Sheila who must be obeyed

Men may be from Mars, but these girls are from Oz, where they do things a bit differently. Naomi West on the brash, busty, ballsy babes coming up from down under

APRIL 1ST, 1998 was the day when the unthinkable actually happened. Helen Daniels, the gran of all our hearts and of unfeasible numbers of Ramsay Street pubescents, finally met her maker. The blow was only softened by the circumstances surrounding her death - she passed away while watching Scott and Charlene's wedding video. The moment of inevitable nostalgia that meant curtains for Helen brought to the minds of British viewers the thought: "Hasn't Kylie done well for herself since then?"

And the answer would have to be a resounding yes. Our imaginations were captured early by the feisty Charlene Ramsay, and since then there has been an atmosphere of goodwill surrounding her career. It's as if we've always wanted her to be the gently witty, Manic Street Preachers-collaborating style icon she is today. The music is almost surplus to requirements - a needless validation of an appeal which straddles cultural boundaries whether she's doing slick pop or try-hard techno. It is the fact she can now stand up and poetically recite the lyrics of "I should be so lucky" to various chortling celebs that cements her in the star spectrum. And where she has gone, other sheilas follow.

Last weekend's No Worries weekend on LWT featured the talents of voluptous, unembarrassable Elle McFeast (real name Lisbeth Gorr), an Aussie stand- up comedienne recruited by the Oz health department to make a series of public education films on safe sex. And you have to hand it to her; only a sheila could probe the Royal Australian Airforce about anal sex and penis size. But then she comes from the land down under, where women something or other (we can't remember what, but it probably has to do with Vegamite) and men chunder. Despite cartoonist Jamie Hewlitt's claim that he only made Tank Girl Australian so he didn't have to draw so many buildings, it is conceivable that there are a few Tank Girl "two fingers to the rest of the world" genes built into every girl from Brisbane to Perth.

And if they're not tanned, foul-mouthed beauties, they're red-headed, passionate proto-feminists from the outback; witness Cate Blanchett, perfectly cast after a six-year search as the self-possessed Lucinda Leplastrier in Gillian Armstrong's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning Oscar and Lucinda. Or her earlier incarnation, Judy Davis in Armstrong's 1979 cult feminist classic My Brilliant Career. Blanchett has now successfully stormed Pommie thespian strongholds and been cast as Elizabeth I by director Shekhar Kapur for his film of the same name. A similarly spirited path has been cut by Toni Collette, who put on three stone to play the star of the acclaimed film, Muriel's Wedding.

Nicole Kidman is dwarfing her once more famous husband in more ways than one, with memorable performances in Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady and as the psychotic weather girl in Gus Van Sant's To Die For. The Australian Film Festival is currently providing an eyeful of burgeoning talent. Currently relishing her swift passage to fame, Frances O'Connor injects her "titillating blend of strength, beauty and intelligence" into Kiss or Kill and stars alongside Cate Blanchett in the dark slice of romantic comedy that is Thank God He Met Lizzie. Her passion for her craft is undeniable and thus she has come to wield considerable power both off and on screen.

We blame Romaine Rand. Back in the Sixties, when Tank Girl was not even a (wet) dream, Romaine was Clive James' next door neighbour at Cambridge. In his memoirs, he characterises the girl (later to become a prominent feminist) as a prolific writer, a glorious revue performer and a no less legendary sexual performer.

Summer, 20, is now half way through her degree in History at Cambridge. She came from Sydney to Britain in 1996: "I suppose the stereotype is still the surfie, sporty girl who's really laid back... which I'm not like at all. People find me easy to talk to because I'm more blunt, especially about the weird things English people do. There is nothing like the British class system in Australia and there are no real provincial elements to the culture - everything is much more fluid, people tend to move around a lot."

Australian women working in Britain have found people do see them differently. One media consultant speaks of having "a bit of a novelty factor to start with - people don't think you're up to it because London is a more sophisticated market. But we're not as reserved and we get straight to the point; we're also generally seen as hard working."

A London Office Manager corroborates this: "We're more driven - what takes a British person three hours would probably take us an hour and a half. We don't beat around the bush as much."

It is a similar down-to-earth quality that facilitated the rise of Natalie Imbruglia from the same bubble perm and stonewash soap sludge as Kylie. She arrived as a ready-made slouching siren and crept with charming self- deprecation into the usually hard hearts of the inkie music press and the cooler-than-thou style magazines. Their princess had come - even Dazed and Confused could not resist creating a fairytale pullout featuring fragments of Natalie in a bluebell wood.

The commercial and credible appeal of these genre-hopping young women could be ascribed to their close relationship with the public, the record buyers and magazine readers: they belong to us and we belong to them. Their attitude to changes in style and musical direction is open and positive - if they're into clothes they infiltrate the fashion world, if they enjoy clubbing they do dance music. Ministry magazine chose to put Kylie and Dannii Minogue on their third and fourth covers respectively. Tom Whitwell, their senior writer, explains, "They both come from a cheesy background, but through force of will they've turned themselves around. That's the type of thing we want to be associated with as a magazine."

Something about Aussie women is keeping them close to their chosen career curve. Indeed, their curves could have something to do with it, if last month's expanding FHM cover featuring an "Australian Babe Bonanza" is anything to go by. Isla Fisher (once the pert book-loving Shannen from Home and Away), Emma Harrison (who gave the memorably plasticine-featured potrayal of Jo in Neighbours) and Mimi Macpherson (Elle's sister and chief executive of, erm, a whale-watching business) are among the eight C-list celebs that talk about their sex lives, careers, and shared responsiblity for deflowering the Honey Monster. Ed Needham, FHM's editor, demands that these women are "in the public eye and look fantastic" and in return they relentlessly plug their future projects and appearances.

Call it Sheila Power, if you like. These women, who Alice in Wonderland envisaged walking around on their heads, have their feet firmly planted on the ground and their eyes locked on the holy grail of success. Ramsay Street is but a shadow of a stigma. And the dance on the grave of Helen Daniels has begun.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Smart Meter Engineer - Gas and Electric - Dual Fuel

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the installa...

    Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

    £30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum