On this day …….. 4th September 2006

Stephen Robert “Steve” Irwin was born on 22 February 1962 in Essendon, Melbourne, Victoria. He moved to Queensland when he was still a child, where his parents developed and ran the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. For his sixth birthday, young Steve received his greatest wish – his very own 3.6m long scrub python for a pet. Steve grew up learning how to catch and care for crocodiles. He used his skills to assist the Queensland Government’s East Coast Crocodile Management program, which involved, among other ventures, catching North Queensland crocodiles. In 1991, Irwin took over the running of the reptile park, which was later renamed “Australia Zoo”. As a passionate environmentalist, Irwin became known for the television program “The Crocodile Hunter”, an unconventional wildlife documentary series which he hosted with his wife Terri Irwin. Irwin’s outgoing personality, energetic vitality and outrageous antics in the series made him an international celebrity. He also starred in Animal Planet documentaries, including The Croc Files, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, and New Breed Vets. Australia lost one of its most popular icons and ambassadors in the early afternoon of 4 September 2006. Steve Irwin was filming an underwater documentary off the Great Barrier Reef, when he was fatally pierced in the heart by a stingray barb. He is survived by his wife Terri, daughter Bindi, born in 1998 and son Robert (Bob), born in 2004. The family intends to continue Steve’s remarkable legacy of caring for a variety of wildlife, and raising environmental awareness across the world.

 

On this day …….. 4th September 1922

The ‘people’s poet’, Henry Lawson, was given a State Funeral at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 4 September, 1922. Thousands watched the funeral leave for Waverley Cemetery. As the coffin was born from the Cathedral, an incident marking the popularity of the deceased attracted the attention of many members of the congregation. A typical countryman, tall, sinewy, and brown, stood like a gaunt statue as the coffin was borne towards the northern door. For a moment he wavered, and then burst into tears that flowed down his rugged cheeks – ‘the grief that must have way’.

 

Gerry Gee would only talk if he is positioned on the ventriloquist’s Ron Blaskett right hand. Ron, who describes himself as the `straight man’, said: “It seems my brain just can’t carry on a conversation with Gerry if he’s on my left hand. It’s not a problem with the likes of Adolphus, only Gerry.” Ventriloquism, he says, is an art interpreted differently by each performer. “Some guys do clever things with their voice and the doll is adjunct to their talents, others develop a comedian as a figure. Me … I developed a comedy character acceptable to people. I can make people laugh without offending anyone and therefore, can appeal to all age groups. It has worked well for me,” Ron said.

 

Plucka Duck is a character on the popular Australian television program Hey Hey It’s Saturday. The character “presented” a segment on the show, along with Daryl Somers, which was a self-titled segment of Plucka Duck. Plucka was on the show until the show ended in 1999. In 2009, Plucka returned to the show when it returned to the screens as “Reunion Specials”. In 2010, the show returned as a series, with Plucka appearing in every episode. According to an interview given by John Blackman in 2009, Plucka was originally played by Mark McGahan, but was replaced by “Sim” for the reunion specials. “Sim” appears to refer to Simon Lefebvre. Also, Plucka Duck had its own show, Plucka’s Place. This show aired in 1997, with Livinia Nixon and Daniel Kowalski as co-hosts. The show lasted one season. In 2005, Plucka appeared with Daryl Somers at Carols by Candlelight. In 2008, Plucka made a long awaited return to television. Plucka (along with Dickie Knee and Daryl Somers) did a skit at the Logies. In early 2016, Plucka Duck appeared in an ad campaign for KFC riding a skateboard down a mountainous road in New Zealand.

 

Ossie Ostrich is an Australian television character, firstly on the Tarax Show, and then on the long-running program Hey Hey It’s Saturday which started as a Saturday morning cartoon show for children in 1971. In 1984, he also hosted an after-school children’s show called The Ossie Ostrich Video Show, with co-host Jacki MacDonald. In October 2009, Ossie appeared on the second Hey Hey It’s Saturday reunion special and made regular appearances during the show’s 2010 revival series.

Producer Ernie Carroll, an experienced comedy writer who had worked for Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight, resurrected a puppet used for an earlier GTV-9 children’s program “packed away in a dusty suitcase in the GTV props bay.”

Typically, Ossie would provide the comic foil to Somers’ straight man. Daryl Somers sometimes retaliated by calling Ossie names like ‘Fiberglass Head’, but he also had more affectionate names, like his ‘pink, feathered beakie’. The comic skill of Somers and Carroll was instrumental in leading to the wider appeal of the show and its move to a prime time spot on Saturday evening.

Ossie wasn’t a part of Hey Hey It’s Saturday for the entirety of its 28-year run – he replaced footballer Peter McKenna as co-host after the show’s first eight weeks, and his retirement in 1994 was arguably a key factor in the demise of the show – but he was one of the most recognisable puppets in Australia for more than two decades.

Over time, Ossie’s head had to be replaced due to mishaps. Lipstick marks from over-amorous admirers were very difficult to remove. Other members of Ossie’s family were represented using the same puppet with different accessories. The Ossie Ostrich puppet is now on display at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

On the Tarax Show, Ossie’s theme song was “Here comes Ossie Ostrich”. This was also occasionally heard on Hey Hey.

 

The latex mask worn by John Field as Gerry Gee’s stand in now in the collection at Museum Victoria, Carlton. The mask was fashioned to resemble Gerry with a narrow slit to breath though and two eyes holes. “It was not a fun thing to wear, and would get hot and sweaty, hearing was difficult and worst of all I had difficulty seeing much except what was straight in front of me” Fields stated.

 

John Field was born in 1949 and grew up at 48 Belgrave Road, East Malvern next door to Denzil Howsons Assistant Programme Manager at GTV9 (Tarax Show). At the age of 9 years old (1959) and in Grade 4, John Field started working as a human stand in for Gerry Gee in a new TV series “The Adventures of Gerry Gee”. Wearing a latex mask to resemble Gerry Gee, Fields was filmed at long distance for action shots. The 5 min episode began on the Tarax Show in 1959 and quickly became a regular and popular segment running for three years. John Field also played Gerry Gee in the 1960 Melbourne Moomba Parade with King Corky.

 

Gerry Gee, was a ventriloquist Doll who was brought to life in 1956 by Ron Blaskett, for GTV9’s (channel 9) first live test broadcast from Mt Dandenong, Melbourne Victoria. Gerry was imported from the US at a cost £200 and was named after the station. Ron, wife Merle Blaskett also a ventriloquist and Gerry are the only survivors of the test broadcast (2016). The comedy duo became household names as rich a one as any Aussie entertainer, on radio and TV, on The Tarax Show, IMT (In Melbourne Tonight) and Young Talent Time. And the act travelled the world, playing to millions at the 1975 Toronto Expo, cyclone victims in Darwin and Diggers in Vietnam. Gerry Gee and Ron Blaskett retired together after career of 56 years, Aussie TV’s first and foremost ventriloquist duo.