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October 25, 1987|JEFF SPURRIER

SYDNEY, Australia — The water goes down the drain in an opposite direction, the Southern Cross sits low on the horizon and spring rather than fall is bursting out all over.

Yet even after four weeks in the antipodes, it's hard to avoid a sense of deja vu. "La Bamba" just opened countrywide, Bon Jovi recently completed a sweep through Australia that was compared to Beatlemania of the '60s (with hundreds of kids camping out at airports and outside hotels) and local TV is dominated by reruns of "L.A. Law," "Cheers," "Sesame Street," "Hill Street Blues" and "Gilligan's Island."

What's left? Pee-wee Herman, of course.

Although "Pee-wee's Great Adventure" was released on video more than 18 months ago by Warner Video, suddenly there's a realization that there may be more to the Pee-wee than meets the eye. Or so said the daily newspaper the Age in its Good Weekend Sunday magazine: "If the name means nothing to you now, just wait. All tips are that Pee-wee is the hottest new comedy creation since Eddie Murphy."

It seems a fair exchange. They give us Paul Hogan, we give them Pee-wee Herman.

But don't get the idea that the only thing happening on the Australian entertainment scene is Americana Recycled. Even as Bon Jovi was sending teens into frenzies, the Sydney-based band Midnight Oil was dominating the record charts with "Diesel and Dust," the fastest selling LP in CBS Australia's history, resulting in major features in Time, Rolling Stone and conservative daily newspapers.

And while a U.S. band may have taken advantage of the notoriety by hyping the new product, typically, Oil's bald-headed leader, Peter Garrett, devoted his time in the spotlight by speaking out against the Australia Card, an in-country identity card, proposed by the Hawke government to spot tax dodgers.

And Midnight Oil isn't the only Aussie band to cross over from pop to politics. INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence was named as the subject of a police inquiry after using "bad language" to describe Queensland's premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, in front of a concert crowd of 6,000. Hutchence's remarks were prompted by Sir Joh's decision to remove the "immoral" presence of condom vending machines in university dorms.

To add a little punch to his criticism, Hutchence concluded by tossing handfuls of condoms to the cheering crowd.

The Australian Card and condoms are petty cash compared to the hoopla surrounding the "worldwide exclusive interview" with Michael Jackson conducted by longtime music industry scene-maker Ian (Molly) Meldrum.

The interview was hyped for weeks by the Australian Broadcasting Co., because Meldrum was the only one of about 70 international scribes gathered in Tokyo for the Jackson tour who was granted a face-to-face, on-camera exchange. When the interview was finally broadcast on "60 Minutes" (an Australian version of the CBS program), Jackson answered fewer than 10 questions and had the "supposed" plastic surgery matter tossed to manager Frank Dileo.

Meldrum's kid gloves handling of Jackson was probably the kindest reception the singer can expect Down Under. Jackson will be doing only two shows in Sydney and his Perth concert was canceled following poor ticket sales. In addition, Australian Immigration and Quarantine officials have let it be known that neither his chimpanzee nor snake will be allowed into the country.

Although the interview may have been a big let-down for viewers, for "60 Minutes" the exclusive was a godsend, one that was needed considering the beating the top-rated show has taken in the ratings in recent months by the success of (would you believe it?) "ALF."

Speaking of success, while Paul Hogan was winding up his shooting of " 'Crocodile' Dundee II" in Kakadu National Park, word came down from a remote corner of northwest Queensland that the Federal Hotel was up for sale. Fans of Mick Dundee would recognize the rough-hewn outback pub as the Walkabout Creek Hotel from " 'Crocodile' Dundee." The asking price was in the $250,000 range, not a bad price considering the popularity of the pub over the last year.

About 80 bus companies bring tours through there every week and recently the first planeload of tourists flew in to a nearby dirt landing strip. The hordes of Dundee fans who are eager to quaff a stubbie of "Vitamin F" (Fosters Beer) and snatch up "Walkabout Creek Hotel" T-shirts (some 750 are sold every week) prompted owner Peter Ferris to sell.

"After it's sold, I just want to go fishing," he said.

Finally, some Down Under stats as reported in the Sunday Times newspaper:

The best-selling book in suburban Mudgee, New South Wales: "How to Hypnotize Chooks" (chickens).

The most popular film in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide: "La Bamba."

The five best-selling LPs: "Hit City '87" (compilation), "Man Of Colours" (Icehouse), "Diesel and Dust" (Midnight Oil), "La Bamba" (sound track) and "Bad" (Michael Jackson).

The winner of best new Australian film at the recent Australian Film Institute awards: "The Year My Voice Broke," produced by George ("Mad Max") Miller and directed by John Duigan.

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