television: John Clarke reflects on a Sporting Nation.
New doco has a dream list of all-star Australians, writes
MARJORIE Jackson, Dawn Fraser, the late Murray Rose, Herb Elliott, Margaret Court, Ralph Doubell and Shane Gould: That’s a who’s who of Aussie sporting greats.
They’re just some of the athletes who tell tales in John Clarke’s new preLondon Olympics documentary Sporting Nation. And that’s in the first episode.
Sporting Nation is a three-part social history of Australia as seen through the telescope of the nation’s sporting wins and losses. Most sports rate a mention though the focus is on cricket, tennis, Olympic favourites swimming and cycling and footy – all codes.
Jackson, a former South Australian governor nicknamed The Lithgow Flyer, had hit songs penned in her honour. She ended her sports career with two Olympic and seven Commonwealth Games gold medals, 10 world records and every Australian state and national title she contested from 1950-54.
She recalls the stern lecture delivered by her father when she was about 15. He’d seen the effect that having a photograph published in a rural newspaper had on her.
‘‘He took me into the lounge room. ‘Everyone has a God-given gift,’ he said. ‘Yours just happens to be running. You’re no different to anyone and don’t you ever forget it.’ ’’
Jackson, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, took his advice.
‘‘Much was made about how unaffected I was, that I treated everyone equally,’’ says the athlete who set the tone for what Australians expect of their international athletes today.
Sporting Nation’s commentary is provided by sociologists, media and public figures including former prime ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard. It features oodles of archival footage, newspaper coverage, photos and video, some never seen, some that your mums, dads and grandparents might remember.
‘‘We got the dream list,’’ says Clarke, best known for his social satire – think pre-Sydney Olympics hit The Games and those weekly 7.30 Report sketches about the vagaries of the government and public service.
He sounds surprised: ‘‘I am not really trained as an interviewer, so they took a risk on me.’’
Clarke admits he felt like a ‘‘mistyeyed schoolboy’’ in the presence of sporting greats as they recalled events, some that he’d watched himself as they played out on TV screens.
‘‘Some had never told these stories in public – and certainly never in this way before. All were hugely impressive, smart, hilarious. There was plenty of footage of me giggling like a child. All of it had to be cut.’’
Clarke says rather than ‘‘trying to be funny’’, his role was to relax his subjects and set the mood, tonally.
‘‘We had a hell of a story there, providing we found the right way to tell it. Hopefully, we got it right.’’
A Kiwi who has lived in Australia since the 1970s, Clarke considers himself as qualified as anyone on the subject of sport.
He played a variety of sports as a child, still swings a golf club and watches all he can on TV.
‘‘If you want to see a country obsessed with sport, you need only look across the Tasman. Everyone is seriously nuts about it.’’