Rolf and tum­ble

The re­turn of Rolf Har­ris to Aus­tralia should have been a tri­umph, but it all went hor­ri­bly wrong, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - News -

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.

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