Untold Australia begins tonight (Wednesdays at 8:30pm on SBS and on SBS On Demand) and it’s an in-depth look at some of the diverse ethnic and cultural groups nestled within the wider Aussie population. Over three weeks we meet with young Indian Australians on a race to the altar, Norfolk Islanders threatening mutiny and the super-secret Orthodox Jews of Adass Israel.
In that spirit, let’s look at some much less conventional groups and subcultures that have sprung up in our nation, from the weird and wonderful to the – frankly - bizarre.
The “Sharpies” were a youth gang of the 60’s and 70’s, widely considered the first home- grown Aussie subculture. Named for their “sharp” dress sense, they also had a distinct hairstyle (a form of mullet) and dance (the “Sharpie Shuffle”). On top of that, they were known for being pretty violent, constantly starting fights with people that dressed or danced or acted differently to how they did. Sharpies loved music and encouraged the sort of distinctly Australian sound in bands like Skyhooks and AC/DC. While the movement eventually waned there are a handful of Sharpies still around along with tribute bands like the City Sharps.
2. Doomsday Preppers
When you think of doomsday preppers you probably think of those nutso people in middle America storing canned goods in nuclear bunkers under their homes. And you’d be right, but there’s a fairly substantial subculture of preppers living right here in Australia getting ready for TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it).
It’s hard to count exactly how many preppers there are in Oz because most are pretty secretive - y’know, in case people come looking to raid their stockpile when the zombie apocalypse happens - but there are a bunch of Aussie Prepper Internet & Facebook groups with online forums discussing topics like “DIY survival tools” and “what shit will hit the fan?”.
What is a furry? This is a furry:
Yup. It’s a grown human being who chooses to get around in an animal suit. Why? There are a number of reasons… some claim they’re trying to get in touch with their inner animal, some find the disguise liberating and for others, there’s a degree of eroticism involved (and there’s a huge subculture of folks into furry porn).
The subculture is about 80% straight male and members meet annually at “Anthrocon”, the international furry convention in Pennsylvania. Like with preppers, it’s not a group of people that are always keen to identify themselves (for fear of “Fur-secution”) so it’s hard to get exact numbers of how many Aussies are involved but there are certainly enough that Melbourne has held its own annual Furry convention for more than five years.
4. Bra Boys
When does a gang become a subculture? The Bra Boys are arguably both, beginning as a surfie gang in the 1990’s and evolving to now call themselves a “brotherhood”, with numbers in the hundreds who have become part of the cultural landscape of modern day Maroubra. The Bra Boys (including founding member Surfer Koby Abberton and South Sydney Rabbitoh’s player John Sutton) released a documentary about their lifestyle, have their own clothing label and are heavily involved in community activism, attempting to improve the life of citizens in Maroubra. But they’re also known for being fiercely protective of their turf, deeply suspicious of outsiders and have a reputation for violence with rap sheets including assault, drug smuggling and murder.
5. Elvis Presley Fanatics
The King is alive and well and living it up in country NSW. Every January the town of Parkes (also known as the home of that really big dish from The Dish) swells to double its size as thousands of Elvis fans travel from around Australia and overseas to compete in look-alike competitions, sound-alike competitions, sing-alongs and even a “Miss Priscilla Dinner”. The whole event started because two blokes in town were Elvis freaks - one changed his name by deed boll and another operated “Gracelands Restaurant”. Together they conceived the festival in 1993 as a one-night affair. It’s now a five-day event celebrating everything Presley related.
6. Bikie gangs
Comancheros, Rebels, Hells Angels… these names are often in the news, the most notorious bikie gangs in Australia today. The bikie subculture has over 170 chapters and almost 5000 members across the country and membership is going up - almost 50% since 2007. Bikie culture brings for many people a sense of community and belonging and mateship. Many clubs were formed by WW2 vets seeking to recapture the adventure and camaraderie they found in battle. But in spite of this, there’s no doubt there is a serious criminal element to bikie membership: offences range from assault and kidnapping to possession of illegal weapons and substances and even murder.
7. Amateur bodybuilders
Experts reckon it’s social media sites like Instagram that are driving the bodybuilding subculture in Australia as the number of people entering local competitions doubles each year.
It’s still very much a niche interest and one that is divided on the lines of “to steroid or not to steroid” but as top competitors and home-grown heroes notch up thousands of followers online, the bodybuilding lifestyle is heading into the mainstream.
The Australian Naturist Federation says membership of nudist clubs has fallen from about 10,000 members during the 60’s & 70’s to about 3000 members today. But while the subculture hasn’t grown, it’s evolved. People aren’t just heading to designated nudie resorts and beaches but they’re embracing nudism in unusual places - like Big Nude Boat cruises, walking tours and art galleries.
Newcastle hosts an “Art in the Nude” event and Melbourne holds an annual “Nude Bike Ride”, raising awareness of body acceptance and freedom of expression. In an attempt to bring Naturism out of the retirement home and into the realms of the youth, you can now do nude sailing, surfing and skydiving and in New Zealand, there’s an annual game of Naked Rugby. (Feel free to insert your own joke about tackles and groping…)
While obsessive comic book fans are everywhere, Australia seems to have chosen Xena: Warrior Princess as its geek icon of choice. Lucy Lawless herself has gone on the record saying that Xena had “so much more traction in Australia than anywhere else” and the fans prove that. There’s a regularly updated Australian Xena website boasting thousands of members and every year they get together for an annual Xena convention involving dress ups, look alike competitions and battle re-enactments.
If you’re a child of the 80’s (or the parent of a child of the 80’s) chances are you remember My Little Pony, that rainbow-coloured, sugar sweet world of witches, trolls, goblins and, well, ponies. It probably didn’t need a revival but clearly a lot of people disagreed: a new TV series hit screens in 2010 and since then it’s found a huuuuge legion of fans who raised over $25,000 to bring a My Little Pony convention to Melbourne. This was after over a thousand people attended PonyCon in Sydney and a new subculture of “Bronies” was born - teenage and adult fans of the show who wear pony outfits and collect the brightly coloured toys.
What will be the next relic from our 80’s childhood to spark its own subculture? My money is on Gumby.