This story begins 30 years ago, almost to the day, on the east coast of Australia. For you sons and daughters of the 1980s, this story begins in a carefree time, when carefree people carried themselves as if they had not a care in the world. For you sons and daughters of the sons and daughters of the ’80s, this story is a history lesson of sorts, one that you won’t likely read about in those bone-dry social studies books. Here’s the story:
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Thirty years ago, a five-piece musical group emerged from back rooms and bars and took Oceania by storm. Their sound was fresh and clean — horns and woodwinds seamlessly meshed with guitars and drums, and these new things called synthesizers. Australians embraced their native sons, and this band, which called itself Men at Work, defined the sound of a continent. A year later, when their groove crossed the Pacific, Americans were jamming to a song titled “Who Can It Be Now?” The more progressive Americans were watching a minimovie of the song on this new thing called Music Television, or MTV. Come November 1982, the band’s album, Business as Usual, began a 15-week reign atop Billboard music charts, and a single from that album, “Down Under,” a catchy tune about a globe-trotting proud Australian, hit No. 1, thereby making Men at Work the only Australian group ever to have a No. 1 album and a No. 1 single at the same time in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
What began 30 years ago as a bar-band-done-good quickly transformed into a musical ambassadorship from Australia to America. And 30 years later, the branding of Australia as the Land Down Under automatically triggers memories of that time and that song.
This is what I think about as I fly on one of the longest commercial flights in all of aviation, a 16-plus-hour, 8,500-plus-mile trip aboard a Qantas Airlines 747-400 from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. To celebrate the new Qantas route — and to commemorate the Qantas/American Airlines joint-business agreement — I decided to hop on a Qantas media trip and do a whirlwind week in Queensland and New South Wales. I looked forward to seeing the storied sights and meeting Aussies in their native land. I wanted to pet a koala bear and hear a concert in the Sydney Opera House. But at the heart of my trip to the Land Down Under — a reason I avowed not aloud but to myself — was that I wanted to hear the songs and meet the man who spurred my generation’s curiosity to visit Australia. This is my story of traveling half a world away to find a man named Colin.