[7 November 2002]
On the anniversary of September 11, images of the effects of terrorism were again splashed across newspapers and television screens around the world. The day was dedicated to the memories of the fallen, and those declared heroes for helping others through the devastation. While such destruction is not uncommon in many nations around the world, here in Australia, such images were nearly impossible to comprehend, as we’d never experienced anything like this destruction. And, because we are so far removed from terrorism centers like the U.S.A., the Middle East, and Ireland, we doubted we ever would.
Sunday, October 12 changed everything. Glued to our television sets that night, we saw that two bombs had torn through Bali killing many of our own countrymen and leaving hundreds more injured or missing. We discovered, in the most painful and tragic way, that we’re not so safe, after all.
The Indonesian island of Bali has, for many years, been a second home to Australians. Because of this, it’s not surprising that the targeted Sari nightclub in the village of Kuta was filled with happy-go-lucky Australians enjoying a beer, a dance and the opportunity to catch up with friends. Football teams on end-of-season breaks, honeymooners, and adventure seekers alike felt the brunt of the first bomb which exploded inside the club forcing party-goers to evacuate the building. Outside, only moments later, a second bomb went off.
Images of injured men and women dragging others out of the flames and the rubble have appeared in the news media for the past week, along with heartbreaking videotape of friends and family waiting at airports to see if their loved ones will arrive on planes returning from the island. Such images have inspired in Australia a sense of unity similar to the flag-waving patriotism experienced in the U.S. following 9/11, a response born of a new-found and pervasive sense of fear. While the attacks occurred outside our boundaries, so many Australians have been affected. For most of us, terrorism is no longer something that happened Somewhere Else, but has hit home.
Acting out of a spirit of mateship and in order to raise money for the families and victims of the bombings, the Seven Network aired Australians Unite, a hastily thrown together two and half hours of tributes to the dead, and those working tirelessly to assist the wounded.
It all started out well. Andrew Daddo (always the consummate professional) and Melissa Doyle introduced the program, urging Australians to call “the number on their screens” to donate to the Red Cross Bali Appeal, then pointing out a host of Seven Network celebrities manning the phones. The show then moved to Perth here a panel of Seven celebrities read out messages from callers, as well as the names of some donors. In between, the cream of Australian musicians performed stripped down, sober versions of their chosen songs, much in the same vein as those featured on the 9/11 tribute America: A Tribute to Heroes.
Though the producers’ and participants’ intentions were surely good, Seven’s entire broadcast was overshadowed by its blatant commercialism and outright greed. Australians united all right, but only those in Seven’s employ with The Panel‘s Kate Langbroek and Glenn Robbins the only non-Seven affiliated celebs in sight.
Using stars of their own network was just one of the annoying moves made by Seven in the name of unified tribute. It also ran commercials for its own television shows throughout the appeal, and had Daddo and Doyle, as well as each of their panel members, constantly reminding viewers exactly which station they were watching.
The event was obviously put together quickly, to coincide with the “day of mourning” (as the one-week anniversary of the event was labeled) and to make sure it aired before any other network came up with a similar idea. Seven’s self-promotion was tacky, and did little to help the cause.
All that said, the victims of the Bali bombings were certainly honored throughout the night, by heartfelt spoken tributes. Performances from such seasoned greats as John Farnham, Marcia Hines, Mark Seymour and Jimmy Barnes (who chose a rousing version of “Higher and Higher” in contrast to the generally solemn numbers performed by others) were exquisite, demonstrating that music might be as healing as much-needed cash (donations ranged from a 14-year-old’s $10 to phone company Telstra’s $100,000). It is such generosity that should have been the star of the show. Instead, Seven kept the spotlight all to itself.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/australians-unite/