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December 2009

That time of decade again!


I must be afflicted with some degree of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Apart from the desire to own various editions of the same albums or books, a need to organise all knowledge of comedy into a working body (which I like to refer to as a ‘unified field theory’ of comedy; relax, it doesn’t actually mean anything beyond being an intellectual-sounding metaphor) and becoming irrationally annoyed that we in Australia have given in and now spell the word ‘gaol’ as ‘jail’, I also get the irrits when we treat the wrong year as the end of a decade or millennium.

The new millennium didn’t begin in 2000, it began in 2001.

The new decade doesn’t really begin in 2010, it begins in 2011.

But I guess if we started counting the new millennium in 2000, this is the end of that decade. (And even Arthur C. Clarke made the error; after correctly selecting ‘2001’ as the important year in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he followed the story up with 2010: Odyssey Two.)

So here we are, December 2009 about to begin, and journalists are compiling their ‘round-up of the decade that was the “noughties”’. A year early, if you ask me. But nobody seems to be asking me if their timing is right.

No, it’s nearly the end of the first decade of the current millennium, and what journalists are asking me – and you, and anyone else who appears to be listening – is to do the news-gathering for them. Here’s a question I was asked earlier. I can’t help but have an answer for that.



A journalist’s tweeted reply to my comment is as follows:

Could say the same 4 comedians. As ppl whose job it is to comment on society we HAVE to rely on getting input from the masses

I disagree.

In the first place, the comedian’s job is to entertain. News has only taken on that mentle in recent years in order to keep turning a profit – having to entertain audiences that would prefer sugar walls and happy endings.

Good comedians are the ones that have their own world view, and reveal it more-or-less by stealth: ‘you think the world is like that, but have a look at what I can see from where I’m standing – actually it’s like this’. Their degree of skill at revealing to you what you know, but didn’t realise you know, is a mark of how good they are. The art is to conceal the art.

News, on the other hand, used to be about reporting the facts. Uncoloured. No agenda. (Of course, everyone has an agenda.) And professionals were paid to gather those stories. To use all their skills. Now, they depend more and more on stories coming to them. And people love their brief moments of fleeting fame, so love to step forward with their stories. Maybe they should try to perfect the art of concealing the art also: be well read, be ‘metropolitan critics’ who get around and hear all the opinions and sniff out those leads…

Back to the ‘decade in review’, however.

A news service ought to know what the big stories of the past decade were. They just spent the past decade presenting the stories. It’s not supposed to be a live concert by your favourite old rocker. You might feel ripped off if you see David Bowie live and he doesn’t do ‘Changes’ or ‘Fashion’. You shouldn’t – he was, up until his last world tour, still making brilliant new music and I’m happy to not hear ‘Space Oddity’ if it means I do hear ‘The Heart’s Filthy Lesson’ or ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’. Bowie is canny enough to poll his online fanbase for a list of songs they want to hear live, if he wanted. I’d much rather he presented the show he chose, but will accept that he may actually ask the people that keep him in nice designer suits what exactly they want to hear.

But the news is the news. Don't ask me whether I want to hear about September 11 or Weapons of Mass Destruction or the first black president over the deaths of Belinda Emmett or George Harrison, the end of John Howard’s term as Prime Minister (and the erosion of our rights as citizens that coninued beyond his  leadership) or our first female Governor General. I’m not gonna switch the channel in disgust because you failed to remind me of Paris Hilton’s sex tape, the bizarre media fixation on Maddi McCann, Tanya Zaetta ‘entertaining the troops’ or the story of Chantelle Steadman and little Alfie Patten. Particularly when we perhaps ought to be reminded of Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine, the Cronulla Riots and talkback radio’s role in inciting them, East Timor’s independence and Australia’s assistance in that struggle (only maybe this time point out there was oil involved, and lots of it, and also add the reminder that much of it is currently spilling into the ocean, bad for both our energy needs and our ocean resources…).

See, when you specifically skew the news to the audience, it stops being news. It starts being entertainment. And then comedians do start having to do your job for you: reminding the audience how the world is, and in particular, reminding them that it’s not necessarily the way people who sell airtime and audiences to advertisers would necessarily have you believe.

So, news outlets. Tell me. What do your beancounters want you to tell us the big stories of the last decade were, exactly? How does that differ from the way you believe you ought to placate your audience with the big stories? And going through your archives, what actually were they at the time?

If, after all that, the likes of Juanita Phillips, Samantha Armytage and Chris Bath feel the need to pepper their bulletins with dick jokes in order to keep the viewers’ attention, it may well prove more entertaining, but it’ll still be a case of the news not doing its job properly anymore, not proof that journalists and comedians are essentially the same thing. (Although, we can afford to lose ‘Kochie’; doppelganger James O’Loghlin is a fine comedian who does ‘serious’ much better than Kochie does ‘funny’; there’s no need to have them both loose on the airwaves!)

Fiddy Cent

Is that an historical artifact in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

Let me put it another way.

For some reason, there are a lot of 50-cent coins amongst the loose change in the house, and stranger still, they appear to be different commemorative editions. Why are there so many commemorative editions of 50-cent coins in existence? Was there a minter (or coiner or jeweler or engraver or whatever you call a coin designer) who was particularly close to the treasurer's office? Was there excess budget to be spent on recasting the 50-cent coin every so often? What purpose does it serve? Who notices stuff like this - apart from perhaps the poor or unemployed, for whom all coins carry a greater significance?

Actually, the reason why the 50-cent has been the most frequent commemorative edition coin in this country is most likely two-fold, and I thank my mate Hayden for working this out instantaneously: when the first one was cast, it was before there were one- and two-dollar coins; so the 50-cent was the largest metal denomination. And it is also the largest physical coin, so there there is more of a ‘canvas’ to fill. I’ll buy that explanation for a dollar. Or two non-commemorative 50-cent coins.

The place to start is the rarest, most interesting (I assume) 50-cent coin - and the oldest. Decimal currency was first introduced in Australia on 14 February 1966 (there was even a song) and this coin was introduced then. Note that all the coins on this page appear larger than actual size.


So here is Australia's first 50-cent coin. Well, not the actual, necessarily, but one minted that year. I found it in a desk drawer at home, so my mum or dad must have been hording it somewhere. Its actual size is only slightly bigger than the 20-cent coin, which is why it was changed. Citizens apparently found it too easy to mistake the two, and back then, the difference of 30 cents was a lot of money. So a dodecagon shaped 50-cent coin was introduced, but, it turns out, not until 1969. Only because the initial coin was minted in 1966, and after that first run, no further 50-cent coins were made until 1969.


This is a recently minted regular 50-cent coin. The same design as the original, but shaped in a way that you can tell what it is as soon as you handle it in your pocket or purse - no need to even look at it.

The first special commemorative edition of the Australian 50-cent coin that I was aware of came out in 1977. I had begun school that year – Kindergarten at St Kieran’s, Manly Vale. My teacher was an agéd Pom. Queen Elizabeth II had been reigning singe 1952 and a special ‘Silver Jubilee Year’ 50-cent piece was struck to commemorate Her Britannic Majesty’s 25 years on the throne. Note the rim of overlapping crowns. Much harder to do in a time before Photoshop and Illustrator.

It coincided with a Royal Visit – of course you’d inspect all your property in an important year, when your tenants are gonna have to show the love. My teacher went to see her – at Hyde Park or wherever she appeared. I remember news footage of a ‘long hair’ being escorted from the throng by uniformed police. One held him by his feet, the other, by his hair. He was carrying a knife, apparently. Or just being young, unemployed and long-haired with malice aforethought.

The next special 50-cent coin I remember was issued in 1981 to commemorate the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. I don't have one of those, nor have I seen one in a while.

The next one that I have in my possession came out during my first year in big school. It was only 5th Grade: owing to limited space, boys would finish at St Kieran’s at the end of 4th Grade, no doubt separated from the girls before they became bumpy and interesting. So it was 1982, I was at St Augustine’s College, Brookvale, and it was the year Brisbane was hosting the Commonwealth Games.

The Commonwealth is what was formally known as the British Empire, and to pretend that it has any value or meaning at all long after it had ceased being a penal colony and  a source of cheap primary resources, cheap labour and cannon fodder, every so often there’d be a CHOGM conference (pronounced ‘choggum’; it actually stands for ‘Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting’) and a mini-Olympics. As I write this, I wonder if CHOGM has stopped happening; I can’t remember the last one. And then I hear a news report that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is currently in the Caribbean, at the current "biennial meeting of the Commonwealth nation leaders" taking place in Trinidad and Tobago...

Of course, the best CHOGM was the one held during Edward Gough Whitlam’s term as Australia's Prime Minister: his New Guinean counterpart – who had a reputation for starting each day with a glass of his own steaming urine – was unfortunately absent from a day’s first session. Prime Minister Whitlam is said to have quipped that he’d obviously ‘been on the piss!’


I should talk more about the Commonwealth Games, but it’s sport, so I don’t particularly care about it. I guess Brisbane 1982 was a dress rehearsal for the Los Angeles Olympic Games. All I remember about the 1982 Brisbane  Commonwealth Games is that there was a swimmer called Dimity Douglas who was hot, in the opinion of 10-year-old Catholic boys.

Was there really a gap of five years between commemorative editions? No. But I don't remember the one that came out in 1991. It was an edition with a ram's head, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the introduction of decimal currency in Australia.

The next one came in 1994, 'International Year of the Family'. It features a kid’s drawing of a family. Or perhaps an adult engraver's approximation of what a kid's drawing of the same should look like. Note the mummy with the baby in her tummy. I assume she's pregnant, and hasn't just finished eating it whole like some snake consuming a mongoose.


I recall a conversation about this coin, back in 1994. I was at university and a dear friend who at the time was in the process of her first Sapphic dalliance, considered 'lady with baby in tummy' a reduction of 'the woman' or womanhood in general to essentially no more than merely the role of 'breeder'. I didn’t have the courage to argue the toss: that if the design was by, or supposed to be by, a child, the kid might actually see his mother, and indeed all mothers – though not be able to enunciate it thus – as the giver of life, the fertile matriarch from whom regeneration of humanity springs. And as such, it doesn't have to be reductionist.

Nowadays, my attitude is more in line with that of my friend. As if some kid designed the coin! It was deliberate government propaganda, designed to be carried around at all times to subliminally remind citizenry of what the most desirable familial construct is. If it truly reflected some random Australian kid’s drawing of his or her family unit, there'd be a sister and there'd be a baby in the sister’s tummy as well as the mummy’s. There’d be no father on the scene but there would be a creepy boyfriend standing between the mum and the sister. And even if he worked for DOCS (how do you think he met them in the first place?!) he’d still be standing a little too uncomfortably close. Nowaday’s, my friend’s attitude has also changed: she’s also carrying a baby in her belly.

In 1995 a special coin was issued marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. It bore the sentence 'They served their country in World War II: 1939-1945" and a portrait of surgeon and war hero Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop. I have no gags to make about Dunlop. Although, I always thought he was the legless war hero, and figured it was a cruel nickname – if I had to fight a war with no legs, I'd be weary, too. Only, that was Sir Douglas Bader. Note the barbed wire motif. This is war!


I was never big on history, so I have to do things like check Wikipedia to determine when Bass & Flinders circumnavigated Van Diemen's Land and thus ‘discovered’ – as the coin says –‘Bass Strait’. (What they discovered was that there was a strait, separating the island we now know as Tasmania, from the mainland. Too much information to fit on a coin, clearly.) According to Wikipedia, this discovery was made in 1797. So why not issue this coin 201 years later, Australian Mint?


A rather boring coin was released for the 'millennium year'. Or the year before it, actually, since the new millennium in fact began in 2001. Maybe we can borrow the extra year from the slightly mistimed discovery-of-Bass Strait commemoration. Would fewer people care about the correct date of Bass & Flinders’s circumnavigation than about the actual beginning of the millennium? Dunno. Who cares. Whatever. Stop bringing it up. No, you hang up. The important thing is, we’ve more-or-less entered the 21st Century, so a flag blows in the wind in such a way to suggest it is triangular rather than rectangular. Either that or it’s a very patriotic windsock. (Note to self: marketsouthern cross condoms on Australia Day – commemorative ‘socks’ for those dickheads who wear the flag as a cape – seeing as they’re f*cking the day up anyway…) There was a colour version minted for collectors – a much nicer coin. Too expensive to manufacture and circulate for the value of a mere 50 cents.


Okay, the triangular flag is clearly a ship’s sail – because the nation’s sailing into the new millennium. Still, if it was issued in 2001, it could commemorate Federation as well as the millennium – the sail tying in with First Fleet, invasion, etc etc… But that would be silly – there’s a whole other commemorative 50-cent coin to issue for the centenary of Federation: a much nicer design. It’s basically a more elegant, less ostentatious version of the original 50-cent piece. I assume it’s the original coat of arms from the actual time of Federation.

Not sure if we're celebrating windmills, water pumps or wind farms in 2002. Did we know about wind farms in 2002? It doesn't offer any comments about what may be of celebratory note that year.


But how cool is 2003's special edition 50-cent coin? I have no idea what's going on on the front of this psychedelic masterpiece, but it apparently celebrates 'Australian volunteers'. Why not? Jefferson Airplane had a psychedelic album called 'Volunteers'!


For 2005 there was another end of World War II commemorative coin, this time for the 60th anniversary. Well, they didn't bother to point out it was the Second World War, but the dates tell us that that's the occasion.


Have we had any more commemorative 50-cent coins since then? What should be commemorated next? The arrival of icebergs in New Zealand, on account of global warming? Our new Australian (boat people) citizens? Or perhaps it should mark the death of the Liberal Party. If Joe Hockey ends up leading, and the Libs come to power, we definitely need a commemorative 50-cent coin to celebrate him. It can be fatter than previous 50-cent coins. We can nickname it 'the Hockey puck'.

Suggest some of your own.

Simon Palomares:
A Spaniard in the Works

This piece got bumped by the magazine glossy fashion mag for which it was written.

Simon looks awesome in an expensive suit, as stylish as any comic, if not moreso. But I thought an interview with him about his life and broad experiences in comedy was a more interesting read than a page of his punchlines, which work much better when you pay to see him do them from the stage (as does he, most likely).

I considered pitching again in time for the broadcast of his SBS doco, but you can only beat your head against a brick wall until your head starts to give, particularly when the wall hasn’t changed at all, apart from the odd fleck of blood splatter pattern.

I should add, I nicked the title from John Lennon.


Simon Palomares
has come full-circle. His third national tour with quartet Il Dago, who take so-called ‘wog’ comedy to mainstream audiences, embark on their third national tour at the end of November. Having emigrated with his family from Spain aged 10, Simon went on to pioneer the genre with long-time friend and collaborator George Kapiniaris as The Tibaldi Brothers. His last Comedy Festival show, My Two Boys, dealt with being the father of teenagers, and his most recent spate of solo stand-up found him performing to the locals back in Spain, as documented in the SBS special Ko Ho Nas (at the moment you can still watch it online; the follow-up, which will see Simon performing stand-up in Argentina, is already in development). According to Simon, he has more ideas than time to execute them. He still finds time to teach an excellent comedy masterclass. (Details on his website).

Dom Romeo: How do you decide what project to embark on next?

SIMON PALOMARES: Fun. Whether it sparks you up or it doesn’t.

Dom Romeo: How did you end up in showbiz?

SIMON PALOMARES: I tricked my parents by going to teachers college, where I studied drama and psychology. Little did they know… At the end of the day, if you keep doing what you love doing, it pays off, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter because you enjoyed doing it.

Dom Romeo: How much of an effect did ‘being foreign’ have on you as a kid?

SIMON PALOMARES: I grew up in Lygon Street, so to me, Australia has always been ‘ethnic’. It wasn’t until I went to drama school that I realised that there were people who weren’t of European background. I thought that everybody was from somewhere else.

Dom Romeo: Success = recognising a break + making the most of it. Discus.

SIMON PALOMARES: We had a good run. As The Tibaldi Brothers, George and I did one try-out. Someone said, ‘can you do an hour and a half?’ and we went, ‘yeah,  sure.’ We bullshitted our way through it – put a bunch of sketches together. And then someone said, ‘we’re doing this thing called a Melbourne Comedy Festival; can you put something together?’ and we went, ‘sure,’ so we did Wogs Out Of Work. And from that someone said, ‘have you ever written a sitcom?’ and I said, ‘no, but I’m sure we can,’ and we made Acropolis Now.

Dom Romeo: What’s the best gig you’ve ever had?

SIMON PALOMARES: Two years ago I produced three shows in a row and my brain was mush so I took time off and worked as a bike courier around Melbourne. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. I lost about 12 kilos. I could eat anything. Can you imagine doing a job where you could stop for a doughnut or hot chips whenever you feel like it?

Dom Romeo: More along the lines of great showbiz moments…

SIMON PALOMARES: Very few of my life’s ‘greatest moments’ happened on stage or in front of a camera, although working with John Clarke on The Games was a moment like that. Improvising with Peter Cook in the first Melbourne Comedy Festival was like that. You know you’re alive when Peter Cook starts throwing stuff at you and you’ve got to throw it back! And of course, going back to Spain and making a Spanish audience laugh has to be up there…

Dom Romeo: What was it like, returning to Spain?

SIMON PALOMARES: Interesting. Trains and bull fights are the only things that run on time.

Dom Romeo: Do you have any regrets?

SIMON PALOMARES: I had to turn down a role in Underbelly. The thing with creating your own work is that they ring and say, ‘we’re filming between April and August, will you be available for an episode?’ and you go, ”well, no, I’m not going to be sitting around for four months waiting for you to call me for an episode. I’ll be working.”

Dom Romeo: Why do so many locally produced comedy films seem to fail?

SIMON PALOMARES: So much of our film industry is funded by government committee, and the guy sitting at that end of the table wants one thing while the guy over here wants something else. To get the project through, you have to find the medium that pleases the most people, and films made to please the average end up being just that: average.

Dom Romeo: From ‘wog’ comedy to family comedy; from having parents from a different culture to being one in a different time. Explain the transition.

SIMON PALOMARES: Sometimes walking into my house is like walking into the cantina in Star Wars: everyone is a different, weird animal. My parents came to Australia from villages in Spain and my kids spend three hours a day talking to friends on MSN – they’re just worlds apart. And in one lifetime, I’ve gone from hiding behind the shed so that my parents don’t catch me smoking, to hiding behind the shed so that my kids don’t catch me smoking.

Five other ‘wog’ comics you should know about:

1. Nino Culotta
Author of seminal text They’re A Weird Mob, the first stab at Aussie wog comedy. The filmed version is one of the few truly successful Aussie comedy films. Only, it doesn’t really count, because ‘Nino Culotta’ is in fact the pen-name of journalist John O’Grady

2. Peter Sellers
Yes, I know, he only pretended to be Indian… but, as fellow comic (and erstwhile ‘brain surgeon who mounts operas’) Jonathan Miller has noted, Sellers was the first who cracked the accent and the mannerisms  – after which, no anglo comic ‘did an Indian accent’; they did their impression of Peter Sellers doing an Indian accent.

3. Russell Peters
Canadian Indian who travels the world selling out massive theatres by word-of-mouth. Appeals to virtually every ethnic minority in each English-speaking nation by dint of having perfected an impression of every non-English nationality’s English accent. And being very, very funny, of course.

4. Goodness Gracious Me
English sketch show featuring a cast of sub-continental Asians (Indians) including Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Anil Gupta. If  the title is familiar, it’s because they adapted it, ironically, from a novelty disc that was an early 60s hit for Peter Sellers (in character) and Sophia Loren. Of course, the cast of Goodness Gracious Me made more of a mark in Australia with their subsequent show, The Kumars At Number 42, briefly adapted less successfully in Australia as Greeks On The Roof.

5. Shappi Khorsandi
Gorgeous and funny English comic of Iranian extraction who brought her show Asylum Speaker to the 2007 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, absent from subsequent festivals – despite success and popularity – owing to parenthood.

Wanna hear more?

Here’s a broadcast with me as Rod Quinn’s guest on ABC Local Radio – a conversation about differently cultured comedy, broadcast Australia-wide, November 15 2009.

Tara Moss – on two wheels,
in Two Wheels


My most recent interview with Tara Moss appears in the current ‘special’ issue (Dec. ’09) of Two Wheels as the ‘What I’ve Learned’ regular feature. We discuss, amongst other things, lead character Makedde Vanderwall’s choice of ‘ride’ and the extent of ‘research' Tara does (being set on fire, being suffocated to unconsciousness…) in the name of her writing. It’s gonna make you want to head out and buy a copy of Tara’s newest best-seller, Siren.


I have older interviews with Tara.

How to make a cold caller laugh nervously and hang up


Phone rings. I answer it.

Me: Hello?

Long pause indicating cold caller from call centre. When the voice begins, the speaker fails to identify itself, and has an obvious Australian accent; had it been from an overseas call centre, a lilting, foreign accented voice would have insisted it belonged to someone with the plainest white-bread name imaginable – to someone with barely any imagination.

Cold Caller: Good morning, Sir. Do you read [name of daily newspaper] or [name of Sunday newspaper].

Me: Yes, in cafés, I do. Or if I find them discarded on trains.

Cold Caller: You don’t buy them?

Me: No. I’m a freelance writer; until recently I was doing quite a lot of work for [company affiliated with daily newspaper and Sunday newspaper], but then [proprietor of both papers and affiliated company] realised he was down to his last few trillion dollars, and I’m not as gainfully employed as I used to be. Tell you what though, when he’s ready to start giving me some of his money again, I’ll happily give him some of mine.

Nervous laughter from Cold Caller who may well be identifying with my predicament sooner rather than later if more subscribers aren’t signed up pronto.

Cold Caller: What if I were to offer to have them home delivered at half price?

Me: I really need to be earning more money before I start spending more of it. Tell you what, get your editor to buy some of my stories – you can take the cost of subscription out of my next pay cheque!

Nervous laughter from Cold Caller. Click of call being terminated. At least they’ll have something to say back to whomever cold calls them when they’re at home in my predicament… probably sooner than they realise.