Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Dish


There is a brand of humor that I think of as distinctly Australian. I can’t easily define it, but I know it when I see it. It’s in films like Muriel’s Wedding, and Danny Deckchair. It’s wry, and it’s understated, and I love it. This movie is not a knockabout comedy, and in fact it is quite touching in places. It is possibly the most moving account of the Apollo 11 mission I’ve ever seen … and it takes place mostly in a small town in New South Wales. There was a large radio telescope there (still is; this is based on a true story), perfectly positioned to relay the first television images from the moon to NASA in Houston, and then to half a billion people around the world (including me, in Winnipeg, Manitoba). These are small town-people, the residents of Parkes, and the idea that they were playing a small part in man’s greatest endeavour was a bit overwhelming to them, what with the American ambassador and the PM coming to town. They’re funny, but the film doesn’t make fun of them; the writer obviously likes them, and so will you. The dish itself it a marvelous toy. It is really neat to see them playing cricket in its vast bowl, or climbing aboard when it’s tipped almost to the ground, and taking a ride upward. We know that Apollo 11 made it without dangerous incident, so the tension has to come from an obvious question: Will these fairly competent but slightly bumbling small-timers fuck it up? I’ll bet you don’t know whether those signals from the moon were picked up from Parkes, Australia, or the back-up site in Goldstone, California. I sure didn’t, and I was sweating bullets as they debated risking the dish, and possibly their lives, by pointing it to the horizon during an unexpected 60 mph gale, when it was only rated for 30 mph. Like one of the men said, that’s an awful lot of wind and an awful lot of sail area, and there’s 1000 tons of metal right over our heads …