Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dorothy Wall

Dorothy Wall wrote the Blinky Bill thing. I have the book. I read it. I didn't like it that much. I would have probably been okay reading a Blinky Bill short story. I just got bored with a whole novel of it.

People may say this is because I'm an adult, and the book is for kids. But I read a lot of kid's books and love them.

 I don't know. Maybe it's just not my thing. And it bothered me that the book uses the term bear for Koala. That's rude of me to be bothered by that. Probably in those days, people didn't know koalas weren't bears.

Maybe it IS about me being an adult. When it comes to children's television: Some stuff I watch with Jack, and I totally love it. With other stuff, watching it with him borders on torture.

Anyway, I could struggle to explain WHY I don't like Blinky Bill. But it's probably best to move on and talk about its author.

Lord Wiki says that Dorothy Wall was born in New Zealand, on 12 January 1894. May Gibbs was born in January too!

I guess she had an art thing going on. At the age of ten, she won a scholarship for her art. That seems pretty impressive to me. Her drawings are cute. I'm looking at Blinky Bill right now. Although I prefer the May Gibbs stuff. Just a personal preference. Maybe I prefer mystical creatures over anthropomorphic animals? But I do love Arthur, and that's totally anthropomorphic.

In 1914, Wall immigrated to Australia. I'm guessing she went with her whole family. She would have been ten then; so did the scholarship come from New Zealand or Australia?

She worked for a newspaper. Lord Wiki says it was called The Sun. When I googled it, the first item on the search was The Sydney Morning Herald. Further down, I got The Sun Herald. I'm getting the idea that The Sun Herald is SMH's Sunday paper?

Anyway, The Sun that Wall worked for might have been something completely different.

In 1920, Wall published her first children's story. It was called "Tommy Bear and the Zookies". Lord Wiki doesn't say what it was published in. A magazine? Book anthology? This Flickr person has some photos from it. I actually like it. The one I'm looking at has koalas on the beach. It's cute.

In 1921 Wall got married. That year she also had some success with doing illustrations for someone else's book.

Through the 1920's and 1930's, she did the illustrating thing.

In 1933, she published Blinky Bill: the Quaint Little Australian. I wonder if it's the same Blinky Bill I have. Mine doesn't have the quaint little Australian bit in the title.

Oh! I think I get it. I'm looking at the titles of her other books. They're all in my book.... My book is divided into three sections. The first part is Blinky Bill. The second part is Blinky Bill Grows Up. The third part is Blinky Bill and Nutsy. I guess the publishers compiled it all into one volume.

All right. Wall is the third story, I've heard, of a well-loved Aussie author having financial difficulties. There's her, May Gibbs, and then Henry Lawson. Were writers not paid well in Australia? I'm guessing that's not the case anymore. Well, I hope not! And I wonder if American writers had the same issues.

I know not all published writers are going to end up rich. Many of them don't sell enough books to give up their day job. But it's hard to imagine a successful writer struggling financially. Was it a matter of them not managing their funds properly. Or was it a matter of the publishing houses being stingy?

In 1934, Wall and her husband got divorced. Oh. Well, maybe that caused the financial problems? Perhaps he ended up with more of the money. I'm not sure what the divorce laws were in those days.

Wall went to live with her son in The Blue Mountains.

Like Henry Lawson, Wall didn't just have financial difficulties. She was depressed as well, and unhealthy. She returned to New Zealand. Why? I don't know. But there she worked as an illustrator for various New Zealand newspapers.

Lord Wiki says in 1939, her health and financial situation improved. He said this is probably due to her publishing The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill. I guess maybe that book brought her more money? Maybe the other book brought her money as well, but she spent it all or something. I don't know.

She didn't have many good years though. She returned to Sydney in July 1941. About six months later, she died.

That's about it for Lord Wiki. I'll go see if she's in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Here we go. She's in there.

Wall was born in Wellington, New Zealand. That's on the North Island...the southern part. Her parents had been both born in England.

The book she first did illustrations for was J.J Halls The Crystal Bowl. Lord Wiki had actually provided the title, but I couldn't find it on Google. Now I'm finding it. Maybe I put it in the search thing differently. Here's the book. It's Australian nature stories. You can read part of the book, and see Wall's illustrations on Google Books.

She illustrated other books.

There was Jacko-the Broadcasting Kookaburra and The Amazing Adventures of Bill Penguin. Both of these were written by Brooke Nicholls. And she illustrated a book by Nellie Grant called Australians All.

The biographical dictionary says that Wall had one child. Blinky Bill was based on stories she told to him. They say critics have spoken out against her anthropomorphism. I guess some people have a problem with that. Why? Is it disrespectful towards animals? Are the people against it the same ones who are against fantasy? Do they fear it will make children see the world in an unrealistic way? Are they worried children will become too sentimental about animals, and then do something drastic like become vegetarian?

I like anthropomorphic animals. I think they're fun. Some of it's weird though. On Arthur, the animals all go to the same school. They work together. They play together. They shop together. An Aardvark is best friends with a rabbit. Here's the thing though. There's no inter-breeding. Each family is made up of the same animals. I'm guessing that's because if one animal bred with another animal-type, the creators of the show would have to make hybrid animals. Maybe that would get too complicated. But it seems almost racist to me...or at least anti-intermarriage. I don't think that was the intent. I wonder if some kids though get that message. You can play with those other people. You can be friends with them. You can invite them over for lunch. But you can NOT marry and have children with them.

Anyway, I've been trying to find information about this anti-anthropomorphic movement, but I can't find it. I do feel like I've learned about it before. I just don't remember the details.

Several years ago, I worked at the Fort Worth Zoo. There I learned that they're against naming the animals....or at least sharing the names with the public. One woman I worked with told me it's because the animals are not pets. I guess that would be a somewhat anti-anthropomorphic attitude. The thing about this zoo is it really pushes the idea that animals are here for human use. There's a whole video in the children's play area that shows factory farms blessing us humans with much needed milk, cheese, and ice-cream. There's play activities teaching kids which animals bring us which products. I think the main idea of the Fort Worth Zoo is animal are here for US. We might feel less eager to USE them if they have cute little names.

It's easier to eat a chicken if you imagine it to be a mindless biological blob that eats and poops until you chop off it's head. If you name it Peter, make it talk, and give it a suit and tie....people might think twice about eating that drumstick. I doubt it though. Humans are blessed with a certain cognitive dissonance. We can eat our meat AND coo over how adorable the animals are. At the Fort Worth Zoo, there's a little area where kids can pet farm animals. About thirty feet away, they can buy a cheeseburger or pepperoni pizza.

Let me get back to Dorothy Wall. The biographical dictionary talks about her financial difficulties. At one point, she wrote to her publisher (Angus and Robertson Ltd). If I'm reading this right, she said she never cared much about seeing her name in print. What matters to her is the money. They responded by giving her more work. She got three guineas for each book jacket she illustrated. That doesn't sound like a lot of money. I may be wrong. But I'm betting she wished they just paid her more money for the work she had ALREADY done.

She tried to get money in other ways. The website says she was really into playing the lottery. She tried to sell her cartoons to American movie companies, and the Blinky Bill image to English china companies. I'm not sure if any of that worked out. Well, the website doesn't speak of successes, so I'm guessing not.

I'm going through Google right now....looking for something interesting.

There's been Blinky Bill TV programs. From 1984-1987, there was some puppet thing called The New Adventures of Blinky Bill. Here's a video from that. It has humans interacting with the puppets. Interesting.....I can't find it on IMDb. They have the next Blinky Bill show though....a cartoon that premiered in 1993. Here's the opening song. It's very cute.


  1. I started reading The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill last year and I didn't like it either (and I like other children's books too). I found the anthropomorphism extremely irritating and it's just so excruciatingly twee.

  2. The Sun was a Melbourne evening newspaper - fairly tabloid. The official name was The Sun News Pictorial. In the early 90s it merged with The Herald, a morning newspaper, with a more serious readership, and it is now called The Herald-Sun (or The Feral-Scum by the readers of The Age, the broadsheet newspaper I work for).

  3. Frisky Librarian: In my ignorance, I had to go look up the definition of "Twee". And yeah. That word describes the book perfectly.

    Niki: lol about Feral-Scum. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I've heard of both papers (Herald-Sun and The Age). I run across them when researching. So, can I assume you're doing food writing for the paper?