Have you ever wondered why adults call every kangaroo Skippy?
It’s because of a small TV show called Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, which was created 50 years ago and became one of Australia’s greatest television success stories.
Skippy starred Ed Deveraux as park ranger* Matt Hammond and was supported by Garry Pankhurst as his 10-year-old son Sonny, Ken James as his elder son Mark, Tony Bonner as helicopter pilot Jerry King and Liza Goddard as Clancy Merrick, who stayed with the Hammonds to pursue music studies after her ranger dad had to move for work.
But the star of the show was Skippy, a female eastern grey kangaroo — and she was pretty remarkable.
Capable of almost thinking like a human, she could understand everyone, open doors, carry things in her pouch, cross streams on narrow logs, stop villains, rescue lost bushwalkers, untie ropes, collect the mail and even operate the radio.
It was common for Skippy to make a ‘click, click, click” sound to alert the Hammonds to someone in danger and they’d say something like: “What’s that, Skip? There’s a man trapped down a mine ….”
Skippy befriended* Sonny following the death of his mother, and was an inseparable* part of the Hammond family.
Melbourne television historian* Chris Keating says Skippy was modelled on an American TV favourite.
“It was based reasonably heavily on Flipper. If you look at the storylines, you’ve got a widower* father with two sons working as a park ranger and you’ve got an animal that’s smarter than any of them. It’s basically the same format with a dolphin transplanted* for a kangaroo,” he says.
Skippy debuted* in February 1968 on Channel 9 in Melbourne and Sydney in the prized 7pm timeslot – and it took off like a rocket.
Skippy was a worldwide hit, even cracking the American market on 160 stations.
“Once it got into syndication*, it spread like wildfire. It just exploded, and it was the first Australian show to have a heavy range of merchandising* as well,” Mr Keating says.
”They had their own books. They had badges and buttons. You could get special Skippy bank accounts at one of the banks. There was a club, there were outings. Dolls, books, quite a few records, dinner plates, Thermos flasks. It was incredible.”
In all, 91 episodes of Skippy were made until March 1970.
Does all this talk about the show make you feel like watching an episode of Skippy? You still can. Skippy is still on TV each week in the early hours of the morning on Channel 9.
park ranger: a person in charge of a park
befriended: made friends with
inseparable: always together
historian: someone who studies the history of something
widower: a man whose wife has died and he hasn’t remarried
transplanted: move to another location
debuted: show in public for the first time
syndication: the sale of a program for broadcasting by lots of TV stations
merchandising: branded products used to promote something or someone
LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY
1. Know the characters
Write a quick profile for each of the characters in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Include the name of each character, who they were played by and a sentence or two about them. Make sure each of your profiles follows a consistent format.
Extension: Draw a diagram that is similar to a family tree that shows the relationships between all of the characters.
Time: Allow 20 minutes
Curriculum links: English
2. The modern day Skippy
Write a script for a modern day episode of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Include the same characters as mentioned in the article and make sure the plot fits in with the original type of storylines used, but also include some things that make it clear that it is the year 2018. Perhaps the characters are using modern technology or mention a current celebrity or trend.
Extension: If Skippy were to become a popular show again, what type of modern merchandise do you think people would buy? Make a list.
Time: Allow 40 minutes
Curriculum links: English, History
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalists has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?
IN ONE SENTENCE, TELL US WHAT YOU LIKE ABOUT TODAY’S STORY
Please do not use one-word answers. Explain exactly what you enjoyed about the article. Use lots of adjectives.