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Media expert: Barry Humphries state memorial

Monash University 4 mins read

With a state memorial for the late comedic legend taking place at the Sydney Opera House today, Monash University experts are available to discuss the legacy of Barry Humphries and his contribution to the arts. 

Associate Professor Tony Moore, Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies

He wrote multiple books and articles about Barry Humphries’ life and impact on Australian culture, including the book ‘The Barry McKenzie Movies’. 

Lead Chief Investigator, ARC Linkage Project Comedy Country: Australian Performance Contact details: +61 475 412 801 or

Read more of Dr Moore’s work at Monash Lens


The following can be attributed to Associate Professor Moore 

“Australia can be proud that we produced such a versatile artist, someone who was a multimedia personality. Someone who taught us how to laugh at ourselves in the post-war era, and zero in on the suburbs we live in. 

“Barry lived life on the edge. He was an iconoclast – his first book Bizarre was restricted and banned from stores, even his UK TV sketch send up of the British Empire in the late 60s, ‘True British Spunk’, was banned by the BBC – but happily reshot and screened by the ABC. 

“He has been happy to be controversial and honest about Australia. He was always an avant-garde person. He moved from fringe to famous, to popular culture. 

“Barry Humphries donned characters like putting on a jester’s hat to have freedoms he might not have had as an individual. Whether it be Dame Edna Everage or Sandy Stone, all his characters were different. He had an ear for the accent of Australia, particularly the voices of the working and middle to lower class.

“Barry was the equal opportunity bullshit detector at a point when both Australia and Britain needed it, and he later gave that gift to America too.”


“A conservative contrarian while many in his generation were moving left, Humphries nevertheless retained bohemian delight in transgression that makes him a radical.


“Humphries was a contradictory artist. An aesthete attracted to ‘decadents’ and dandies like James Mcneil Whistler, Oscar Wilde and the Australian painter Charles Conder, he was intrigued by low life and suburbia. 


“A sophisticate who despaired of suburbia, Humphries’ comedy revelled in parodying the prejudices and ignorant certainties of old white Australia. He eschewed the modernist pretensions of a Patrick White for the roar of the crowd, appealing to popular taste via the mass media. An abstinent alcoholic, he made a film [Barry McMckenze] in which beer is the elixir of life. A bohemian, he adopted the mask of the ocker.”

Professor Steve Vizard, School of Media, Film and Journalism

Lead Chief Investigator, ARC Linkage Project Comedy Country: Australian Performance Professor Steve Vizard gave one of the eulogies at the family memorial commemoration for Barry Humphries in Melbourne.


The following can be attributed to Professor Vizard


“To say that Barry Humphries was a comedic genius would be to misquote him. His genius was that of poet, playwright, performer and master chronicler.


“For over seventy years Barry Humpries was Australia’s funny bone. We guffawed at his

brilliantly observed portraits of our next door neighbours. And we winced in the pain of self



“Till the very end Barry Humphries’ life was endlessly full. As ‘full as a Catholic School’. Even to the very end he was still performing to packed houses. Still taunting the mundane, the establishment, the conventional. Still thumbing the nose. Barry’s entry in Who’s Who is his last laugh. His profession ‘profiting from strange concealment’. Strange concealment was indeed Barry’s great trick. A self described music hall artist who confessed, ‘I tell the greatest lie..the truth.’ 


“Ever the contrarian, this was the beautiful paradox of Barry Humphries, always the performer and yet always himself. Always claiming to conceal and yet ever revealing his sleight of hand. Everything you needed to know about Barry Humphies may have been a ‘strange concealment’. And yet everything you needed to know about Barry Humphries was staring you in the face – the suburbs, the cliches, the nostalgia, the rebellion, the playfulness, the talent, the original genius. Humphries was our Oscar wilde. Our Mark Twain.


“Barry was a Collector. Not just of art and antiques. But of strange, better things: colloquialisms, cliches, idioms. Language. This collection was a unique and magnificent treasure trove that fuelled his incomparable monologues, his love of language and all that it means and hides and evokes and in Barry’s case provokes. And he had an eye for collecting. He collected moods, and sentiments and attitudes and feelings. He collected the zeitgeist of a place, of a suburb, a nation, collecting the ‘types’ that made them tick, the ‘certain types’ we all know, put up with, love, empower, detest, the types that resonate. Barry had an unsurpassed eye for seeing and collecting what is hidden in plain sight.


“It’s a long way from Humoresque St Moonee Ponds to a royal Command performance, to the salons of London and New York, but fifty years and hundreds of incarnations on, Edna Everage, housewife was unchanged: Edna was a fixed point in a world changing too fast. Like a spotted gum tree planted on a Moonee Ponds nature strip, she had grown from sapling to leviathan; she outlived critics and fads and fashions and judgement, now dwarfing them all, now herself critic, fad, fashion and judgement.


“For fifty years on, Barry Humphries’ most enduring creation – the prudish, arriviste Edna Everage – continued to arrive. Her meeting places became more exotic – the studios of the BBC, the West End and Broadway – but her chats were ever suburbanly genteel…over a pot of tea and a cake, a chance to look up and down, to chide, to judge, to condescend, to reduce the world to a suburb and the suburb to Humoresque St Moonee Ponds.


“All were captured in Edna’s spiderweb of suburban matriarchy and parochial condescension. Prime ministers and presidents as equal as Madge Alsop or Edna's long suffering husband Norm. From the land that relishes cutting tall poppies down to size, Edna was ever the sacred monster, the matriarchal rebuke, the bespectacled leveller, the acid tongue arriviste, the parochial provocateur. The one woman pair of secateurs.”

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