The Ashes are imminent and the cricket episode of Bluey had me weeping

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Like, I suspect, many other 40-something dads, I was left a blubbering mess after watching the newest Bluey adventure, titled Cricket.

Image: ABC TVCredit:

There have been so many conversations in my social circles of late where people have lamented a perceived decline of Australian soft power through the arts over the past decade. In London in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Australian personalities and culture loomed large, from Paul Hogan to Barry Humphries and of course Kylie and Jason in Neighbours and then their own stratospheric careers in the UK.

But, to paraphrase that great cricket lover, Trinidadian writer and historian C. L. R. James: “What do they know of Bluey who only Bluey know?”

You don’t need to look far in Britain to find a whole new generation who know Australia only through Bluey on the BBC. The same now goes in the US, where Bluey’s popularity is such that Americans watched 737 million minutes of the series over one week in April. The show’s fans range from Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, actors Natalie Portman, Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling to legendary piano man Billy Joel.

Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue (Scott and Charlene) in their Neighbours heyday.Credit: Television

Since my six-year-old daughter introduced me to the Brisbane family of cattle dogs a few years back, the Bluey discourse has permeated my life and the lives of my friends. On a recent trip home to Melbourne, my daughter channelled Bingo to demand her dad have an omelette for breakfast. Then we had to eat it while watching the corresponding episode. It was then I realised just how much of an impact this show is having on the life of young families across 60 countries now.

Here in Britain, you’ll often read storylines in the press about the show being censored in the US or psychologists explaining how to read the show as a parenting manual. My old Herald Sun colleague Kate McMahon and Mary Bolling have a dedicated podcast that dissects Bluey episodes and life, while I must admit having had more than one conversation with anxious dads who fret about how to live up to the example set by Bandit, who seems to have infinite time to play with his kids.

In no less than the Financial Times last month, long-form editor Cordelia Jenkins wrote that in the “sea of dross” that so much kids TV has become, Bluey is “a life raft — a reminder that there is intelligent life beyond the living room floor”.

“If there is such a thing as prestige TV for preschoolers, then this is it,” she wrote. “It depicts childhood, accurately, as an experience shared by parents and kids. In that regard, it is the first truly multigenerational kids TV show.”

Australia’s Pat Cummins in the fourth Ashes Test of the 2021/22 series.Credit: Getty

The latest episode is an unashamed love letter to cricket − a promotional tool I suspect the game’s governing body could not have come up with in a million years. It’s about life in the Australian backyard, on the beach and in community parks, and the memories those experiences provide and lessons they have taught us.

Near the start of the episode, Bluey says: “Cricket’s just about hitting a ball around the grass”, but her dad, Bandit, quickly interjects with: “Cricket’s about more than that, kid.”

I prefer not to give too much away, but it’s a seven-minute masterpiece and a reminder of how cricket can unite families and communities and, most importantly, not to give up on your dreams.

Of course, I am writing this note on the eve of an Ashes series in England, which for so many sport-obsessed youngsters growing up in Australia was the ultimate event. To many it still is.

I vaguely remember the news of Australia’s historic 1989 victory in England, but it was listening to the radio coverage of Shane Warne’s performance in 1993, when I was 12, that drew me in and hooked me for life.

Over the next few weeks I’ll get to watch a few Tests from the crowd and my inner 12-year-old − who, like Rusty in the latest Bluey episode, spent long days and nights in the backyard or in the street playing cricket with friends or even alone against a brick wall − will be pinching himself. The excitement of watching Test cricket in England never subsides.

And over the next few weeks here in Britain there’ll be Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, the British Open and the British Grand Prix − the stuff 12-year-old sports fanatics in Australia will be begging their parents to stay up late to watch.

Sport gives us all an opportunity for escapism in challenging times. But Bluey’s brilliance is that it manages not to segregate the adult world of mortgages and mealtimes from childhood fantasies, hopes and dreams. It is a genuinely big-hearted show for all.

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