‘I’m super excited, but it’s bloody expensive!’ Australia’s Eurovision megafans gather to cheer on Electric Fields in Sweden (2024)

When Butchulla song man Fred Leone brings out the first ever yidaki (didgeridoo) to grace the Eurovision stage in Malmö, in the early hours of Wednesday in Australia, a party of Garrwa and Butchulla tribal families will be watching live from his home town of Hervey Bay, south-east Queensland.

“All the local elders and families are getting together to have a big Eurovision party back home. They’ve been telling me, ‘We’ll be watching, we’ll be cheering you on’,” Leone says. Even in Malmö, it feels “surreal” to be playing at the world’s biggest song contest.

In the first semi-final, on Tuesday night local time in Sweden, Leone will plays the yidaki as part of Australia’s 2024 Eurovision entrant, Electric Fields, alongside vocalist Zaachariaha Fielding, keyboardist Michael Ross and an ensemble of vocalists, Brendan Maclean, Alyson Joyce and Simi Vuata. On stage, Leone will be adorned with stripes painted up and down his body representing Bunaja, or eagle feathers, and crow footprints on his legs and kneecaps; both birds are “a central part of my Dreaming from Mambaliya Songlines”.

“I’ve played around the world, but nothing like this,” Leone says. “Just to be here with my friends Mickey and Zach takes it to a whole new level.”

With a global audience of more than 160 million viewers, Eurovision brings together 37 countries to compete in the world’s most watched cultural event. In Sweden, fans from more than 80 countries will be in attendance, including about 300 members of the Australian Eurovision fanclub, who have made the long trek to Malmö.

Hayley Bessell is one of them. The self-described Eurovision superfan from Brisbane is at her third Eurovision, having arrived at a special Eurovision event hosted in the Australian embassy in Copenhagen with two mini Aussie flags popping out from her bright red thick mohawk.

‘I’m super excited, but it’s bloody expensive!’ Australia’s Eurovision megafans gather to cheer on Electric Fields in Sweden (1)

“I am pretty Eurovision obsessed, even in the off-season,” she says. “I have a Eurovision shrine at my house that has a fake trophy and flags from previous years. I have a little Abba temple, lots of bits and pieces. I’m super excited to be here. But it’s bloody expensive!”

Despite an early positive response to Electric Fields among fan media, Bessell remains unsure about Australia’s chances. “The juries seem to like us so far, but I can’t see us winning,” she says. “If we can wow audiences and show everyone a living Indigenous culture, I think that’s really important this year.”

According to Lachlan Woods, president of the Australian Eurovision fan club, there are at least 1,000 Australians at Eurovision this year. Eurovision producers have reported Australians to be among the largest ticket purchasers across all shows, he says.

“Eurovision resonates strongly in Australia because people can connect with current music from their ancestral homes, and the opportunity to compete and promote Australian music to such a large European market,” he says.

‘We are not the arena to solve a Middle East conflict’: Sweden braced for a politically charged EurovisionRead more

The usually peaceful city of Malmö feels a little nervous in the lead up to Eurovision, with heightened security partly explained by Israel’s inclusion in this year’s competition. Wire fences surround the Eurovision stadium, while armed police roam the city; no bags are allowed into venues. At the Eurovision village in Folkets Park on Monday, when former Austrian Eurovision performer Conchita Wurst took to the stage, pro-Palestinian protesters chanted and sang at the edges of the performance.

Woods says that, despite Eurovision’s often stated intention to remain apolitical, the annual song contest doesn’t exist in a vacuum. “I do also think, personally, that the European Broadcasting Union has a lot to answer for in how it has handled the situation, particularly from the perspective of the wellbeing of all artists and attendees of the contest,” he says.

‘I’m super excited, but it’s bloody expensive!’ Australia’s Eurovision megafans gather to cheer on Electric Fields in Sweden (2)

But if Electric Fields are nervous to be performing at the world’s biggest song contest stage, and in such a loaded political moment, they aren’t showing it.

“I hope our performance helps to inspire a bunch of young Aboriginal people back in Australia,” says Zaachariaha Fielding, who also designed both his own Eurovision costume and an artwork that features in the performance, titled Paraulpi.

Fielding chose Paraulpi to accompany their song One Mikali (One Blood), which will be the first Eurovision song incorporating an Indigenous Australian language – in this case, Yankunytjatjara.

“We are bringing one of Australia’s oldest languages and the yidaki to the Eurovision stage. It’s already a beautiful win for Australia,” Fielding says.

Keyboardist Michael Ross is focused on the first challenge: qualifying for the final.

“It’s a platform we want to use with purpose,” he says. “When we perform, we hope to make an impact and share a model of love and respect, how we are more similar than we are different. Eurovision is a beautiful platform to remind people of that idea – even if it’s just one little notch.”

Leone is particularly proud to be the first to play the yidaki on one of the world’s biggest stages. “To be bringing this instrument that’s over 65,000 years old and known all around the world as somebody who belongs to one of the clans that created it – to bring it right here to Eurovision, adding that deep spine-tingling rumble to a modern dance song, is something extra special,” he says.

  • The first semi-final of the Eurovision song contest takes place in Sweden on Tuesday night local time, and will be broadcast live on SBS from 5am Wednesday in Australia.

‘I’m super excited, but it’s bloody expensive!’ Australia’s Eurovision megafans gather to cheer on Electric Fields in Sweden (2024)
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