How Bowie's 'Let's Dance' put an outback pub on the map.

By Tim Leslie.

In the tiny town of Carinda in western New South Wales, the phone at the pub is ringing off the hook.

Bartender Marie Draper is fielding calls about the death of a former patron, who 32 years ago forever linked this quiet outback town to rock and roll history.

That man was David Bowie, who came to Australia and fell in love with the country.

The smoke-filled public bar at the Carinda Hotel was the setting for his iconic film clip for Let’s Dance — with a blonde-haired Bowie mixing it with the locals.

The pub has since become a pilgrimage for tourists, with Bowie fans making the journey out west to pose against the same yellow tiles the Thin White Duke once leant against.

"When we have tourists come through they always ask where David Bowie did the video clip," bartender Ms Draper says.

"I would say now that he's passed away there would probably be a lot more that would come."

Marie says that when owner Malcolm George renovated the hotel there was a lot of interest in making sure the tiles stayed, and so they were carefully removed and returned to pride of place after the renovation.

While the vast landscapes of the outback entranced Bowie, what he saw as the country's endemic racism angered him, and became a central theme in the Let's Dance clip.

Fearless and controversial, Bowie tackled racism

Ed Gibbs, the co-writer and producer of Let's Dance: Bowie Down Under, a documentary about the singer's time in Australia, says Bowie was fearless in calling out the racism he witnessed travelling across the country.

"Nothing was holding him back in terms of what he felt he could say or not say, or how he could express himself," Gibbs says.

"I can't imagine that many other artists like that making a statement like that at that time.

"But as we know he had decades of very gutsy creative behaviour throughout his life and career, right up until a few days ago when he released his latest record."

In a 1983 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie didn't mince his words.

"As much as I love this country, it's probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa," he said.


He was 36 and almost two decades into a prolific career that defies comparison.

"It occurred to me that one doesn't have much time on the planet, you know? And that I could do something more useful in terms of … I know this is very cliché, but I feel that now that I'm 36 years old, and I've got a certain position, I want to start utilising that position to the benefit of my … brotherhood and sisterhood," he told Rolling Stone.

"I've found it's very easy to be successful in other terms, but I think you can't keep on being an artist without actually saying anything more than, 'Well, this is an interesting way of looking at things.'

"There is also a right way of looking at things: there's a lot of injustice. So let's, you know, say something about it. However naff it comes off."

Walking into pub 'feels like stepping back in time'

As part of the making of Let's Dance documentary, Gibbs travelled to Carinda.

"The biggest surprise of all was how little it had changed," he says.

"Obviously the area around Carinda has suffered from drought enormously over the last 10 years, and the sheep shearing has sadly all but gone from that part of Australia.

"But the pub itself and the immediate township surrounding it feels almost untouched, and it was quite eerie stepping inside the pub, it felt almost like stepping back in time.

"It's really a very unusual slice of popular culture, it's uniquely Australian of course, but given that it's Bowie it has this international flavour to it as well.

"It's quite unique, I think. It just shows that the outback particularly had quite a profound effect on him."

And while Bowie's time in Carinda raised some uncomfortable truths for Australians, there are no hard feelings from the locals.

At last year's Christmas party there was a special guest in attendance.

"We had a Christmas party here before Christmas, obviously, and we just kept on telling people we had a special guest coming that night," Ms Draper says.

"We had one of the young blokes from here, his name is Bo Dean, and we called him David Bo Dean and came and had the karaoke machine and had him singing the song Let's Dance for the Christmas party. He actually dyed his hair platinum blonde and dressed up like David Bowie."

This post originally appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission. 
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