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Commonwealth Bank – Willie Wombat: Waste Not Want Not (c.1939)


In this Eric Porter animation of ‘the grasshopper and the ant’ fable, Willie Wombat lazes and plays all summer. He laughs at his animal mates devoting time to collecting and depositing food in their local bank. Winter arrives and Willie, starving and cold, tries to withdraw food from the bank. The teller can find no record of any deposits for Willie. Dejected, Willie looks on as the other animals eat heartily and stay warm in their cosy homes. Willie collapses from hunger in the snow, but his friends come to the rescue just in time. The following summer Willie, having learned his lesson, deposits food in the bank with dedication and enthusiasm.

Curator’s notes

Willie Wombat was produced by Eric Porter Studios for the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, to promote its School Banking program. Eric Porter (1911-1983) was Australia’s first career animator. He owned and ran his own production company – known as Eric Porter Studios or Eric Porter Productions and located in Sydney – from the 1930s right up until 1975. In 1972 he produced and directed the country’s first animated feature, Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon, but for the bulk of his career, the bread and butter work came from advertisements (many for Artransa Park Film Studios) and other sponsored projects. In 1965 Porter, Artransa Park Television and Fontana Films all tendered for the famous Dollar Bill commercial, to promote the national changeover to decimal currency the following year – a contract eventually awarded to Artransa. A year before Porter died, he was presented with the AFI Raymond Longford Life Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to the Australian film and television industry.

Willie Wombat was one of Porter’s very early works. There’s some discrepancy about the date of the film’s production. The NFSA, which holds a large collection of Porter’s works, lists it as circa 1938. Records at the National Archives date it at circa 1939, while other documentation in the Commonwealth Bank collection suggests it may have been completed a few years later. Certainly it appears the film was used in schools well into the 1950s. Regardless, the period coincides with the rise in popularity of the (now very famous) sound-era animation characters coming out of studios like Disney, Fleischer and Walter Lantz, and production units like Schlesinger at Warner Bros, and Hanna Barbera at MGM. In Willie Wombat Porter anthropomorphises animal characters and reworks a traditional fable – both devices commonly employed by his animator contemporaries.

The history of the School Banking program is intrinsically linked to the history of the bank itself. At the outset school banking had primarily been managed by the various state banks. Founded soon after Federation, the Commonwealth Bank quickly merged with two of the existing state banks. During the Great Depression, federal emergency financial measures saw further amalgamations with state banks. The Commonwealth Bank’s decision to retain school banking resulted in a national program, with a principle of encouraging children to save money for their futures and an aim of promoting financial literacy amongst young Australians. By 1955 School Savings Bank balances totalled £2.4 million, representing the savings of 340,000 school children.