Category Archives: Australian popular culture

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more

Phoenix: down Melbourne’s 1990s means streets

The recent inclusion of the 1995 Australian true crime mini-series Blue Murder as an offering on Netflix Australia provided an opportunity for many critics, present company included, to once again laud it as our best piece of true crime television made so far. While not walking back on this claim, there is another show that I would argue gives Blue Murder a run for its money in terms of being a gritty, true life depiction of policing, which I watched recently – the thirteen-part 1992 Australian Broadcasting Commission series, Phoenix.

A lot of 1990s Australian popular culture exists in a rather liminal space for me due to the fact that I spent a large chunk of the decade working in Southeast Asia. I don’t think I saw any episodes of Phoenix when it first came out, but I am pretty sure I caught parts of the first series (there were two) on VHS tapes that my partner’s mother sent us in the post when we were living in Hanoi, Vietnam. I am not even sure if Phoenix has as a current DVD release, as the discs I found were second hand and seem to have been released at least a decade ago.

Phoenix focuses on the Major Crimes squad, an elite group of Victorian cops.… Read more

Punchdrunk at the Yarra Valley Writers Festival

With a bit on my plate at the moment, I have not been posting as much as I would like to this site. I have a few things up my sleeve in terms of posts over the coming weeks that will hopefully turn this situation around but, in the meantime, I just wanted to hit you all with news of an event I am taking part in a few weeks that may be of interest.

The Yarra Valley Writers Festival is taking place, in person, on the weekend of July 16 and 18. You can check out the entire program online here. On the Saturday of the program, July 17, at 10.30am at the Warburton RSL, I’ll be interviewing author Michael Winkler about wonderful book, Grimmish. Grimmish tells the story of Joe Grimm, one of the most flamboyant boxers ever to our visit Australia’s shores in the early part of last century. Partly based on real events and part fiction, the book can best be described as a literary fever dream that speaks to our collective relationship to physical power, masculinity and pain. I’ll be talking to Michael about all these topics, the process of research Joe Grimm’s life and whether a traditional sport such as boxing add to the evolving discussion on what is to be male.… Read more

Video of my talk, The motorcycle – rebel in pop culture, now available

For those of you who were unable to attend my recent talk hosted by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, ‘The Motorcycle: Rebel in Pop Culture’, there is now a video of the entire presentation on Youtube. The wonderful folks at QAGOMA have even done an Auslan interpretation of it for the vision impaired.

My talk will take you on a journey through the various representations of the motorcycle in youth and popular culture history, mainly in the United States, Australia and Great Britain. I examine what has given the motorbike its cool reputation and discuss how it has also functioned as a lightning rod for post war concerns around various youth subcultures. In addition to film, I also look at the representation of the motorbike in music and pulp fiction. You can also find it on YouTube here.… Read more

Wake In Fright at 50: mateship, masculinity and drinking in the Australian outback

Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright turns fifty this year. Based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Australian author Kenneth Cook, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 1971 and was released in cinemas in Australia on October 9. Despite being five decades old, it is hard to think of comparable piece of cinema that has come out of this country. Wake In Fright is not only a stunning rural noir, it is a blistering take on three of the central features of white Anglo Saxon male culture in 1960s Australia (although much of it is still highly relevant to today): mateship, the romance of the outback, and drinking. Especially drinking.

The central character, John Grant, is a mild-mannered teacher working in a tiny speck of a town called Tiboonda. Its isolation and distance from the coast has obliterated nearly all aspects of civilization, except the ability of the local pub to keep the beer cold. Grant is leaving for his Christmas holidays. He has his holiday pay in his pocket and fantasies of meeting up with his girlfriend in Sydney. All that stands in his way is an overnight train stop in Bundanyabba or ‘the Yabba’ as the locals call it.

Grant passes his night in the Yabba sinking a few beers in one of the town’s many pubs.… Read more