The letter from Australia is a weekly newsletter from our Australian agency. Sign Up to get it by email.
British-American comedian John Oliver has been embroiled in talks with Melbourne’s Yarra City Council in recent months in what has become a labyrinthine negotiation involving public art, vandalism, koala chlamydia, a polystyrene recycling machine, three disturbing giant metal frogs and a bucket. full of cursed baby dolls. This past week, the negotiations reached what (I hope) will be a tipping point, as I really want those frogs to be a part of my everyday life.
The situation is not easy to summarize, but let’s put a spin on it: in late 2021, the municipality unveiled a sculpture titled “Fallen Fruit” by the artist Adam Stone on a street corner near Fitzroy. The Melbourne area, and Fitzroy in particular, has a long history of supporting public art, but this statue also had another purpose: to slow down traffic.
Unfortunately, many locals did not appreciate Mr Stone’s work. Sort of a mash-up of Skeletor from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”, the Martians from 1996’s “Mars Attacks” and – let’s face it – the absolute worst fruit, the sculpture was later vandalized when someone tried to behead it. The city removed the statue to – well, actually we have no idea. They won’t say what they’re doing with it, if it’s been fixed or if it will ever see the streets of Melbourne again.
When Mr. Oliver heard about the situation, he suggested a solution: he would buy the statue for 10 Australian dollars; make a $10,000 donation to a food bank in Melbourne and a $5,000 donation to the John Oliver Koala Chlamydia Ward at Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital in Queensland (another story, which you can read about here); and send Melbourne, as a replacement, a statue of a giant alligator making a rude gesture of the hand.
Mr. Oliver has had similar negotiations with Texas, albeit with a much simpler outcome. The beaches of South Texas have witnessed a strange phenomenon: multiple baby dolls washing up on the shore. These scribbled dolls can reasonably be described as nightmare material, thanks in part to their time in the ocean. Judge yourself. Mr. Oliver offered $10,000 to a local sea turtle rescue organization if the dolls were handed over to him.
He now has the dolls.
Which brings us to this week. Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight” (viewable in Australia on the online platform Binge) generally focuses on one song per episode, and this week was all about inflation. To explain inflation, Mr. Oliver three giant bronze frog statues. The frogs did something with their paws that isn’t exactly lewd, but it isn’t okay either. While it may be less disturbing than the banana or the baby dolls, there is something about these frogs that is both cheerful and disturbing. In other words, they are perfect.
Yarra Mayor Sophie Wade rejected Mr Oliver’s proposal to buy the banana, but she suggested an alternative: He will send the alligator statue and the city will name its polystyrene recycling machine after Mr Oliver.
Mr Oliver has now made another counter offer. Though he’s no longer willing to part with his alligator statue, he’ll throw in the three giant frogs, plus the original donations to the food bank and koala chlamydia ward. All Yarra has to do in return is name the polystyrene recycling machine after him and then take the bucket of cursed baby dolls and run them through the machine to “destroy them forever.”
Seems like a good deal, right? The only problem: the dolls are not made of Styrofoam. They can damage the machine.
I contacted Yarra City Council and Mayor Wade to find out if my assumptions were correct, and to ask her how the negotiations were going. Unfortunately, she’s on vacation and her office has been hesitant to reveal anything — even whether you can put cursed baby dolls through a polystyrene recycling machine.
But I keep hoping a deal can be struck, not least because the corner where this all started is three blocks from my house. I walk by it almost every day. I would like these frogs to decorate the neighborhood, not least because they are so damn stupid and Fitzroy is so trendy (for those unfamiliar, this is a neighborhood I once described as Williamsburg and Silver Lake, California ., to shame on the hipster scale), and there’s no way anyone could ever look at those frogs and see anything but ridiculousness.
And now, this (the stories of the week):