Just imagine. It is sundown on the Murrumbidgee. The great scarlet orb slowly sinks behind Broken Hill like a gambler’s hopes. A giant lizard lopes awkwardly in slow motion across a dirt road. Somewhere in the still shimmering distance a dingo clears its throat in preparation for the nightly oratorio. Sheila Dundee leans against the battered cab of her moke, tilts a greasy bush hat back from her brow, and wipes a dusty arm across her leathery sweat-beaded face.
“Cripes,” she says in a voice that crackles strangely from somewhere behind sand-blasted tonsils. “I could murder a flaming tinnie.” She’s been sheep shearing since dawn. Scores of ovine protesters have been trapped, one after the other, squirming and bleating, between her callused knees, struggling to freedom only after she expertly renders them bald. Now even her hardened, wiry frame is exhausted. She clambers behind the wheel, clears her throat with a rattling sound, ejects a gobbet of spit in the direction of the still loping lizard, and sets off homeward, rattling down the road with a single thought in her mind.
Back home, her husband Bruce is preparing supper. He has folded the lace napkins into cones and set them beside the gleaming silver. Crystal goblets twinkle in candlelight. The centrepiece is a single red rose. He dusts some specks of flour from his gingham apron. It’s time to kick off his slippers – the pink ones with the pom poms on – and step into his Yves St Laurent thongs. Suddenly, the door flies open and in strides the sheepshearer. “Jeez sport,” she wheezes, slumping into the puffed cushions of a cut moquette settee and fanning her glistening face with a fetid hat. “I’m as dry as a Pommie’s towel. As parched as a Koala’s khyber. As arid as a barren bandicoot.”
“Oh dear, another hard day at the sheep station, you poor darling,” says Bruce, bending and kissing her on a crab-apple cheek. “I’ve just the thing my sweetie, a home-made mango cordial with a hint of cinnamon.”
But what’s this? He steps back with a start and a little whimper as the temples of his loved one flush deep purple, her eyes bulge, and, momentarily rendered speechless by uncomprehending rage, she mouths soundless imprecations. When at last she speaks, it is in a shrill querulous squeak. “Mango? Whaddya mean, mango? I’ve spent all day, flaming ninety in the shade, inspecting more ewe’s backsides than a poncy pervert from Perth, and you come up with mango? I don’t give a XXXX for your soft fruit mush. I want an ice cold tube and I want it quicker than a possum pulls his plonker!”
Bruce runs from the room and leans sobbing against the fridge door. What hope is there for him, a new man, in a world of unreconstructed foul-mouthed chauvinism?
It’s a good question, and one best put to the makers of Castlemaine XXXX, who are to launch a kinder, gentler Australian image with the single biggest spend for one night in the history of television. On this coming Saturday, Carlsberg-Tetley is all set to blow 1m on three commercials. Out go the coarse, red-blooded diggers who relish a bonzer night at the rubbidy and wouldn’t give a XXXX for anything else. In comes new man. He has a girl-friend (proof that, though no digger he, no woofter is he either), a power shower (proof that he is hygienically and technologically minded), and he appears under the baffling slogan “Fresh as XXXX”.
Who would have dreamt that the corrosive drip of political correctness would eat away at that most hardened and durable of all images – the average Australian Joe Blow, a man whose plain speaking thoughts are expressed in colourful Strine. As Sir Les Paterson confirms, such a man would never talk like a limp-wristed la-dee-dah Mayfair shirtlifter. “Let’s face it,” explains Sir Les, “you can’t demolish two dozen Sydney Rock oysters, a rare T-bone and six chilled tubes with a plum in your flaming mouth!”
Now we are told, and by the very makers of chilled tubes if you please, the average Australian male is a cool sophisticate who occasionally takes a XXXX for purposes of freshness, rather than to get banjaxed as a necessary prelude to the old rainbow yawn.
But, as cricket followers will tell you, it’s all a front. When the Australians visit this country next year, their team will turn out in hotel lobbies and at civic receptions immaculate and fresh-faced in flannels and blazers, every inch the image of clean cut youth. But on the field of play, eyeball to eyeball with the Poms, the Aussies will give free rein to tradition, and once more the great cricket grounds of Albion will echo to epithets coined in a far off land of platypus and kangaroo.
When, from Edgbaston to the Oval, via Trent Bridge, Headingly, and Edgbaston, the air is etched blue with XXXXs, none will betoken sweetness or freshness. And that is as it should be. In a restless, shifting world at the nervous brink of a new millennium, there is comfort in ancient verities. Today’s Australian may look like a new man, but it’s only skin deep. At heart he’s still a cobber. And don’t let any XXXX tell you otherwise.