Before they were famous
Before they were famous
Everybody had to start somewhere.
Before the Oscars, before the Grammys, the likes of Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Tina Arena, Asher Keddie and Kylie Minogue were just aspiring young talents looking for an opportunity... and they got it!
These are not necessarily the first appearances by these now famous actors and singers, but they certainly capture the early talent, charm, hopes and dreams that would ultimately take them to the top.
WARNING: this collection may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This is actor Asher Keddie’s first appearance on Young Talent Time as a talent quest contestant. She sings ‘Fame’, written by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford, in a classic 'before they were famous' moment.
The song was made famous by the film of the same name, released in 1980.
This is a good example of the show’s centring of the children’s performances in a studio setting with basic sets in front a studio audience.
The show, which ran for 18 years, provided a start to many big names in Australian music, including Debra Byrne, Tina Arena and Dannii Minogue.
It is a joy to watch Asher really getting into her performance here, knowing what was to come for her.
Her acting credits include Offspring (2010–17), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and Stateless (2020). She has won seven Logies to date, including the Gold Logie in 2013.
The lyric 'You ain't seen the best of me yet' seems particularly prescient with hindsight!
This excerpt is from episode 83/28.
Notes by Beth Taylor
The Bee Gees’ first national TV appearance on Nine’s variety show Desmond and the Channel 9 Pins, on 12 August 1960.
They perform 'Time is Passing By', a song written by Barry Gibb, who was 13 at the time of the performance. Brothers Robin and Maurice were 10.
They were flown from Brisbane to perform. Note the guitar featuring the letters BG.
This episode of The Sullivans (1976–83) features 8-year-old Kylie Minogue in her first TV acting role. Kylie was in eight episodes of the show as Carla, a young Dutch girl who has lost her family in the war.
In this scene, Carla has accidentally stumbled across Norm Baker (Norman Yemm) and Tom Sullivan (Steven Tandy), who are hiding from the Germans in a house in Amsterdam.
The role required Kylie to adopt a Dutch accent and she does an admirable job for a child actor of her age in 1970s Australia.
The Sullivans was a beloved Australian drama series starring Lorraine Bayly and Paul Cronin that told the story of an Australian family living through the Second World War years.
Kylie is among many other famous names for whom The Sullivans was a launching pad, including Sam Neill, Sigrid Thornton, Kerry Armstrong and Mel Gibson.
Interestingly, Kylie’s sister Dannii Minogue also played Carla in a 1980 episode of the series.
Notes by Beth Taylor
A baby-faced Russell Crowe plays Norman Courtney, the 'injured employee' in this short film about the Commonwealth Agency rehabilitation program.
It is amusing to see host Johnny Young’s mispronunciation of Dannii’s surname in this short clip of her first performance as a talent show contestant in 1979.
Little did he know that the Minogue sisters Dannii and Kylie would become household names in Australia and around the world. The chance to see up-and-coming stars was a big appeal of the show for audiences and this is a classic 'before they were famous' example.
Dannii performs the Shirley Temple classic ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ composed by Richard A Whiting and Sidney Clare.
Although Dannii doesn’t win her heat, judge Evie Hayes says ‘I’m sure that with proper coaching and tuition she will have a very fine future’. Dannii became a cast member in 1982 and stayed with the show until 1988.
Dannii transitioned into an acting and pop music career and has since sold over 7 million records worldwide. Since 2007, she has been a popular talent show judge in Australia and the UK on programs like Australia's Got Talent (2007–2012), The X Factor UK (2007–2010) and The Masked Singer Australia (2019–current).
This excerpt is from episode 79/38.
Notes by Beth Taylor
Nicole Kidman, in the tradermark curls of her early years as an actress, stars in a telemovie which was criticised at the time for 'undermining parental authority'.
This commercial for the Nabisco-owned breakfast cereal Rice Krinkles features an 18-year-old Jacki Weaver.
In the early days of television advertising, corporate brands identified the teenage market as a growing business opportunity, and turned to popular stars as a way to enter the world of youth culture.
In this highly effective 30-second advertisement, Jacki Weaver dances her way around a modern-looking kitchen. The music is generic, but reminiscent of the pop hits of the day.
Not only is Weaver the star of the advertisement but the message is successfully reinforced in-store by having her face on the actual box, smiling back at potential customers from the supermarket shelves.
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement; the brand hoped to become 'cool' by association, while the star gained valuable exposure.
Tina Arena’s first appearance as a contestant on Young Talent Time in 1974 is part of the show’s folklore.
This is one of the many instances the footage of her as a nine-year-old singing ABBA’s ‘Ring Ring’ was broadcast, this time for a 15th birthday concert special in 1986. Her raw talent and confidence stands out today as it did then.
Host Johnny Young’s introduction exemplifies the idea that any child with enough talent and hard work could be a member of the coveted Young Talent Team, which was an important part of the show’s appeal for its young audience.
Showing footage of successful graduates like Tina during their subsequent appearances is a trope the show utilises throughout its impressive 18-year run to build a sense of family and tradition.
Tina embarked on her solo career after graduating from the show in 1983, releasing her debut album Strong as Steel in 1988. Here, she sings the ballad ‘Saving All My Love for You’ which was written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin in 1978 and made famous by Whitney Houston in 1985.
In this 1986 clip, Tina is still undergoing her metamorphosis from child performer into the global solo artist she is today, and her diva-like song choice and the overtly mature costuming and jewellery speak to this.
The multicamera coverage and edit fades mimic any other live concert from the 1980s, giving the young audience a concert vibe.
This excerpt comes from one of the show’s best-of compilations, episode 86/41, which was recorded on 13 October 1986.
The Young Talent Time team made an impressive 44 live programs each year. The other 10 weeks of the year they created a best-of summer series, like this episode, for the non-ratings period.
Today Tina is one of Australia’s highest-selling artists, having sold over 10 million records worldwide. She was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2015.
In 2011 she became the first Australian to be awarded a Knighthood of the French National Order of National Merit for her contribution to French culture. She was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2016.
Notes by Beth Taylor
David Wenham plays a tradie with no sense of professionalism or customer service, bringing down his mate's struggling kitchen manufacturing business. Wenham had previously done bit parts in soap operas such as A Country Practice and Sons and Daughters.
Before their famed roles in Neighbours, Kylie and Jason appeared on screen together years earlier as sister and brother in the Crawford Productions television series, Skyways (1979–81).
In this clip, an excerpt from the Nine Network special 35 Years of Television (1991), we see Kylie and Jason first as bickering young siblings, Robin and Adam, who have been left at an airport by their pilot father in episode 15 of Skyways (1979).
Then we see them as Charlene and Scott in the roles that shot them to soapie stardom years later in the long-running series Neighbours.
Skyways featured Tony Bonner and Ken James (both of Skippy fame), and a host of other well-known Australian actors, and it centred around the fictional Pacific International Airport.
Notes by Mel Bondfield
This dramatised film features Noah Taylor in one of his first roles, as a teenage drug dealer. Tony (Jeremy Shadlow) is shown his short life in flashback as his survival hangs in the balance following a fatal accident after a joyride. Taylor plays Harvey, a negative influence in Tony's life.
The brother and sister are dying of thirst, camped by a spring that has dried up while they were asleep. The boy (Lucien John) sees a figure on the horizon. He thinks it may be his father but it’s an Aboriginal hunter. The young woman (Jenny Agutter) is fearful after she blinks hard to make sure she is awake. The young black man (David Gulpilil) kills a large lizard to add to several that adorn his belt. He is surprised to see these white people out here, but he is about to leave them there when the boy pushes his sister to stop him. She tries to make him understand they need water, but fails. The boy is more direct and succeeds. The Aboriginal man laughs and shows them how to get water.
Summary by Paul Byrnes.
Bill Hunter features as Major Tom Archer in this film about the dilemma of an army major who is considering resigning to take a job in private enterprise.
Zoe Carides and Ben Mendelsohn star in an instructional video for high school kids, teaching them why they should do their tax return, and how to fill out the corresponding form.
Early in his career Heath Ledger starred as Snowy Bowles - a young, gay cyclist - in the 26-part series Sweat, pitched at young adults.
Set in an Australian school for athletically-gifted teens, Snowy is subjected to homophobic abuse in this clip, which leads him to come out to his friend Danny (played by Matt Castelli).
When talking on A Current Affair in 2000, Ledger said this role – his first recurring part in a series – almost led to him quitting acting. He commented, 'I had no idea what I was doing ... what my hands [were] doing... I was ready to quit'.
It is clear that Ledger and his fellow young actors are somewhat nervous novices, even under the guidance of the experienced director, Dan Burstall (The Flying Doctors, Heartbreak High). This results in some awkward dialogue, gestures and blocking in these two scenes.
Ledger might not know what to do with his hands, but he definitely has an authentic screen presence and he makes you empathise with the dilemmas Snowy faces. This is a great example of his early work. It was also significant to have an out gay main character in an Australian TV series like this in the late 1990s.
Notes by Beth Taylor
One of Jack Thompsons earliest roles, as a young designer frustrated at a manager who refuses to recognise his good ideas.
This clip is pure gold and truly historic as it shows The Bee Gees backing Johnny O'Keefe singing the Dave Clark Five's, 'Glad All Over'.
The Bee Gees departed Australian shores in January 1967, only to return for the occasional concert tour. To find any unseen footage from their Australian teenage days is very rare. It was broadcast on ATN7 in January 1964.
Sing Sing Sing brought popular music to Australian teenagers. The show was broadcast on Sydney’s ATN 7 from 1962- 1965. The show was initially hosted by singer, Lionel Long and was replaced after a year by the very popular Johnny O’Keefe. O’Keefe had been seen on Australian television screens on the ABC’s Six O’Clock Rock ( 1959-1962) and Seven’s The Johnny O’Keefe Show (1961-1962). Sing Sing Sing was to be O’Keefe’s last TV series.
The NFSA discovered the content of this episode when the 16mm image and sound negatives were digitally scanned to ensure their preservation and availability for a contemporary audience.
In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance, Geoffrey Rush plays the stage manager during the Sydney Opera House finale of Gillian Armstrong's Starstruck. He even gets to dance with Jackie (Jo Kennedy) as she hijacks the stage during the live national talent contest; look for the man in the blue t-shirt, on the right-hand side of the stage!
Kylie Minogue in her first lead role as Charlotte 'Char' Kernow. This series also starred Ben Mendelsohn and Nadine Garner, and premiered on Network Ten on 11 May 1985.
In their local café hangout, the gang drink Coke, chat and play pinball. Ted Morgan (Ben Mendelsohn), son of a striking mill worker, looks forward to the ‘fireworks’ which will result from a walk-out at the mill owned by Wheeler. Cowboy (Mark Hennessy) advises Ted not to get involved before Pat (Antoinette Byron) kicks the teenagers out of the café. Summary by Tammy Burnstock.