By Anna Bowden
In his TV series Brilliant Creatures Howard Jacobson links four “exiled” Australians who arrived in the UK in the 60s: writer Clive James, feminist Germaine Greer; performer Barry Humphries; and art critic Robert Hughes. And, he says, without them England wouldn’t have been the same.
Jacobson shares an interesting relationship with them; during this time he traded places, travelling to Australia – from their sleepy backwater to his brave new world. “They all justified leaving home by attacking Australia, but it was not the cultural desert they described.” His views of Australia are not resolute, as with any ex-pat on new shores. But his observations and links from the famous four, shape a complex picture of what it is to leave home, and more so, what it is to choose to stay in faraway lands: “The other side of the exhilaration of leaving home is the longing you have to go back there.”
Having spent hours interviewing each of the Australian four, Jacobson offers a warm view of the remarkable contribution they made to Britain, paving the way for future generations, and introducing the world to Australian-ness. While not connected to each other personally, the four offer special similarities in their love of literature, and performance that shaped their individual successes. A scale of cultural nourishment that may never be seen again.
Jacobson was joined by poet and academic Jaya Sivage, and The Australian managing editor Helen Trinca, who together explored the new generation and the opportunities for similar cultural influence. Sivage talked about the fragmentation and clamour of media and the difficulty in cutting through the noise of today. While Australians comedian/composer Tim Minchin and comedian/actress Rebel Wilson were mentioned as having strong voices, we probably won’t identify their impact without the benefit of another 50 years hindsight, and the eloquent Howard Jacobson to wrap it all up in a lovely documentary to present it to us.
Anna Bowden is a New Zealander living in London. Follow Anna on Twitter and Instagram @annabowden.