The Prime Possum and Other Unusual Aspects of Childhood in Australia
And now it’s time to take on another bizarre aspect of Australian culture.
Picture this, you’re seven years old again and watching TV in the evening. Inside you’re hoping and praying that Mom and Dad are going to let you stay up a little longer and that the dreaded word BEDTIME won’t be uttered in that voice of stern finality that you know so well.
You watch the clock with baited breath as the minutes tick by, 7:28, 7:29 … it’s so close you can taste it! Then, out of nowhere THE PRIME POSSUM strikes and all of your hopes of staying up late are shattered by one tacky song and a strangely disturbing man dressed as a giant marsupial.
If you’re confused at this point I don’t blame you. The existence of “bedtime mascots” is one part of Australian culture that I still don’t fully understand. The basic premise is this; at 7:30 every night a variety of different characters show up totally uninvited, interrupt whatever you were watching and tell you that it’s time to go to bed.
Depending on which part of Australia you grew up in you may have experienced any number of different mascots. “Mascot” is the term that I’ve decided to use when referring to these confusing characters because no other word seems capable of capturing exactly what they are.
Big Dog was featured in the National Broadcasting Network out of New South Wales ‘ children’s program Romper Room for over 50 years. This half-century of devotion included a bedtime song where he was tucked in by his fellow Romper Room host Miss Kim. The most surprising thing about Big Dog is that he was on TV for over 50 years and nobody seems to have ever brought up the fact that he looks more like a bear than a dog. Kids in Western Australia are treated to nightly visits by Doopa Dog, a slightly depressed looking hound dog. Thankfully Doopa Dog appears alone and tucks himself in, like a good respectable mascot should. Southern Cross Ten features a song sang by a group of “workers” including a construction worker who evidently loves his teddy, an angry looking ballerina and a guitar-playing fireman.
Last, but certainly not least is the Prime Possum.
The Prime Possum invades the homes of thousands of Victorian Australians every night. He shows up at 7:30 on the dot and tucks boys and girls into bed while a goodnight song plays in the background. For some reason, none of the children seem concerned that a man in a costume is in their bedroom. Evidently the Possum is a regularly featured host on Prime’s Saturday Club cartoons, which may explain why these kids are so comfortable with what amounts to a giant rodent tucking them in. I would continue to discuss this, but talking about this Possum and the fact that he spends most of his day in an attic playing with children would only detract from our theme. Hopefully you get the point.
While all of these mascots are all different they do share one commonality. The mascots are only featured on regional television channels, which seems to send the message that country kids somehow need to be told to go to bed more than their urban counterparts. That’s blatant discrimination if I’ve ever heard it. I bet those city kids got to stay up till 8:30 or, dare I say it, 9 o’clock, the holy grail of all bedtimes.
Of course there are people for whom the Prime Possum was a dear friend and a big part of their childhood. To this day they will swear they loved the Possum and listened obediently ever night when he sang his creepy song.
That being said, in my experience bedtime was just about the worst time of day for a kid. It was right up there with math class and when the bell rings at the end of recess. I remember negotiating with the elegance of a lawyer from a courtroom drama to stay up for just another five minutes. So it’s not hard to imagine that if I had been born in Australia these mascots would have been my sworn enemies.
The most interesting part of all of this is that most Australians seem to accept these “mascots” as a regular and acceptable part of being a kid. On second thought, maybe that’s not so crazy after all. When you think about it, Canada has its own fair share of unusual children’s television characters. I’m talking about you Polkaroo, you creepy giraffe/kangaroo. I guess it just goes to show you that when grow up with something it’s sometimes hard to see how strange or different it really is, regardless of which country you call home.