From Flying Visits (1984)

In 1976 Clive James returned to Australia for the first time since going to England in 1962. From Sydney he wrote what would be the first of his series of ‘postcards’ for The Observer:

Ockerism’s most famous incarnation is Paul Hogan, a stand-up comic who rivals even Dennis Lillee as an advertiser’s idea of irresistible consumer-bait.

I went to the St George Leagues Club to catch Hogan’s act. The Leagues Club, which has doubled in size since my time, more than lived up to its reputation as the biggest thing of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere – although it is difficult to think of any other place in the Southern Hemisphere which might conceivably want to emulate it. Built as a reinforced concrete hymn to the St George Rugby League team (they won the championship for eleven years straight from 1956-66 and there was a time when I could recite the names of the whole side, including the reserves), the place has 40,000 members and looks like an aquarium full of slot machines. Kitsch portraits of front-row forwards with necks wider than their heads are spot-lit in the stairwells. Yet as a believer in art deriving its power from a primitive impulse, I expected to find Hogan vulgar but hoped he would be inventive.

Alas, he was trouncingly boring, with no idea of how to work his material. His earthiness was sheer hard-hat invective. His best line was reminiscence. Like Barry Humphries’ character Sandy Stone, Hogan went in search of time past. He was quite good on, if inadvisedly proud of, the awfulness of the Australian male’s sexual education, which has been such bad news for the men of my generation and even worse news for the women.

He recalled accurately how you bought your best girl scorched almonds at the pictures but fobbed off your second best with conversation lollies (they were shapes of toothbreaking candy with messages in pink ink). Unfortunately he lacked the discrimination necessary to organise such resonant subject-matter. The linguistic fastidiousness of Humphries he just couldn’t match. Hardly any Australian can match it, since it is linked to the consciously European richness of Humphries’ personal culture. Humphries’ internationalism, unlike George Lazenby‘s, is not an ad-man’s shibboleth but a condition of mind. The force of intellect Humphries brings to the seemingly worthless minutiae of everyday Australian life depends on his studious immersion in European culture and his readiness to measure his work by its standards.

–Clive James, Australian, b. 1939

St George Leagues

St George Leagues Club – Sep 1965. (Australian Heritage Photographic Library)


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