Australians felt special connection to Tina Turner through their Nutbush dance and rugby league

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FILE - Tina Turner performs in a concert in Cologne, Germany on Jan. 14, 2009. Turner, the unstoppable singer and stage performer, died Wednesday, after a long illness at her home in Ksnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, according to her manager. She was 83. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz, file)

MELBOURNE – Tina Turner's death is being mourned around the world. But in Australia, many people felt a special connection to the singer.

Australia holds the world record for the most number of people to dance to her song “Nutbush City Limits,” and Turner became the face of rugby league for a generation of Australians after she appeared on a series of popular television ads for the sport. She is credited with boosting female viewership of rugby league in Australia.

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The U.S.-born singer died Wednesday at age 83 at her home Küsnacht near Zurich. She became a Swiss citizen a decade ago.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told Sydney radio station WSFM that Turner provided a “soundtrack to our lives." He said she was a legend who overcame domestic violence and trauma to achieve global success.

Even the U.S. Embassy in Australia weighed in with a Twitter video of them dancing.

“In honor of Tina Turner we decided to master the Nutbush, Australia’s unofficial national dance,” the embassy wrote.

Australians developed their own line dance moves to the song in the years after its 1973 release, and the dance's popularity spread through schools. The Australian dance, which has some similarities to the Madison, was nothing like Turner's own dance moves.

The Guinness World Records site lists the largest Nutbush dance as consisting of more than 1,700 people at the 2018 Birdsville Big Red Bash music festival.

The site may not have yet caught up with subsequent record attempts at the Australian festival. Last year, more than 4,000 dancers participated. And in July, organizers are hoping to eclipse 5,000 dancers in a special tribute to mark both Turner's death and 50 years since the song was released.

For many Australians, Turner was synonymous with rugby league, appearing in commercials for the sport and at grand finals. Her first campaign, “What You Get Is What You See,” was a collaboration designed to reignite her career Down Under and give the sport a marketing hit.

There was immediate negative feedback, with many coaches and critics questioning the idea. But it turned out to be probably the greatest marketing decision Australian Rugby League ever made.

The league’s “Simply the Best” campaign took hold in 1990 and left administrators battling to find a marketing strategy that came close to it over the next three decades.

Former Australian Rugby League boss John Quayle recalled how his team managed to buy the rights to "The Best" for five years, securing it as the sport’s long-held anthem and as the theme for Turner’s famed advertisements.

“She came to the grand final in ’93 and then we sponsored one of her national tours, which was wonderful,” Quayle told Seven’s Sunrise program. “She was just such a wonderful lady, she related so well with the players, she made them feel so good about it every time (she would) walk on to a set.”

He said rugby league commercials featuring “The Best” were intended to bolster the number of women watching the sport. They were a resounding success, dramatically increasing female audience members and enrapturing Australians.

“That theme increased the coverage from women across the game at that time by about 60%," Quayle said.

George Miller, who directed Turner and Mel Gibson in the 1985 film “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” said Turner was a fantastic human being with a generous spirit. He described how she looked out for the crew, getting them to drink water as they were shooting scenes in the heat of South Australia.

“There was certainly no diva with Tina Turner, she was this very strong, very wise person,” Miller told ABC TV.

Singer Jimmy Barnes, who recorded a duet with Turner for the Simply the Best campaign, said it was an honor to work with someone as “talented, strong and giving” as Turner.

“It was certainly a highlight of my career to have sung and shared the stage with such a wonderful human being,” he said on social media.


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