Ted Albert Award - The Wiggles


The Australian Music Vault is proud to honour The Wiggles as this year’s recipient of the Ted Albert Award for Outstanding Services to Australian Music. The prestigious Ted Albert Award is awarded annually by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) in memory of pioneering independent record producer Ted Albert, whose company, Albert Productions, was home to music icons The Easybeats, AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo and John Paul Young. Previous winners of the award include The Seekers, Ian “Molly” Meldrum, Fifa Riccobono, Archie Roach, Midnight Oil, Rob Potts, Joy McKean and Helen Reddy.

The Wiggles have been entertaining and delighting generations of children for over 30 years, their popularity only rising with each decade.

Kids all over the world have grown up with the iconic Australian group and with the recent addition of gender-balanced and diverse cast members, they are sure to continue to capture the hearts of another generation of new, young fans around the world.

To understand The Wiggles longevity and unprecedented success as one of the world’s most popular children’s entertainers, one must go back to where it all started for the Field brothers: Paul, John and blue Wiggle Anthony.

Jane Gazzo speaks to eldest brother Paul Field, who managed The Wiggles for 24 years, about their evolution from the ashes of 80s rock band The Cockroaches to a global brand who have sold over 25 million videos and 7 million CDs worldwide.

The four original Wiggles perform live onstage in a darkened space. They are all holding hands, their arms straight up in the air as if about to take a bow. To their right is the Big Red Car and behind them are foldable video screens show an enlarged picture of them. In between the video screens and The Wiggles, large glitter cannons go off, throwing multicoloured glitter into the air. In the foreground a large audience of children and adults enjoy the show.

The Wiggles live show. Photo supplied.

Inspired by the death of a very special baby girl in the late 80s, Anthony Field once suggested to his brother Paul that The Cockroaches should make an album of early-childhood music. Paul’s initial reaction was to laugh.

“I was thinking, what a crazy idea. That’s not what we do!”

Paul now appreciates the significance of that moment. He has watched the meteoric rise of The Wiggles closer than most. As vocalist and nucleus of 80’s pub band The Cockroaches with both of his brothers; (Anthony on guitar, Johnny on bass plus Tony Henry on drums and former Purple Wiggle Jeff Fatt on keyboards), he knows The Wiggles journey and their record-breaking history inside out.

That special girl was also his baby daughter Bernadette.

The Cockroaches, (who took their name from a Rolling Stones pseudonym), built up a frenzied reputation as an in-demand pub band playing a feel-good repertoire of combined showmanship with rock’n’roll. Original material began to replace covers and in 1980, they released their first independent single, ‘I Want to Wear a Leather Jacket’.

A black and white photo of the band The Cockroaches, posing in front of road cases at the side of a large outdoor stage. They're all wearing casual clothes and two of them have guitars slung around their necks.

The Cockroaches. Photo by Bob King, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

“We started when Johnny and Anthony were still at high school and we just built up our following. They say ‘write about what you know’. A leather jacket was the first thing I aspired to own when I left school and started earning money,” laughs Paul.

[That may have been the end of The Cockroaches forgotten debut single, were it not for the Wiggles reprising it for their Rock and Roll Preschool album in 2015, complete with a Grease inspired video clip.]

The Cockroaches were seen by most as an entertaining band who could be relied upon to pull the punters. They were clean-cut and smartly dressed with a knack for writing bouncy, catchy songs.

“We’d sell out pubs and clubs up and down the country and release video clips, but I guess in a way we were living in a time-warp because the fashions around the mid-80s were post-apocalyptic, massive hair and bullet-proof vests across the chest, very Mad Max. Whereas we were like a cross between Elvis’s ‘Loving You’ era with the rolled up sleeves and rockabilly vibe mixed with hits of the 60s,” said Paul.

A black and white photo of the band The Cockroaches performing on a large outdoor stage, shown from side of stage. One band member is on their back, their hands and feet up in the air like a dead bug, while two other band members lean over them, playing guitar and smiling. In the background a large crowd enjoys the show.

The Cockroaches live on stage. Photo by Bob King, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.

A stroke of luck changed everything when renowned producer Charles Fisher saw the band supporting Uncanny X-Men at Selina’s in Sydney. Known locally as ‘The Song Doctor’, Fisher had already had impressive success with Radio Birdman, Moving Pictures, Hoodoo Gurus and James Reyne. He knew a hit single when he heard one. He spoke to Regular Records boss Martin Fabyini and said, “If you don’t sign this band, I will.”

Fabyini, whose label included Mental as Anything, I’m Talking and Machinations wasn’t so sure. Fisher told him, “These guys can sell records.”

Paul reasons that had it not been for Fisher in the audience that night, The Cockroaches would probably have faded away and probably been remembered as an obscure 80s pub band.

Instead, The Cockroaches became a household name. The Fisher-produced debut album The Cockroaches (1987) went Top 10, selling over 100,000 copies and four singles from the same LP went Top 40. Fisher was right.

Numerous appearances on Countdown beckoned, as well as bigger shows across the country. The years cutting their teeth on the pub circuit had paid off in spades. The Cockroaches knew how to work an audience. “We made a very good income from live work,” recalls Paul.

Every pub was a venue and any place with doors that sold grog hosted a live band. It was a thriving scene.

He recounts two highlight moments. “We did a really great tour with the Hoodoo Gurus. Both of us had an album in the top ten at the time. The Guru’s with Blow Your Cool and us with our debut. We also supported American band The Hooters who were Cyndi Lauper’s backing band. I still run into people who saw us at shows like that.”

Two more albums were released, Fingertips (1988) and Positive (1991) but the Australian music scene was quickly moving towards a more slick pop-produced sound with artists like Kylie Minogue and Chantoozies. The early Cockroaches albums barely made a dent on the charts.

Then, in 1988 Paul’s beautiful baby daughter Bernadette tragically passed away from SIDS.

“It just destroyed me,” says an emotional Paul.

“It knocked the wind out of our sails. We were all hurt in every way, shape and form.”

The family tragedy changed the dynamics within the group. It was the end of the road for The Cockroaches.

Paul went to work for the Royal Commission in an audio-visual capacity.

Anthony decided to return to university to complete his degree in early-childhood which he had deferred when The Cockroaches had taken off.

It was there he first raised the idea to make an album of children’s music. He was looking for teaching work in pre-schools and figured an album of early-childhood songs would help him land a job. He was also still deeply traumatized by his young niece’s death. Paul recounts,

He went off and recorded the entire album by himself and pulled all of us Cockroaches in as he needed us, to play instruments or to sing.

Soon Anthony accepted a teaching job at Temple Emmanuel College in Woollarha, Sydney. They loved the album of children’s songs.

The next stroke of luck occurred when Anthony decided to see if he could get the album released.

He remembered a woman named Meryl Gross who had previously worked at Festival – the label The Cockroaches were distributed through. Gross had recently landed a gig at ABC Music – in fact, it was her first week. Anthony took Greg Page, a former Cockroaches roadie, and Murray Cook, a guitarist for Sydney band Bang-Shang-A-Lang, who were both studying at Macquarie Uni with him along to the interview.

Greg Page, Anthony Field and Murray Cook in a recording studio. Two are sitting in chairs in the foreground, and one is talking on the phone in the background.

Greg Page, Anthony Field and Murray Cook in the studio. Photo supplied.

“Cook and Page were also early-childhood trained and they put a plan together explaining the educational thoughts behind the album,” explains Paul.

“Because Meryl knew Anthony and the success he’d already had with Cockroaches, she agreed to take a punt on the project. She said, ‘You’ll probably only sell a couple of hundred copies.’”

Anthony, Greg and Murray started heading out on the road to entertain children in shopping centers and daycare facilities between their various teaching gigs with former Cockroaches keyboardist Jeff Fatt, and the rest is history. That first album cost approximately $4000 to produce and sold 100,000 copies in 1991. Anthony had dedicated the album to baby Bernadette.

The Field brothers share an enviable and unique bond, solidified by their love of music which runs deep in their family history.

Their great aunt Queenie Paul OAM, was a well-known singer, dancer and vaudeville producer from the 1920’s through to the 1980’s, whilst the Field’s paternal grandmother Kathleen Field, was an accomplished piano player who would accompany silent movies at the theatres.

There is just one year’s age difference between Paul, Johnny and Anthony (who is the youngest of all the Fields) and as The Cockroaches were progressing towards The Wiggles, it remained a family affair. Johnny co-wrote (and continues to write) many of The Wiggles' most popular songs, including the much-loved ‘Hot Potato’ and another of Johnny’s songs, which was rejected for a Cockroaches album, was also where The Wiggles got their name.

“Johnny had this swing number called, ‘Get Ready to Wiggle’ and Charles Fisher liked it but felt it didn’t fit in with any of the other Cockroaches songs we were recording.”

Anthony remembered the song and said,

‘That’s it! That’s the name of the group because children don’t actually dance, they wiggle!

OG Wiggles: Wiggle Time! | Kids Songs & Nursery Rhymes | 30 Minutes Special

Following the success of their first album, Field, Cook, Page and Fatt decided to focus on performance full-time and donned their now famous coloured skivvies. The Wiggles ensemble also grew to include costumed characters Dorothy the Dinosaur, Wags the Dog and Henry the Octopus with singer Paul Paddick taking up the role of the loveable Captain Feathersword.

When The Wiggles had well and truly established themselves, Paul worked as the group’s managing director – a role he enjoyed for 24 years before recently relinquishing it to his son Luke.

“It’s great that Luke has taken the reins. He grew up on the set of The Wiggles, got a double degree in communications and then went on the road with them for years as a tour manager. He’s really learnt the ropes and paid his dues,” says Paul proudly.

A promotional photo of The Wiggles with Henry the Octopus, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Captain Feathersword and Wags the Dog. The Wiggles are the original four - blue, red, yellow and purple - are they're all smiling and doing finger-guns. Behind them all is a digitally illustrated backdrop showing green grass, bushes, a tree, mountains and a blue sky with radiating dark and light blue lines.

The Wiggles. Photo supplied.

Over the past 30 years The Wiggles have embarked on multiple international tours including 12 consecutive sell-out performances at Madison Square Garden in New York, sold over 30 million albums and DVDs, released 59 studio albums, won 13 ARIA Awards for Best Children’s Album, and been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

Keeping the energy and momentum going over such a long period is a feat for any group, and in 2006 The Wiggles saw their first change of line-up following the resignation of Greg Page due to ill health. Page was replaced by ensemble cast member Sam Moran who wore the yellow skivvy until 2016.

In 2012, The Wiggles underwent an even bigger line-up change with the retirement of Cook, Fatt and Page (again). A new group formed around Anthony Field to include Lachlan Gillespe, Simon Pryce and The Wiggle’s first female member, Emma Watkins. Watkins was an immediate hit with fans and her passion for dance and sign language opened up new ways of communicating with audiences.

The four original Wiggles perform live on stage, smiling happily. In the background, a cameraman films them.

The Wiggles on stage. Photo supplied.

Much like their young fans, Paul is excited for the next phase of The Wiggles with the recent addition of four new cast members: Tsehay Hawkins, Evie Ferris, Kelly Hamilton and John Pearce.

“It was Anthony’s idea to approach it like Sesame Street, where the characters remain but you have different cast members. We had worked with them in some capacity before and they are all just breathtakingly talented. Tsehay already has little fans. She wears flowers in her hair and pretty much from the word go, there’s been kids coming to the shows with flowers in their hair. Seeing that representation is just awesome.”

The Wiggles cover Tame Impala 'Elephant' for Like A Version

In 2021 they were the second-highest streamed Australian act on Spotify across all genres. They also made history when their version of Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’ became the first cover to top triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown – and outranked the original which placed at #7. It boasted more than 1.3 million plays on Spotify and over 3 million views on YouTube. It resonated with listeners who had grown up with The Wiggles.

Paul Field has his own take on the enduring appeal of The Wiggles.

“You see the magic of music with every child. It captures them, engages them, gets them doing things they wouldn’t normally do and of course the impact on people with additional needs…We’ve seen a lot of them over the decades where parents and carers would say, ‘Look nothing gets through to my child but music and the Wiggles’.”

“The Wiggles changed the dynamic from the word go. They changed the culture.”

And Anthony?

“He is a genius,” laughs Paul. “The bloke has had a few good ideas over the years!”

And it’s all thanks to a very special baby girl.



Jane Gazzo
Jane Gazzo is a broadcaster, TV presenter, music journalist and published author who began her career in radio, aged 16. Since then, she has presented nationally on Triple M and Triple J as well as BBC Radio 6 in the UK and has hosted television shows such as Recovery on ABC TV. She spent eight years as a presenter on Foxtel's Channel V, where she reported from music festivals, red carpet events and hosted live TV shows, interviewing some of the biggest and best names in the music world.

In 2018 Jane became Chair of the Australian Music Vault Advisory Group and in 2020 she hosted ABC-TV's flagship music show THE SOUND and co-founded the popular Facebook site Sound As Ever (Australia Indie 90-99).

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