By Tess Williams
Picture Australia’s most successful international exports. What do you see? Perhaps the Hemsworths or the iconic Ramsay Street sign? Well you’d be forgetting the original Aussie superstar – Skippy.
This 1960s show about the adventures of a young boy and his pet kangaroo became an instant world-wide sensation and put Australia on the map as a prime tourism destination.
At its peak, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo aired in 128 countries to a global audience of 300 million people each week – for context, that’s more than double the number of people who tuned in to this year’s Super Bowl … and that included a performance by pop icon Rihanna.
So, what was it about Skippy that captured the hearts of children all over the globe? British immigrant and Australian resident Christine Williams simply says “well, he was very cute”.
Williams said the novelty of seeing Australia for the first time was a big selling point for the show.
“It was one of the first shows you saw kangaroos jumping around, and we didn’t have anything like that (in the UK). It was the fact that it made a kangaroo the main character, and focused on big bush and national parks, which were all very different to any parks we had,” she said.
Filmed in Waratah National Park in northern Sydney, Skippy was, for a lot of its audience, their introduction to the Aussie landscape and its wildlife.
During a time when international travel was rare, and as Christine said “people’s knowledge of different places wasn’t as high as it is now”, a lot of people based their perception of Australia from what they had seen on Skippy.
Before moving here, Christine pictured Australia as “just vast, huge spaces and lots of natural environments”, and that the locals “had a lot more of a laid-back life than we did in the UK. You could have what we would consider a decent job that wasn’t just a 9-5.”
The aspirational image of our lifestyle, and depiction of our vast landscapes and native wildlife, may have been what originally drew in this international audience. But 50 years on, what has stuck with people the most is the iconic theme song.
In fact, during my research not a single person I mentioned Skippy to could resist giving me their own rendition of the song, their eyes lighting up with memories of everyone’s favourite kangaroo.
Featured image: Ranger headquarters at Waratah National Park, the iconic setting of Skippy. Photo: Brian Yap/CC/flickr