As fans mourn the death of Tina Turner at the age of 83, attention is turning to the special connection the rock legend had to Aussie culture.
Most Australians will have fond memories of growing up learning the iconic line dance to Ike and Tina Turner’s 1973 hit Nutbush City Limits, which is about life in a small town in Tennessee in the US.
Over the years, it became almost mandatory to perform the dance at gatherings such as weddings and discos – but oddly, we’re the only country that does it.
The mystery is deepened by the fact that Turner’s live performances of the song never included the dance we know and love in Australia today, and that Nutbush City Limits was never a massive hit in Australia anyway, peaking at #14 when it was first released in the ’70s and then at just #16 when it was re-released in 1991.
Tina Turner has died at the age of 83. Picture: John Lamparski/Getty Images
It has never been 100 per cent confirmed how the phenomenon came about, although it is widely believed that it stemmed from a NSW or Queensland Department of Education scheme to combine the creative arts and physical education in primary schools.
Others are convinced it was never a part of the official Australian curriculum, instead spreading across the nation thanks to the efforts of individual teachers.
One theory is that the dance we all know as the Nutbush evolved from a 1950s line dance known as The Madison.
Regardless of how it happened, it’s clear the Nutbush has a special place in our hearts, with Aussies setting a number of world records for the largest performance of the dance.
The most recent was set just last year, when it was performed by 4084 eager dancers at the Birdsville Big Red Bash in July 2022.
Tina Turner during a TV performance in 1989. Picture: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFPTurner performs with Beyonce at the Grammys in 2008. Picture: Robyn Beck/AFP
A month later, at attempt to beat Queensland’s record at the Mundi Mundi Bash in Broken Hill, NSW fell short, with more than 3700 festival-goers attempting to beat their rivals.
However, the Nutbush isn’t the only major impact Turner has had on the Australian way of life, with her 1989 smash hit The Best being adopted by rugby league after being used to promote the sport.
At the time, many questioned how a song by a female American star could possibly win over blokey sport fans in Australia, but it was a roaring success, and the tune is synonymous with the sport to this day.
Yet another iconic Turner hit, 1985’s We Don’t Need Another Hero, also has strong ties to Australia.
A world record for the Largest Nutbush City Limits Dance was set at the Birdsville Big Red Bash outback music festival in 2022. Picture: Matt Williams
It was written for the Aussie flick Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, also released that year, which Turner starred in next to Mel Gibson.
“I’m told that when the producers were discussing casting ideas for Aunty Entity, the strong, larger-than-life heroine at the centre of their futuristic action-adventure film, they kept saying: ‘Let’s get someone like Tina Turner,’” the star said of the role.
“They actually referred to her as ‘the Tina Turner character’. Finally, it occurred to someone to ask the real Tina if she’d consider taking on the role.”
Queen of Rock mourned
Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee, close to the town where she would grow up – Nutbush.
She died at her home of Küsnacht just south of Zurich, Switzerland.
An Instagram post from the official Tina Turner account confirmed her death on Wednesday afternoon, US time (Thursday morning in Australia).
Flowers and a pair of sunglasses are placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame star of US-Swiss singer Tina Turner, in Hollywood. Picture: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner,” the statement said.
“With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow.
“Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work – her music.
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“All our heartfelt compassion goes out to her family. Tina, we will miss you dearly.”
The statement said her death came after a “long illness”, with Turner suffering a number of health issues in recent years, including cancer, a stroke and kidney failure.