From 1967 to 1973, the ABC produced one of the campest kids’ shows Australian TV has ever known. It was called Adventure Island and told of a mythical place called Diddley-Dum-Diddley, which was populated by a range of outrageous, unconventional characters.
It was an enormous hit for the ABC and featured such figures as the fussy Mrs Flowerpots, played by actor Brian Crossley in drag, and Clown, played in outrageous form by a shrieking and hand-flapping John-Michael Howson.
According to 42-year-old Melbourne artist Christopher Dean, that show influenced the characters of a whole generation of Australian gay men through such lovable camp characters being portrayed every week on children’s TV.
Dean pays tribute to the impact Adventure Island had on his generation as part of a new art exhibition which celebrates the ways 50 years of the ABC have impacted on Australian life.
Yours, Mine And Ours: 50 Years Of ABC TV opened at the Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest in Emu Plains last Saturday.
It features the work of 22 contemporary artists who have created works paying tribute to the images that the ABC has brought into our culture.
The exhibition was opened by movie commentator Margaret Pomeranz, who joined the national broadcaster two years ago to host At The Movies.
Pomeranz believes the exhibition offers an important way to examine how the shows and characters produced by the ABC have had a cultural impact on generations of Australians.
I think that ABC has reflected all our lives across the past 50 years, Pomeranz says. It is a very broad church.
Australians have a much greater sense of ownership of the ABC than of any other network because it has reflected and shown their lives, and that has touched them in some ways and had a real impact.
But I do believe it is up to the public broadcaster to lead where others fear to tread -“ and that is an important part of its role. It provides some sense of accommodation of everyone in this country, and the ABC has done an amazing job of doing that.
Among the art works on display are paintings of Molly Meldrum from Countdown, Garry McDonald and Ruth Cracknell on Mother And Son, McDonald as Norman Gunston, and Kim and Sharon on Kath & Kim.
Artists featured in the exhibition include Robyn Backen, Destiny Deacon, Virginia Fraser, Noel McKenna, Luke Parker and Victoria Harbutt.
Another part of the exhibition is Arts Project Australia, in which artists with disabilities present their impressions of the iconic ABC characters. Among the artists featured in the display are Catherine Staughton, Steven Worrell and Alan Constable.
This initiative is such a great idea and a clever way to look at what shows have influenced us, Pomeranz says. I love that in Christopher Dean’s case with Adventure Island he had such a sense of comfort in the gayness of the depiction of that show.
The ABC has broken TV ground in its half century, with such other notable queer landmarks as 1972’s Chequerboard documentary, Countdown through the 1970s and 1980s, the medical drama G.P. and 1994’s first coverage of the Mardi Gras.
At a time of increasing conservatism in our media, Pomeranz says the need for bold moves in the ABC’s past should be celebrated to inspire the future.
At the moment, there is an atmosphere of fear that permeates the whole of the western world and we have a sense of caution in our lives, she says.
But at the same time and despite all of that, there are some other daring initiatives taken by the public broadcaster -“ and that is more to their credit.
Yours, Mine And Ours: 50 Years Of ABC TV opened on 25 November at the Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest, 86 River Rd, Emu Plains.