The one story the English actually give a rat’s about
Whenever I tell British friends, old and new, that I’m from Murwillumbah, the closest town to the jungle that is I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, I get the sort of response that I imagine Rolf Harris received when he introduced the wobbleboard to the Poms.
For the past three years I’ve been in the Old Dart, I’ve been bombarded with questions such as “so… have you eaten kangaroo testicles?” whenever the latest instalment of the annual reality show rolls around.
It’s my second draw card, my first one being my ocker twang. I have used them both to get a story, a drink, even a date in the Motherland. Last year I used the I’m a Celebrity factor to impress a potential Brummie suitor.
“So you mean you’ve got Ant and Dec (the show’s hosts) in your backyard?” he asked, wide-eyed
Yes, I owe the bunch of B-list stars that the programme serves up such as Kim Woodburn and Sabrina Washington, 2009 contestants, for putting my hometown on the map in Blighty.
Thank god, I often think. Not many Brits can even understand me when I say “Murwillumbah” let alone pronounce it themselves. A Welsh friend called it Willy Wonka Bar.
I’m a Celebrity is huge in Britain.
This year’s season, which boasted a scantily clad Katie Price swimming in a stinking pond full of fish guts and cockroaches, attracted close to 10 million viewers.
Forget the Copenhagen climate change talks. Last Friday night at work the editor phoned. Not once, but multiple times, to see who had been crowned “King or Queen of the Jungle”.
But after this week the show, to which we owe the great love story of Jordan and Aussie singer Peter Andre (pass the sick bucket), could be up the creek without a paddle.
There is talk that I’m a Celebrity may even be axed after winner, celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo, and soap star Stuart Manning were charged with animal cruelty by NSW police for cooking and eating a “rat risotto”.
The incident has been dubbed “Ratgate” by the British media.
“YOU DIRTY RATS,” screamed the headline on Sunday tabloid the News of the World, who broke the story.
Even the very serious Guardian featured the item up near the top half of its website on the weekend.
But funny enough, it seems the one place you can escape the Celebrity mania is Murwillumbah itself. If you wanted a town of unassuming residents for a reality show, you couldn’t get any better than Murbah, as it’s affectionately known among locals.
On Monday morning, a day after the story had broken in the UK, residents were getting on with life as usual, seemingly unaware of the news coverage on the other side of the world.
My own parents - my Mum has always fully embraced showbiz culture – sounded bewildered when I spoke to them on the phone later that night.
“What’s that, love?” my mother asked. Was she going a bit deaf in her old age - or was I being drowned out by a noise in the background? The Beeb news chopper, perhaps?
She finally replied excitedly: “You’ll never guess what’s happened! There’s three big new wheelie bins in town, with red, green and yellow lids, real Christmas colours! All over the town!
“Your father and I are still trying to figure out which bin goes out on which day and what goes in each one.”
“I’m cooking Christmas puddings. Here’s Dad.”
Puddings? Don’t they eat them in Yorkshire? Weren’t witchetty grubs on the menu in the Australian “outback” aka Murwillumbah, 850km north of Sydney and just 30 minutes drive from the Gold Coast.
My father, who has lived in the town of about 8000 for 30 years, was busy mowing the lawn.
“We couldn’t give a rat’s about that show,” he very predictably said.
“The only rat I care about is the one the cat brought to the back door last week.”
It seemed that residents were also preoccupied with how many Christmas hams they could win in the raffles at the local RSL club.
This is up there with Murwillumbah’s other annual festivals, such as Speed on Tweed (no it’s not a rave), where hundreds of historic racing cars tear through the streets.
Meanwhile in August young women sit on the back of a decorated float, surrounded by bananas, as they compete for the title of Banana Festival Queen in the Tweed Valley Banana Festival.
Of course one possible reason that the residents of this quiet country town don’t give a toss about I’m a Celebrity may be because it’s not broadcast on free television (we get all four channels now).
And Murwillumbah residents never got excited about a potential sighting of former royal butler Paul Burrell, who appeared on the 2004 show, in the frozen section of the local Coles, either.
The celebrities are flown in and out of the bush from a luxurious Gold Coast hotel.
“The show is filled with Z-list celebrities checking in their pride at the Versace Hotel to be put in a less than glamorous living situation,” Kate De Souza, my fellow Murwillumbaharian in the UK moans.
De Souza, who has lived in Britain for the past five years, has also felt a shiver go down her spine after one too many I’m a Celebrity episodes – but only because of the perception it gives of her former hometown.
“It is interesting for me as an Aussie living in the UK to be able to say to people ‘This is where I am from’.
“Unfortunately many people then think where I live is particularly dangerous – infested with bugs, snakes and crocs!”
Murwillumbah, of course, has achieved notoriety before all of this.
In 1978 it made national headlines when Australia’s then largest-ever bank robbery took place with $1.7 million stolen from the Bank of NSW. The robbery remains a mystery.
And the I’m a Celebrity brigade aren’t the first slightly famous Brits to invade beautiful Murillumbah, either.
In 1977 Prince Charles opened the Tweed River Agricultural Society Show. According to local paper The Tweed Daily News, he “looked cool and relaxed despite the 32-degree temperature”
Murwillumbah - the name is Aboriginal for ‘place of many possums’ - isn’t just home to the world-heritage listed Mt Warning, the first place to see the sun in Australia, either. Madcap fictional TV character Bob Downe also comes from Murbah.
Perhaps there is just too much action in the town these days for residents to care about a bunch of washed up stars and a consumed rodent.
After all, Murwillumbah now boasts, among its attractions, “four, no, five! NO, SIX crazy roundabouts, each with its own unique character”, according to a Facebook group called Murwillumbah Heart of the Tweed.
There’s also “an awesome new set of traffic lights, Murwillumbah’s first…. hours of entertainment”.
A great shame for the I’m a Celebrity gang that they didn’t have the opportunity to stumble upon all of this.
Then again, I’ve seen a few rats at tube stations lately on my way to work. Large mice have also been known to infiltrate some newsrooms (although to be fair you could probably meet an ever bigger, human kind at the Shepherd’s Bush Walkabout).
If theyr’e looking for grub, the I’m a Celebrity cast may be better off in their natural habitat.
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