David Bowie ventured to the Australian outback in 1983 to shoot the video for his biggest hit single, Let’s Dance, much to my astonishment as a 14-year-old schoolboy living a mere 1,800 miles away in New Zealand. “Holy shit! The Thin White Duke is next door!”
And what a great clip it is (Bowie co-directed with David Mallett), using the plight of Australia’s Aborigines as a metaphor for anyone caught up in the urban grind. Or something like that. It instantly became my life’s ambition to visit the pub where a glowing Bowie boldly serenaded the disdainful, beer-swilling locals.
Thirty years later, I finally made it to Carinda (population: 180) in November 2013, driving 170 miles each way from the closest city, Dubbo, which itself is about 240 miles west of Sydney. As you might expect, Carinda is hotter than hell. It’s in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing to do – except drink at the Carinda Hotel. THE Carinda Hotel!
By all accounts, Bowie’s brief trip to the cattle town did little to improve Anglo-Australian relations, which are fragile at the best of times. As the beer flowed freely, courtesy of Bowie, the staunch ranchers ridiculed the gloved Pommy bastard at every opportunity—as can be seen in the video. Bowie, in turn, called them rednecks, according to a pair of Carinda ladies I met.
For me, walking into the pub was a magical moment, similar to my amazement upon entering Machu Picchu or Versailles. The interior is more or less unchanged. The orange-and-green checkered linoleum floor is mostly intact, as is the bar itself. The ceramic wall tiles are still there, albeit obscured by wooden boards. The pool table has been moved to a back room. The unwitting co-stars of the video, the barmaid Jayne told me, are mostly dead. As you can see from the video, they were pretty old to begin with.
Sadly the Aboriginal boy who co-stars in the video, Terry Roberts, is also dead. He apparently suffered from tragic mental health issues (link may appear not to work, but it does if you click previous topic, then next topic at the top). But Terry’s on-screen partner, Joelene King, is alive and well in suburban Sydney.
Behind-the-scenes snapshots and other memorabilia from that famous day apparently went with the former owners of the pub when they sold it. Jayne is in the process of trying to requisition some items because the pub does actually draw tourists like me who want to know what went on.
So anyway, after gasping with delight at this wondrous piece of Bowie history, I was brought back to reality when Jayne pointed to a snake at the side door. She phoned Barry who bravely clubbed the venomous, meter-long king brown with a shovel.
Here are some screengrabs from the video juxtaposed with contemporary views:
And here are some other pictures from that momentous day:
NOTE: Read more about David Bowie and Let’s Dance in my memoir, Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com
Copyright © 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING