The Vault: Best of Oz Kulture

9 January 2013 Patrick Witton

The Vault: Best of Oz Kulture

Ed#422: Sharks

Highlights from the popular, long-running ‘Orstralian Kulture’ series by columnist Patrick Witton and illustrator Michael Weldon. The pair have been misinforming Big Issue readers since 2008.

For most people, the idea of a culture and history lesson is tantamount to a tranquilliser administered to the buttock region: painful to begin with; then sleep inducing. This perception is unfortunate, for learning about a nation’s history and culture can be enriching and enlightening, especially if boring things such as facts are left out. It was with this belief that, back in January 2008, the first ‘Grating Moments in Australian History’ chapter was published in Ed#395 of The Big Issue. Considering there were errors made at the outset (such as confusing Captain Cook with Captain Phillip) it was a surprise to many to see that not only did the ‘Grating Moments’ series continue, but that it did so for more than four years, under the banners ‘Grating Moments in Australian History’, ‘Antipodean Mediocre Heroes’ and ‘Grate Lessons in Orstralian Kulture’.
Over this time, illustrator Michael Weldon and I spent long nights not poring over dusty books and interviewing crusty academics to make sure every facet of Australia’s culture was covered. From Percy Grainger to Chisel’s Khe Sanh; from the nation’s youth to its citizens’ taste for charred flesh...the ‘Grating Moments’ team educated Big Issue readers on what it means to be Australian. We did this for 127 instalments, and in a manner that readers hopefully found entertaining. If not there was always ‘Puzzles’ on page 45.


Ed#378: Percy Grainger

Everyone knows the little ditty ‘English Country Garden’. If you don’t, then you must be living under a pebble deep in a pond situated by a stand of lupins and tall hollyhocks in rural England, for it is one of the most famous early 20th-century arrangements for piano and orchestra ever written!
And, of course, it is an Australian we have to thank for the tune: yes, thank you, Mr George Percy ‘Aldridge’ Grainger. Where would drawn-out school music concerts be without your little ditty?
But the next time you sigh at the sound of the opening lines – How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden? – let your mind wander away from the daffodils, heartsease and phlox, and into the wonderful world of Percy. Imagine the Melbourne-born fop running through the streets and straight onto the stage, all sweaty and wearing clothes he hadn’t changed for days, then plonking the ivories with a stumpy index finger (injured in a bicycle-maintenance mishap).
Then, when the tune gets to How many insects come here and go, in an English country garden?, think about Percy, swanning about in a muu-muu that he designed himself out of a towel, or perhaps swaddling himself in a woollen outfit on a hot summer night. Another Percyism to consider, while you hum along to How many songbirds fly to and fro, in an English country garden? is that he was a vegetable-hating vegetarian who lived on nuts, wheat-cakes, oranges and ice-cream. Oh, and he was a sado-masochist who didn’t mind a spot of self-flagellation. Bet they didn’t include that in the Year 9 ensemble concert program.

Ed#403: Khe Sanh

Australian men and singing are not natural bedfellows. While in some countries men are wont to explode into song at every meal (yes, we’re looking at you, Switzerland), here in Australia men would rather shave a stranger’s bunions than belt out a tune. Perhaps it’s a macho thing; perhaps it’s the word ‘bedfellow’.
There is, however, an exception to the natural order: an Australian man is neither ‘Australian’ nor ‘man’ if he has never ‘sung’ the 1978 Cold Chisel classic, ‘Khe Sanh’. The song, written by Chisel’s Don Walker, describes a Vietnam veteran’s painful and ongoing readjustment to civilian life, yet touches on issues that any man battles with: fitting in, self-esteem, selling his soul and cigarettes to a black-market man…
Often the lyrics of ‘Khe Sanh’ are reinterpreted by a singer, with the line or the growing need for speed and novocaine often reworked as or the growing knees and sneezed another brain. That a singer may not know the words of ‘Khe Sanh’ is not a sign of unfamiliarity; it is more a sign that he fully understands how the tune hinges on themes of disassociation and disillusionment.
Or it might be that he doesn’t know the lyrics. Whatever. He can always cover himself by squawking like Jimmy Barnes. Anyone can do this: just imagine extracting your own teeth.

Ed#419: Meat

It has been with sadness and disappointment that we, the Keepers of Orstralian Kulture, have watched from the sidelines while so many venerated publications around the world resort to trivialising their work so as to keep readership alive. Despite so many other journals crumpling, we refuse to believe our days are numbered, and that contraptions such as the iPlate may see us off with a nonchalant screen-flick. We survived the dawn of the fax, and we’ll see out this current trend without lowering the tone of this magazine.
That said, it’s now time for Orstralian Kultlery! Yes, welcome to our new cooking corner, featuring lots of product placement (isn’t 998-Island Dressing delicious!), an ex-footballer in an apron, and a tankerload of hogget. This week on Orstralian Kultlery we are looking at that magnificent national dish: meat. Australians love the stuff, especially when cooked. And the best way to do this is to de-bug an outdoor hotplate with a mucky rag, make sure the gas bottle is emitting a suspicious hiss, and throw on a mix of anaemic sausages and burgers that resembles something extracted during surgery. After one hour of constant turning by our ever-jovial ex-footballer (whassup, Fev/Damo/Gustav?), it’s time for the prick test: would a prick eat it? If the answer is “no way”, then keep burning! But if he crunches down the charred morsel with enough sauce to make the event look like a crime scene, then you know you have successfully cooked meat the Orstralian Kultlery way.When it comes to meat, remember the Five Bs: Butcher it, Burn it, Bang on the sauce, Belch, Beauty! Just avoid the sixth B: Botulism.

Ed#420: Youth

Over the years, the mailbag at Orstralian Kulture has been weighed down with letters from young readers, wanting us to answer some rather tricky questions. Most of these queries are along the lines of: What is happening to my body? Can I have a smoke? Why is that tree sexy?
These correspondents are tackling that awkward time between infancy and adulthood, when hair starts growing, ambivalence kicks in and bus tickets double in price. Fortunately, the Youth Department at Orstralian Kulture, which comprises a hipster crochet enthusiast, an emo and a human, have all experienced the Coming of Age years. It is they who can answer such curly questions, and boast that Australia is ‘tops’ when it comes to choosing a country in which to carry out such adolescence. Want to wear your hat backwards? Go on, then! And good on you for being ‘sun smart’.
But being a youth in Australia wasn’t always so magnificent. Back in the days when people had picnics at Hanging Rock and rivers ‘ran’, youth had to get around in frocks, or shorts that were long. (How can that be? No wonder kids were confused.)
And, if youth wanted to communicate, they couldn’t just jump onto Frockbook. They had to ask permission of a moustachioed gentleman to use the family pen, write a letter and send it to their BFF by Clydesdale. Then, months later, a response might appear: Dear Fanny, LOL. Wishing you well, your friend Fanny.
Fortunately, we now live in much more progressive times, and being youthful in Australia is, like, you know, awesome.

By Patrick Witton
See more work by Michael Weldon here.