Riding over plenty of potholes on the road to success, 51-year-old Paul Field has been right beside The Wiggles on every bend, twist and curve. His brother is blue Wiggle Anthony Field, and Paul has been with the group for more than 21 years, mostly as managing director. Sara Coen spoke to the ACU graduate about a unique blend of family, music and education.
When I look at the family we were raised in, The Wiggles makes total sense. We’re a pretty dramatic bunch. There are seven kids all up. Mum thinks playing music is like reading and writing – and equally important – so we were all taught music from a really young age.
Mum’s a musician who teaches floral art, two of my sisters are great photographers, and most of my brothers and I all perform and play music – so there’s definitely a creative streak. Dad was a really unique guy – passionate and always thinking outside the box. He died over a decade ago – but is still a huge influence in our lives.
He gave us an education beyond anything we could learn in school. Dad taught us about life. At 33-years-old, he suffered a massive coronary and was brought back to life. He basically flat-lined at the hospital and we nearly lost him. He was given a second chance – and he always said he had to give back after that. Dad said helping others was like paying his rent for surviving.
He was a pharmacist with a real heart for drug addicts – putting up his hand to dispense methadone at a time when no one else would touch the stuff. He watched kids he’d treated for nappy rash, grow up and start dabbling in drugs – and he just really wanted to help them.
It was the 70s and addiction still had a real stigma. We were living in Sydney’s west and drugs were rife, but reaching out to help addicts was definitely not the norm. Dad was never afraid to go out on a limb. He counselled addicts at home and spent 10 years teaching drug – education programs in local schools. He was really ahead of his time.
Dad’s work with addicts was a real blessing. We got to see the harsh reality of drugs – the overdoses, the ugliness, the desperation – and it definitely took away any romantic appeal drugs may have held. His chemist shop was a prime target for break-ins – and the last hold up I remember was so dramatic it even made the papers. A couple of guys were flying high and raced in with a point 22 rifle, grabbed the shop girl and threatened to kill her. Dad was so angry. He grabbed the gun off him, thumped the guy, chased him out of the shop and fired the rifle at him. Thank God it was empty.
Dad was a compassionate guy, but he was no bleeding heart. He was a boy from the bush who’d fight to protect the people he loved. These guys had crossed a line. Eventually, he had to stop dispensing methadone. Having it on site became quite dangerous in the end and mum was freaking out.
Dad was an amazing guy and he taught us a lot. Despite living the rock and roll dream with Aussie band, The Cockroaches, we never got caught up in drugs. We were surrounded by lots of glitz and glam when the band took off in the 80s – a gold and platinum album, a top 10 single and performing live on Countdown.
Drugs were a big part of the scene and the culture, but we avoided them like the plague. We’d seen way too much. Dad really spared us from going down that path. In our family, when we’re into something, we give it all we’ve got. So, you can imagine what we would’ve been like on drugs – we’d be lucky to last five minutes.
With The Wiggles, Anthony found a way to channel our intensity into something really positive – he just latched on and ran with it. I had studied teaching at ACU, and Anthony was doing an early–childhood degree with Greg Page and Murray Cook.
Anthony decided to combine his studies in early childhood with his musical background and came up with The Wiggles in 1991. It all fell together pretty organically – the guys were basically just uni mates mucking around who loved what they were doing. They didn’t expect to last one gig, let alone 21 years.
Dad loved the fact we played music. He saw it as something really useful – not something you stop doing when you grow up.
He was proud enough when we were pulling 20 people into a pub with The Cockroaches, let alone Anthony filling stadiums and touring every continent with The Wiggles. He believed there was good in what we were doing with music right from the start and saw The Wiggles as pro-social – contributing to society and enriching children’s lives through music.
We’ve been involved in charity work since the very start – some of which evolved from our own personal experiences. In 1988, my daughter Bernadette died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and this completely turned our lives upside down.
One of the ways to survive this pain is to find a focus and perhaps channel it into trying to help other people who also suffered – so we put a lot of energy into supporting SIDS and Kids – an organisation dedicated to saving the lives of babies and children during pregnancy, birth, infancy and childhood, and supporting bereaved families.
The Wiggles’ very first TV appearance was to launch the SIDS and Kids Red Nose Day campaign in 1991. Since the beginning of this campaign, infant mortality as a result of SIDS in Australia has reduced by more than 80 per cent – and it’s amazing to be involved in something that’s still saving lives.
Being pro-social and inclusive is something I’ve got from my Catholic schooling, my parents, and followed up by my years at ACU. It’s about treating the marginalised with respect, and in some cases it’s just a matter of recognising and acknowledging them.
We’ve also participated in a range of projects in developing countries over the years. A journalist mate of mine had an affinity with East Timor, which has been decimated by war and unrest, and we wanted to do our bit to help out.
We did a concert with people like Jimmy Barnes that helped provide clean water facilities for five villages.
Another time UNICEF told me that four million children a year die from communicable diseases – preventable by access to clean water and basic hand-washing facilities. So The Wiggles wrote a ‘wash your hands’ song for UNICEF’s campaign.
We know music is a powerful tool – but being involved with music when it’s making a difference and saving lives is just really cool.
Dad loved watching us contribute positively to the community in Australia and also in other parts of the world. He got to see all this before he passed away and it made him really happy. As long as The Wiggles are around, we will continue to support and work with charity organisations – it will always be a big part of what we do.