By John Shortis
One of our regular gigs is Out of the Cabinet at the National Archives of Australia, which accompanies the latest release of Australian Cabinet Records of decades ago. In a nondescript room, grandly entitled The Menzies Room, we perform a half-hour show about the music, the politics, the general news stories and the trends of the relevant years.
For 7 years now we’ve been the warm-up act for archives historian Jim Stokes, who each year has given his wry take on the newly unleashed cabinet papers.
Then we do 5 minutes to finish, before we all deal with questions that might have arisen.
All up it’s an hour-long presentation, is wildly popular, and always books out very quickly.
This is my first e-Essay, and it’s the Out of the Cabinet show that we performed on February 28 and March 1, 2014, as part of the Enlighten Festival. So while we did it, the public buildings around us were lit up magnificently.
The years of this show were 1986 and 1987. The reason for two years at once is because the law has changed from a 30-year release to 20-years. So we’re currently in a transition period that began in 2012, and by doing two years at a time the gap will be bridged, so that by 2017, it will go back to one year at a time.
I hope you enjoy Out of the Cabinet 1986/1987.
Welcome to the years of 1986 and 1987, a time when Aussie cars first ran on unleaded petrol, and that petrol cost around 51.9 cents a litre. Back then, a 4 litre cask of Lindemans Claret would set you back $5.49, a schooner of beer $1.70. $13,995 would get you a Ford Falcon, $599 a Video Cassette Recorder, and $79,950 a nice little bungalow in the Canberra suburb of Duffy.
These years ushered in a new social group, the DINKS (Double Income, No Kids), but if you did have kids, you’re most likely to have named them Sarah or James.
In fashion, boys were sporting acid-wash jeans, mullets and rats’ tails. For girls, the ubiquitous scrunchie appeared in hair for the first time, and it was the era of leggings, denim jackets, and parachute pants. The really groovy ones, though, teamed flowing Laura Ashley dresses with Doc Martins.
It was a time when Australia became the fastest growing market for fax machines, the first computer virus appeared, and Email was merely a brand of fridge.
In Sydney, a monorail was proposed, a Very Fast Train was being considered, and our second airport, we were told, would be at Badgery’s Creek.
YOU’RE THE VOICE
In the mid eighties, Johnny Farnham’s golden days of number-one hits like Sadie (The Cleaning Lady) and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head were far behind him. The career of the five-time King of Pop was going down the gurgler.
He’d had a spell as lead singer of the fading Little River Band, had dropped the ‘Johnny’ to become a more sophisticated ‘John’, but he was broke and dispirited, forced to do the club circuit, to sell his properties and move his family into a rented house on a four-lane highway in the north-western Melbourne suburb of Bulleen.
It was in the garage of that faded brick veneer bungalow that a chapter of Australian music history was written. Manager Glenn Wheatley mortgaged his house to raise the $150 000 needed to make a comeback album, and put Farnham, and sound engineer Ross Fraser on a retainer, giving them the time to chain smoke their way through box after box of cassette demos that had been sent to them. Word got out amongst music publishers that Farnham was on a song search, but they didn’t want to send their best songs to a washed up nightclub singer. So the task was laborious as not all the songs were gems. Still they listened to each tape right through, looking for tougher lyrics than on previous Farnham records.
Talented keyboardist and arranger, David Hirschfelder, who’d worked with Farnham in LRB, was called in, and they started tinkering with drum machines and synths, working up demos for the songs on a 4-track TEAC recorder.
The codename for the album was Whispering Jack, a nickname that Farnham had developed after he was introduced by mistake one night in the USA as Jack Phantom. Inspired by Whispering Ted Lowe, commentator in the TV billiards show Pot Black, Jack Phantom morphed into Whispering Jack Phantom. The theory was that if a redhead could be called Bluey, then a singer with a powerhouse voice like Farnham’s could be called Whispering Jack.
They thought the final song selection had been made when they came across a tape that they’d missed. The song on that tape pricked their interest enough to see if its publishers had any other songs. They did. And when Farnham heard You’re the Voice he was blown away, thought it sounded like it was written for him. He recorded it, complete with bagpipe solo (Farnham’s idea), and now Whispering Jack was ready for the world.
Farnham delivered the final tape to Wheatley with a heartfelt message written on it ‘This is the best I can do, boss.’ But Farnham’s lack of confidence meant he wasn’t eating or sleeping, and he would often be found curled up in the foetal position on his suburban couch, convinced that the venture would fail.
Aware that Farnham was considered passé by the radio stations, Wheatley cleverly sent the single out in a plain white cover, with no credits. Triple M in Sydney twigged immediately and sent Wheatley a note to say that they weren’t fooled, and that they didn’t play John Farnham records on their very cool FM station.
Rival station, 2DAYFM, gave the record a spin and the switchboard lit up. Wheatley’s Porsche was equipped with a car phone, the latest technology of the era, so from his luxury car, he rang the depressed singer to tell him the song was number 1.
You’re the Voice went straight to the top spot on the singles charts to become the biggest Australian hit of 1986, sold over a million copies in Europe, and went to number 6 in the UK. Whispering Jack was the first local album to sell over 1 million copies in Australia alone, and broke all sales records for an Australian album worldwide.
PEACOCK, KENNETT and HOWARD
Playing around with a UHF radio scanner they’d just bought at Dick Smith for $299, some members of an activist group for the disabled, unexpectedly eavesdropped upon a car phone conversation that would soon become national headlines, and embarrass three prominent politicians.
It was March 1987, John Howard was Opposition leader, and a bitter rivalry between him and he-who-would-be-Opposition-leader, Andrew Peacock, was burbling away. A Victorian state by-election had just been held, and Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett rang Peacock to complain about Howard. This is just a bit of what the disability activists heard:
“He got on the phone and said are you happy with the result, and I said “No I’m not”, and he said “Why?” and I said “Without your front pages and total disunity I’d have had ten percent swing. I would have got myself another four and you’ve fucked it up for me”, and he went off his brain.
He said to me, “I didn’t like the way you kept me out of the campaign”. I said, “Wouldn’t have you in it, and I didn’t have any federal people in it.”
He said, “I know where your sympathies lie”, and I said, “I couldn’t give a fuck. I have no sympathies any more. You’re all a pack of shits and tomorrow I’m going berserk”. Well he went off his brain and in the end I said to him, I said, “Howard. You’re a cunt. You haven’t got my support, you never will have and I’m not going to rubbish you or the party tomorrow but I feel a lot better having told you you’re a cunt.”
To which Andrew Peacock replied:
“Be humble, mate.”
CROCODILE DUNDEE, HAWKE and KEATING
One of our most successful TV comics, Paul Hogan, had seen an interview on Michael Parkinson’s show with a Northern Territory man who’d been savaged by a crocodile. The interview inspired him to create a character and a movie, Crocodile Dundee, released in 1986. Made on a budget of less than 9 million Australian dollars, it was a smash hit worldwide, and Hogan was invited to co-host the next Academy Awards. In true Hoges style, he took the piss. Here’s a tiny excerpt:
‘G’day. The atmosphere here is pure electricity. But as a television
show it does tend to go slightly off the boil, especially as it drifts into
the third and fourth hour. So, winners, when you make your speech,
it’s a good tip to remember the 3 Gs – be gracious, be grateful, get
Bob Hawke was our Prime Minister at the time, and was having bit of a problem with his Treasurer, Paul Keating. Amid bad trade figures, a plunging dollar and high interest rates, Hawke had just returned from a trip to Beijing to find that, while he was away, Keating had made an appearance on the John Laws Show, dropping the famous line–‘Australia is in danger of becoming a banana republic’.
Hawke decided to do a pre-recorded television address to the nation to let everyone know who was in charge. He hired Peter Faiman, the producer of Crocodile Dundee, to direct his TV appearance, but nothing could alter the fact that this was the beginning of the end of the once strong Hawke/Keating relationship. Hawke wanted to be positive, give the gloom and doom about the economy a good spin. Keating on the other hand wanted to tell it like it was and prepare Australians for a drop in the standard of living. The gulf between them was widening.
CROWDED HOUSE and JOH
There’s a battle ahead,
Many battles are lost.
So begins Don’t Dream It’s Over, the first hit for Crowded House in 1986, not knowingly about the Hawke/Keating drift apart, but surprisingly relevant.
After Split Enz had split, Neil Finn and drummer Paul Hester decided to form a new band, The Mullanes. They’d secured a recording contract with Capitol Records, and moved to LA to record their debut album. The band lived together in a crowded apartment in West Hollywood, and soon the band and the album would go by the name of Crowded House.
This song became a massive hit in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and still remains their most commercially successful song.
Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know that they won’t win.
One man who did win in 1986 was Queensland Premier for 17 years, the irrepressible Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who, thanks to the gerrymander, managed to win 39% of the vote, and over 60% of the seats. He ruled in a state where creationism was taught alongside evolution, God Save the Queen was still sung in schools, and sex education was banned during school hours.
His ultra-conservative, populist style allowed him to get away with acts like banning a book on the Red Cross because it appeared to support blacks in South Africa. On the other hand, a book that was rife with anti-Labor propaganda was distributed to Queensland schools and TAFEs.
Also at that time, with 93% of Queenslanders in favour of AIDS education in schools, Queensland police used crowbars to remove condom machines from the University of Queensland campus. Joh’s justification for this was that condom machines stop Australia from a being great nation, and Queensland from being a great state:
Homosexuals should stop that horrible lifestyle they’re living in rather than worry about condom vending machines.
This was despite his Health Minister, Mike Ahern, vigorously supporting the machines, and the National Party conference delivering Joh a string of rebuffs over the policy.
There were calls for him to go, but his maverick ambition was now to rule not just the Sunshine State, but the whole of Australia. He handed control over to his deputy and he was off. The fact that he didn’t have a federal seat didn’t seem to faze him.
I am a bushfire raging across the country. I will do everything to help save Australia from Socialism.
What became known as the Joh for PM Campaign was driven largely by a group of Gold Coast property developers who were ‘affectionately’ known as ‘the white shoe brigade.’ His messages were simple–as PM he would look closely at moral standards in education, welfare, film and printed material, and bring in a 25% flat tax.
The polls showed that 1 in 5 voters supported him, and the effect on federal politics began to be felt, especially in the Federal coalition.
I’d rather push a 44 gallon drum of molasses up a hill than try to get them (Howard and Sinclair) elected.
Then the ABC’s Four Corners aired The Moonlight State, an exposé of police corruption in the Sunshine State. The Fitzgerald Inquiry began, Joh self-imploded, Mike Ahern took over as Premier. It was the end of an era. Or should that be–end of an error?
(To the tune of Jambalaya)
Goodbye Joh you gotta go me oh my oh
‘Cos the time has come for you to say goodbye-oh
Don’t you worry ‘bout Fitzgerald’s Inquiry-oh
Just retire and spend your time eating pumpkin pie-oh
Bulldoze trees and if you please grow peanuts-oh
You son of a gun, you’ve had your fun, now bugger off-oh.
Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Vol. II doesn’t sound like a game changer, but when it arrived, as a bootleg cassette, in the life of Paul Simon, that’s exactly what it became. His career plummeting, his second marriage over, this tape opened his ears and heart to South African township music.
…I tried to absorb the musical essence of the music, which was difficult, because of the shape of the songs was not what I was used to…
The next step for him was to go to the source of the music, meet the musicians on the tape, record with them.
…I learned a long time ago that if you wanted to work in a different idiom, you can’t simply imitate what you hear. Your ears aren’t trained to the nuances. You’ve got to go to the source…
But with apartheid at its height and the cultural boycott in place, he knew that any visit would be controversial. Harry Belafonte and Quincy Jones gave him their blessing, as did the township musicians.
…they decided that my coming would benefit them because I could help to give South African music a place in the international community of music similar to that of reggae…
Simon’s decision to go to South Africa split opinion between those who saw the liberal principles of rock ‘n’ roll violated, and those who said he focused world attention on the complexity and artistry of black South African culture.
Beyond the controversy, the music was a brilliant hybrid, as exciting and fresh as the blending of white country and black gospel and blues that had created rock ‘n’ roll in the first place.
The resulting album Graceland was released in 1986, ten years after the Soweto uprising, and ten years before apartheid was ended and Nelson Mandela became president. It sold 14 million copies worldwide.
1986 was the UN International Year of Peace and so, to mark the occasion, US President Ronald Reagan bombed the crap out of Libya, tried to get rid of Nicaragua’s left wing government, sold arms to Iran, and carried on the Star Wars program.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, propped up for so long by the US, was being tested in a election.
The one who wore the trousers in the Marcos family was Ferdinand’s wife, wannabe singer Imelda. She also wore the shoes, all 3000 pairs, and she wore a custom-made bullet proof brassiere whenever she sang at her husband’s election rallies.
Feelings, nothing more than feelings,
I sing this for my Ferdinand,
I know he’ll win again.
But he didn’t. Cory Aquino did. So, when the Marcos duo fled to the USA, did they they still believe that Marcos was the rightful President?
Among unlikely contenders for a spot in the pop charts in 1986 was Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). An excerpt from his Lieutenant Kijé Suite became the instrumental break in a song by Sting, called Russians, from his hit album of 1986, The Dream of the Blue Turtles.
In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria,
Conditioned to respond to all the threats,
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets,
Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you,
I don’t subscribe to this point of view,
It would be such an ignorant thing to do,
If the Russians love their children too.
Exactly at the same time as the album was top of the charts here in Australia, a Soviet nuclear reactor was ablaze at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.
How can I save my little boy
From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?
There is no monopoly in common sense
On either side of the political fence,
We share the same biology,
Believe me when I say to you,
I hope the Russians love their children too.
The Soviets were tight-lipped about the disaster and published photos of happy Ukrainians in full traditional costume, dancing in the streets, just a few days later on May Day, with big smiles on their faces, as if nothing had ever happened.
But when the West started to experience levels of radiation a hundred times above normal, we came to learn that it was the worst nuclear disaster ever, with eventually tens of thousands of victims.
HATCHES, MATCHES and DISPATCHES
1986 and ‘87 proved to be bumper years for babies destined for fame- babies like Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Baby Gaga, who would later morph into Lady Gaga.
Baby there’s no other superstar, you know that I’ll be
Baby you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me,
And it was a great time for baby tennis players. Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Sharapova and Ivanovic, all of whom ended up being pursued by
Deaths at that time included former opposition leader Billy Snedden, who apparently died with a smile on his face. He was last seen in public at John Howard’s policy speech, and had died, not of boredom, but of a heart attack, while having sex in the Rushcutter’s Bay Travelodge. It seems Billy had died on the job.
Other deaths included James Cagney, Liberace, Robert Helpmann and Fred Astaire who tap danced his way to
…Heaven, he’s in Heaven…
As far as weddings go, there were two big ones that each attracted millions of TV viewers. One was that of Scott and Charlene on TV soapie, Neighbours. Played by Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue, the Ramsay Street couple’s wedding attracted a UK audience of 20 million, and featured a song sung and written by Angry Anderson, chosen by Kylie herself.
Suddenly you’re seeing me
Just the way I am Suddenly you’re hearing me, So I’m talking just fast as I can, to you! Suddenly, every part of me, Needs to know every part of you.
The other wedding was that of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, watched by 500 million worldwide. Poor old Fergie, she was never seen to match up to the glamorous Princess Diana, so reports of her broad bum, boisterous behavior, frumpish frocks and thundering thighs were like Manna from Heaven to the
Fortunately, the paparazzi weren’t in Memphis on Tuesday October 26 1986, when ex-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, was seen in the lobby of a sleazy $29-a-night motel, without his wallet, without his pants, and without his dignity.
(To the tune of Donald Where’s Your Troosers?)
An eminent person once did go,
Down to Memphis where the cotton do grow,
And all the lassies said ‘hello’,
Malcolm where’s your troosers?
Let the wind blow high, let the wind blow low,
You got no pockets for your jewels to go,
And all the lassies shout ‘hello’,
Malcolm where’s your troosers?
Came into the lobby feeling foul,
Wearing nothing but an old bath towel
Shirt and socks and a dreadful scowl
Malcolm where’s your troosers?
Malcolm was in Memphis in his role as a member of the Eminent Persons Group, speaking at the local Country Club on the issue of justice in South Africa. He was booked in to stay at the Club, but decided to head down to the touristy Beale Street district, went to the famous Peabody Hotel for a drink, and woke at the not-so-salubrious Admiral Benbow Hotel. The rest is history, but not history that Mr Fraser has ever expanded on.
And now he’s gone back to Nareen,
There’s going to be a terrible scene
When Tammie cries ‘where have you been?
And Malcolm where’s your troosers’?
Isn’t it funny that, after the huge contribution he made towards ending Apartheid, he still better known for being caught with his pants down? Malcolm is quoted as saying ‘I wish I’d never been to bloody Memphis.’
Since Fraser’s departure from Federal politics, the coalition had been in turmoil, thanks to the dysfunctional Howard/Peacock relationship, and the Joh for PM campaign. So, to cash in on coalition disunity, Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced an early election in 1987.
The Labor Party’s slogan was Let’s Stick Together, which came complete with a horribly catchy jingle written by well-known advertising man John Singleton:
Let’s stick together
Let’s see it through.
It was the election campaign in which Bob Hawke uttered the immortal words:
…by 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty…
Labor won the election resoundingly, their third win in just over 4 years.
Let’s see it through.
(Written by Bob McMullan for the Australian Labor Party, Canberra).
Yes, that Bob McMullan, then National Secretary for the ALP, just before he became the member for the Canberra seat of Fraser. In fact, many of those in politics we now know and love were waiting in the wings at this time.
Bronwyn Bishop was President of the NSW Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull was lawyer for the publishing firm in the Spycatcher case, Peter Beattie ALP State Secretary for Queensland, Simon Crean President of the ACTU, Anthony Albanese research officer for Tom Uren, Clive Palmer was working on the Joh for PM campaign, and Tony Abbott was studying to be a priest. Even in these early stages of their political careers, they were all showing their true colours.
I see your true colours shining through
I see your true colours, and that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colours
True colours are beautiful,
Like a rainbow.
True Colors was a hit single and album for Cyndi Lauper in 1986, and in 1987, Irish band U2 reached number 3 on the album charts with The Joshua Tree, which featured this song:
I have climbed the highest mountains,
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you, only to be with you
I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
This was our sixth year of doing this show as the warm-up act for Archives historian Jim Stokes. Sadly, Jim retired this year, which made this his last time presenting his take on the cabinet records. We’ve enjoyed his company and his wry look at what could have been a dry topic in other hands.
He has read Cabinet papers,
He has run through the files.
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
He has dug, he has delved,
He has scaled the Archives’ shelves,
The Archives’ shelves
Only to be with you
But he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for,
No, he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for!
Out of the Cabinet is one of my favourite gigs, as it gives me an excuse to spend weeks locked inside the Newspaper Room at my spiritual home, the National Library, speed-reading my way through 730 Sydney Morning Heralds. I choose that paper because I was living in Sydney in those times, and still read that paper every day. So I know my way around it, and know the Sydney-centric references well.
I also own countless Top 40 books, and general music encyclopedias and biographies, as well as chronicles of each year that are great resources. I use the National Library collections of books and sheet music, and sparingly refer to Google and Wikipedia. Youtube is a great source of seeing and hearing songs of the era.
These come mostly from ads and articles I came across in the Sydney Morning Herald.
YOU’RE THE VOICE
Main source for this topic was Whispering Jack The John Farnham Story by Clark Forbes, and Paper Paradise by Glenn Wheatley.
You’re the Voice, co-written by Keith Reid (lyricist of Whiter Shade of Pale), Chris Thompson (lead singer of Manfred Mann Earth Band), Andy Qunta (keyboard player with Australian band Icehouse), and Maggie Ryder (session singer with the Eurhythmics, Queen, Manfred Mann Earth Band etc).
See the $10, 000 video made to market the song at the time
Look out for cameos by then husband and wife, Jacki Weaver and Derryn Hinch. And better still if you’d like to see Julian Assange singing the song as part of his unsuccessful campaign to gain a Senate seat in Victoria at the 2013 election, try “Julian Assange dons mullet to sing You’re the Voice”
PEACOCK, KENNETT AND HOWARD
The full recording of the Kennett/Peacock conversation can be heard on YouTube.
CROCODILE DUNDEE, HAWKE AND KEATING
See more of Hoges at the Oscars
CROWDED HOUSE AND JOH
Don’t Dream It’s Over written by Neil Finn and at
Jambalaya written by Hank Williams, Goodbye Joh parody by Melbourne singer- songwriter Bruce Watson, published in The Balls of Bob Menzies by Warren Fahey.
The main source for this topic is The Boy in the Bubble a Biography of Paul Simon by Patrick Humphries. Simon’s quotes come from this book. For an acclaimed documentary on the project, YouTube has Part 1 and Part 2 here.
Hear and see the Azusa Pacific University Symphony Orchestra perform Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite live in 2013.
The suite is a concert version of excerpts from a film score written by Prokofiev in 1933.
Catch the video clip of Sting singing ‘Russians’
Russians is written by Sting.
HATCHES, MATCHES AND DISPATCHES
Paparazzi written by Lady Gaga and Rob Fusari (2008).
Watch the clip on YouTube
Suddenly was written by Angry Anderson.
For the Prince Andrew/Fergie wedding, go to YouTube here
The main source for this topic is Malcolm Fraser The Political Memoirs by Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons.
Donald Where’s Your Troosers written by Andy Stewart and Neil Grant.
Malcolm Where’s Your Troosers parody by John Quiggin, published in The Balls of Bob Menzies by Warren Fahey.
Here’s a low quality version of ‘Let’s Stick Together’
and here is the clip of the song by Cyndi Lauper ‘True Colors’ written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly
and video of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” written by U2
All external links correct as at 8/3/2015. Please let me know if you find a broken one.