Mambo mania: Celebrating 30 years of the Australian icon

The colourful, satirical Aussie brand celebrates its 30th anniversary by making an exhibition of itself.

Australian Jesus on the Golden Motorbike; Global Village Idiots; The Hat In The Cat. Pictures / Supplied.

Think of Mambo and you'll likely think of the farting dog T-shirt, proudly worn by skaters and middle-aged men throughout the 80s and 90s. Launched by Dare Jennings in 1984, the Australian surf brand's cheeky irreverence, perverse sense of humour and political commentary saw it become a cult label, with infamous artworks and prints that strike a nostalgic chord today.

The brand turns 30 this year, with a retrospective exhibition opening next week at the NGV in Melbourne, showcasing iconic garments from the archive and original artworks. Mambo's original art director Wayne Golding, who helped curate the exhibition, shares the stories behind a few of these memorable pieces - including work by several New Zealand artists.

• Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence is at the NGV Australia, Melbourne from December 6 to February 22.


Australian Jesus on the Golden Motorbike
Artist: Reg Mombassa

This is a recent artwork, commissioned by the NGV, and will be key to the graphic profile of the exhibition. The image is based on a favourite Reg character, "The Australian Jesus", and is based on a self-ordained minister who lived on a farm in the southern highlands of NSW and who, during the mid- 80s led a small flock of parishioners into exile from the Commonwealth of Australia. The group was eventually closed down by the Australian Tax Office. Over the years Reg has produced a series of Australian Jesus posters and T-shirts for Mambo, this one being the latest iteration.


Global Village Idiots
Artist: Paul McNeil, 1997

Like several key Mambo artists over the years, including Mombassa, Jim Mitchell and Marcelle Lunam, Paul is a Kiwi. As for the print, the by-line sums up nicely the company's self deprecating attitude toward itself.


The Hat In The Cat
Concept: The Chaser. Artist: Shannon Graham, 2010

The Chaser is Australia's most well known group of political satirists. In 2007 they achieved worldwide notoriety when they drove a fake motorcade carrying one of their members dressed as Osama bin Laden into a restricted area during the APEC summit in Sydney. In 2009, Mambo joined the Chaser in a collaboration designed to "ruin an unspecified number of perfectly good T-shirts".

One of our first collaborations was, Hat In The Cat, a "piss-take" on a popular Dr. Seuss rhymes. You will notice that the image is accredited to, Dr. Sue us, which is what the copyright holders threatened to do. The "dispute", was settled amicably, with Mambo promising to withdraw all remaining stock from their Manly store, which they eventually did, after the stock had sold out. Also note: Copyright test case #513, beside the cat's hind leg.

Loud Shirts/Tested On Animals; Loud Shirts/Not Made In Hawaii; Leisure Masters. Pictures / Supplied.

Loud Shirts/Tested On Animals
Artist: Jim Mitchell, 1998

This poster was commissioned by Mambo as an ad for a range of rayon "Loud Shirts", garments inspired by the wit and graphic charm of the Hawaiian "Aloha" shirt. While the original model celebrated Hawaii's exotic island culture, the Mambo shirt featured, along with the exotic, aspects of Australian cultural identity including, beer trees, recreational drugs, alien fauna, and a constellation of biscuits that hovers in the skies above the Southern Hemisphere.


Loud Shirts/Not Made In Hawaii
Artist: Paul McNeil, 1997

Another piece of art commissioned by Mambo to advertise their range of Loud Shirts. The "joke" is that unlike the original Hawaiian "Aloha" shirts that were made in Hawaii, the Mambo Loud Shirt was not. This was also a "humorous" attempt to associate the Loud Shirt with the Aloha shirt.


Leisure Masters
Artist: Jim Mitchell, 1996

Another Kiwi. This is an ironic tribute to a surfing sub-class, the Leisure Master who lived around Sydney's northern beach side suburbs in the early 70s. He had a tan in winter, a friend in customs and lived comfortably with no visible means of support. When not travelling stand-by to the playgrounds of the rich and famous, he was helping police with their inquiries, usually drug related.

(The) Farting Dog. Picture / Supplied.

(The) Farting Dog 
(Or by its colloquial title: Call Of The Wild)

Artist: Richard Allan, 1985

In commercial terms, this is the T-shirt print that keeps on giving. It hasn't been out of print since the first run in 1985. In 2007, Superbrands, a publication compiled by retail industry analysts, reported that total profits from the sale of Mambo's iconic "farting dog" T-shirt during 2005 and 2006 eclipsed the gross domestic product (GDP) of the former Russian state of Azerbaijan.

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