Walkabout - New Tourism Australia Campaign

Posted Thursday October 9, 2008 by John Gunders in |

Tourism Australia has just released its latest campaign, which includes two short, film-like stories directed by Baz Luhrmann. You can see them here.

I suspect that the ads will be controversial: not least for the depiction of the indigenous child as some sort of mystic, shaman figure. I must say though, I quite like the ads: they are different, and quite arresting, and any potential controversy should only expand the reach of the commercials.

My main reason for liking it however, is that it is far removed from the appalling “Where the Bloody Hell are You?” campaign of 2006. While much of the criticism of that ad focussed on the language, my objection was the way in which it set up the country as some sort of undeveloped rural paradise, that owed more to a 1950s and 1960s cultural-cringe worldview than even Paul Hogan’s “Throw Another Shrimp on the Barbie” campaign in the 1980s.

What follows is from the introduction to the tourism chapter of my thesis, where I position discourses of nature in relation to the construction of authenticity in travel writing.

One of the most significant things about the “Where the Bloody Hell are You?” advertisement is its retreat from the cosmopolitan imagery of some of the earlier campaigns, and the return to clichéd images of red-dust plains, corroborees, and kangaroos on the golf-course. The 60 second version of the television commercial comprised 11 vignettes, each with line addressing the viewer:

We’ve poured you a beer;
And we’ve had the camels shampooed.
We’ve saved you a spot on the beach;
And we’ve got the sharks out of the pool.
We got the ’roos off the green;
And Bill’s on his way down to open the front gate.
Your taxi’s waiting;
And dinner’s about to be served.
We’ve turned on the lights;
And we’ve been rehearsing for 40,000 years.
So, where the bloody hell are you?

The final vignette is the campaign’s tagline, and is voiced by the only recognisable actor in the commercial, swimwear model Lara Bingle. Of the 11 vignettes, two code as “rural” (a country pub and a golf course with kangaroos in the background), three code as “bush” (all shots of red dust desert, including a staged corroboree and a stereotypical shot of Uluru), four code as “beach” or “coastal” (a camel trek, two pristine tropical beaches, and a sea pool ), and one codes as “reef”. The only urban image in the campaign is a shot of the Sydney Harbour New Year’s Eve fireworks, which shows very few people and obscures all signs of the city, aside from the bridge. The Australia that is constructed here is predominantly one of unpopulated, pristine nature, and the only examples of human community are overwhelmingly rural. What is most interesting about this campaign is the way in which it returns to the style of advertising from the period leading up to the classic 1984 Paul Hogan “Throw another shrimp on the barbie” campaign, which despite a lot of stereotypical outback and beach imagery, still managed to evoke a cosmopolitan gloss—largely through the character of Hogan himself. Writing in 2001 in the context of a series of successful and sophisticated campaigns, and following the cosmopolitan images of the Sydney Olympics, Jennifer Craik suggested that tourists “want more than the bush, the Opera House, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef”. It seems that those times have changed.

Many campaigns over the years have relied on what is seen as the country’s natural beauty, so there has been a predominance of imagery of deserted sandy beaches, Uluru, and red dust plains, sprinkled with judicious photos of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Tony Bennett has referred to this as the “rural gerrymander,” a “disproportionate concentration on the lives of pioneers, settlers, explorers, goldmining communities and rural industries in the nineteenth century at the expense of twentieth-century urban history”. Bennett points to the risk of Australia representing itself through:

tourist locations which seem to embody the virtues of the exotic, the eccentric and the authentic—in short, which seem to the antithesis of the metropolitan centres from which they travel.

Bennett goes on to describe this as the “Crocodile Dundee factor”, although the “Shrimp on the barbie” campaign—which preceded the 1986 film of that name by two years—was notable for its comparatively urban, cosmopolitan, and sophisticated imagery: despite the opening 10 seconds in which Hogan addresses the camera while standing on Uluru, the rest of the 60 second commercial is set predominantly in Sydney, or on a beach that is obviously coded as a resort, rather than a pristine wilderness coastline. Writing in 1993, David Rowe concurs, pointing out the irony of a modernising nation “marketing the timelessness of nature”, but does acknowledge the “difficulty of selling a city” to largely city-dwelling international visitors who are in search of difference and novelty.

I’m still not sure whether this new 2008 campaign addresses my concerns here, but at least there are no kangaroos on the bloody golf course!

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