Category Archives: Australian popular culture

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

Ghostly Messages: Australia’s Lost Horror Anthology, ‘The Evil Touch’

In a June 2017 article in Fortean Times, the British magazine concerned with strange and paranormal phenomena, writer and broadcaster Bob Fischer discussed how the sensation of not being exactly sure what you were watching on television, or not being able to recall the details with any precision, was a common experience in relation to consuming visual culture in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of streaming, DVD, and VHS. This sense of “lostness”—of incomplete and unverifiable experience—is also what makes these memories such powerful nostalgia prompts.

The television viewing experience that most encapsulates this sense of lostness for me is a little-known, American-backed, Australian-made horror anthology series, The Evil Touch, that debuted on Sydney screens in June 1973 and in Melbourne a month later. Largely forgotten now, American critic John Kenneth Muir referred to the show in his 2001 book, Terror Television: American Series 1970-1999, as the “horror anthology that slipped through the cracks of time.” The Evil Touch has never had an official DVD release, although poor quality versions of some episodes can be found online, or as bootleg editions originally copied from television on VHS. It is not even known who now owns the rights. But the program was significant in many ways.

You can read the rest of the piece in full here at the We Are the Mutants site.Read more

Rosaleen Norton ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

Rosaleen Norton aka ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

I was familiar with the name Rosaleen Norton long before I watched Sonia Bible’s excellent documentary about her, which takes as its title Norton’s long running nickname, The Witch of Kings Cross.

In an attempt to cash in on the upsurge of public interest in the occult that occurred throughout the west in the 1960s, the long defunct Sydney pulp publisher Horwitz Publications put together a number of salacious tabloid style non-fiction books on the so-called rise of witchcraft and Satanism in Australia. My favourite of these, which I wrote about on this site some years ago, the 1965 book Kings Cross Black Magic, was a direct attempt to piggyback on Norton’s fame.

Norton was also a semi-regular presence in the bachelor and barbershop magazines that proliferated on the shelves of Australia’s newsagents in the 1960s, titles like Adam, Man, Pix and Australasian Post. These magazines, incredibly tame by today’s standards, were once seen as very risqué. The activities of Norton slotted in well with their steady diet of stories about UFO sightings, white slavery, heroic Anzacs, shark hunting and out of control teens.

So great was interest in the occult in mid-1960s Australia that the subject even featured in a 1965 episode of the high rating locally produced Crawford TV crime show, Homicide.… Read more