It never ceases to amaze me when visiting Australia how truly bad their TV is. Some of this is due to their regulations that require a certain quota of their television broadcasting to be home-grown. This is an admirable ambition, but ambitious it is for a country of only about 20 million people. The Australian content is therefore often reduced to really tacky game or variety shows rather than the good movies and quality dramas they are capable of producing. And I’m not referring to Australia’s soap operas, exported throughout the world, such as Neighbours (which we watched briefly about 25 years ago when Kylie Minogue was just a teenager) or Home and Away.
So, when I needed an emotional break from reading on my holiday (the traumatic and surprising conclusion of my novel, mirrored in a strange way by my own life one morning), I cruised the TV channels. That day was Australia’s Federal Election, but I had read the Weekend edition of The Australian newspaper that morning, and beyond that I really don’t care enough or know enough about the details of their politics to stay glued to their all news channel all day. And the rest of their TV was pretty scary. But then I discovered a channel with old shows. The shows of my childhood.
Once again, Hogan foiled Colonel Klink. Hogan’s Heroes used to be on TV when I was growing up on a Friday night. Friday nights are always good – the beginning of the weekend, and they’re usually fish and chip night. In those days we’d go to music or dancing lessons in town after school on a Friday, and buy fish and chips for dinner just before coming home. We’d also buy ice-cream cones at the last minute, carefully placed in a waxed brown paper bag, and thrust hastily into the freezer as soon as we got hom, so they wouldn’t melt away completely. The combination of fish and chips for dinner, followed by ice-creams in front of Hogan’s Heroes, meant a wonderful start to the weekend. Personally, I always rather liked Le Beau. Despite the fact that he was very short, he was smart, and debonair. Hogan was a little too smug. And Sargeant Scholtz was so lovable.
Hogan’s Heroes was followed by Green Acres. This was also a favourite, but perhaps always a little bit too close to home when I was young. I really didn’t want to be considered the country bumpkin, the subject of ridicule, even though I could always relate to the incompetence of the city slicker in the country. When our cousins from town used to visit, we always laughed at their squeamishness during the lambing season, at the blood covering the lambs as they were born, at their concern that Dad, with his arm inside the sheep helping her deliver (when there were obvious signs of trouble) might not successfully get that lamb out safely, and at their gullibility when we would suggest they take a blade of grass and hold it on the electric fence.
The other evening my husband saw someone he thought resembled Lorne Green, and as we laughed that the map was catching on fire, we reminisced over Bonanza, High Chaparral, and The Virginian.
New Zealand – even smaller than Australia – was too small to have its own TV industry, and we rarely saw ourselves on television in the 60s or 70s. So we grew up watching British or American programmes. (The Aussie programmes came in the 80s). They intrigued us, and perhaps engendered in us a desire to travel, to discover these worlds so different to our own. And so we do, and we love it. Provided of course that we don’t have to watch another Australian game show.