Last Sunday evening when I came back to Canberra, I was lucky enough to attend a live broadcast by the ABC local radio network at our National Museum in Canberra. The performance was by a group known as the Coodabeen Champions. This group of men has been performing on our local radio network for almost 25 years now, and I am publicly announcing myself as a fan of theirs . It was a wonderful experience, after listening to them across Australia over the last few years-too few years!-to actually see them perform live and to get to meet a couple of them. At the end of their performance, I gave them a bit of a commitment that I would manage to make some kind of speech in the Senate about them.
I went to their website to find out more, even though I feel that in many ways this group of guys are my friends: I have been listening to them for so long, I have heard so much about their families, I have argued with them on the radio, I have found myself responding to their humour. So I turned to their website, using the wonderful ABC website, to find out a little bit about their history because, whilst I felt I knew what they did, I thought it would be good to find out where they came from. Their website told me that their Coodabeen magic began on Anzac Day 1981, when Jeff Richardson, who is still a member of the Coodabeen Champions, and his mate Simon Whelan, who was a member-and I do miss Simon's dulcet tones-were walking across to the MCG, probably to a match of some kind, and were talking about the kind of football commentary that was on the radio. Being very knowledgeable blokes, they felt that they could do commentary that was better, more focused and more 'real' for the community. Out of this discussion came a group that has now entertained many Australians. The core of their humour is that you feel like you are sitting around having a chat.
As I have mentioned before in this place, I come from a country family where my dad had no sons so I have inherited his overwhelming passion for football and cricket. I have personally shared this particular passion with the Coodabeens on the radio for many years. Because of the way the ABC operates in our country, this particular passion has been able to be shared, Senator Santoro, across all of Queensland. I well remember working in Brisbane in the Public Service, listening to 612 4QR on a Sunday evening and laughing quite loudly about different songs that were made up, such as Ooh Aah Glen McGrath, celebrating the speed bowling abilities of our national pace bowler. There were many comments also about other legendary cricketers of Australia. Who can forget their comments about David Boon-their respect for his leadership and his fine figure, as well as his batting ability? At exactly the same time, friends of mine in Townsville were listening to the same program and were able to interact there and then call me up and laugh about what was going on.
When I transferred to North Queensland with the Public Service, I used to do a lot of driving on Sunday evenings, going between regional centres. Once again I was able to listen to the Coodabeens on 630AM Townsville. As I was driving north to Cairns, I was able to pick up the broadcast on 95.5FM. As I was saying to the guys from the Coodabeen Champions the other night, one of my clearest memories is driving from Rockhampton to Townsville one Sunday evening, in the dark, and laughing out loud in the vehicle over stories that the guys were telling about their various experiences at debutante-and they pronounced it 'debutante'-balls in the regional countryside in Victoria. The immediacy of the shared experience, their ability to hit on something that we can mutually enjoy, is I think one of the very important parts of their humour.
At the moment, the Coodabeen Champions-they have returned to the ABC on Sunday evenings-are Jeff Richardson; Ian Cover, who spent a period in what he described as 'the blue team' in the Victorian parliament; Billy Baxter, one of the relatively new members; and Greg Champion. These guys have their own friendship and their own way of interacting, but I think the reason they can list so many Australians across the country as more than just fans-because 'fans' intimates a passive relationship-is that the experience that they provide is much more interactive and people feel as though they know them. People actually contact them, and a regular component of the Sunday evening program is the emails going backwards and forwards. There are various spot quizzes where people talk about musical interludes, not just the ones that people are really fond of but also, much more often-and I think it is something about the Australian sense of humour-people write in or email or whatever to talk about their least favourite, most horrible music experiences. Somehow we all have those moments, and once again that particular kind of interaction occurs.
When I was in Rockhampton, once again in my period working in the Public Service, I listened to 837 Rockhampton, which is one of my favourite ABC stations. Those people who have been lucky enough to go to that beautiful part of Queensland will know that the ABC station in Rockhampton is a heritage building and it has been fully restored as the ABC studio in Central Queensland. A good friend of mine, Ross Quinn, was the long-term manager of that station. He retired only last year, after a very long career with the ABC. When I have visited Rockhampton at different times as a public servant, then with my work with the CPSU-the union that looks after the Public Service-and subsequently in this job, it has always been a pleasure for me to go in and visit the ABC staffers at Rockhampton. Sometimes we would have a talk on air, sometimes not. But very often we would exchange experiences, talking about different programs on the ABC that we had enjoyed and sometimes about programs that we had not enjoyed as much. But, pretty regularly, we would talk about an episode or an experience that had happened on the Coodabeens the previous week or even several years earlier that we had both enjoyed.
I am using the experience of the Coodabeen Champions as an example of the wonderful value of the ABC local radio network across our country. It provides such an amazing linkage for so many of us and a shared experience that we can discuss. We have an ability to link that I think has been provided by the amazing services of the ABC. Now, across Australia, there are over 352 locally managed stations. I know I sound a little bit like an advertisement-which of course we cannot use in terms of the ABC. But, in terms of our lives, growing up in various parts of Australia, everybody sitting in this chamber must have some ABC memories. When we were discussing the future of radio in our country-and this comes up-we were also talking about the way the medium has changed. Now, not only are people able to listen to the radio in the car or at home but there is the interactive ability of the internet. There is something that I do not use but that my nieces and nephews talk about all the time: podcasting. I know the Coodabeens use this process, but for me it always sounds much more like an insect than something you could actually use! However, I know it is popular and I know it is something people are continuing to use now.
I believe that the role of our radio network is something of which we can all be proud. I genuinely enjoyed my experience on Sunday night when I was able to see the people I had shared so many hours with over almost 20 years of listening-not all the time; it was not something you had to do every Sunday night, but somehow you picked up the conversations. You might not listen for several weeks but then you would be somewhere and hear their voices and you would flow right into the experience.
I hope that people across our country will continue to value this kind of experience. I am a fan, as you would have picked up from this-although not as much as one of the women who was attending that live broadcast on Sunday night. She had tattooed the theme of the Coodabeen Champions on her arm. The theme of their show is: 'You're only young once, but anyone can be immature.' That lady was describing to all of us-those of us in the studio and also those many listeners across the country-how important this particular motto was to her, how it gave her strength and also how proud her decision to have that tattoo made her family. I am a fan, I will continue to be so and I hope everybody else listens in from time to time.
28 February, 2006