Peter York on ads Number 259: Australia - An adventure with a gruesome ending

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The Independent Culture
A ustralia is five big cities with a lot of nothing in between. It's hugely urbanised, and its biggest city, Sydney, gets more like San Francisco every minute. Australia has more Greeks than Bubble Central and it is always saying that its future lies in Asia, not with the old Commonwealth ties.

But that is not the Australia they are selling in the Discover Australia commercials. They are showing primeval Australia, tropical Australia and 19th-century jackaroo Australia. And it is this Dream Time Australia that brings out a different beast in Brits, that lets them discover the other side of themselves.

Of course they had to start with Ayer's Rock, the rose red lump half as old as time. Staring at it is Lucy Davis, the kind of girl who you know says amazing a lot. She is a chatterbox - it says so on-screen - but the pink lump and its surrounding scrub has stunned her into contemplative silence. And of course there's no one for miles. This moment of contact with something very old and very elemental - and therefore slightly spooky - is accompanied by didgeridoo music with a murmurous chorus.

Then there is Charlie Parsons, the British couch potato, driving into an Amazonian-looking river, surrounded by Aboriginal boys who applaud him. A bit latter-day Luke Fildes.

And what about Robin Smart, the Control Freak, falling about like an idiot in a pen at a sheep station, knocked around by swarming sheep but grinning furiously long? The message is that all these sad urban Poms have got in touch with their deeper selves in Oz, gone Wild in the Country - so let yourself go.

It is not wholly unconvincing, with its artless Superdrug-style white on-screen writing and its general feeling of Centerparcs plus. There is only a hint of Castlemaine XXXX, no sign of the girls from Cell Block- H and absolutely not a whisper of Dame Edna.

There is one severely discordant note though - so often the way with a joint promotion. The Australian tourist people are obviously sharing the cost with Singapore Airlines, so the final frame is one of those Singapore Girls doing her submissive vamping number, made up and carefully lit. It is an image from an utterly different advertising aesthetic, introduced by a gruesome bit of corporate-speak: "In association with Singapore Airlines, Australia's most frequent visitor ..." At this point modern Australia intrudes.