While on his way to Samoa in 1956, Australian pharmacist John Patrick O’Grady sat at an Olympia SM3 portable typewriter in a flat in Mount Eden in Auckland, New Zealand, and belted out a best-selling novel under the pseudonym of Nino Culotta, a character who was an Olivetti Lettera 22-wielding Italian sports writer transported to Australia. The book is called They're a Weird Mob. If O’Grady was around today (he died in 1981, aged 73) he’d have more than ample material to write a follow-up, one called They’re an Even Weirder Mob. It would be set in Mullumbimby in New South Wales, a counterculture town where some dopey dope-fuelled conspiracy theorists are fighting 5G, believing Russian misinformation that it gives you Coronavirus. It’s also the home of the notorious FuNkOMaTiC portable typewriter, and just as intriguingly, Australia's only“fake genuine Russian choir”, Dustyesky. With the notable inclusion of the FuNkOMaTiC, not much makes any sense in Mullumbimby, and so the Dustyesky choir fits in perfectly. Few things lift Australian spirits in this year of the pandemic, but Dustyesky does.
Choir leader Mark Swivel claims, in mock Russian accented English, that choir members “live in shipping containers, work in typewriter factory, fast-track typewriter production for expected increase demand in next 20 years, smoke salmon and produce surgical-quality gherkin liqueur from Main Arm plantation”. In truth the choir comprises nutty nut farmers, teachers, plumbers, carpenters, musicians and builders. The choir’s name is a clever Russian-looking word that combines “dusty”, which might imply Australia’s outback and the parched, husky voices of the singers, and “esky”, which is an Australian word for a portable cooler, used mainly for transporting beer and other alcohol from home to BBQ. The choir performs songs of the battlefields, of the despair of the proletarian worker, marching songs of the Red Army, and rousing revolutionary and traditional folk songs, all in perfect four-part harmonies. Yet while there is emotional conviction, gravitas and genuine passion in these songs about solidarity, none of the “comrade choristers” have ever been anywhere near the Motherland, seen a windswept steppe or traversed a frozen tundra. Nor do any of them speak Russian (although they do like vodka).
Swivel peers over his red-rimmed spectacles to explain: “Dustyesky is the leading genuine fake Russian choir in southern hemisphere. We are 28 men, middle-aged, very hairy, and we all live outside the tiny little hamlet of Mullumbimby or, as we call it, Mullumgrad. And all of us singing like we know the language and the words.” The choir started out knowing just three songs, and after performing them Swivel would announce, “Now we look forward to meeting your womens and livestocks.” But a couple of years ago Dustyesky accidentally went viral and were picked up by Russian television news. Now the choir is known to millions of Russians. The choir was invited by the Russian Ministry of Culture to sing for four minutes in Red Square during the Immortal Regiment at the Grand Victory Day Parade on May 9 this year. “Most of men not last that long,” said Swivel. “We give it a crack anyway.” Sadly Covid-19 put paid to those plans. Still, Swivel is undaunted. “We are choir born for pandemics, most infectious choir on the planet right now. We invite President Putin to come to Mullumgrad to hang out in the river together. We take off our shirts and cover ourselves in macadamia butter and see what happens.”