that means you don’t go the other persons personal life. Keep it on the field. That’s the other part of it – go hard on the field, take it easy off it. That appears to be a peculiarly Australian convention, and seems to confuse other cultures – how can you be going hammer and tongs at on me on the field, then buying me a beer off it? Because it’s not personal. It’s business, and the business is winning a game of sport.

There were a couple of things in this match that left me feeling ill at ease.

I’m not a big fan of Nathan Lyon. His bowling has improved out of sight the last couple of years with confidence, and by bowling a more attacking line. I think he’s a classless dick though. On the weekend AB de Villiers was run out for a duck, which was big news in the context of the match. Once the job is done I’m not a big one for send-offs, though I understand how emotions can carry you away. I think it’s cheap. Lyon didn’t give AB a send-off, but basically he dropped the ball on him as if to say, gotcha. Not a good look, and rightly sanctioned.

More complex is the kerfuffle between Warner and de Kock. We all know that Warner goes hard. I reckon he’s one of those guys who gets white line fever. He’s said and done some stupid things, but I suspect he’s not a bad bloke really, and he was excellent captaining the Australian to a T20 clean sweep recently.

This time he gave some lip, pretty much as normal I imagine. On this occasion though de Kock has seemingly responded with something about Warner’s wife, and he went ballistic. It continued off the field and Warner had to be restrained from taking on de Kock. Not a good look.

For a start I’m very disappointed Warner responded as he did because it shows he can be got to. There’s a bit of if you dish it out you have to take it too – though Warner would point out that de Kock went beyond the pale by getting personal. That’s what outraged him most I think, that de Kock wouldn’t play by the rules. Problem with that is you can’t expect everyone to play by the rules that you’ve made up. It may be Australian convention that personal attacks are a no-no, but it’s hardly universal, and certainly confusing to those who think the whole idea of rules about this as arbitrary.

I understand why Warner responded as he did, but can’t condone it. De Kock was clinical in taking that approach, and got full reward for it. Warner should have walked away. At the very least he could have pointed to the scoreboard.

End of the day as an Aussie I don’t like it. Go hard, but keep it classy.

How to sledge


It’s cricket season again and the Poms are over trying to defend the Ashes. We’re two tests into the series and with them down 2-0 it’s not looking good for them.

Like every year I’ve watched the cricket pretty closely. I was pretty confident going into the series that Oz would reclaim the urn, but England have been more disappointing than I expected. Right now they’re on the verge of being a rabble.

In Brisbane they were well in it for three days before collapsing in a heap. In Adelaide they were behind right from the start, rallied briefly, before once more losing by a lot.

One of the ongoing conversations has been about sledging. It seems an issue most series these days. I’m not fussed much by it one way or another, mostly because it never really did much for me. If I was ever sledged it was more likely to fire me up than put me off, but mostly I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t much of a sledger myself, but only because I couldn’t be bothered. If anything I was more likely to sledge when I was a batsman than I was when in the field, though I stood by many times as team mates would sledge opposition batsmen. I found most of it pretty lame. The best stuff had some wit to it.

I remember I used to think you had to earn the right to sledge. Once you actually achieved something of merit then you could have a crack at the other team, but not till then. I still watch the coverage occasionally these days I find myself disapproving of some of the sledging – not so much because of what’s being said, but because it seems an unworthy or wasted effort. For me it’s rarely a moral judgment – though I adhere to the common convention that personal life should be off-limits – and more of a practical consideration.

As an Australian sledging comes easy. We’re notorious for it, but I don’t think our critics understand the source of it. I don’t know if it’s any different today, but growing up as a schoolboy I was subjected to sledging all the time, and gave it back to. Most of it was the good natured rough and tumble between friends and familiars, but the interaction day on day meant that the words came easily to the lips. Others might think it strange, but it was normal to abuse and mock within our circles.

I thought nothing of it myself until I went travelling and discovered that most cultures don’t have such a robust give and take. They’re gentler, with affection expressed You take it for granted until it becomes second nature. That’s why an Australian giving it, and receiving it, is so different to other cultures.

It says a lot about the Australian character I guess, and particularly Australian masculinity, a subject oft debated. That’s a discussion for another time, but fair to say this history of behaviour has informed so much of what we do and how we act – some of it positive, and a lot more not.

I suspect it’s not nearly as pronounced as it once was, but still for someone coming to compete against Aussies on the field this is something that must be adapted to. By the time an Australian cricketer dons the baggy green he’s endured years of ruthless sledging coming up through the ranks. He’s seasoned and hardy and tough, and most of it comes natural.

I think that’s one of the problems the English are having this tour, and past tours. They have made a focus of sledging, and have tried to compete in that area. The problem is that it’s not natural for most of them (Jimmy Anderson and Broad go okay) and so it is forced and mostly ineffective. Ultimately it’s become a distraction, and as an Aussie watching I reckon they would go better ignoring it and concentrated on the cricket. It’s our comfort zone, not theirs.

That’s something that gets lost in the cultural haze. I know the Indians in particular would get upset at the sledging they received. Because they had no cultural understanding of it they misunderstood the intent. I admit, as an outsider the nuances are easily overlooked. In my time at least, you’d go hard on the field and be best mates off it. Something might be said on the field, but it was never intended personally. The sole purpose was to upset the game. With the game done for the day it was time for a beer. It’s that mentality than means that Aussies are also more likely to shrug off sledging, until it crosses the line.

That’s where it has occasionally erupted over the years. Though it’s unregulated, sledging in Australian cultural mores has unspoken rules, primary among them that it’s not personal, and that after play all is forgotten. The problem is that cultures unused to sledging when confronted by it don’t have an understanding of those mores – and the boundaries they draw. Without those unspoken rules they will react to what they feel are unwarranted insinuations and lash out, sometimes crossing those lines – which is when the Aussies will become genuinely upset. It’s not playing the game after all.

All of this is pretty confusing if you’re not an Aussie, and fair enough to. There is something occasionally hypocritical in Australians complaining in those moments because the line they see so clearly appears so arbitrary to others. I know it because I was born to it, but I understand it may bewilder others not born here.

There’s a larger question about sledging. I’m not fussed about it, but that’s probably because a) I’m an Aussie, and b) I’m a pretty rugged character. I understand for the purist they may see it as being neither sporting or fair. As long as it doesn’t ‘cross the line’ I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s just another element of the game. It adds an interesting edge, and another challenge to overcome.

In any case it’s another area the Australians are handsome winners in this series. What teams need to understand is that as soon as you react, you lose. It seems a truism, but it is so often forgotten. If it is seen to be getting to you then the Australians, far from backing off, will go harder. If you show vulnerability then we’ll be on you like a pack of dogs. And that’s what England have shown.

It’s a cliché, but England would do better by not engaging, and doing their talking with bat and ball.

Owning up


Woke up this morning to two shocking pieces of news.

First, the news from Texas and the church shooting there. New such as this is almost de rigueur these days, terrible as it is. It’s been going on way too long, and no matter the clamour it never seems to change – in fact, it appears attacks like this are becoming more common. Something has to be done – has to be – but you doubt that anything will. If Obama couldn’t change things then Trump has no willingness to, and the NRA will keep defending their turf. From the outside, it seems unsustainable, that something must give – otherwise anarchy beckons.

The other news was of a 13-year-old girl being struck by a car while riding her bike, here in Melbourne. She’s in a serious condition, but what is truly shocking is that the driver of the BMW that struck her stopped briefly, then drove away, leaving her near death.

I say it’s shocking, but this too has become almost routine. It’s not uncommon for pedestrians to be struck, but when I was growing up it was rare for a hit and run to be reported – these days it feels as if 90% are hit and runs. What has the world come to?

This time it’s too much. A girl, riding her bike, has been struck and left for dead. It’s more than deplorable, it’s unconscionable.

I understand the panic that must grip a driver when they hit another person, but that’s the test. Running from it is not only disgraceful, it’s ultimately futile – no-one gets away with it. And surely the first instinct should be to render assistance?

I hate to say it, but I think it’s a sign of the times, and the stats I reckon would back that up. Why is it that once upon a time we would stop and take responsibility when now we flee from it?

I see it in the increasing reports of cowards punches, and brawls in general (there was another last night in the city near where I work).

Bar fights are not new, and I’ve been in confrontations myself. Used to be though there was a code that you would never strike someone from behind, or when they weren’t looking. It probably sounds small beer, but it made a fundamental difference. For one, when you know a punch is coming you can prepare for it – a cowards punch (when the victim isn’t looking) is well named. There were many fewer serious injuries or fatalities once upon a time.

It’s telling from a psychological perspective to. Somewhere along the way we’ve crossed a line, when or why I don’t know. There’s no honour in hitting someone from behind. There’s only one aim in doing that, and that’s to inflict pain and injury. The old fights are nothing to be proud of, but what they boiled down to was macho posturing. You faced your opponent and took him on squarely. If you attempted anything underhand then you were a pariah, and your mates would let you know about it. These days, literally, the gloves are off.

It’s not dissimilar in the prevalence of hit and run accidents. We’ve become selfish and self-indulgent, with our first thoughts of ourselves. We don’t face up to things as we used to, and don’t take responsibility for our actions as we did. There’s a lot of moral cowards out there and I find it very disquieting.

The conversations I crave


This morning in bed I was reading a biography of Chekhov, and a history of tank warfare. Last night I watched a doco about the universe and many of its strange quirks. The other night I watched another on AI and nanobots. I have a couple of books waiting for me – a book of essays by Tony Judt, and a history of western culture. Not to mention a book of Ian Flemings correspondence, and sundry fiction (currently reading The Riddle of the Sands).

How much of this do you reckon I get to discuss? Practically nil. I have one friend with whom I’ll have sciencey conversations, but eventually we’ll verge off into discussion on comparative TV series. I don’t know that there’s anyone else much I have the type of conversations I’d like to have.

I indulge in these things because they rouse me in some way. I’m fascinated by the mystery, or seek to learn more. Last night watching the doco and observing some of the complex mathematics I wished some of my teachers had given such a contextual lesson – maths bored me then, but when applied it becomes eye-opening. These are the things that take my attention. In the past, I’ve pondered I might have become an architect or a doctor in another life, but equally given another go I might have chosen lecturer (literature or history), physicist, astrophysicist, cosmologist, archaeologist, or indeed, writer.

I don’t get that opportunity, but it’s unfortunate that for the most part I experience these things and have no-one to share them with. I crave that conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk about the footy all day, and even politics if anyone’s keen – but I’d really like to share these mind stretching subjects. I’d like to pass it on, but also I want that dialogue in order to push it into more interesting areas.

We live in a really remarkable world, and how you can’t be interested in that has got me stumped. If only I had someone I could explore that world with. Maybe next year.