What a Swede sensation it was.

14 06 2010

For a few dizzy days in March 1977, four charismatic Scandinavians were the toast of Australia. Thousands of us wanted to see them or be seen with them.

And as Benny, Bjorn, Frida and Agnetha criss-crossed the country, singing their humungous hits, there was only one word on everyone’s lips: ABBA.

“We have probably never received such a rapturous reception anywhere,” Agnetha said later. “It seemed the ovation would never end.”

This week, with the opening of Abbaworld at Federation Square, that mad, far away time is vividly recalled through costumes, videos and memorabilia.

The monster-sized exhibition – direct from London to Melbourne – is crammed with super-trouper treasures. And some of them relate directly to ABBA’s legendary Australian tour.

“It was very profitable for everyone,” promoter Paul Dainty remembers.

But the man who brought ABBA Down Under – and is now hosting Abbaworld – got more out of the experience than just money, money, money.

“What I learnt from that trip was how to deal with a tour that was an event, not just a tour,” he said.

Australia’s love affair with ABBA started in 1975 when three of their songs – I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, SOS and Mamma Mia! rocketed up the charts.

Exposure on Countdown turned the Swedes into stars and by 1976, when they visited Australia to record a ratings-breaking TV special, Dainty sensed a wave of interest was turning into a tsunami.

“I met (ABBA band managers) Stig Anderson and Thomas Yohansen and we hit it off straight away and worked out a deal pretty much in that meeting,” he said.

The deal was perfectly timed. In early 1977, Australians of all ages were humming Fernando and Dancing Queen and the scene was set for pandemonium on a scale not seen since the Beatles hit town in 1964.

“It was almost Beatlemania all over again,” Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum remembers.

Dainty says “it was mayhem. Good mayhem”.

The madness began as soon as Abba landed at Tullamarine Airport and climbed into a black Rolls-Royce. The road into the city was lined with fans and thousands swirled around Melbourne Town Hall where they attended a civic reception.

ABBA fan Michael McAlpine, 16 at the time, was up the front and remembers: “All four of them turned and waved to us. The screaming was just out of this world.”

Abba played three concerts at the Myer Music Bowl and Dainty says “it turned out to be the right choice. The shows were magical.”Abbaworld at Federation Square officially opens on Saturday

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