Goodbye, possums: Barry Humphries’ obituary in his own words

By Barry Humphries

Barry Humphries was synonymous with Melbourne, and for a time with the city’s comedy festival too.Credit:Simon Schluter

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The recent passing of Sir Barry Humphries at the Portuguese resort of Estoril, though it received no more than a small paragraph tucked away with the international news on page nine of this newspaper, must have revived many memories among our older readers.

Although Sir Barry last appeared on the Melbourne stage more than 30 years ago in a less than successful entertainment of his own devising entitled Tears Before Bedtime, there are still elderly theatregoers both here and abroad who can remember him in his heyday.

According to his epitaph, Dame Edna had become a repulsive hag which filled his dwindling audiences with awe and revulsion rather than mirth.Credit:Robert Pearce

Our quondam critic Ms Bronwyn Praxitiles was perhaps less than generous when she referred to Sir Barry’s final offering as “arguably, the sad, incoherent, and more often than not inaudible ramblings of a self-indulgent has-been”. It is true that Sir Barry, at that late stage in his career, and though still in robust mental health, was unable to mount the stage unassisted, and that his once popular turn “Dame Edna” had become a repulsive hag which filled his dwindling audiences with awe and revulsion rather than mirth.

Perhaps Sir Barry’s refusal to produce work of social relevance and his quaint old-fashioned belief that his first duty was to inspire laughter, accounted for the decline in this artiste’s popularity in the last decade of the 20th century, though he still enjoyed a loyal following among the die-hard reactionaries who attended his clandestine performances.

By then his public appearances were banned by the Builders Labourers’ Leisure Party, and for many years the Australian Democratic Republic Arts Squad imposed severe penalties upon his sentimental and revisionist supporters.

Barry McKenzie, Sir Les Patterson, and his other scabrous attacks on the integrity of the Australian working class ethic, however, earned him the ultimate disfavour of the authorities, and his continued reluctance to accept the title “King of Moomba” finally forced him into permanent exile abroad.

He has since resided in the tarnished splendour of a Lusitanian Spa haunted by the obloquy of the Australian working class he so long ago betrayed for a mess of pottage.

One wonders what he would make of the cultural renaissance which is sweeping Australia at the moment, or our internationally acclaimed award-winning computerised puppet theatre which is currently putting Australia unequivocally on the map, in terms of sheer bloody, global, creative input across-the-board per se currently.

When one thinks of the giant strides Australian entertainment has taken since Humphries’ day, viz the Sir Norman Gallagher Omega site strikers relief massage-parlour and casino complex, it is hard to imagine what relevance old entertainers like Humphries and his ilk would have to 21st century audiences.

Sir Barry was knighted by King Charles III for his services to the British Gladiolus Society and is survived by innumerable wives, great-grandchildren and creditors.

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