OZ - They're from Woy Woy, you know, and they can take a joke

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They're from Woy Woy, you know, and they can take a joke

Like Moonee Ponds, Wagga Wagga and the mythical Woop Woop, Woy Woy has been good for a laugh around the world for years. Now, it is preparing to provide even bigger and better amusement.

In an enterprising move that also shows it can take a joke, the famously somnolent Central Coast town is to honour some-time resident Spike Milligan - despite being described by the comic as "the world's only above-ground cemetery".

Gosford City Council has confirmed that a Milligan Centre will be created in the newly extended Woy Woy library. A special Humour Collection of books, tapes and videos is being assembled. And an annual comedy festival is planned.

"It's most appropriate," said Mr Chris Gallagher, director of Corporate and Community Services. "People here are very fond of Spike, though in his time he's said some funny - sometimes outrageous - things about the town ."

He has, unilaterally, declared it a republic. He has found it a sister town: itself. "Woy. A town twinned with Woy."

He has philosophised over the meaning of its name. "Woy. Woy. It's Aboriginal. Means 'deep water'. But which Woy means 'deep', and which Woy means 'water'? It makes you think."

He has joked about its sybaritic citizens. "There are just three signs on the railway station platform. 'Woy Woy', 'Woy Woy', and 'Woy, Woy'. It's a special service for drunks."

Until recently, Milligan was a regular and enthusiastic visitor to Woy Woy, which he has seen transformed from "a little wayside village" where anyone depositing more than $5 in the bank was suspected of robbery to "a place with traffic lights".

"We came with Mum and Dad, who decided in the fifties to retire to Australia," explained brother Des, 74, who still lives in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood. "In fact, Dad became a court reporter for the local newspaper."

Both parents have now died, mother Florence only a couple of years ago. Des returns most weeks to the old family bungalow in Orange Grove Road overlooking Booker Bay, but Spike, now 81, seems unlikely ever to return from his present home in England.

"He's a stubborn old bugger," said Des. "But he's forgetful and very fragile. I don't think he could cope with the trip."

Milligan is famous for being many things: a soldier, an artist, a musician, a writer (more than 50 titles), an animal rights activist, a conservationist, a manic depressive. He is best known, though, especially among the older generation, for The Goon Show, which still draws a big audience on Radio National.

Most children have yet to discover Milligan and his books. Jessica Birrell, 11, Andrew Denning, 7, and Briahne Simpson, 5, from the local public school, preferred Morris Gleitzman and the Dr Seuss books.

Young adults, too, may also need to have his eminence explained: a cashier in a local bank allegedly refused to cash a cheque for him because he did not present identification.

But Woy Woy's grown-ups fully supported plans to honour Spike, despite the occasional grumble about him "making the town a bit of a laughing stock".

"We're very proud of him. He's what Woy Woy is associated with. People often pop in asking about him," explained Joan Chippindale , the local information officer.

She hopes to break into the funny business, by adding a Spike Milligan display to her waterside souvenir shop, currently stocked with such things as pelican fridge magnets, soap golf balls and tea towels commemorating the town's fishing.

She also plans to send him a baseball cap bearing the legend "London, New York, Woy, Woy" in recognition of his services not just to humour, but also to local conservation issues.

Ms Chippindale credits Milligan with having helped save nearby Rileys Island from development, and St Luke's - a small wooden church built in 1902 for railway workers - from demolition, and protecting local Aboriginal carvings.

Originally the council had planned to celebrate Milligan's contribution by renaming the whole library after him. However, after some consideration it was concluded that this was perhaps excessive.

"People felt that it was a shame to lose the name 'Woy Woy' from what is a heritage-listed building. We have so little history here," said Councillor Lynne Bockholt.

Des has agreed to open the new centre later this year, and from afar brother Spike has indicated his approval.

"Gentlemen, I am greatly honoured," he wrote to Gosford City Council. "I assure you that at 82 [sic], it won't go to my head."


Another article as a special service to drunks and sundry 'goons show' lovers. :o)

Regards from OZ & Woy Woy, of course.

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), April 03, 2000

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