Tuesday, August 2, 2011

SAVING SKIPPY’S HOME FROM THE BULLDOZER.

Skippy, The Bush Kangaroo, has been described as Australia’s first real international TV star. The producer of the original series, the late John McCallum, devised the TV series upon returning from the USA after seeing the popular family show Flipper.

Securing finance and support, ninety-one 30 minute episodes were filmed between 1966 and 1968. Set in the fictitious Waratah National Park, the adventures of Skippy and her family of friends in Australia was filmed in colour, and syndicated throughout the United States and Canada, dubbed into spanish in Mexico, where it then travelled through most of the EspaƱol speaking world, successfully crossing the Iron Curtain to air in Czechoslovakia in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and word is the show still currently broadcasts in Iran.

While at least nine different kangaroos played the role of Skippy, many Australians remember the show from when it was re-broadcast after the introduction of colour television Down Under in the mid 70’s. Kids would rush home from school to watch as Skippy rescued lost hikers, solved bank heists and thwarted attempts to pillage whatever it was that the crooks sought in the Park. Sometimes, she even flew the park ranger’s helicopter.

Many of the adventures were set around the ranger’s headquarters, which doubled as the living quarters for Park Ranger Matt Hammond and his family, most notably Sonny, who was Skippy’s best mate.

Permission to film & build structures in a National Park was given personally by the then NSW Premier as a way of showcasing the new NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service government department he had recently established.

When filming ended, various entrepreneurs attempted to run the site as a tourist attraction, being the “Home of Skippy”. I recall as a child being bundled up in the car one weekend to visit the park, see the buildings I knew so well from watching the TV series, and to pat a marsupial identified as Skippy herself. I was very young, but I do remember it as a great day.  Now, 27 years into the TV industry, I actually feel privileged to have walked on the set of the series all that time ago.

But various commercial attempts to keep the park viable have failed. 
Today, Skippy’s home always appears to be under some type of threat. Located in what was once considered part of the outskirts of undeveloped urban Sydney, the area has now become prized northern beaches real estate, available for long term lease. To those who remember the series, many might be surprised to learn that the buildings used in the series are still standing today, some with the original interior fittings and furniture intact.

It’s abhorrent to consider that their days might ever be numbered. At the very least, considering the 'modern' history that these buildings represent, some type of protection should be bestowed on this icon of Australian art and culture. The entire site should be listed by the National or State Trust, or somehow be protected by the National Film and Sound Archive perhaps. A loss of Waratah Park would be yet another preventable loss of Australian cultural history. It is a sacred site in Australia’s Film and TV industry.

Dedicated lovers of what the series and the site represent do what they can to protect Waratah Park, establishing a foundation that has enjoyed victory over property developers in the past.  The Waratah Park Nature Reserve Foundation works to ensure the preservation of the park, and one day hopes the park might reopen to the public in some form. As one supporter said, “Knocking down Waratah Park would be like knocking down the Opera House”.

You can offer your support and learn more about the Foundation here:
http://www.waratahpark.org.au