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.
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
and inspirational, I call it. Here’s how it went . . .
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
evening. My name is John Howard and I'm speaking to you from Sydney,
Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games . . .
goes the transmission, accompanied by this press release: “As a gesture of
goodwill the Olympic organisers would like to pave the way for
well again at Administration and Logistics — at least till the next
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.
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
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.
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.