Bush Bananas: How
I Ended Up Writing Comedy for an Australian Aboriginal Man Who Had to Wear Fake
Boobs to Get His Point Across
“Eeeeh Rub, that doesn’t sound too great, mate!” said the
Scotsman as he eased off the accelerator.
No, it sure as hell doesn’t! Pull over.
Steam was coming from the engine now.
We hopped outside and popped the hood. Not good. The
cylinders had finally crapped out of the ridiculous car I had purchased in
Darwin for about $600.
In 2001, Australia was a popular destination for
backpackers and I had been there for about three months. As a backpacker, I
found Darwin to be laid-back and welcoming. The city was a melting pot of
different cultures, and I had such a good time in this party town that I hadn’t
bothered to explore anywhere else in Australia.
Looking back on my decision to drive a beat-up, second-hand
car from Darwin to Broome, I can’t help but think it wasn’t the greatest of
ideas. The distance between the two cities is roughly 1,860 kilometres (about
1,155 miles), which meant I was in for a long and challenging journey through
the rugged, remote Australian Outback.
Our car was an early eighties 4.1 litre Ford Falcon station
wagon. It was gold-coloured beast with lots of rust and a history of
questionable maintenance. I had paid for it using the tips I earned working at
a Portuguese-Sicilian restaurant. The car was adorned with images of Jennifer
Lopez on the left door, Kylie Minogue in skimpy swimwear on the right door, and
Jennifer Aniston on the back. This resulted in lots of waves and whistles from
admirers whenever me and my traveling companions stopped for gas or to set up
The only way to access the interior of the beast was
through the boot, as we had to climb over the piles of bags, beer, and
backpacks that filled the cramped space. In a way, this made the car somewhat
Throughout the journey, the car experienced frequent
breakdowns, almost every time we turned the engine off. However, our backpacker
ingenuity saved us time and time again. We used graphite pencils to fix the
distributor cap and changed the fan belt and oil every other day. My Scottish
friend became skilled at crafting water bongs out of juice cartons and rubber
hoses, which made the entire trip feel like a warm, hazy blur.
Although I never drove under the influence, the monotony of
the long, straight road leading south from Darwin had a similar effect on me.
There were no left or right turns, and we occasionally played bush cricket with
oncoming traffic. In retrospect, relying on this beat-up beast for such a long
journey wasn’t the cleverest of ideas. The constant breakdowns and maintenance
demands only added to the challenges we faced, but we made the most of it and
embraced the adventure.
“Look where we are, man!”
Fitzroy Crossing was six hundred kilometres that way, Halls
Creek was about the same that way, and there’s nothing but desert in between.
In fact, if it weren’t for this bare stretch of raggedy bitumen, we would be in
the middle of the desert.
There were no cars coming.
And it was hot.
The kind of hot that can kill you.
“What are we gonna do?”
“I guess we’ll just have to flag the next car that comes
and hope they have enough room to give us all a lift somewhere – maybe to a bus
“I don’t have enough bloody money for a bus!” yelled the
Dutchman – his stoner’s cool well melted by the seriousness of our situation.
Then we saw the road train approaching in the distance.
I knew it would take about a mile for it to come to a
complete stop, and I was well aware that they were forbidden to stop and pick
up hitchhikers. But the trucker who spotted me and my backpacking friends must
have been one of those salt-of-the-earth Darwinian types who couldn’t bear to
see a fellow bloke stranded in the unforgiving Outback.
As the massive vehicle slowed down, the dust kicked up in
its wake, and I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of gratitude and awe. The
trucker defied the rules and pulled over, allowing me to hop aboard for the
journey to the nearest town – Broome.
When I say nearest…. It would take us 24 hours to get
Little did I know I would end up staying there for almost 2
BROOME: A short history lesson….
Sixty millennia past, humanity’s first footsteps imprinted
upon Australia’s soil, likely near the Broome area of North Western Kimberley
area. Some believe the multitude of song lines beginning at Minyirr (the Yawuru
name for Gantheaume Point) attest to this very reason.
As eons unfurled, Aboriginal kinship flourished,
transcending Western perceptions of family. Children, cradled by this intricate
web of relations, knew they would never be forsaken, even in the face of
parental loss. Family was the axis on which their world turned.
Thus, it remained an Aboriginal obligation to nourish and
shelter wayfarers, a practice still honoured today – one I was about to
experience first-hand. Captain Cook, too, was embraced by Australian
Aboriginal hospitality in 1770.
It was the cattle industry that lured the Whitefella to
Broome. European settlers, such as the MacDonalds and the Duracks, arrived in
the Kimberley circa 1885, establishing cattle stations after years of cattle
droving from the east. As their encroachment continued, the exploitation of
Aboriginal labour became an inevitability, alongside the expropriation of their
Brutality and enslavement followed suit.
Strange beasts now roamed Aboriginal lands – horses,
camels, bovines. Bizarre creatures, laying waste to the terrain in their wake.
Yet, the Aboriginal people recognized the value of these foreign animals,
accepting their presence as a new reality.
As more pink-skinned people appeared, the black people and
their land were torn asunder. Thus, the Aboriginal people evolved into
Their understanding and reverence for the new creatures,
coupled with their intimate knowledge of the land, made them unparalleled
cowboys in the west, sought after by pastoralists far and wide. Yet, they
weren’t quite employed – their status as non-persons prevented them from owning
bank accounts, their earnings held in “good keeping” by station bosses.
During the wet season, Aboriginal workers were granted
reprieve, as their services were unneeded. This time was devoted to the pursuit
of sacred law business, maintaining their ancient culture. Their survival hinged
on these moments, allowing for gatherings and corroborees to endure.
In many ways, the Aboriginal involvement in the cattle
industry birthed a harmonious post-contact way of life, symbiotic with that of
the pastoralist. This system allowed for the preservation of traditional
skills, the education of their young, and the continuation of the law through
ceremonial and social events.
As the Second World War raged on, Aboriginal stock workers
were conscripted into Home Defence. Though not thrust into combat, their vital
role in the cattle industry bolstered the war effort, supplying the ANZAC army
In 1967, after nearly two centuries of white occupation and
over half a century of Federation, the referendum addressing section 51
acknowledged Aboriginal people as full citizens of Australia. They were finally
counted in the national census and subject to Commonwealth laws. To many,
amending Sections 51 and 127 of the Federal Constitution validated their
existence as a race of people.
However, this recognition bore unforeseen consequences for
the saltwater cowboys, who were now legally entitled to wages akin to their
white counterparts. In response, black workers were ousted from the stations,
their homes and way of life ripped away. This displacement wreaked havoc upon
Aboriginal communities, pushing many into towns and the grasp of social welfare
dependency. Towns like Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Derby, and Broome
grappled with the influx of dispossessed individuals.
As idleness and despair festered, the saltwater cowboys
sought solace in alcohol, now legally available to them. This dependency
heralded the erosion of ancient law and culture and the disintegration of
Once boasting a proud, intricate social structure and a
profound connection to the land, the Aboriginal people found themselves reduced
to caricatures – a nation of inebriates and petrol-sniffers. Not satisfied with
pilfering their offspring and land, Australia had now purloined their very
souls. The saltwater cowboys faded into obscurity, rendered a non-people once
Broome became established as a port in the late nineteenth
century when the price of mother of pearl soared, and the town became one of
the major sources of this valuable material. This unique history led to Broome
evolving into a place quite unlike any other Australian town.
By the time the First World War broke out, there were over
three hundred pearling luggers operating in Roebuck Bay and its surrounding
waters. Despite facing some challenges after the war, Broome eventually
regained its vibrancy in the 1920s. The town was inhabited by a mix of races
and faces not found anywhere else, with each group forming its own social
class. At the top were the white people, followed by Asians, and finally, the
local Indigenous population.
While the white pearling masters kept their gene pool
separate, the other races intermarried and interbred, creating the unique
Broome “mishmash.” Malays, Japanese, and Manilamen took on the risky jobs of
diving on the ocean floors, while Aboriginal people worked on the decks and
performed other manual labour tasks. This melting pot of cultures and races
made Broome a truly distinctive place in Australia.
Broome developed its own language, which went beyond just slang
words. To be indoctrinated into speaking this language was the first step in
becoming part of the “real Broome.”
This was something I was going to have to learn quickly.
In 1989, the Broome Aboriginal Media Association was
formed, and in 1991, Radio Goolarri broadcast its first radio program from
local ABC studios. This new station provided much-needed airplay for musicians
like Jimmy Chi and gave the Indigenous community a voice on the airwaves. It
was a revolution.
Goolarri Media Enterprises was born in 1996, growing into a
multifaceted arts and media centre that provided a place for artists to meet,
collaborate, and access training and employment opportunities. The Mary G Show
in particular was the culmination of years of evolution, growth, and struggle,
and I was fortunate to be part of it for a few years.
Mark Bin Bakar, the son of a Catholic Indigenous mother and
a Malay Muslim father from Singapore, created the character Mary Geddardyu as a
representation of a Stolen Generations woman, inspired by his own mother’s
Mary G first appeared on Bin Bakar’s radio show at Radio
Goolarri in Broome in 1993, where she addressed important issues such as
domestic violence, sexual health, and reconciliation. The character quickly
gained popularity, particularly among Aboriginal women, as Mary G’s candid and
humorous approach to tackling difficult topics resonated with them.
Through Mary G, Bin Bakar provided a platform for open and
honest conversations about the challenges faced by Indigenous communities in
Australia. By using humour and a relatable character, he was able to connect
with audiences and promote greater understanding and empathy among listeners.
This approach helped to break down barriers and facilitated more inclusive
discussions about the issues faced by Aboriginal people in Australia.
I was sitting outside Fong’s bakery in Chinatown, which is
what Broome’s town center is called, scanning the local newspaper. The front
page of The Broome Advertiser featured a concerned man holding what looked like
a crude Molotov cocktail, with the headline: “Broome Kids Making Explosives
From Everyday Household Objects.” Hmm. Where the hell was I?
Broome was an odd place. The town centre was on the
outskirts of a dusty, sprawling housing estate, and Chinatown seemed to be
where most things happened. But it looked nothing like any Chinatown I’d ever
seen before, with tin shed buildings, old men lazing on verandas, and young
lads jumping over shopping trolleys on skateboards.
I knew a town like this wouldn’t have much demand for a
backpacking Irish television professional. Maybe I could become a pearl diver,
but that was a risky proposition considering my history with a collapsed lung.
It seemed increasingly likely that I’d have to book a flight to a city. But I
loved the outback experience and Broome’s incredible beach; I wasn’t ready to
leave just yet.
That’s when I noticed an advertisement for Goolarri Media
Enterprises. “Media” – I wondered what they did. The address was on Blackman
Street, on the other side of town. I grabbed a few copies of my CV and set off
on foot. It was a longer walk than I anticipated, filled with actual dog
attacks, wrong turns, and close calls with speeding vehicles.
When I finally reached Broome Aboriginal Media Association,
my heart sank. The place looked run-down, in the middle of a half-built
industrial area. I doubted they’d have any use for me, but after enduring the
journey, I decided to at least say hello. I walked inside and handed the young
female black receptionist my CV, making nervous small talk about the heat
I left feeling like it was a pointless endeavour, but later
that day, I received a call from someone named Peter Strain, a whitefella
working as a TV producer for Broome Aboriginal Media Association. He couldn’t
believe my timing, saying they needed me. Once he found out where in Broome I
was he jumped into a truck to meet me and meet some of his colleagues.
“So you write comedy?” Dot West asked, looking up from my
Dot West was an Aboriginal Australian playwright,
screenwriter, and director. Born in Derby, Western Australia, she is a
descendant of the Gooniyandi, Nyikina, and Walmajarri people. She is a
highly influential figure in the Australian media industry, particularly in
Indigenous media. I didn’t know this at the time of course. All I knew was that
she kind of scared me. Dot was giving me a look that could sour milk, like I
was a bad fart she couldn’t escape
“Yes,” I replied, trying to maintain a confident demeanour.
“And you’ve directed stuff too?” she continued, her eyes
scanning my work experience.
“Yes,” I confirmed, hoping my credentials would be enough
to pique their interest.
“And a musician?” she inquired, raising an eyebrow.
She continued to scrutinize my CV, and I could sense the
Kevin Fong, the CEO, chimed in, “And you have a showreel?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, grateful I had taken the time to bring
the tapes with me. “I have some samples of my work back home in Ireland.”
The room was silent for a moment as everyone exchanged
glances. It was clear they were trying to decide whether I was the right fit
for their project.
Then Mark Bin Bakar arrived.
Mark was a big man with a goatee, thick glasses, and a
shock of curly hair that makes him look like Penn from the American magic duo
Penn and Teller.
I admitted that a white Irish newcomer to Australia had no
business writing what I now understood would be the first Aboriginal comedy
show for a national Australian audience.
As I let go of the idea of being hired I relaxed and we
chatted about my adventures in Australia so far.
However somehow I must have said the right combination of
words as, Mark Bin Bakar gave me a peculiar look and said, “You know, the Irish
and Australian Aboriginal people are of the same kind.”
It became clear that Mark saw something in me that could
help bring his vision for an Aboriginal comedy show to life. Despite my initial
doubts about my qualifications for the job, Mark believed that my Irish
background and experience in comedy and television production could offer a
unique perspective and contribute to the success of the project.
So, with an open mind and a willingness to learn from my
new Aboriginal colleagues, I accepted the challenge. Together, we embarked on a
journey to create a ground-breaking comedy show that would not only entertain
but also bridge the gap between cultures and foster understanding and
appreciation for Aboriginal Australian stories and humour.
Mark Bin Bakar’s alter ego, Mary, was already a phenomenon
when I arrived on the scene. Mark was named Aboriginal Broadcaster of the Year
in 1998 and was a member of the Australia Council’s Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Arts Fund and the chairperson of the Kimberley Stolen
Goolarri was a rare entity—a corporation with a soul, a
black soul at that.
Just across a strip of dust, in another shed from our
production conferences, work was being done on recording an artist from the
remote community of Bidyadanga. Mervyn Mulardy was recording a rock album that
fused modern and traditional sensibilities, with songs in both English and
Storytelling and yarning came naturally to those who passed
through Goolarri’s corrugated walls. People were generous with their stories,
and Actor and local Aboriginal personality Baamba Albert filled my head with
knowledge, hoping to enrich the scripts I was now writing.
One story that gripped my imagination was that of
Jandamarra, a Bunuba Aboriginal man who lived in the Napier and Oscar ranges
during Broome’s early days. His story was a Blackfella Braveheart, a tale of
Hollywood proportions. After being banished from his own Bunuba society,
Jandamarra turned against his people by working as a tracker for the local
constabulary. He eventually had a spiritual awakening and became a great leader
of his people, defending his lands and people against police and white
pastoralists. His powers became legendary as he and his people eluded capture
while waging a guerrilla war against the invaders. His own people believed him
to be an earthly vessel for a powerful spirit that lived near Tunnel Creek. In
1897, Jandamarra was finally tracked down and killed, but only with the
assistance of another black tracker who also possessed magical powers.
Jandamarra’s story highlighted the extent to which black
blood had been spilled in the Kimberley area, challenging the traditional white
view of local history.Top of Form
Mark Bin Bakar, an Aboriginal man from Broome, grew up in a
diverse cultural environment, where a blend of English, Asian, and local
Aboriginal languages formed a local Kriol dialect. As a child, he learned
discipline from his father and humor from his mother Phyllis, who was part of
the Stolen Generation. Despite the challenges of growing up mixed-race in a
mixed-race community, he believed that racial differences were more tolerated
in Broome than in other parts of Australia.
In earlier years – In pursuit of his dream to become a rock
star, Mark moved to Perth, where he faced racial discrimination for the first
time. Disillusioned, he returned to the Kimberley region to reflect on his
life. It was then that he discovered the power of being in the place where he
Mark, along with other Kimberley musicians, founded
“Stompem Ground,” a highly-rated music festival celebrating Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander arts. The festival showcases contemporary and
traditional music, dance, art exhibitions, and ancestral storytelling.
Through his experiences, Mark Bin Bakar gained a deeper
appreciation for his Aboriginal roots and the importance of embracing one’s
cultural identity. As the inspiration for his alter ego, Mary, his mother
Phyllis remained an essential figure in his life, teaching him the value of
laughter and resilience in the face of adversity.
Mary G’s popularity grew beyond the radio show, eventually
leading to the creation of The Mary G Show on television which helped create.
The show further expanded the character’s reach and impact. Our TV show
continued to address critical social issues while entertaining and educating
audiences, solidifying Mary G’s role as an important figure in Indigenous
Australian media and culture.
Huh? Say again?
“Somebody’s been telling me something and I don’t know what
he been say!”
No, really? My ear was starting to tune in.
Huh? It’s English but it sounds like gobbledegook. The
language I was trying to learn to write the show reflected the people. A
gobbledegook of races; black, white, Malay, Japanese – mostly due to the
isolation of the area, its proximity to Asia and also the pearling industry on
which the town was founded.
Brand spanking new edit suites were bought and we, the
entire Goolarri organisation, and half the town were drafted into building,
painting, booking guests, acting in sketches, and other technical positions. It
was utter chaos! Camels, horses, hundreds of screaming kids, Chinese dragons,
Roadtrains, Crocodiles, all mixed in with guests like Aboriginal actor David
Njoombujarra, Aboriginal politicians and human rights activists Pat Dodson and
Peter Yu – names that had meant nothing to me a few months before, but whose
every word I now hung on as…Mary…
Yes, there was Mary. Now, Mark claims that he had never
worn women’s clothing before the night of the first Mary G shoot, but perhaps
his wife Tania might say otherwise. Who knows? Anyway – Mary. What adjectives
to describe the visual feast that was Mark Bin Bakar dressed up as Mary
Pretty? Dainty? Sophisticated? Mhhh! Maybe these words are
a little wide of the mark – no bad pun intended there.
Ugly? Monstrous? Awkward? Mhhh! That’s not exactly fair
either. Mary has her fair share of male admirers. Her onscreen boyfriend
Baamba, for one would get into fits of jealousy every time she had to interview
a particularly handsome male guest. Not helped that Mary is a total slut when
it comes to men. Inviting footballers to score a behind – her behind – asking
actors if it is hard… to act.
Crude, rude, but that was what Mary was about. Innuendo.
Slapstick – but while we were busy laughing – she slapped a little message into
the mix. Reconciliation, Native Title, Stolen Generation – all of the things
the white politicians didn’t want to talk about – here they were ready to go on
For Mary, the comedy was always just the spoonful of sugar
to help the medicine go down. Black people have a sense of humour too! We’re
people after all!
The next year we even got to make season 2 of The Mary G
Show. An unforgettable experience and a unique culture I am grateful for