The original front cover of Dorothy Wall's Blinky Bill: The Quaint Little Australian.
rather pompous, Blinky Bill is a mischievous little koala who loves his mother. His friends include his adopted sister Nutsy, a kangaroo, Splodge, and his mentor Mr Wombat or 'Wombo', as Blinky calls him. Dorothy Wall speaks directly to her young readers and Blinky Bill often interacts with the children in an introduction. The stories include conservation messages, and their continued appeal can be seen in the fact that they, too, have never been out of print. Like Bunyip Bluegum, Blinky Bill has hit the big screen, in the 1992 animated movie Blinky Bill: The Mischievous Koala, directed by Yoram Gross. In 1994, the ABC launched their children's series of animated cartoons featuring Blinky, Nutsy and all their other friends, and it's still running. There are Blinky Bill soft toys, jigsaws, colouring books and magazines, and even computer games, which have been moderately successful.
As well as its various roles in children's stories, the koala has been the subject of many songs and poems. Although the majority of these are Australian, there is a duet called 'Ode to a Koala Bear', sung by, believe it or not, Paul McCartney. McCartney released the song in 1983 as the B-side to the single 'Say Say Say', which he sang with Michael Jackson. The single was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks. The mere fact of the song's existence demonstrates the heights the koala's appeal had reached.
McCartney notwithstanding, the best-known song featuring a koala, at least in Australia, has to be John Williamson's 'Goodbye Blinky Bill'. Australia's most famous folksinger recorded
the song in 1986 to draw attention to the precariousness of the koala's status in the wild. Williamson has been a patron of the Koala Preservation Society of New South Wales in Port Macquarie, and the AU$300 000 raised from this song was used to build the John Williamson Wing at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.
There is a natural affinity between poems, songs and stories and cuddly toys. In his 1937 book, The Call of the Koala, Ambrose Pratt explored the origins of the teddy bear, beloved of children the world over. He suggested that:
The koala has become a familiar and universally beloved figure by reason of the toy maker's art. Many years ago some unknown artist saw a koala and, sensing its peculiarly appealing charm, he studied its physiognomy and modelled an effigy more or less faithfully reproducing the character that had attracted him. The teddy-bear was subsequently introduced as a toy to the children of mankind. It achieved an immediate popularity which has incessantly increased, and so exceedingly, that it is now manufactured by the million in Europe, America and Asia, and it is the cherished companion by day and bed-fellow by night of countless infants in every country of the globe.14
It's a nice theory, but unfortunately Pratt was way off the mark. The 'Teddy bear' appears to have originated in the United States. The story has it that while on a bear hunt in Mississippi in 1902, Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot an old, lassoed bear on the grounds that it was unsportsmanlike behaviour. A cartoon by Clifford Berryman was published in The Washington Post as a result of these events, which inspired Rose Michtom, wife of Morris Michtom the founder of the Ideal Toy Corporation in New York, to create a cute and cuddly bear and place it in their shop window, which immediately became popular.15 Neither Ideal Toys nor any Roosevelt archive contains any letter or copy, but there was reputedly a letter from Ideal/Michtom asking Theodore Roosevelt's permission to call their stuffed bear 'Teddy's Bear'. Roosevelt's reply reputedly was that 'I doubt that my name will have much of an effect on the toy bear business, but go ahead and use it if you like'. The rest, of course, is
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