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4-Hour Show Paints Colorful, Humorous Mosaic of Life Down Under : Australia Marks 200th Anniversary With TV Pageant

January 02, 1988|United Press International

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia celebrated its 200th birthday Friday with a globe-hopping, four-hour televised extravaganza that took good-natured jabs at Aussie life but was mindful of the aborigines' call for a return of their dispossessed homeland.

The satellite broadcast, dubbed "Australia Live--the Celebration of a Nation," was beamed to millions of people in more than a dozen countries, including the United States, China, the Soviet Union, Britain, Europe and Hong Kong.

With live segments on New Year's Day from more than 70 locations around Australia, plus spots from outer space, the United States and Britain, the broadcast was hailed as one of the most ambitious television events in history and went off with barely a hitch.

Linked With Cosmonauts

The most dramatic moment came when producers succeeded after several attempts in linking up with two Soviet cosmonauts as they orbited Earth aboard the Mir space station.

Cmdr. Vladimir Titov, wearing a red-and-white space suit, said through an interpreter at the Soviet space center: "We looked at Australia in the previous orbit and it looks very beautiful from up here. We see Melbourne on the shore of the ocean and see the lights of the city very clearly."

The program painted a colorful and often humorous mosaic of life in Australia, celebrating the achievements of the country since the first fleet of convict ships from England arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788 to settle.

But the show did not attempt to hide the feelings of many of the nation's aborigines, who believe the bicentennial is a slap in the face because it celebrates the coming of whites to their homeland and the dispossession of their lands.

Movie on Aborigines

The program showed Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia where an aboriginal film production crew is making a movie about the slaughter of hundreds of aborigines by whites in the westward migration.

In another segment on the lawns outside Parliament in Canberra, a group of chanting aboriginal supporters protested "200 years of genocide." Aborigines make up about 1% of the nation's 16 million population.

Much of the show featured Australia's infectious brand of wry, self-effacing humor. Comedian-actor Paul Hogan, star of "Crocodile Dundee," opened the show by saying, "How the devil are you," and cautioning Australians not to take the bicentennial too seriously.

Gibe at America's Cup

"Welcome to life styles of the poor and nameless," Hogan said. "In the next few months we're going to get so sick of the bicentennial it will be like the America's Cup. We'll be glad to give it up."

Australia won the America's Cup from the United States in 1983--the first time a U.S. yacht had lost the cup after successfully defending it since 1851. The U.S. vessel, the Stars and Stripes, regained the America's Cup in races held in Australia in 1987.

In Darwin Harbor in the country's tropical north, the program showed wildlife officer Brian Wash roping a stubborn 6-foot saltwater crocodile from a boat. Wash was busy tying up the crocodile's snapping snout and had little time to discuss the animal.

Remoteness of Outback

To show the remoteness of the vast outback, the program reported on dusty outposts where the population is only five, and explored the Indian Pacific train across trackless Nulaboor Plain in Western Australia.

Hogan summed up what makes an Australian tick.

"As an entire nation we don't take ourselves very seriously," he said. "We're happy-go-lucky, dry and sardonic. It's the thing of not taking anything too seriously."

"It's a nation of punters (gamblers) and partygoers," the comedian said. "The priority has always been towards the weekend."

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