Rolf and tumble
The return of Rolf Harris to Australia should have been a triumph, but it all went horribly wrong, writes Colin Vickery
ROLF Harris must wish he’d kept his mouth shut? The 78-year-old is in Australia for what should be two months of remarkable tributes to a very successful and varied entertainment career.
The visit includes a series of concerts at the Sydney Opera House (his first Australian shows in 10 years), delivering the Annual Lecture at the National Portrait Gallery, guest starring in the 25th Annual Schools Spectacular and overseeing the release of new picture book Tie Me Kangaroo Down.
Instead, Harris has caused a wave of controversy with a series of ill-considered and inflammatory comments about Australia’s indigenous population.
Last week he let fly at Aborigines for the state of their communities.
‘‘You sit at home watching the television and you think to yourself, ‘Get up off your a---and clean up the streets your bloody self’,’’ was part of it.
Indigenous leader Lowitja O’Donoghue hit back saying ex-pat Harris had ‘‘a bloody cheek’’. The controversy spread to the UK where newspapers reported residents of Sydney’s Redfern saying ‘‘It’s a disgrace. He’s got to watch his lip’’ and ‘‘It’s the same old story — kick the Aborigine in the guts and blame him for everything.’’
Harris’s comments are particularly disappointing given his involvement in the State Schools Spectacular. The show pools talent from NSW schools — a 1000-voice choir, 1800 dancers, an 80-piece symphony orchestra, dance ensembles and 40 featured artists. The 3000-strong cast includes many indigenous performers.
Harris also attacked indigenous communities for the lack of discipline of Aboriginal children. Tell that to the talented indigenous performers in the Schools Spectacular.
An apology from a contrite Harris (‘‘I should have kept my mouth shut’’) prevented any official sanction from Spectacular organisers.
‘‘As Mr Harris has publicly apologised for his comments, the NSW Department of Education and Training has nothing to say on this matter,’’ a spokesperson said.
The Spectacular has been the launching pad for several Australian entertainment stars, including Australian Idol finalists Paulini and Roshani Priddis, Hi-5’s Nathan Foley, the Ten Tenors’ Shannon Brown, jazz diva Emma Pask and country music stars the McClymonts and Darren Coggan.
‘‘The Spectaculars are really hectic and amazing and they get better each year,’’ Harris says. ‘‘It’s developed into the biggest and most exciting variety show in the world.
‘‘It’s the professionalism of the way they do it. It isn’t like a school concert where somebody does their bit and they all walk off like Brown’s cows. It’s non-stop entertainment which just stands you up in your seat.’’
Harris admits he was ostracised in his teens at school.
‘‘I wasn’t the run-of-the-mill kid in the high school I was at — I was a bit of a weirdy,’’ he says. ‘‘I was very keen at art and a very good swimmer. I won all the swimming events and I was the best artist in the school.
‘‘My aim then was to be a famous artist like my grandfather — a portrait painter. That was what I eventually went across to England to do. It’s come to fruition eventually — 60 years later.’’
Talking himself into trouble:
Rolf Harris, 78, apologised for his remarks about Aborigines.