Doing a John Farnham: Aussie icon becomes Aussie slang

AUSTRALIA'S perennial comeback king has finally had his propensity for doing just one more tour turned into a recognised slang term.

Nothing wrong with that, I say. He's still one of Australia's and my favourite singing stars. 

The Australian National University's Oxford Press team have declared this week as its December word of the month - John Farnham.

"nounused allusively of a comeback or reappearance, especially after a final performance or retirement", is the description provided.

John Farnham has been a crowd favourite for a very long time since he started performing in the 1960s.

Over 50 years he has gone from the very early days with Sadie the Cleaning Lady to his incredibly popular 1986 Whispering Jack record-breaking album.

I remember attending one of his concerts in 2002 during his Last Time tour. The crowd really thought they would never get to see Johnny perform live again.

Alas, he was back on tour soon after, several times. Hence the oft quoted phrase of doing a Dame Nellie Melba has been updated to doing a Johnny Farnham, when describing the inability to remain in retirement.

The OUP team share some great instances of how the phrase has been used both in the music industry and outside - 

"She said she wouldn't but Suzi Quatro has done a John Farnham, booking an encore tour two years after her farewell tour of Australia. The leather-clad legend … gets the joke when asked if she was 'doing a Farnsie'." (Townsville Bulletin, 28 September 2016)

"Some call it persistence and tenacity. My daughter describes it as a Johnny Farnhamcomeback. I call it standing up and fighting for what you believe in, and not allowing the bastards to grind you down." (Pauline Hanson on her return to political life, maiden speech to the Senate, 14 September 2016)

"And there are a number of variations on the theme. You can find evidence for 'do a Farnham', 'pull a Farnham', 'chuck a Farnsie', and 'have more comebacks (or farewells) than John Farnham'.

"The Johnny Farnham comeback tour is the name of a cycle ride on a social network site for athletes (Strava, 23 April 2017), and the phrase was also used to describe a Question Time tactic in the Australian parliament: 'By yesterday, awkward segues to Dastyari were looking a little tired; today they felt like a John Farnham comeback tour'. (The Monthly, 14 September 2016)

"The use of Farnham's name in this way harks back to another Australian singer renowned for comebacks: Dame Nellie Melba, the world-famous operatic soprano.

"She staged a number of 'farewell' concerts in the 1920s, with her last in 1930, the year before she died. Her name lives on in phrases that date from the 1940s and are still in use today: to 'do a Melba' and 'more farewells than Melba'.

"However, in the comeback context, John Farnham is now giving Dame Nellie a run for her money."

I am still rather hoping that John Farnham and his fabulous voice keeps coming back to entertain us just one more time.

For more Words of the Month, go to

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