The West

Mamma mia, it s ABBA
Mamma mia, it's ABBA

Back in the 70s, ABBA mania exploded in Australia, scorching an indelible mark on the nation's pop psyche. Books and articles have examined the phenomenon but it has never been covered in-depth on our TV screens.

ABBA: Bang a Boomerang changes all that. The documentary has been a three-year labour of love for Matti Crocker, who co-wrote and directed it with Rebecca McElroy. Narrated by Alan Brough, the story of how Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Frida (Anni-Frid) reached dizzy heights Down Under is beautifully told with wit and affection.

The use of rarely seen footage of ABBA in Australia makes it a treat from start to finish.

"I will put my hand up to being an ABBA fan," Crocker said via phone from Brisbane. "I remember sitting in my grandmother's front room seeing SOS on Sounds Unlimited. I was captivated by the dramatic sound, crazy visuals and beaming faces. They were two couples in love and a pop revelation.

"In March 1976 an ABBA special was shown on Channel 9 and it was watched by more Australians than the Moon landing."

So why did we go so mad for the four Swedes? "I think it was a case of two outsiders finding each other. Back then we were isolated from the pop world and they were having trouble breaking into it. They were something exotic from the other side of the planet and we adopted them as our own."

Crocker scoured film archives and fan videos for the material he knew must be out there.

"We found ABBA's appearance on The Don Lane Show in a private collection. An employee had been told to wipe it but luckily he made a copy," Crocker said.

Countdown and Molly Meldrum feature largely, as it was Meldrum's championing of Mamma Mia that led to the song's release as a single. Film director Lasse Hallstrom, who produced their clips, and tour director Michael Chugg are among others offering fresh insights. Crocker even tracked down their Australian tour bodyguard, Richard Norton.

"He was delightful and shared his personal photo collection of ABBA. It is moments like that I think fans will particularly enjoy."

Archival footage gives historical context and a glimpse of the way we were.

"It is amazing how different things were back then. The accents were broad and shiny and the teenagers look so old to me."

Celebrity admirers pay homage and diehard fans share heartfelt ABBA memories. Crocker treated these fans with refreshing respect.

"It helped that I was a fan myself but people were still a bit wary that I would just want them to dress up and act silly," he said. "I don't see why fans should be sent up just because they love something." The two hysterical weeks in March 1977 when the band toured and ABBA mania peaked make for fascinating viewing.

"There were fans of all ages, from eight to 80. I don't think anything like it will ever be reproduced," Crocker said.

Jaw-dropping moments include a youthful Kerry O'Brien reporting on the band not being welcome in Queensland due to Benny and Frida being unmarried.

But Crocker never saw ABBA in concert. "I'm still in therapy about that," he joked.

We learn which well-known local broadcaster had the cheek to ask Agnetha about having the sexiest bottom in Europe.

"People always talked about her bottom. Agnetha used to get tense when that question was asked," Crocker said.

After the tour an audience suffering ABBA overload roundly rejected the band. It wasn't till the early 1990s that Australia was ready to reignite the flame with the help of tribute band Bjorn Again. Since then we've never looked back. Towards the end the program travels to Trundle, NSW, for a three-day ABBA festival.

"I loved Trundle," said Crocker.

"It was amazing, all these people unashamedly coming together and having a party."

ABBA: Bang a Boomerang airs Wednesday at 8.30pm on ABC1.

The West Australian

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