Our oft-neglected antipodean cultural outpost is finally to grace that most prestigious of world stages. Eurovision. After 30 years of watching the event from lounge rooms in Darlinghurst and backyard barbecues in Carlton, giddy with all the camp showiness of a scratchy Liberace show tune, we’ll finally be part of it as Jessica Mauboy represents Australia.
Well, kind of. Mauboy will performing as a guest, rather than a competitor. Appearing during the interval of the second semi-final, representing Australia, she will be the first solo artist from a non-EU country to perform at the contest. She is the ideal choice. The 24-year-old Indigenous singer and actor – a runner-up on Australian Idol in 2006 – personifies an Australia we should be proud to project to the world: talented, whimsical, young, intelligent and not all white.
Australia’s connections with Eurovision run deep, thanks largely to SBS’s impeccable 30-year coverage of the event. We’ve always been eager to claim any connection to the event we can – no matter how opaque. After all Australians loved Abba before Waterloo brought them stardom on the Eurovision stage, and we flushed with pride when Olivia Newton-John represented England in 1974. (How could the world forget she was a good ol’ Aussie girl raised in Melbourne.)
Every year we love to hate the tackiness and saccharine sentimentality. Many of us relish waiting for that moment of true stardust among the schmaltz – such as the barefoot feral-chic of last year’s Danish winner Emmelie de Forest or the head-banging splendour of Arxplendida from Switzerland. And who knows, if Mauboy makes a good enough impression perhaps Australia will be invited back as a permanent participant in the future. Her latest album, Beautiful, contains tracks, such as the exuberantly fluffy single Pop a Bottle (Fill me up), that would make ideal Eurovision songs.
Obviously there’s a geography issue here. But many Australians have long European connections that could be celebrated through this show – and in a week in which Tony Abbott has sought to reset our nation’s colonial compass by reinstating knights and dames, Eurovision provides the ideal cultural riposte.
In all its dazzling camp glory, the key lesson Eurovision might offer Australia is one of cultural egalitarianism and inclusion. That’s why unlikely nations such as Azerbaijan, Serbia and Estonia have all brought home victory in past years – but Britain hasn’t won since Katrina and the Waves’s Love Shine a Light in 1997 and now often end up near the bottom. This is contest for outsiders, not just the elite.
Now we will finally have someone we can truly call Australian entering the Eurovision frame. And as a cultural ambassador in the world’s campest and most egalitarian cultural contest, Mauboy more than fits the bill.