Which Australian icons would you say are the most internationally recognised? At the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the organisers wheeled out the likes of golfing great Greg Norman on top of a giant shark on wheels, and model Elle MacPherson. But between their floats, out came three teddy bears, one rat and two bananas on a staircase.
For Australians who had grown up hearing the Bananas in Pyjamas song on Play School, or watching the television program since 1992, seeing B1 and B2 receive a rapturous cheer in Stadium Australia was a nostalgic moment, but perhaps a surprising one, too — what would the world make of these oversized bananas in blue and white striped pyjamas?
But in fact, the Bananas in Pyjamas may have been two of the most recognisable Australians on show that night.
The television program is broadcast around the world, is distributed internationally on home video and streaming services and has been dubbed into many different languages, including French, Arabic and Mandarin.
Of the 2.5 million people who follow their official Facebook page, more than 400,000 are from the United States and Mexico. Venezuela, Egypt and Jordan individually have more followers than can be found in Australia, which has about 29,000.
Our B1 and B2 have earned themselves a lot of international fans.
Relatable and translatable
One such fan is Alan Leung, now living in Saskatchewan, Canada. "I remember watching it when I was about six or seven," he says. "I had just recently moved to Canada from Hong Kong and didn't understand English very well, but the well-wishing songs and silly antics addressing real life issues really stuck with me."
"I didn't know it was Australian. I don't think I knew anything about accents back in the day."
As a child in Massachusetts in the United States, Andrew Silva was given two plush toy bananas by his aunt. He'd never heard of the Bananas in Pyjamas, but he later spotted copies of the program on VHS at his local video shop.
"I started watching them and got hooked," he says.
"I still consider myself a fan of Bananas in Pyjamas because it is one of the first things that comes to mind when I think about what I did between the ages of four and eight."
For Silva, the program sparked a life-long interest in Australia — he even follows the A-League.
"[It] had me thinking that Australia must be a great place to visit," he says. "To this day, I still want to visit Australia."
In Karachi, Pakistan, Shamayale Khattak discovered Bananas in Pyjamas through the computer game, It's Fun Time. His memories are vague, but sentimental.
"There was a purple mouse who was a chef and asked us to help with some orders," Khattak says, referring to the character Rat in a Hat.
Players were tasked with making Rat a sandwich, choosing from a plate of ingredients that included lettuce, salami and a whole fish.
"I used to experiment a lot with that. [I liked] how that chef reacted to different ingredients that I would put in."
"All in all [it was the] best pastime of my childhood."
Congratulations Jo — it's twins!
Across Asia, Bananas in Pyjamas is broadcast on Australia Plus TV, the ABC's international service. Australia Plus TV is currently broadcast in 39 countries across Asia and the Pacific, reaching more than 140 million homes. Bananas in Pyjamas is on air seven days a week.
B1 and B2's popularity in the region has led to appearances at shopping centres in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as a tour of India. In Thailand, they have featured at Bangkok Comic Con, South-East Asia's largest pop culture convention, for three years in a row, appeared on Thai breakfast television, and have even been guests at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok.
Australia Plus TV marketing executive Jo Price is their chaperone in Asia and the Pacific — a role that has taken on maternal qualities over time.
"I've helped arrange everything from signing ceremonies with senior Shanghai politicians to AFL grand final events in Bali," she says. "Yet nothing compares with being given the title of 'Banana Mummy'."
The Banana Mummy moniker was given to her by a member of the backstage crew at an appearance in Indonesia.
"It was in Jakarta, as B1 and B2 were waiting to go on stage," Price explains. "I was straightening B2's jacket and making sure their shoelaces were tied tightly, and I was dubbed the Banana Mummy by the cheeky stage crew.
"It's a title I love.
"Life on the road with B1 and B2 is great fun but it's also exhausting.
"Making sure they have clean pyjamas, huge dressing rooms that will fit such tall twins and that they travel safely and don't get into mischief."