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Famous Australians you've never heard of

Nick Bryant | 07:30 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

The big media news out of Australia at the end of last week was a story with negligible resonance outside of Australia.

Kerry O'Brien, the presenter of ABC's flagship programme The 730 Report, a former press secretary for Gough Whitlam and a long-time early evening fixture in many Australian lounge rooms, announced he would soon vacate his anchor's chair. For British readers, it is something akin to David Dimbleby finally hanging up his lapel mike, or, for Americans, Charlie Rose exiting his dim-lit studio on PBS.

But it got me thinking about other big-name Australians who have not made much of a global splash - often, it has to be said, because their homeland has been able to happily accommodate their ambition. Here's a quick, and by no means exhaustive, list:

1. Andrew Denton: it is tempting to describe the bespectacled chat show host as Australia's Parkinson, but, much as I love Parky, he's arguably a lot funnier and a great deal more probing. Watching his old show, Enough Rope, was a bit like attending a good funeral - a blend of raucous laughter, good anecdotes, personal reflections and occasional tears.

2. Peter Sculthorpe: Australia's Edward Elgar or Ralph Vaughan Williams, a composer whose music perfectly conjures up the Aussie landscape. Kakadu and Earth Cry are classics. He also did an orchestral arrangement that even made Advance Australia Fair sound good.

3. Ben Mendelsohn: a fabulous Australian character actor who appears to pop up in virtually every Aussie movie. Very strong in Beautiful Kate and Animal Kingdom, and in Hollywood he could surely have been a contender.

4. John Bell: a brilliant Shakespearian actor, who founded the Bell Shakespeare Company 20 years ago. A contemporary of Germaine Greer and Clive James at Sydney University in the 1960s, who, like them, was drawn centrifugally to London, but, unlike them, chose not to stay.

5. David Malouf: has the novelist got the global recognition he deserves? Probably not, although his 1993 novel, Remembering Babylon was short-listed for the Booker.

6. Margaret Fulton: long before Masterchef came along, and long before Matt Preston learnt how to tie a cravat, Australia's first food guru was changing the country's rissole-centric food culture.

7. Norman Gunston: the comic creation of the actor Garry McDonald, Gunston was way ahead of his time. A kind of Aussie Ali G in the 70s.

8. Chris Judd: the Aussie Rules football star, who claimed this year's Brownlow medal, is representative of hundreds of Australian rugby league and AFL stars who would be global names if their sports were truly global.

What a grand final, by the way. I can't remember watching the mood in a stadium change so immediately, from the frenzy in the stands at the MCG in those final riveting minutes to the anti-climactic near silence when everyone realised they would all have to come back on Saturday to do it again. Couldn't they have decided it on Saturday with overtime, a shoot-out or a competition on which team has the best tattoos?

Like I say, the list is by no means exhaustive. And, arguably, it invites another one: "Australians who have made it abroad but who should really have stayed at home"...


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