The history of Australian commentary at Eurovision: 1983 to now
Article by Kyriakos and Ally
The Eurovision Song Contest has captivated Australian viewers since its first local broadcast on Australia’s national multilingual and multicultural broadcaster SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) back in 1983.
Over the decades this transcended into an obsessive love for the Contest, and Australian’s had become accustomed to the BBC’s commentary by Sir Terry Wogan.
But after 18 years, from 1983 to 2000, it was time to break away from the British (and Wogan’s) perspective of the Contest and make room for a fresh approach with an Aussie flavour to the Eurovision commentary broadcast in Australia.
2001 - Effie Stephanides
Australia’s first local commentator was Effie Stephanides, a comedic character portrayed by Mary Coustas. She depicted a stereotypical second generation Greek Australian and came to fame from the Australian sitcom ‘Acropolis Now’ which ran on the Seven Network from 1989 to 1992. The show earned Mary Coustas a Logie Award for ‘Most Popular Comedy Personality’ in 1993.
Effie made a return to the Australian television screens in 2001 where she hosted a satirical series called ‘Effie: Just Quietly’, a show where Effie plunges into everyday Australian life, and of course was bestowed the honoured as the Australian commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest 2001.
SBS attempted a different approach to their Eurovision Song Contest 2001 broadcast overhauling the production. Effie as host and commentator was to give the show an ethnic flavour with comedic relief. The Contest was edited removing the postcards, Eurovision hosts and interval acts. Instead SBS produced the show in a studio with an audience.
The show included segments where “prominent multicultural Australians introduced songs from countries of their own background” performances by queer cabaret performer Paul Capsis, who performed several Eurovision classics, and a panel of Australians discussing the entries. (Carniel 2018, p.36)
Audience participation was also encouraged, viewers could call or email and nominate things like best song, best/worst costume, best/ worst dance routine etc. (Carniel 2018)
Unfortunately the Australian audience didn't quite warm to this approach and SBS ended up broadcasting the full Eurovision Song Contest 2001 unedited two weeks later.
This experiment had not worked out as SBS had hoped and Sir Terry Wogan’s BBC commentary returned in 2002.
2003 - 2004
For those not familiar with SBS, the broadcaster is known for their showing of foreign films and documentaries and along with that was the ‘Cult Movie’ show presented by Des Mangan. In 2003 SBS took a different approach and appointed Mangan as the Australian Eurovision commentator.
He stressed the importance of Australia having a voice for it’s Eurovision broadcast since Australia’s love for Eurovision grew. It was time for Australia to distance itself from Wogan’s heavy British references and comments and give itself it’s own identity. (Mangan 2004)
Over the two years Mangan was commentator, the broadcast included preview shows with comments from famous Australians.
At the 2004 Contest Mangan was a guest on the BBC’s ESC2004 preview show, which was hosted by Lorraine Kelly and Paddy O’Connell, accompanied by Eurovision 1992 winner Linda Martin. In the show, which you can watch below, O’Connell summed it up best, describing Mangan as “Australia’s Terry Wogan” demonstrating the approach SBS had taken.
That year Mangan ended up publishing a history book about Eurovision called ‘This is Sweden Calling’. It’s rather insightful and a must have for any Eurovision nerd.
As much as the broadcaster’s second attempt at having an Australian commentator received good reviews, the Australian audience still hadn’t quite moved on from Wogan. It was understandable, Australians had become accustomed with Wogan on the Australian television screen.
The BBC Eurovision commentary would make its return for a second time on SBS in 2005 up until Wogan’s retirement in 2008.
Sir Terry Wogan’s departure in 2008 allowed Australian Eurovision fans to accept that Wogan’s tenure had come to an end and the time was right for SBS to wipe the slate clean and allow a smooth transition to new commentators.
2009 - 2016 Julia Zemiro & Sam Pang
We first got to see Julia Zemiro “overWHELMED” with excitement over the Eurovision Song Contest when she introduced us to the 2008 Contest before the BBC broadcast. The SBS broadcast also included inserts of Julia during the breaks with quick commentary and flag waving. It’s rather iconic, you can check out the opening here.
With the departure of Wogan after the 2008 Contest, Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang stepped up and took their spot, travelling to Moscow to cover the 2009 Contest live on the ground and give us an Australian perspective we so needed.
Zemiro had been working on the TV show ‘Rockwiz’, and had a genuine passion and huge knowledge about Eurovision. She also took part in many Eurovision stage productions which include ‘Eurovision: The Musical’ in 2003, ‘Euromax 7: The Musical’ in 2004, ‘Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision’ in 2006. (Carniel 2018, p.39)
Pang on the other hand knew little about Eurovision, but had impressed viewers as the host of a history quiz show on SBS called ‘ADbc’. It was a history quiz show which had teams of academics and comedians compete, even Zemiro had featured. (Carniel 2018, p.39)
Over 2009 to 2011 Zemiro and Pang gained backstage access to the Eurovision Song Contest giving Australians backstage footage and showcasing interviews with artists. This gave Australia a strong presence in the Contest and viewership of the Contest grew in Australia. This led to SBS being given a commentator’s box in the 2012 Contest at Baku. (Carniel 2018, p.38)
The commentators' chemistry just worked along with their humour which they weaved into their dialogue. The Australian audience yearned for more and in 2012 SBS joined forces with their production partner BlinkTV to produce ‘The Road to Eurovision’ where we got to see Zemiro travel around Europe interviewing past and present contestants as she made her way to Baku. (Carniel 2018, p.38)
Australia’s presence was definitely felt! At the semi final of the 2013 Contest Australia was offered to broadcast a ‘Greetings from Australia’ segment, hosted by Zemiro, celebrating 30 years of SBS broadcasting the Eurovision Song Contest in Australia.
In 2014 Australia got the privilege of having a delegation and being the interval act in the semi final 2 in the 2014 Contest. Jessica Mauboy made history and performed ‘Sea of Flags’ to a huge reception and became the first Australian to perform on the Eurovision stage representing Australia.
Mauboy’s performance along with Australia’s commentary and production of the Contest on SBS made an impression and Australia was invited in a one off, to perform and compete in the 2015 Contest. Zemiro and Pang broke the news to us all.
After the 2016 Contest, Australian Eurovision fans received the shock announcement that Zemiro and Pang were no longer going to be the Australian commentators. The official reason they both gave for leaving was clashes with their other work (for Zemiro it was in TV and film while Pang also worked in radio), but Julia has admitted the inclusion of Australia changed her perspective on the Contest. (Carniel 2018, p.39)
2017 - Present Myf Warhurst & Joel Creasey
After the shock departure of Zemiro and Pang, TV personality and radio presenter Myf Warhurst and comedian Joel Creasey took the reigns as the Australian commentators for the Eurovision Song Contest at SBS making their debut for the 2017 Contest in Kyiv.
Warhurst, a radio announcer and television personality, is well known for her work as radio presenter at Triple J (a government funded national Australia radio station that plays predominantly alternative and indie music) , and on the popular long running music-themed quiz show ‘Spicks and Specks’ which was hosted by Adam Hills. Before taking over the commentary role, Warhusrt was actually a member of the Australian jury at the 2016 contest. Fun fact - like three of her fellow jurors, she ranked Belgium in 1st place.
Creasey is an Australian stand up comedian, actor and television presenter and is a regular at comedy festivals across Australia and even internationally. He has appeared in the Australian soap opera ‘Neighbours’ and even hosted the dating game show ‘Take Me Out’. His witty comedic personality has been labelled as Australia’s ‘Acid Tongue Prince’.
One of the most memorable moments of the pair commentating came in the 2018 Contest, when after a stage invader invaded the stage during SuRie’s performance, Joel called the stage invader a “cockhead”. The comment even drew praise from author J.K Rowling, who said “Apparently the Australian commentator called SuRie’s stage invader ‘some absolute cockhead’ and I don’t want to hear another word about Australia being in Eurovision ever again.”
Warhust and Creasey have had the honour in hosting Australia’s first Eurovision national final, ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides 2019’. In an epic production where Kate Miller-Heidke was crowned the champion to represent Australia at Tel Aviv.
Some of the most memorable moments from the pair at the Australian national finals have been the costumes that both Myf and Joel have worn during the show. Who could forget when Joel came out in Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’ dress during the 2019 show, or the bling covered Australian Olympic team style tracksuits both hosts wore at the beginning of the 2020 show!
Don’t forget to catch them on ‘Eurovision 2020: Big Night In!’ which will premiere on Saturday May 16 at 7.30pm AEST and will be hosted by Myf Warhurst and Joel Creasey.
Carniel, J 2018, Understanding the Eurovision Song Contest in Multicultural Australia, Palgrave Pivot, Cham
Coustas, M 2003, Effie’s guide to being up yourself, Hodder Headline Australia, Sydney
Mangan, D 2004, This is Sweden Calling, Random House Australia, Milsons Point