Sunday, January 04, 2009

Remembering Barry

Back in the olden days when Woody Allen was funny and Michael Leunig was whimsical rather than twee, I used to read a suburban newspaper called "The Melbourne Times". Of course that was when I lived in Australia, but for a while there when I used to go home regularly, I'd flick through my once-local rag.

Ad from the "Melbourne Times"
circa 1995
Here's something I tore out of it on one such visit. So Australian. Would an American bar encourage men to patronise it by giving free drinks to their buddies?

One of my favourite Melbourne Times' columnists was Barry Dickens, a working class lad, or so he seemed to fancy himself, though he was no lad, even back then. His columns would ramble on. What were they about? I cannot remember. Seinfeld pre-Seinfeld was our Barry; writing about nothing.

He was invariably accused by mainstream critics of spouting verbal diarrhea, but his writings, for me at least turned out to be an acquired taste that once aquired was addictive. I do remember one of his articles, about his failure to get a government grant for his writings. And I recall that Barry's "mates" featured frequently in his stories. Or should I say, his "yarns", as Barry had, has, the the gift of the gab - that Australian bush talent for telling a good story, or yarn.

Barry was born in the working class suburb of Reservoir; he could even pronounce it correctly. Real Reservoirians say "Reserve-were" with the final syllable rhyming with "her". I suspect that Real Reservoirians don't eat quiche either.

In the 1980s, Barry used to hang out on Friday nights at Stewart's Hotel, Carlton - a place which once aspired to be the Melbourne equivalent of Sydney's Royal George of twenty years before, but which has long since changed into an Irish pub with an interior that looks like it was commissioned by the Grollo Brothers. No longer do the likes of Jack Hibberd drink there and Carlton identities such as Dinny O'Hearn have long since departed.

I'd forgotten all about Barry, until I read a review of his in the Melbourne Age yesterday. Great moments in shock therapy (January 3, 2009) is a review of Baz Luhrmann's latest film, "Australia".
"Though all criticisms of this movie have been acidic, I have never laughed so much in all my life. As soon as it came on I was in hysterics. It was more preposterous than death. Cheaper than life and funny into the bargain. I punched the armrest at one stage with gratitude when Gulpilil came into it."
And I think that Barry was indeed shocked. Shocked into uncharacteristic succinctness.
"Australia is our stupidity made vaudeville and our history slapstick."
I'm reminded of the Marx Brothers, "Duck Soup", or rather, the scene in Woody Allen's "Hannah and her Sisters" where feeling depressed about the meaning of death, Woody goes into a cinema and is revived by the madcap Marx Brothers on celluloid, playing the "Duck Soup" orchestra scene.

Yes humour can restore our very soul at the times when it most needs restoring. " We need to laugh a lot these days just to handle the grief of living", writes Barry.

Let us hope that this New Year, 2009, ends in a more optimistically than it has started. And that the spirit of Grouch, Harpo and Chico, live on.

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