Where have all the ockers gone?

A LONG time ago I knew a woman who lived on the outskirts of a small country town and grew strawberries.

She also had a running battle with Telstra over something or other and eventually was paid to solve some of Telstra's problems.

I haven't heard from her lately but I do remember that once when she had a win against Telstra I headed a newspaper article Mavis to the Rescue. She rang me and seemed gratified that I remembered.

You see, she had a continuing role in a television series that people still talk about fondly.

If you are old enough you might remember the Mavis Bramston Show.

My recollection, a bit hazy now, is that Mavis Bramston said nothing during the whole show but there was some big woman in a flowing black gown and a big hat appeared occasionally. She was Mavis.

And this was the woman who grew strawberries outside a little country town and told very few people that she was somebody once.

Anyway, memories of Mavis Bramston came flowing back when an inebriated person protested on New Year's Eve that he was not an ocker.

He was just drunk.

Many Australians wear the term ocker as a badge of honour.

But before the Mavis Bramston show hit the television screens in glorious black and white hardly anyone had heard of the word.

At least the word ocker is Australian. You can talk about Nobby Clark, and about Spud Murphy, or Chook Fowler or Macca McDonald and only guess at what country they came from. But Ocker is ours.

In my collection of books at home is Panel by Panel, a history of comics in Australia, written by John Ryan who, I believe, died soon after this book was published.

On page 24 he mentioned that the comic strip we now know as Ginger Meggs started out before 1921 as Us Fellers and one of the characters drawn by Jim Bancks was Ocker Stevens.

Before Us Fellers was Gladsome Gladys, who would always rescue "the fellers" from some predicament or other, but Gladsome Gladys eventually stepped aside for the more popular Ginger Meggs.

The Sydney Morning Herald published a tribute to Jim Bancks in November 1946 to mark Ginger's 25th anniversary.

Jim Bancks died in 1952, but Ginger Meggs lives on.

The Oxford Australian National Dictionary says this about ocker: "A rough and uncultivated Australian male, often aggressively Australian in speech and manner."

But Bancks was not the first to use the word ocker.

I found a 1916 reference in which a telephone fault on a country property was apparently fixed by Ockers Company. I know nothing about this company, if it existed, but the word went into hibernation until Ocker Stevens appeared on the scene in a Sunday Sun supplement on May 1, 1927.

The reference was: "You know what I did to 'Ocker' Stevens at school on Wednesday, don't you?"

Kylie Tennant mentioned Okker Slade in 1935.

The Kings Cross Whisper used the word often.

But back to the Mavis Bramston Show, popular in the 1960s.

One of the stars of the Mavis Bramston Show was Ron Frazer, often wearing shorts and things and carrying a glass of beer.

Frazer made ocker famous each week - much more famous than ockerina, described by the Sunday Telegraph as a "woman on the Eastern Suburbs bus, studying a race guide while slurping down a meat pie".

Why don't they make shows like the Mavis Bramston Show any more?

I can think of a few ockers who would be ideal candidates.

lbword@midcoast.com.au

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