People always tell me “begin at the beginning”. The more I started thinking about Wicked, though, the more I realised how difficult it is to pin down what ‘the beginning’ actually is. I mean I can talk about dad bringing home a valiant made in the 1970’s, a lovely car that was slightly dinted. At the time mum was doing china painting, and dad suggested she paint daisies on the car like she did on her plates. Mum wasn’t having a bar of it at first but dad managed to sweet talk her into it and then the two of them researched what type of paint to use. This research culminated in an evening painting session splashing daisies and vines all over the car, with the aid of a couple of bottles of bubbly and dad holding a gaslight so she could see what she was painting. Perhaps due to the bubbly, the daisies and vines grew bigger and bigger and took over the whole car. The first person to hire this car, which we dubbed “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” asked for it again. When my parents wanted to know why he wanted the painted car, he told them he liked the attention it got him, especially from the girls! This first car led to a second—“Gloria” with purple morning glories all over it. Two vans followed, one with flowers, peace symbols, butterflies and bees. Appropriately, the slogan on the back came from the song lyrics “Let me tell you bout the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees” well you know the rest. The other, later photographed at Ayers Rock, was a van painted red and yellow with enormous poppies on it—because one poppy was extra tall mum dubbed it “The Tall Poppy”.
This was long before Wicked had become a popular brand in its own right, and its possible it goes even further back. I can remember an embarrassing Bongo van with graffiti all over it, which dad used to insist on picking me up in from primary school. Had it been a Wicked van that would have been a different story—I might have had some coolness cred with the other kids then!
I’ve already described how my parents came up with the concept of the painted vans with slogans. Dad’s vision was that they be set up so that people could cook and sleep in them on the road. Dad knew young people hitch hiked around Australia, or bought beaten up old station wagons, which they resold to the next lot of travellers or just abandoned. He was excited about offering a cheap travel option that was safer--no one else was doing this at that time. Now all that remained to slot into place was the name. A young girl named Jill phoned up about hiring one of the vans. When dad described the features of the vans to her, she said “wicked!” meaning cool, great, neat. It was like a light bulb going off in his head—dad’s instincts told him that this was the name to use for the type of company he was interested in creating and promoting. In fact, dad called the van she ended up hiring “Wicked Jill” The thing I find most fascinating about this is how little of it was pre planned as a ‘package’. The realisation that our company could be successful and popular came much later, because the elements of it all came together in dribs and drabs.