You may be surprised to learn that Guy Sebastian is not the first Australian to compete at Eurovision. Yes, Jessica Mauboy did sing during the interval last year, but no less than eight Aussies have actually competed over the years – and quite successfully I might add. Olivia Newton-John was one obviously, but some other names will surprise. Three Melbourne boys have been runners-up and a Frankston-born singer-songwriter went all the way and won it… three times!
Even though we are a long way from Europe, SBS has been televising the contest since 1983. I guess they originally felt that it would be of interest to our vast population of European immigrants. Somehow though it has grabbed the imagination of Australians of all backgrounds many of whom partake in Eurovision parties and drinking games (take a drink every time there is a ‘clothing reveal’ – that sort of thing). In 2001 SBS decided that a local host might be a good idea and made the inspired choice of the ‘Wogs Out of Work’ character Effie (Mary Coustas) to present the show to Australian viewers. These days French-speaking Julia Zamiro and Chinese-Australian Sam Pang have made it their own.
But Aussies were active at Eurovision long before SBS got involved. Olivia Newton-John competed for the UK way back in 1974 singing the song ‘Long Live Love’. Mind you, she was born in England so it was hardly a defection. She came in equal 4th behind Abba. No disgrace there. Olivia’s good friend, songwriter and producer John Farrar (a Moonee Ponds boy!) did even better the next year when The Shadows came runners up. They were pipped at the post by a group from The Netherlands singing one of the most ridiculous songs ever to win, ‘Ding Dinge Dong’. A few years earlier another couple of Aussies playing with the New Seekers also came second for the UK. In that line-up was local star Peter Doyle and Marty Kristian, who was German born but grew up in Melbourne.
It appears that England have no qualms about chasing success with imported talent, much as they do with their cricket team. American born Katrina Leskanich helped them win in 1997 with her band the Waves. The year before yet another Australian represented the UK and was hot favourite to win. The song was already top of the charts before the contest had even begun. Gina Gardiner from Brisbane, aka Gina G, performed a song called ‘Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit’ in a gold mini-skirt that Cher had cast off. A disappointing performance on the night relegated our Gina to eighth place.
But the most extraordinary contribution we can claim was by a man who has come to be known as Mr. Eurovision. He was born in Frankston, Victoria as Seán Patrick Michael Sherrard. His father was the famous Irish Tenor, Patrick O’Hagan. Even though his family returned to Ireland when he was three years old, Sean was still formally an Australian citizen when he stormed to his first Eurovision win in 1980, now using the name Johnny Logan. He won again for Ireland seven years later with a song he wrote and performed, ‘Hold Me Now’. He made history as a triple winner when a song he wrote for Linda Martin won again for Ireland in 1992.
We can now add Guy Sebastian to this esteemed list of Aussies performing at Eurovision. (I personally would have preferred someone more ‘out there’ like Bob Down or the Kransky Sisters.) His participation is different though. Rather than doing it for the mother country, Guy is actually representing Australia. We are in the mix as a wild card entry but we are not the lone non-European nation. Israel and Turkey have been in it since the mid-70s and have both won it. Armenia and Cyprus have been described as geographically Asia but politically and culturally Europe. I think we can stretch that definition to include ourselves especially considering our history of immigration from Europe.
PS. We know now that Guy did very well, so much so that we have been invited back. Here is a tip. I was listening to the wonderful Kate Miller-Heidke being interviewed on the radio, so I sent in a speculative text message which was actually read out on air, “I would like KMH to represent us at Eurovision.” She hinted that she was actually in negotiations. We could be on a winner there.