By 1978 the event was national, and now 400,000 people across 20 countries take part – or pretend to; Aussies and our Kiwi counterparts prove it’s tougher Down Under, with other countries holding 30, 24, 20, 12 and even eight hour famines!
But when the cast of Neighbours joined the Famine in 1994, they committed to the full 40 hours, and in 1997 ABC hit Heartbreak High even staged a school sleepover for its characters as they swapped three square meals for barley sugars and water.
Over the years millions of participants have either signed up to do their bit, or donated to someone doing the Famine.
Actors Hugh Jackman, Rowena Wallace, Rebecca Gibney, Craig McLachlan, Jason Donovan, Andrew Daddo and Garry McDonald have all put their empty stomachs where their mouths are, as have sportsmen Dennis Lilley, David Boon and Andrew Gaze, and musicians Angry Anderson, Marina Prior and James Morrison.
While the 40 Hour Famine has become a rite of passage for young people in Australia’s own community, changing young people’s lives by giving them what is often their first taste of activism and engagement in social justice.
A lot of things have changed since 1975; hairstyles (thankfully), and fashion (phew), but nothing has changed as much as the lives of people helped with the money raised.
In the early 80s, drought gripped Ethiopia, and famine followed in 1984-85. Images of the barren landscape and dying children flooded into living rooms and jolted the world to action.
More than 15 people a day were dying in the Antsokia Valley when 40 Hour Famine funds were directed to the emergency work being done to save lives.
Today, the same region is unrecognisable from the heartbreaking wasteland that galvanised the public to act all those years ago.