The following essay is a discussion of what makes Queensland a unique state, as observed by an outsider, and using a recent Bundy rum TV advertisement. Here’s a link to the clip-
I took a sip.
“He’s trying to kill me,” I thought (politely) to myself.
I took another sip.
“Yep, he is.”
Late Brisbane afternoon with my wife’s extended family. Uncle Fred had poured me a homebrew beer. “It works out at eighty cents a bottle.”
Fred’s a businessman, and his millinery company sells hats to southerners for the Melbourne Cup Carnival. He also travels overseas. He’s been around.
“New York. Shanghai. London,” he scoffed as I stared at my muddy glass.
“Between the Gold Coast and Rockhampton, the Queensland coast’s the best place in the world. Why would you wanna live anywhere else?”
Raising my beer I thought, this bloke’s serious. I stifled a laugh and looked at him.
For Uncle Fred, Queenslander, this is no joking matter.
In the colourful history of Australian booze marketing, the iconic VB campaign is king. It features a gallant orchestral score, and John Meillon’s distinctive voice:
You can get it liftin’
You can get it shiftin’
You can get it working a plough
You can get it any old how
Matter of fact, I got it now.
Nodding to Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson, these poems continue to charm.
Meillon was vocally perfect. His recitations were not of the people, but to and for the people. Warm like a sunset and eager, he continued to promote the beer long after he’d downed his last lager; a ghostly advocate; the spirit of beer-drinking and of Australian life.
Yet VB ads often present a work ethic, the idea that clocking off after the day’s duties, a drink awaits: “For a hard-earned thirst, you need a big cold beer and the best cold beer is Vic.”
It’s what you deserve.
This contrasts with the Queensland dynamic. In this we’re often sold the notion that drudgery’s irrelevant. But, you’ve got to have the sense to live there.
Back when it called itself Castlemaine an advertisement in the “I can feel a XXXX comin’ on” series captured that thinking. Allan Border’s on a Great Keppell beach, and lying back in a deck chair, with a few tinnies while Jeff Thomson, Greg Ritchie and Ray Phillips are fishing. That work’s unwelcome in paradise comes through as James Blundell sings
I wish this lazy Sunday would never disappear
And I could hold back Monday for the rest of the year
As captain and saviour, AB’s exempt from dangling a line. Historically, it’s 1987 and he required all his energy to repeatedly resuscitate Australia’s miserable batting. It matters not that AB and Thommo are native Sydneysiders, Queensland is welcoming. Both had become as local as mangoes.
After a curious, homoerotic conga line across the sand, the batsman, bowler and wicketkeeper join the captain for a XXXX. Then like synchronised swimmers, the three fishing rods double over at once, dinner hooked. However, our sporting legends ignore them because, as we know, the beers won’t drink themselves.
The rest of Australia seemingly needs its collective thirst to be won, toil first, to legitimise the rEward of beer. But in Queensland relaxation is king. That’s the promise; life is better. You can forget work.
Things’ll take care of themselves.
What does the recent Bundy Rum campaign show us of the Sunshine State?
“Men Like Us Like Bundaberg Rum” delivers many ideas. It’s 2015, but we’re not talking to women.
The second concept is found in the title’s assertion, “Men Like Us.” Meaning, we the blokes from Up North. Not just geographically, but attitudinally. You’re either a Queenslander or should wish you were. The delicious dichotomy.
A beach. Some fellows (one wearing a fez) are cluelessly building a Viking boat. Its anchor’s blacksmithed from cheese graters and saucepans. Upon premature ejection it sinks; all head to the pub, and toast with swirling mugs of Bundy.
There’s rustic defiance in this. An outlook which (again) decries work. Over-achievement? Not us. Technology and modernity? How would these help up here in God’s own?
As a South Australian I envy the confidence, the sense of self-containment. The advertisement’s moderately mocking, but underpinned by a subtextual boast: This is Queensland, this is Queensland, this is Queensland.
Another link to the past is the ship’s Bundy Bear figurehead. Now pretty much absent (where has he gone?), the Bear was Bundy rum. He was everyone’s mate. He had a deep voice. He was the smartest bear (bloke?) in the room.
In one vignette Bundy Bear takes a pre-party bath, into which a housemate deviously drops a red sock. Modishly late, the now pink bear arrives at the gathering, and is ribbed by the boys.
A gorgeous girl admires that he’s, “brave enough to wear pink” and invites him over to meet her girlfriends. Bundy’s more attractive to women than his forlorn, human mates. He’s outplayed them; for he is Bundy, hear him roar!
The Bundy ad imagines us as sea explorers. Save for draft ineligibility, we’d surely have got up in a shoot-out with the Portuguese! But, here we are with only imported South Australian half-back flanker Dougie Mawson getting umpires’ votes. Rather than heroically sending boats out; we’re now infamous as a nation, for not letting boats in.
Borrowing from a pirate narrative tradition, we’re also invited us to see ourselves as buccaneers. Again, here’s a scorning of traditional work. Caribbean swashbucklers? No, less glamorously, we’re the world’s best video pirates.
My encounter with Bundy was brief. Advertiser drinks columnist Philip White once considered Nelson’s Blood, and I was idiotically inspired. It was first made with rum from the very barrel which stored Lord Nelson’s body following his death on the Victory, at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Modern interpretations of Nelson’s Blood exist, but White reckons the Adelaide variety’s a tankard of Coopers Best Extra Stout, drowned by an unholy baptism of Bundy. No, it doesn’t taste nearly as good as it sounds.
Like the witches around their bubbling cauldron in Macbeth, a friend and I made some at a party. He’s from Wales. The next morning he was driving six hundred kilometres, across the desert. It was truly, ferociously, colossally grog.
Itself a type of work song, the sea shanty’s used ironically, with geographical alertness rewarded by
We sail from here to Bogota.
It’s a fun line given the Columbian capital’s landlocked position up on an Andean plateau.
Having launched, the good ship Bundy sinks like a delightfully feeble entry in a 1970’s birdman rally.
Our sails are filled with wind and pride,
Explore the world – well at least we tried.
The pirates survive, and rush to the pub. Their shoddy shipbuilding reinforces the low status of work. Not landing in Bogota? The outside world’s cruel, and treacherous. Stay in Queensland, and get on the rum.
The shanty’s sustained last note reminds me of the opening page (I’ve got no further) of Finnegans Wake on which Joyce included a 101-letter word, evoking the fall of Adam and Eve
Our sailors are euphoric. But caution. A bar full of men full of hijinks full of Bundy? Fast forward a fierce hour. We’ve all seen how this film finishes. You’d usher gran out to the Cortina before she’d finished her shandy. Just relax. This is Queensland, nothing nasty’ll happen.
The slogan is Welcome to Bundaberg. So, it’s not only a city in regional Queensland, but an aspiration, a sultry nirvana, especially alluring to those of the cold wowserish south.
What can you expect upon arrival? A place in which you’d don a fez, and sink Viking ships. An idyll of cattle and cane, where the living is easy-going. A parish in which work is enthusiastically ignored.
The Lone Star and Sunshine states share much. Tellingly, for his 1940 recording, “Beautiful Queensland” country music pioneer Tex Morton adapted, “Beautiful Texas.” On airless Brisbane evenings Uncle Fred puts the needle on the vinyl, nods at the prudence of his life choices, and sings along
There are some folk who still like to travel
To see what they have over there
But when they go look, it’s not like the book
And they find there is none to compare
This may go some way to explaining the passion for Queensland in State of Origin football.
This essay was originally commissioned for Long Bombs To Snake, the magazine of the Footy Almanac community. It is 68 pages of quality feature-length writing on numerous sports by twelve of the talented Footy Almanac contributors. My thanks to John Harms for the opportunity. Long Bombs To Snake is available for purchase here-