REVIEW / Having a ball with Geldof in Goondiwindi

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The Independent Culture
WHEN we have a Prime Minister who is younger than anyone in the rhythm section of the Rolling Stones, you have to conclude that pop music has grown up. If you could put a date on it, the coming of age happened when a profession hitherto associated with sex, drugs and hotel furniture rearrangement performed an acrobatic volte-face by advising us to re-route our spare cash towards a drought in East Africa. Since Live Aid, the largest and most widely broadcast rock concerts have been celebrations of conscience.

The news still hasn't reached the Australian outback. In the extraordinary Geldof Goes Goondiwindi (C4) the high priest of global selflessness took his toothbrush sideburns to the back end of a place beyond nowhere, the home of several million sheep and the chosen few whose sacred task it is to shear them. There has been a three-year drought in Queensland (scientists have yet to discover the means of irrigating land with beer), but this film did not portray a society in need of, or indeed deserving, the rock community's beneficence. They asked Saint Bob to come anyway and, two days after he left, it rained for three days.

'Gob Beldof', as one grateful ballgoer called him, was performing at Goondiwindi's annual Bachelor and Spinster Ball. He obviously said he'd only come if he could film it too, astutely spotting that there was a chance here for a concert video that would also be a work of anthropology. The main pleasure for the viewer was in congratulating yourself that you weren't there. If the Australian Tourist Board had had a veto, it's likely you wouldn't even have been watching.

According to one old Goondiwindian, the Ball apparently started out as 'a highly chaperoned event' designed to assemble lonely Outbackers who knew only family and flock. One of the guests had clearly shrugged off his chaperone because he welcomed the crew by head-butting the camera lens. Two more revellers greeted each other by a little known local ritual of spewing a mouthful of beer at each other from a range of approximately seven millimetres. These people make their compatriot Merv Hughes look as outgoing as Howard Hughes. Through a fog of hops came an exegesis of the event's liberal code of conduct: 'You can't sort of get kicked out that easily, because you're already out, aren't you?' Move over, Wittgenstein.

While all let their hair down, some also let their trousers down, in the time- honoured manner first mentioned by Chaucer, and emphatically aired the contents. It forced you to contemplate the possibility of an etymological connection between 'colony' and 'colon'. And to think that the ancestors of these people thought it was their job to civilise this barren land.

If they were into word play, the Goondiwindians would probably have renamed the visit of a saint in a flowery suit as 'The Unforgettaball', except that no one seemed to remember much about the night before. They should have been watching Unforgettable (BBC 1), a short educational series about brushing up your memory.

When it wants to be didactic at peak time, the BBC has a new policy of calling in a comedian to read the script, which is another way of saying: 'Warning: this programme can cause boredom'. As the point seems to be to maximise the incongruity between presenter and subject, soon we'll doubtless be offered Jim Davidson on safe sex or Bernard Manning on healthy eating. Alexei Sayle has just done a series on road safety; this time it's Greg Proops's turn to spend 10 minutes in a no- gag zone.

We've now had two parts to Unforgettable and this columnist can't remember much about them. We met a man who has memorised the Blackpool phone book, which is obviously useful information to have at your fingertips. And we met the recent Mastermind champion who won despite meeting the question 'Which London football club is nicknamed the Gunners?' with a look of blank astonishment. Some things you just don't need to know.