Sydney Olympics
[ Issue 21 ]

The Sydney Olympics keeps Emily Bronto occupied for hours

Permit Bikwil to acquaint you with the fascination of the Sydney Olympics

Sydney Olympics

Tony Rogers here tries to give a taste of a particularly inspired episode of a satirical Australian TV programme built around the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

As in all politico-bureaucratic settings, . . . by fair means or foul (usually the latter), all obstacles are eventually surmounted or carpets found to crush them under

[ Print This Issue ]  

[ Help with Printing ]

 Music Player 


Sydney Olympics — Tony Rogers


It won’t have escaped your attention that for the past half-dozen years or so Australia has been girding its athletic loins tighter and tighter for a certain event that’s taking place here this September.

Not so well known overseas, perhaps, has been a concurrent attempt at what is known as Aboriginal Reconciliation — a process of healing the spiritual misery and material deprivation inflicted over a period of 120 years by ethnocentric whites on the original inhabitants of this land.

For many people a significant impediment to reconciliatory closure has been the fact that our Prime Minister, John Howard, has vowed that he shall not utter the word “Sorry” on behalf of the nation. And while he might maintain that today’s Australians should not be made to take the blame for the past, he is really motivated by a fear that billions of dollars’ worth of compensation claims will land on his desk.

Now, having established Bikwil as a refuge from negativity, I of all people would not be casting disapproving glances at anyone or anything were it not for a creative feller named John Morrison Clarke. Originally a New Zealander, John Clarke came to Australia in the late 1970s, bringing with him a scathing satiric humour rarely equalled, together with a sophisticated ability with words in which to couch his lampooning intentions.

From that period he will be remembered fondly in the guise of Fred Dagg, and for being the person who first put us in the picture regarding the little known sport of farnarkeling, but in 1999-2000 Clarke has for the most part been applying his caustic wit to a larger congregation of competitors.

In a two-series half-hour ABC-TV programme entitled The Games he has provided viewers with what might be described as the Australian Yes, Minister. Depicting hopeless contractors, inept bureaucrats, devious politicians and equally underhanded spin-doctoring Olympics officials, The Games stars Clarke himself as “Olympic Supremo” in charge of Administration and Logistics for the Sydney Games, together with Brian Dawe and Gina Riley (as his financial and marketing offsiders, respectively).

This team were appointed to “supervise the mounting of the biggest event in Australia's history”, by constructing “the complex web of strategic alliances and industry contacts which would bring the Olympic dream to life”. In addition to coping with an increasing cynical media and staff, they are faced with provocative challenges like the Millennium Bug, a 100 metres track that is not quite long enough, Olympics transport breakdowns, an IOC official found dead in a Kings Cross hotel room in scandalous circumstances, and so on.

As in all politico-bureaucratic settings, however, by fair means or foul (usually the latter), all obstacles are eventually surmounted or carpets found to crush them under.

In the first series Clarke and co-scriptwriter Ross Stevenson had briefly used the idea of the impersonation of a Prime Minister. In that case the piece was performed over the phone by Aussie mimic Gerry Connolly pretending to be ex Australian PM Bob Hawke. As funny as that was, on Monday 3rd July this year (Series 2, Episode 3) they applied a wonderful twist to that notion, and outdid themselves in a totally unexpected way.

Inspired and inspirational, I call it. Here’s how it went . . .

Our Supremo, Mr. Clarke, is taken aback by a visit from a special U.S. Ambassador who reveals that the rest of the world is becoming increasingly alarmed about Australia’s human rights record in respect of its indigenous people, a concern that threatens Sydney’s ability to host the Games in a respectable manner. Previously blithely unaware of this historical reality, Mr. Clarke gradually becomes convinced on the issue and finally leaps into action by immediate application of Management Rule One: he delegates the problem to someone else — PR person Ms. Riley.

Now it so happens that there is a distinguished actor and Aboriginal rights activist in Australia who suffers from the affliction of being named John Howard. (He features prominently in the Aussie TV show Seachange in the character of Bob Jelly.) Why not have this John Howard make The Apology? Overseas people, who wouldn’t know our PM from a bar of Sunlight soap, could be easily fooled by a televised speech into believing that Australia’s human rights credentials had been redeemed, and the Sydney Olympics could thus proceed unjeopardised

Good evening. My name is John Howard and I'm speaking to you from Sydney, Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games . . .

So out goes the transmission, accompanied by this press release: “As a gesture of goodwill the Olympic organisers would like to pave the way for reconciliation”.

All is well again at Administration and Logistics — at least till the next crisis.

Now the quite remarkable thing about the John Howard speech is this. As you watch it in the context of all that has led up to it (in reality and in The Games), you first see it as high farce, but in the space of those three minutes and 410 words you find yourself becoming captivated by the emotional atmosphere and before you know it you are inextricably caught up in the speech’s sincerity and gravity. The impact is breathtaking. Beautifully done, Clarke and Howard.

Well, the positive response from the public at large has been overwhelming, too. Newspaper columnists have been wholehearted in their praise — for example, John Huxley in The Sydney Morning Herald and Susan Mitchell in The Australian. The ABC phones and Web site have run hot with congratulations, too, as have the letters pages in many an Aussie newspaper.

When I last looked at the Web site there must have been several hundred “Good on yer” messages from viewers, some of whom have even reported starting out laughing and ending up weeping. “Gut wrenching”, “supreme speech”, “riveting” — such have been other testimonials.

I’d love to quote the complete speech, but for copyright reasons I dare not. On the other hand, perhaps I’m over-anxious about it, because when you Internet surfers go to The Games subpage at the ABC TV site you will see the following Clarkian proclamation preceding the speech transcript:

Any other John Howard who wishes to make this announcement should apply for copyright permission here, which will be granted immediately.

Contents  Read Next Item  Read Previous Item
Top of Page

Home | Visitors' Guide | Random Read | Current Issue | Essays & Poems | Catalogues
Site Search
| Likeable Links | Subscriptions | About Us | FAQ | Testimonials | Site Map