Editors Errol Parker (left) and Clancy Overell. Picture: Paramount+

ECLECTIC. That is the word that best sums up the crowd that attended the world premiere of the Betoota Advocate’s new Betoota Advocate Presents series at the Ritz Cinema in Sydney on Tuesday night.

It was a convergence of groups that would not otherwise converge — artists, rugby league players, influencers, TV personas, journalists, rural Queenslanders. To emphasise this, two names of particular note were spotted during the pre-screening drinks: iconic Australian presenter Ray Martin and former NRL star Willie Mason. Who else, if not the Betoota Advocate, would get those two in the same room? So diverse were the attendees, that a source of entertainment for the evening was to guess who had pulled their outfit from the wardrobe on the day, and who had gone to an Eastern Suburbs op-shop that afternoon to meet the dress code. On the invite, it was stipulated guests would turn up in ‘Outback Glam’.

Despite the variance in authenticity of people’s outfits, the essential fact remains: Betoota Advocate, the self-proclaimed oldest and most beloved newspaper in Australia, has created a four part documentary series which sheds light onto some of Australia’s most iconic, yet under-reported stories. 

Non-essential fact: The Ritz Cinema in Randwick offers the following membership deal: for an upfront cost of $22 you get $16 tickets for the rest of the year, plus a $1 ticket to use at a moment of your choosing. The standard adult ticket price is $24 (or $12 on Tuesdays). For those that buy in, the purchase of the membership deal comes with a sense of vindication against something, someone. Surely someone, somewhere, is laughing at the fact the alternative is even considered? Alas, what I’m getting at is the irony of the deal makes the Ritz a venue fitting of the premiere.*

But I digress. As a serious chronicler of culture whose job it is to describe the unique characteristics of a setting in great detail, I should also mention that in the men’s bathroom at the Ritz, there is a small plaque above the urinal that reads:




The plaque appears beneath pages from the script of Frances Ha, a 2012 black and white comedy, featuring Greta Gerwig and Adam Driver, which features a line of dialogue: “Yeah, Classy. Patch is the kind of dude who says, “I gotta take a leak”.†

Australia’s “oldest and most beloved newspaper”. Picture: Paramount+

Ray Martin’s attendance was made clearer as he hosted a brief interview before the screening, notably opening with: “I used to be Ray Martin,” before introducing the editors of the Advocate as “Clancy and… the other guy.”††

This interview contained no shortage of highlights. One of them being Errol’s own description of the series. “It’s Four Corners but with integrity,” said the editor. This was followed by his minute-long impression of Bob Katter, complete with high pitch, a lisp, and that backhanded laughter that always feels on the verge of spontaneous outburst. 

‘An episode called ‘The Fine Cotton Affair’ was screened on the night. An informative deep dive into the corruption, chaos and candour of 1980s Queensland political landscape exposed through a few tins of paint and a ring-in race horse, it contained that classic Betoota wit that smacks you between the eyes with the removal of all superfluous detail. Pure objective journalism as the vessel for satire, or visa versa, the relationship is never quite clear. 

But if you’re a Betoota subscriber, you’ll be well aware that is the point. 

As with the Advocate’s articles, here, it’s the docuseries’s characters that provide moments of rapturous glee. A clear highlight for those in attendance (and those streaming from home) was the story of Wendy Smith – the strapper of the horse Bold Personality, who was dyed with hair colouring and given peroxide socks in order to appear like the horse it was replacing (Fine Cotton). The makeover was executed by Smith in order to take advantage of the odds – her involvement with key underground figures could be traced to her desire for a free dinner from a potential romantic interest. “We all get hungry,” she remarked, a glint of larrikinism in both eyes.

The men of the hour. Picture: Paramount+

To ‘read’ the Betoota Advocate, and to watch the four part documentary series, is to have the layer of socially-constructed pre-conceptions that cloud our views with subtle deceptions, arrogance, or self-importance removed. It is to feel a sense of comfort in how ridiculous life is for us all; how surrendering to pure lunacy can be as therapeutic as any colonic juice cleanse. 

The combination of Ray Martin’s presence, tangerine vape-honking Eastern Suburbanites cosplaying in outback glam and the Ritz’s ironic membership deal says it all: comedy is found in life’s contradictions and unavoidable ironies, and no matter how much we try to make it look like we have our shit together, just like the people on the pages of the Betoota Advocate, none of us really do.§ 

Like so many Australians with a severe case of cultural cringe, it’s rare that I listen to, read, watch or consume anything with a vague sense of ocker humour without cringing hard. Yet while watching ‘The Fine Cotton Affair’, I encountered not one shudder. All bone dry humour, Australian Slang and Swiss army knife-like use of the word ‘fuck’, Betoota Advocate Presents waltzed between self-awareness and self-deprecation.

In other words, that space us Aussies feel just the right amount of comfortable occupying. 

I give it 4 RM Williams-wearing-concrete-cowboys out of a possible five. 

*  Overlooking the fact that ticket sales are not usually the primary source of revenue for a movie theatre. The average markup for popcorn is, by some estimates, to be around 1275 percent and for ‘smaller cinemas’ reports claim the revenue split to be 80 percent from the concession stand purchases and 20 percent from ticket sales. At the Ritz, a large soft drink and popcorn combo costs $20. Just like xxxxx It is permissible to say that cinemas may exist as fronts for concession stands. 

† One tries to imagine Tarantino rolling his eyes at the script, but preliminary research (googling: Tarantino Frances Ha) has revealed he was a fan of the movie. If the same décor were in place at the time, one may be inclined to envision Tarantino smiling as he released his bladder.

††  The “other guy” is Errol Parker. His response: “Thanks Ron.”

¶ For more evidence of the inescapable, often shame-inducing, repressed irony of everyday life, here is a list of things I had done earlier that day: 

Binned the last two pieces of bread because they were crusts.

Regurgitated stats from an NBA game I hadn’t watched, pretending I knew more about Nikola Jokic than just the three columns of numbers that define his performance.

Felt the last remaining year of my twenties disappear as I watched a YouTube video on garment steamers versus irons. To add weight to this morbid tale, I used a David Jones gift voucher I received for my birthday to purchase a garment steamer that was on sale during my lunch break.

Purchased a cheap computer keyboard from amazon.com so that I could do a factory reset of an old iMac I intend to sell on Facebook Marketplace. The thought being that my propensity for people-pleasing, plus my discomfort with small talk, make me subject to extreme rubber-arm behaviour in bartering situations. The slight inconvenience to the buyer at having to do the reset themselves would lead to me slashing the price by far more than the cost of the keyboard. You may choose to call it business savvy or talk to my psychologist about my conflict aversion and its roots in my parental attachment-style and developmental progression.

§ To really paint the picture, at one point I actually found myself engrossed in conversation with an underwater-baby-photographer (yes, that’s a job) and a senior news editor, who after one glass of wine had to say to themselves: “don’t do coke on a Tuesday!” It was at this point I thought: the tender drawls of the Betoota Advocate had well and truly wound themselves into the night and its interactions.

Betoota Advocate Presents is streaming now on Paramount+ Australia

Brandon Jack is a writer and former AFL player. His memoir is titled ’28’. You can follow him on Twitter here.