tele­vi­sion: John Clarke re­flects on a Sport­ing Na­tion.

New doco has a dream list of all-star Aus­tralians, writes

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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.’’

7.30pm, ABC1.


John Clarke.

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