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White bread Australia

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Australia Day
on Thursday 26 April 2012
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Australia Day. Photo by Jeff Busby

Jonathan Biggins’s Australia Day is Aussie-Aussie-Aussie as a CWA lamington and as comforting as wrapping a sausage (animal or soy) in white bread and adding tomato sauce.

The MTC pack us into the 4WD for a day trip to generic-regional Coriole where the Australia Day Committee are planning the annual celebration on the oval. There’s Brian (Geoff Morrell), Mayor and running for Liberal pre-selection;  Robert (David James),  Brian’s best mate and next in line to be Mayor; Wally (Peter Kowitz), a local builder who calls a spade a spade; Marie (Valerie Bader), the CWA rep who loves her grandkids; Helen (Alison Whyte), a sea changer, Birkenstock-wearing, single mum Greens council member; and Chester (Kaeng Chan), an ABV (Australian born Vietnamese) primary school teacher.

These are folk who say “get a wiggle on” and “what’s eating you”. We know them so well (even if we haven’t met anyone like them) and the planning meetings are so real that they send shivers of recognition through anyone who has sat on a committee or spent hours dealing with the public liability nightmare that the sausage sizzle has become.

Written after his experience as a Australia Day Ambassador (unrecognised by everyone in the towns he visited), Biggins’s capture of small town (or any) politics is spot on. His characters are created from love and a begrudging respect, and there can’t be anyone who doesn’t recognise this type of event with its cricket match, karate display, vintage Datsun 180bs and backed up porta loos.  The result is the kind of genuine and hearty laughs that come from seeing our world and knowing that we’re part of it

This world never disappoints our expectations – or question them. The Greens chick is a 40ish chick who insists on a welcome to country, thinks a snag sizzle is culturally offensive, rides a bike and questions the Indigenous voice in the the local dance school’s Godwana display. Pudgy, bearded Wally is a wally who doesn’t care that he’s called a racist and a misogynist by the Greens bitch. And there’s jokes about a middle-age, small-business owning man not being able to get Liberal pre-selection; jokes about Chester being Chinese (Vietnam is like China’s New Zealand he explains) and Marie gets in a tizz when she thinks she might get to make a cake for former First Lady Jeanette Howard.

It may challenge a dude like Wally who think an Asian face in a country town is an unusual site, but that’s not the people who see Australia Day in a posh city theatre.

Don’t think that I didn’t enjoy it. I did. It’s harmless entertainment and will rightly be one of the most popular shows this season, but like a lamington, it’s mostly white and light and forgotten a few minutes later rather than savoured, remembered and thought about for days after.

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Anne-Marie has written 750 articles on AussieTheatre
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