“I’m kind of like the eternal sad student that’s never quite got out of the Uni bar. It’s just the ABC’s given me a job that allows me to do it. Aren’t I lucky?”
That is a very modest summation of what radio host and author Richard Fidler gets up to each week as he helms the behemoth one-hour program Conversations. It’s in its tenth year, has a massive following and boasts a growing stockpile of incredible stories in its archives. It seems as though this sad student has quite happily taken ownership of the bar.
When you look at his successes in the radio and podcast world, as a member of comedic trio The Doug Anthony All Stars, his turn on the small screen and now as an author, it’s hard to believe Fidler once had a pretty grim outlook on life.
“I came out of high school and into Uni without any expectation of having a future at all,” he says, as dark, fleeting memories start to take shape.
“The world was going through a second Cold War very intensely in those years and there was a lot of talk of pre-emptive nuclear strikes [without] any part of the world surviving.
“The idea of the nuclear winter kicked in then too. It became understood that if there was even a limited exchange of nuclear weapons between what was then the Soviet Union and the United States that a huge plume of dust would be thrown up into the atmosphere, destroy the crops of the world and it would possibly destroy most human life on Earth.
“In the early ‘80s this didn’t just look possible, it looked probable. In fact it looked like I was never going to see the end of my 20s. I thought that was the most likely thing.”
In this bleak and desolate time, many bands responded by creating a lot of really dark music.
“I remember hearing [Killing Joke’s] ‘Requiem’ for the first time in a record shop, Impact Records, which was the one indie record shop in Canberra in the early ‘80s.
“Even from the first two bars, the kind of gigantic majesty of this song and its slow water torture beat just fascinated me.
“For Killing Joke in this period, they were creating these massive songs that sounded a tiny bit like heavy metal, but this seemed to have more substance and darkness and majesty to it.
“And the lyrics, I remember hearing that middle stanza where [Jaz Coleman] says, ‘When the meaningful words, when they cease to function, when there’s nothing to say, when will it start bothering you?’”
It made sense. It made wonderful sense at the time and was oddly inspiring.Richard Fidler — Don't Look Back
There were other bothersome aspects to these turbulent and uncertain times. The prosperity and urban civility of the nation’s capital in the early ‘80s, Richard says, had an “extreme pleasantness to it which was a little sterile at the time.”
“This was also mixed with the giant recession that Australia, and the world, was in. The country had something like ten percent unemployment, so there’s no prospect of a job, there’s imminent nuclear disaster, and there’s these bands coming out of Britain and Australia doing this apocalyptic music.
“It made sense. It made wonderful sense at the time and was oddly inspiring.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Richard Fidler on Don't Look Back.