Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Turnbull, S. E. 2008, ''Mapping the vast suburban tundra: Australian comedy from Dame Edna to Kath and Kim'', International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 15-32.


By the time of Australian Federation in 1901, almost 70 per cent of Sydney's population were living in the suburbs: a statistic that suggests that despite prevalent and enduring images of the bushman and the ocker, the 'real' Australia was, and still is, more likely to be located in what Barry Humphries has described as Australia's 'vast and unexplored suburban tundra'.1 As a satirist, Humphries has been in the forefront of an expedition to map the tragi-comic dimensions of this territory with characters such as Dame Edna Everage, who first appeared on Australian television in 1956, offering the box room of 'her lovely home' as a potential billet for an athlete during the Melbourne Olympic Games.2 Some 50 years later, Dame Edna not only presided over the closing ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but was joined on the steps of the Melbourne Town Hall, during a ceremony to award her the key to the city, by two more recent suburban icons, Kath and Kim. With the international success of Dame Edna and Kath and Kim, it seems that the Antipodean suburb is still being mapped and mined for comic effect on television both at home and abroad. This article will explore the conditions of such success within a long tradition of anti-suburbanism dating back to the nineteenth century while exploring the role of comedy in constructing a national imaginary which is now widely circulated via increasingly transnational flows in television.