Friday, July 24, 2009

Talking Australian: The Push - The Invasion from Downunder

Whilst many romantically associate Australiana with the early settlers and the struggle to establish a national heritage much of what we now know as Australian comes from the 1940s and the diverse influence of the Push. Push was the name of a small-time street gang in Sydney's The Rocks district in the 19th century and there they might have remained had it not been for a Scotsman by the name of John Anderson who was a professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

Anderson was a liberal free thinker and started a Freethought Society which he called the Push named after the rebellious, anti-establishment larrikins. Frustrated by the War and constrained by liberal thought Push was a non-political group with anarchist overtones and upheld free speech and free love. The reputation of the weekly group grew and attracted an array of angry young men and women who would eventually become key players in the Arts and Sciences of Australia.

Post-Colonial Australia was staunchly conservative with views and policies today we might find offensive. Post-war Australia had seen women gain greater freedoms working outside the domestic sphere and the 'Sydney Scene' of artists, writers, actors and intellectuals opened their door to women. The war years had forced Australian bohemians to stay in the Big Brown Land but now many wanted the same freedoms others appeared to enjoy overseas.

In North America the radical Beat Generation had rejected mainstream American values and were experimenting with drugs, spiritiuality and alternative forms of sexuality. The new Australian hedonists (pleasure) wanted to celebrate the same non-conformity and spontaneous creativity. From a university based club, Push became a café society for Australian radicals only they met in the back room of a pub (where else?). The Royal George Hotel, now the Ship Inn, Sydney.

Barry Humphries described the Push as 'a fraternity of middle-class desperates, journalists, drop-out academics, gamblers and poets manqués (failed poets), and their doxies (mistresses)'. Key members included: Darcy Waters (anarchist and thinker), A J (Jim) Baker (author), Harry Hooton (poet), Robert Hughes (artist), John Olsen (artist), Frank Moorhouse (writer), and Barry Humphries (actor and humourist).

Women drawn to Push included Germaine Greer (writer and feminist), Wendy Bacon (writer), Lillian Roxon (journalist) and Eva Cox (writer and feminist) among many others.

By the late fifties and early sixties London had become the Mecca for many of the Australian artistic community. Earls Court was known then as "Kangaroo Valley" and artists like: Brett Whitely , Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd were the toast of the town and everyone who was anyone was wearing Jenny Kee .

Blighty offered a brave new world to the Australian exiles and soon performers like Rolf Harris, Slim Dusty, Frank Ifleld and the Seekers had not only Earls Court at their feet but the rest of the world in a buzz. Talking Australian became a fashion fad and all the more so when Richard Neville brought to London a small satirical magazine called Oz.

Oz started in Sydney and ran from 1963–69. It moved to London and became part of the established underground publications in 1967. The Sydney Oz was a university newspaper which was heavily influenced by Private Eye and grew to include contentious issues such as censorship, homosexuality, abortion, police brutality as well as regularly satirising public figures. London Oz featured regular contributors included Germaine Greer, artist and filmmaker Philippe Mora, photographer Robert Whitaker, Lillian Roxon, cartoonist Michael Leunig, Angelo Quattrocchi and David Widgery. The magazine’s contents enraged the British Establishment with a range of left-field stories including heavy critical coverage of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, discussions of drugs, sex and alternative lifestyles, and other contentious political expose. Oz soon became a target by the Obscene Publications Squad, and their offices were raided on several occasions.

Eventually in 1971 the editors (Felix Dennis, Jim Anderson, and Richard Neville) were brought to trial for obscenity and a very famous case in the High Court followed. The defence lawyer was Sir John Mortimer QC (author of Rumpole of the Bailey) and despite his best efforts the "Oz Three" were found not guilty on the conspiracy charge, but were convicted of two lesser offences and sentenced to imprisonment.

The trial brought the magazine to the attention of the wider public and John and Ono actively protested against the court decision. Apple released "God Save Us" by the ad hoc group called Bill Elliot and the Elastic Oz Band to raise funds and gain publicity.

All convictions were overturned at the appeal trial and although the editors went onto other things Oz London was inevitably silenced.

The Push made its mark and was key in laying the foundations of the 60s counter culture in Swinging London.

As part of the same movement Barry Humphries introduced Aunt Edna Everage (Melbourne Housewife) to an unsuspecting British public transfixed with ‘That was the week that was’ (BBC).

Barry Humphries not only established himself as a comic genius but was a leading force in the new satire cognocente. His small cartoon in Private Eye magazine took on a completely new life of its own.

Barry McKenzie was the story of an Australian yobbo and his travels to London. It became so popular two very successful Barry McKenzie films were made starring Barry Crocker and directed by Bruce Beresford. From now on in everyone wanted to talk Australian and thereby the foundations for Strine were laid.

1 comment: